Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is kind of like a remaster, remake and entirely new game, all at the same time. It takes stages, ideas and other elements from the classic TMNT arcade games and mashes them together with some modern sensibilities. It’s like asking the pizzeria to take all the possible toppings and throw them on the pizza, but instead of some hideous gloopy mess that tastes like Master Splinter’s backside, you end up with a great pie. Cowabunga, dudes!
Dotemu, who is publishing this project, is best known for Streets of Rage 4 and Tribute Games, the developer, is made up of people who worked on the Scott Pilgrim remaster, both of which I covered prior. The question, then, was which path would Shredder’s Revenge walk? The slightly more technical path of Streets of Rage? Nope. TMNT favours a more Scott Pilgrim approach to its arcade brawling with crowd control being the focus because getting swarmed by a heap of enemies is pretty easy. But while I was a little lukewarm on Scott Pilgrim, despite my adoration for the movie adaption, I’m turtally into Shredder’s Revenge. It’s a simple, fun game that’s completed focused on giving us that feeling of being back in the arcade, but without the punishing difficulty that was designed to keep the coins flowing.
Tribute clearly didn’t just want to be nothing more than a tribute act, so they brought back a bunch of the original actors like Cam Clarke, Rob Paulsen, Barry Gordon and Townsend Colemen, all of whom voiced the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the very first animated series in 1987. The story kicks off with the Turtles chilling out with Master Splinter and April O’ Niel when all of sudden the broadcast is interrupted by Bebop and Rocksteady who are stealing some tech to aid in their quest for Krang and Shredder. That sets the turtles off on a chase across the city as they try to stop Shredder and Krang’s plans from coming to fruition, and that means kicking Foot Clan arse across New York, from the sewers to the beaches.
Look, let’s be honest here: the story is thinner than the toilet paper you find at the back of a local corner shop. And that’s fine because it doesn’t need to be anything more than that. It’s an excuse to travel from location to location, from the zoo to an alien planet and then back to the streets. The only real shame is in bringing the original cast back for such little work. A few one-liners in the very brief cutscenes between stages are all they get. It feels like a waste in some ways, although it was still a pleasure to hear them reprising their roles.
Of course, the four brothers are all playable characters and each one has slightly differing stats. Leonardo is the all-arounder, Donny has the reach thanks to his staff but doesn’t dish out much damage, Raff brings the muscle but has the shortest range and Mikey has the speed. On top of the heroes in half-shells, both Master Splinter and April ‘O Neil are playable, too, and as a reward for beating the game, you unlock Casey Jones, the hockey-mask-wearing, hockey-stick-wielding vigilante that was my favourite of the TMNT characters growing up. That brings the total playable characters up to an impressive 7. And on top of that, each of those 7 can be levelled up, giving them extra health and even unlocking new special moves.
Due to the constraints of game development back in the day, the original arcade games typically reused moves and animations for the characters to save time, money and space. Without those constraints, Tribute has given the whole cast their own unique animations, and the farther you delve into the game the more differences you can notice in their moves. If you do more than just go through the story once or twice you’ll probably start developing some character preferences. Surprisingly, I wound up favouring April due to her speedy attacks, plus her bad-ass V-trigger dashing knee attack.
A four-hit combo attack is the core of the combat. Considering you’re going to be hitting that one button for the majority of the game, it needs to feel good to pummel Foot Clan, dinosaurs and bosses in the face, and thankfully I can report that it does. Getting closer to enemies lets you grab them and perform a few different throws, including hurling them at the screen in a wonderful homage to the classic arcade titles. Jumping and dashing attacks round out the basic offensive moves.
A big addition is that of a dodge button, letting you quickly scoot out of trouble. It gives the game a faster feel than something like Streets of Rage 4, and it’s a pleasure to bounce around the screen and unleash rebound attacks. It fits in so well it feels like dodging has always been a part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games.
Finally, there’s the special attack bar at the top of the screen to consider. It gets charged up by either successfully taunting or by landing hits without taking damage yourself, and once full a quick tap of the Y button unleashes a wide special move that is perfect for clearing out crowds of enemies. Once you level up a character you also unlock an airborne variation of the special.
Overall. I think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a less precise game than Dotemu’s own Streets of Rage 4 and a little less skilful. However, I also don’t think that’s a negative point. This is a much more casual, fun brawler than SoR4, a perfect game to kick back with. Anyone from brawling veterans to your kids could enjoy this and that’s awesome.
My only small gripe is that being a sprite-based brawler there can be problems with depth perception, especially when facing off against flying enemies. I definitely missed a bunch of attacks because I couldn’t quite judge where the enemy was in relation to my character.
Whether or not you’ll want to repeat the whole game 7 times to level up the whole roster is hard to judge. You can mop up missed challenges or collectables for bonus XP, but once that’s done it’s simply a case of grinding out the levels. I think some sort of system where you get an XP boost for each maxed level character could have helped encourage people to go back and max out everyone. But even without that, I did find myself hitting level 10 with 4 out of the 7 characters, and I might even go back to mop up the last three in a month or so.
