I never thought I’d be saying this, but here we are. On review today is my literal childhood. Coming down the stairs at my cousin’s house on Saturday morning to scarf down breakfast and be in front of the TV in time to catch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. The hours we spent in front of his SNES playing Turtles in Time, even after the Nth playthrough, never dulled.
When I saw Shredder’s Revenge at PAX East this year, I knew this would be a must-play. I’ve talked about experiences from my childhood, as well as other games that have been especially close to me. But this is different. For you aging gamers who grew up in the 90s with me, there are a few shows that likely took up a large place in your hearts (as well as your rooms if you had a bunch of their toys and the like). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one such show. If you were a Turtles fan, it probably dominated your childhood. Who was your favorite turtle? Mine was Donatello (geeks for life).
Nostalgia is one heck of a thing, though. Does it taint my view of this new, hot release? And what if you’re not someone who grew up on Turtles, just looking for a fun, side-scrolling brawler to let loose with? Let’s dive right in!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge
Tribute Games Inc.
PC, Playstation, XBOX, Nintendo Switch
Number of Players:
1 - 6
June 16, 2022
Copy provided by publisher
It's always a battle royale when the Rat King shows up! Okay...I'll see myself out now.
Iterating On Classics
Side-scrolling brawlers, as a genre, tend to be straightforward in their offerings. You pick a character, move from one side of the level to the other, and beat up baddies along the way. You generally get one or two attack buttons, some basic, mashable combos, and a jump button useful for both hitting flying enemies and getting out of the way of attacks. There’s usually at least one boss in each level. Beat them up before they reduce your life bar, and your lives, to zero. Do this enough and you beat the video game. How then could a modern beat-em-up improve on this formula?
Two words. Dodge button.
With the addition of this one simple control, everything changes. You see, back in the days of arcades these kinds of games existed for a dual purpose. Entertaining kids, yes, but also parting them from their shiny silver quarters. Arcades were out to make money, the same as any business. Pop a quarter (or several) into a machine and you’d bought the right to play till you drop. The unwary or uninitiated burned through their dollars faster than those who knew what they were doing, but even then it was almost inevitable you’d spend at least some cash on beating a game. The last time the Sprites and Dice crew was in NYC, we managed to beat the 6-player X-Men cabinet on under 5 bucks apiece, a true feat of gaming that we are still proud of to this day!
While consoles didn’t have a need for pocket change, they kept the spirit of those early arcade games. Limited lives, limited continues, and controls that made it not-exactly-easy to get out of the way of attacks.
There are so many references in this game to classic Turtles titles. Like the level intro screens!
Why keep modern games in that same vein of thinking? Just because it’s classic? Because it’s the way things always were? With the addition of this new innovation, this dodge button, a whole new world opens up. There’s now a reliable means to get out of the way of attacks, and hitting your own attack after dodging unleashes a powerful counter that sends foes flying. It feels good when you time your escapes just right, and it feels even better when you clobber Foot Soldiers as a result.
But why stop there? If you can now dodge attacks, the devs can throw more enemies on screen! The action ratchets up with the addition of new mechanics. And as if realizing this it’s like they said, “if we’re adding dodge/counterattack buttons, why not revamp the whole combo system while we’re at it?” There are now anti-aerial lifting attacks, slide attacks with limited invincibility, escape rolls and quick wake-ups when hit, and the ability to chain these moves off one another. You can do a running dive into a group of foes, lift them into the air with your rising attack, and come crashing back down with a diving super! Did I mention the super attacks? Traditionally limited moves that either cost life or were hard capped per life back in the day (again encouraging you to spend quarters), these moves now cleverly charge if you can combo foes without taking a hit. A nice little minigame. Unleash them to devastate both crowds and bosses. You can also charge them for free simply by taunting, allowing you to boost if you can find a safe space in a fight but also simply recharging them between fights. You’re rarely without a super attack thanks to the new design on offer.
It's as if the game is saying, “here just have the fun things and enjoy them.”
Playing with friends? You can also do combination attacks if you're on opposite sides of a foe!
The More Things Stay The Same
With the available move pool so fresh and exciting, so new and perhaps different, you might be asking: as good as the gameplay is, did they keep anything the same? Have we lost that old school Turtles charm? Is nothing sacred?! To which I would answer: the charm and attitude is still here in abundance, so don’t worry! The rendered intro plays that classic Turtles theme, signaling the homage waiting within, and yes, before you ask, I sang along to it. It’s ok, you can admit you’ve known all the words for years, too. While each turtle has unique animations, they all share some familiar lines when picking up pizzas or falling into hazards during gameplay; in fact, the original voice actors have somehow been brought back to play their famous roles once again in Shredder’s Revenge!
In the interest of science—that’s what we’ll call my curiosity—I made sure to get hit by every hazard and attack this game had to throw at me. I’ve been electrocuted, fallen down open manhole covers, had Mousers glomped onto my hands, and been flattened by every object that’s fallen out of the sky. Every burn, every explosion, every smash is just as entertaining and hilarious as the best of the old school Turtles games I can remember. The fun doesn’t stop there, though! Foot Soldiers are often found in many of the quirky ways they used to be as you work through each level and its theme. Soldiers in the food court at the mall walk with trays of food while ones at the TV station are busy shooting cooking and exercise shows. Sometimes you just run up on a guy in the park while he’s eating an ice pop and start brawling. They nailed it right on the head.
