Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge

18 Jun 2022

You really had to be a certain age to fully understand the absolutely monstrous chokehold that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had on younger kids at the time. Since then, to a certain extent, many other IPs popular with their target audience have had a hard time replicating at the height of its popularity. Save for the popularity of maybe Pokemon/Power Rangers later on, kids in the late 80s and early 90s were all about the pizza munching, shell kicking, ninjtsu-taught bipedal turtles to the point where a vast merchandising juggernaut was an eventual inevitability. You couldn’t walk five steps and either see the crew donning your TV screen, arcade cabinets, toyboxes, bedspreads, and eventually the silver screen (to mixed results).

Speaking from experience, I too couldn’t resist the clarion call of Eastman and Laird’s watering down of their original comic vision made appealing to a younger set. The 1987 Turtles defininitely brought the action every Saturday morning and beyond, and I could not resist checking out and enjoying the first two movies pretty regularly. We don’t like to talk about the third one, for obvious reasons. Though in terms of games, it was largely limited to the offerings on the NES. Konami (publishing as Ultra on the NES at the time) pushed out a messy sidescrolling beat ’em up simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is actually going to be brought to consoles by way of the Cowabunga Collection later this year. The combat was messy, the platforming wonky, and the controls were stiff but floaty at the same time. The best option for high-quality Turtles action at the time lived at the arcade, where Konami had a decent foothold at the time.

While there were no shortage of ways to play as them, the game that’s widely regarded as the best in the TMNT and beat ’em up space was far and away Turtles in Time. Whether you were playing in the arcade or on your SNES (Genesis got The Hyperstone Heist), this was beat ’em up action at its finest. While Ubisoft did try to modernize the game with the release of Re-Shelled back in 2009, it largely fell flat and lacked the magic and mechanics that made the original Turtles in Time so damned fun and replayable.

This is where Shredder’s Revenge comes in. With the resurgence of beat ’em ups these days (looking at you, Streets of Rage 4), developer Tribute aimed to recapture the magic of Turtles in Time and modernize it in a way that’s appealing to modern players.

Published by DotEmu, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge released on June 16, 2022 on PS4 (playable on PS5), Xbox One (playable on Series X | S), Switch, and PC (playable on Game Pass/Windows/Steam). The PS4 version (played on PS5 via backward compatibility) was played for this review.

Coming Out of Their Shells (Again)

The plot for Shredder’s Revenge couldn’t be any simpler. That’s by design. Arcade beat ’em ups of the late 80s/early 90s were generally known for being light on plot and heavy on the gameplay. Given that Shredder’s Revenge aims to emulate the aesthetics and trappings of that era, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The game opens up inside the Turtle Lair, where our half-shelled heroes are chilling out in front of the TV watching Channel 6. Suddenly, the broadcast is interrupted by none other than Bebop laying bare Shredder’s latest new-old plan to take over New York City. Knowing they can’t rest on their laurels when the Foot Clan is up to no good again, the Turtles (with Splinter and April in tow) spring into action and do what they do best against the Foot.

If this sounds familiar, then you’re not too far off. That’s absolutely deliberate. There’s no heavy writing, no over dramatic and overlong cutscenes, none of that. The best way to describe this plot is that it takes a few cues from the story of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. Namely where it takes the basic premise and stretches it out across interstitial animated-ish cutscenes in between stages throughout your playthrough. Here you actually get some voice acting thrown into the mix, though most of it comes up to the cheese you might expect from this particular set of Ninja Turtles.

Really, those who are into the beat ’em up scene recently are used to this sort of thing. When you want to tell a story but keep things at a brisk pace, this sort of thing is expected. Though just because it’s a light plot doesn’t mean it doesn’t have entertainment value, because it does. It ultimately amounts to playing through an episode of the 1987 show, and that’s totally fine. Spread thick with a layer of the cheesiest cheese, the story of this game largely concerns itself with having a good time. In that regard, I’m totally fine with it and it works. Entertainment value doesn’t always have to be dense, and the plot of Shredder’s Revenge is light on density but heavy on regard for the source material. In that light, that’s really all you can ask for.

Cowabunga It Is

It’s often said that if you’re going to go for something that’s already been done, you need to at least meet or exceed what came before. Upon firing up Shredder’s Revenge, it’s obvious Tribute did their homework with the TMNT beat ’em up back catalogue. The gameplay is absolutely a classic beat ’em up from start to finish, and it wears that nostalgia on its sleeve in the best way possible.

Right off the bat, you’re going to have access to the core team as well as Splinter and April O’Neil. Naturally, everyone is going to have their own unique attributes in gameplay. Like with Leo being the usual all-around type, Raph being the tank, April being the speedy one on the field, and so on. No one character feels especially weak, and the game benefits from the player being able to experiment at their leisure.

