PAX: TMNT Shredder’s Revenge is the retro brawler I hoped it would be

TMNT Shredder's Revenge PAX preview

The Saturday morning beat ’em up is looking great

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had some spectacular beat ’em ups over the years. Games like Turtles in Time have become nostalgic classics of the genre. But the turtles haven’t had such luck in recent years when it comes to games. TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge feels like a callback to those golden oldies, capturing rosy nostalgia in a pixelated cartoon brawler.

Shredder’s Revenge comes from the one-two punch of Tribute Games and Dotemu. The former has developed some rad retro-inspired action games like Flinthook and Panzer Paladin, while Dotemu has collaborated on projects like Streets of Rage 4 and Windjammers 2. It’s a good match. And that becomes readily apparent when the action gets underway.

In my demo at PAX East 2022, a quick TV newscast introduction informed me the Foot Clan was up to its usual hijinks. My co-op pal and I locked in our fighters—I went for Raphael, they chose Splinter—and we burst onto the scene.

The action feels right at home for retro action game fans. Go right, beat up bad guys. There’s a basic attack button, as well as a special attack with a corresponding meter. Jumping and flipping (both forward and back) round out the face buttons, and we could also taunt to build meter and do a “cheer up” move (high-fiving each other) to help share health around.

It feels simple and straightforward in a good way. It’s not quite as complex as something like Streets of Rage 4, where you might be gambling with risky special attacks for longer combos. A focus of Shredder’s Revenge, one dev told me, is crowd control. Enemies can quickly gang up on you, and the Foot Clan brings no shortage of variety to the rumble.

Turtle power

As more varieties showed up, we had to start varying our tactics and balancing use of our specials. I could T-pose (turtle-pose?) and spin around, using a whirlwind of sai to clear the screen. We needed to make sure we used it well, though.

Helping us out were some power-ups, as specialty pizzas gave us some boons like infinite specials for a limited time. And make no mistake, it wasn’t all flashy moves: the basic brawling of the turtles, their master, and intrepid reporter April O’Neil is solid and fun. Combos can be simple, but I found little ways to mix them up and could see some potential for racking up big combo numbers.

April is a great example of just how TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge nails the charm. Her arsenal feels like a mixture of interesting martial arts moves and little visual gags, from her dashing boom-mic attack to her taunt having April bust out a mic and talk smack, R. Mika style.

One of my favorite little touches was in one of April’s throw attacks. Players can grab enemies by walking into them, a beat ’em up staple. Once they have someone grappled, they can directionally throw them, do a damaging throw combo, or chuck the Foot Clan fighter directly into the screen. I guarantee, that never got old.

April’s special throw sees her fling an enemy back and forth in a series of slams. And on the last one, she whips out her camera and snaps a shot of the poor, shattered soul she just demolished. The turtle smackdown is full of little charming moments like this: high-fives, neat animations, fantastic tunes, and lots of little touches that make it all feel like a cartoon episode. Add on the return of the original voices from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and it just clicks.

Cowabunga crew

That’s all the ways Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge feels authentic and honest to the legacy. What’s also exciting, on top of the fun combat and fun four-player co-op, is how easy it is to pick up. I mentioned before how the controls are fairly straightforward, and that’s a huge benefit to the actual game.

Shredder’s Revenge feels easy enough to pick up and play for just about anyone. The buttons and inputs are straightforward. But the execution still feels good. And if you start digging into the little ways you can extend combos and brawl harder, it feels like there’s depth to be found. It’s also easy enough to pop on with some friends, with just the right amount of challenge.

It might sound weird to say, but TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge was just what I was hoping it’d be, playing it at PAX East. It meets expectations. And when those expectations are a classic-feeling animated brawler, Shredder’s Revenge is clearing a good bar. Hopefully the full version sticks the landing.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is set to slam Nintendo Switch and PC sometime this year.

Eric Van Allen