There are some missions for collectables in the story mode, but they don't amount to much other than extra points to level up with.
The game is full of all kinds of subtle nods and references to classic, beloved Turtles stuff as well. Some of it’s more subtle than others, but if you look you will be rewarded. Sure, the stage intro screens have the silhouette of the boss-to-come just like old times, but did you catch the “Big Apple 3pm” reference on level 2? Oh, you did. Alright, but did you see what time was in the background in the final Shredder fight in the middle of NYC? It’s not all visual jokes and references either. The music, which is absolutely killer by the way, and with which you will be jamming out from start to finish while playing, sometimes contains melodic lines reminiscent of some original Turtles’ game themes. Give a close listen to the first hoverboard level (yep, they kept those too) and tell me you can’t hear it.
I could go on and on and on, but I’ll leave you to discover these satisfying secrets for yourself. What is clear is that this game wasn’t just made by folks who know how to make a kick-butt video game. It was also made by fans of the source material and folks who likely grew up playing the same old games we did.
Speaking of references, anyone confused by what these things are? Gosh, I'm old.
Better With Friends
You didn’t think I was going to wrap things up without talking about the multiplayer, did you? This game is advertised as supporting up to 6 players in any combo of couch coop or online matchmaking. I’ll admit that 6 players are a bit much, a chaotic melee of attacks where you sometimes lose track of exactly where your character is, but if you want that kind of multiplayer hilarity, perhaps at a party where you’ve got this game on the TV for drop-in/drop-out play, you can still have fun with it. Four players still fill the screen up with plenty of flashy visuals, especially when the super attacks start flying, but that’s a bit more manageable. And two or three players, in my opinion, are just about perfect (though as a reminder again this game is fantastically fun at any player count).
The online matchmaking is as quick as a few simple button presses. You can easily team up with friends or drop in with random players online. I really was shocked at how smoothly the online features worked. A lot of clear effort went into making sure it was as seamless as it seems. There’s not really much else to say about it. It works so well that it’s practically a non-discussion point. When was the last time you were honestly able to say that about online features? Personally, I can’t remember. A total chef’s kiss of a move on the part of the devs.
And of course, there are the new characters. Splinter and April are available from the get-go, and you unlock Casey Jones once you complete the story mode. They’re all just as unique as the turtles with their own animations and voice lines. They have their own style of play based on the limited character stats, and they’re all powerful and fun. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy playing April, though I was glad to see her included as a playable character, and she ended up being the first one I beat the game with! I couldn’t pick anyone else once I started playing as her. When I was a kid, I would get bummed out when someone picked “my character,” but with this new installment frankly I could get “stuck” with anyone and still be totally happy for hours on end. More fantastic game design on display here.
Remember that time April laid out both Bebop and Rocksteady and then dropped a mic? Ah, good times!
Believe me it’s occurred to me I might be viewing this game through such pizza tinted glasses that it seems it could do no wrong. I tried to pull myself back for this review and really think hard on whether there was anything I felt was lacking in this newest Turtles brawler. And if I had criticisms of the game, they would be these. While each level has a different boss to look forward to, you will fight them all exactly the same: mash your attack, hit dodge when the boss swings back at you, and maybe use your super to tank enemy attacks into more damage on their bars. With the exception of one fight, in which you use the “throw Foot Soldier at the screen” move (yes, if you remember that fight from Turtles in Time there is a fight that pays it due respect), all bosses are fought in similar ways. The Metalhead fight has one unique trick in it, and I wish we’d seen more of that kind of quirky uniqueness in the boss fights overall.
In some ways, the regular enemy mobs are way more interesting than bosses because you can string together more individual combos. As mobs mix enemy types later on, you also adjust your flow to make sure you’re getting the most out of your moves. Bosses, by comparison, can only absorb a handful of hits before they come back at you with their own, and they don’t get knocked around the same way regular enemies do. Also, does anyone remember the Bebop/Rocksteady pirate fight from Turtles in Time? Remember how, if you could get them to hit each other, the whip from one would get wrapped around the sword of the other? Double boss fights in Shredder’s Revenge do see the bosses messing with each other, but I’d give them a 9 out of 10. That little extra je ne said quoi, the whip wrapping around the sword, is missing in my opinion.
Anyone wanna ask Casey how he eats pizza with that mask on?
Let me not give you the wrong impression, though. These criticisms are very minor in the overall scheme of things. What do you want out of a brawler? You want a game that you and friends can sit down in front of for a few hours, or over a couple nights (story mode lets you save and resume), where you punch your way through a city’s worth of enemies. You want the satisfaction of that core gameplay loop, combos and super moves, and the satisfaction of watching another boss crumple to the pavement. You get all of that in Shredder’s Revenge and more.
Not only is this game one of the best brawlers in the truest sense of the word, it does something that is very difficult: It gives due respect to the roots from which it comes while offering something fresh at the same time. Strictly remaking a classic in 1 to 1 scale seems noble, but let’s all be real here. If we wanted to play the same old thing, emulators, virtual consoles, and our old systems still exist. A new game or a remake should bring something new to the table, and balancing that with what “a modern classic” should still be is no simple task.
Whether you love the old Turtles games or just want a modern, side-scrolling brawler to pass some time, you cannot go wrong with Shredder’s Revenge. If you think this looks like a game you want, grab it now. This one will age very well over the years and I’m sure will remain a solid title in many gamer's libraries. If you think it has a place in yours, it most certainly does.