Obviously, the story mode is the tomato sauce and melted cheese of the whole game, boasting 16 stages of action, each one lasting no more than 10-minutes. There’s even an overworld where you travel from location to location in the Party Van, offering a little moment of respite from the punching and kicking. From news studios to alien planets there’s a good amount of places in which to travel from left to right, smacking Foot Clan members and battling bosses, of which there’s one at the end of every level. Challenges and collectables help flesh out the story mode, but you’re probably looking at around 2-3 hours for your first run through the game. Although that doesn’t sound great, do remember that this is an arcade brawler and if it stuck around too long you’d likely get bored of it.
I suppose we should address the lack of any real innovation in how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge approaches the genre. I’ve seen a few reviews point to this, and I do think they have a somewhat valid point. There’s absolutely nothing new on offer here. Perhaps Tribute could have been a tad braver, maybe implementing something like alternate routes in levels or having more in-depth side-quests. With that said, are any of us really looking for innovation here? Because I sure wasn’t. I wanted a classic-feeling brawler with modern polish and that’s exactly what TMNT has delivered. It knows what it wants to be, and it delivers on that dream in the most bodacious of ways.
If you fancy the classic feel of playing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s game in the arcades, albeit without having to bug your mum for more coins, then you can fire up Arcade mode. You get limited lives to beat every level in the game one after the other with no save points, either. Mechanically there’s nothing different going on, but it is a good test of your brawling skills, especially on the hardest of the three difficulty settings. It could potentially be frustrating not to be able to save between missions, especially if someone turns up at your door or something, but I think it’s worth the tradeoff to ensure you can’t save-scum. Plus, the Xbox’s sleep mode is perfect for those moments when you can’t complete the whole thing in one sitting.
Speaking of which, Shredder’s Revenge is available on Xbox Game Pass, and PC Game Pass.
Tackling the story mode and arcade solo is heaps of fun, but nothing matches taking a few other people along for the ride. Up to six people can tag-team to take on the Foot Clan using special co-op moves. It’s heaps of fun and the closer you get to a full squad the more manic gets as the screen lights up with specials being popped, bodies flying and turtles in every direction. In fact, the full 6-players is almost too much action as it becomes hard to keep track of what the shell is going on. It really depends on what kind of player you are; I personally think 2-players is actually the sweet spot, but there’s no denying that the chaotic energy of 5 or 6 six is massively entertaining. With that said, some people have reported framerate issues when six players start using their specials.
While you can team up with friends and strangers online, there’s also the option for proper old-school local sessions. It really does capture that classic arcade feeling, but amplified if you can get enough folk jammed onto one couch. The only slight hiccup isn’t even the game’s fault; the Playstation 4 and 5 can only support a maximum of 4 controllers. Xbox, PC and Switch all have room for more controllers.
Personally, I’m hoping DotEmu and Tribute replicate Streets of Rage 4’s Mr. X DLC which provided a way to replay the game over and over against randomised enemies, stages, items and even new upgrades. Something like that would fit perfectly in Shredder’s Revenge, and would be a great way to give players a reason to keep going back.
Before I wrap up this review and pop it in a pizza box for delivery, we have to talk about the graphics and audio. Visually, Shredder’s Revenge is damn-near flawless. Just look at those gorgeous pixel-art environments! Tribute has taken the look of the original games, tidied it up, splashed in more colour and yet somehow kept it true to the Turtles. I especially love some of the little details, like Foot Clan members working at checkouts, enjoying some ice-cream or one of dozens of other things.
The music was handled by Tee Lopes, a man becoming well-known for being able to handle older licenses like Sonic the Hedgehog. What he’s produced for Shredder’s Revenge is a killer soundtrack full of energy, excitement and a distinctive 80s/90s vibe that wouldn’t sound out of place back in the arcades. Don’t believe me? Listen to this song from the first stage, and make sure to hang around for outstanding guitar work by Jonny Atma, better known as GaMetal on Youtube.
But I do have a few bones to pick with the sound effects where it feels like sound boffins maybe took the 90s inspirations too much to heart. A lot of the sound work is anaemic. The explosions that occur when a boss is defeated have no oomph, strikes have no punch and the dialogue gets buried in everything else if you don’t manually mess about in the settings. It’s not bad, but the sound design simply isn’t up to par with the rest of the production. And weirdly, there’s no surround sound mix. The game seems to play purely in stereo. It’s not a huge issue in a side-scrolling brawler since the soundscape tends to be pretty narrow, but it’s still strange to encounter a stereo-only track in 2022.
By far, Tribute’s greatest success is how they somehow managed to make Shredder’s Revenge feel like it was made in the 90s. Playing through it, it evokes memories of arcade cabinets and amusements, and I could easily believe it was ripped straight out of those days and simply given a new lick of paint. And yet despite pulling those feelings out of me, it’s very much a product of today that takes the core brawler template and updates it with slicker, more nuanced fighting. From the Turtles themselves to the stellar graphics and the killer soundtrack, Shredder’s Revenge is a nostalgic trip that hits every single button in my poor 90s brain. It doesn’t rely solely on that nostalgia, though, gifting us with a hugely satisfying brawler. For brawlers fans, it’s absolutely an easy recommendation. For fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, it’s like a miracle from the Turtle Gods themselves. I freaking love Shredder’s Revenge.