Mechanically speaking, it’s as solid as you’d want from a beat ’em up. Basic combos are simple enough, but that’s fleshed out by returning moves like the Fling Toss and the Fling Smash. Various dodge combos can get you out of a sticky situation and turn the tide, especially when the game likes to throw hordes of foes in your direction. There’s also a charge attack, but the pace of the gameplay often renders it ineffective unless you can find a good spot to charge in. Also present is a rising attack that’s useful for airborne enemies, but it isn’t always effective. Though there is a double jump and a double jump attack that can be used instead.

If you really find yourself in a jam (and you often will), you can use a Super Attack if you have enough Ninja Power stored up. You can gain this through successful combos, or you can taunt your way to it instead. I love the presentation of each taunt, as each one reflects the personality of each character. Regardless, I often found myself taunting to give myself an edge in battle. This is generally because every character’s Super Attack unleashes an unblockable area of effect with invincibility frames to go with it. Playing in single player, it’s often a good last resort when you’re in a bind. Though in multiplayer, even with the scaling enemy density, it often makes the chaos manageable. Spamming it often felt a little on the cheesy side, but it felt like a good way to power through.

Through natural play, you’re going to find yourself leveling up your selected character, which will unlock additional attributes and other such benefits as you progress. If you find yourself doing a full multiplayer sitting, these abilities should unlock pretty easily through natural play. Though for someone going solo, it’s a reason to do multiple runs of the short campaign. The campaign can be experienced in either a world-mapped Story Mode, or a more traditional Arcade mode that behaves as you would expect it to do. The former is good for quick hits when you have time (most of the 16 stages can be finished between 5-10 minutes depending on difficulty and skill), but the latter is definitely better suited for those who want to do a full run or a one credit clear (there’s an achievement for that, too). Regardless of which mode you choose, it really comes down to the type of experience you want to have at the time.

One constant throughout, however, is the health and life system. Health pickups along the way aren’t sparse, but finding them isn’t a rare event either. You can find them in hidden areas along with the random pickups and such that you’ll find for certain characters looking for them, so exploring the environment is encouraged if you’re on the hunt to stay alive. This is in addition to other pizza power ups that aren’t always overpowered, but they are placed in a useful way.

Some may balk at the total lack of checkpoints, but I feel like this evens out well enough. If you run out of lives, you’re starting over from the beginning of the stage in story mode or starting a new run in arcade mode. While the game isn’t especially difficult, part of me does wish that this was an option to toggle for those who want to keep the frustration down. Even with the short length of each stage, I can see how some may get frustrated and step back. Stage specific challenges are present here, and actually add appropriate challenge to an otherwise balanced difficulty.

Boss battles seem like a bit of a hit-and-miss thing. For some, there’s a little bit of strategy and execution involved to get things done. For others, it’s as simple as powering through full bore with little regard for defense. Each boss celebrates different characters from the ’87 canon (with references from other versions scattered throughout), so having each boss be unique and fun experience can be a challenge sometimes. No fight is especially bland or annoying, but you can tell which ones took a little more work to make compelling throughout.

When Turtles In Time dropped in the arcades, it was one of several ways to do multiplayer with more than two people simultaneously. Naturally, when the home version came to the SNES, such a thing wasn’t (easily) possible. So it essentially became a two player experience. Thanks to modern technology and controller support, the arcade experience originally envisioned for the home version of its forebear can be emulated accurately. Shredder’s Revenge can and will relish in the chaos of the multiplayer experience, though most modern platforms can only support up to four players on a single console. This is where online play comes in. If you really want the pure 6 player couch experience, you’re gonna have to do it on two separate consoles and create an online room for everyone at a mix of the player limit to each console.

Even with the chaos, the fact games like this are bringing couch multiplayer back in the best way possible while also borrowing elements from other games is a welcome sight. Find yourself low on health and can’t get to a pizza in time? High five an ally and leech their health Kirby style! Did you get rocked in the heat of battle and need a pickup? Have an ally resurrect you like you would in Scott Pilgrim! In a bind and need to clear the screen, use a Team Super! The kind of insanity that can only be experienced in a game like this is well represented here. Some might balk at the difficulty dulling with more players, but it’s a really fun time no matter how many friends you rope in to play. Having the drop in/drop out mechanic is also helpful if you find yourself playing in a party setting.

With a manageable difficulty, a reasonably easy to learn combat system, and a decently balanced multiplayer experience, the reason people come to beat ’em ups at all is all you could want from the genre. I will admit some may balk at the difficulty or lack thereof, even with the choice of difficulty levels. But the overall experience is rather fun, and that’s really all I want from a game like this. It takes the best parts of prior titles and brings them into the modern era, and I’m not going to complain about that.

Ninja Turtle Mania

If someone asked me to boil the presentation down into a single word, I would 100% choose “celebration.” This is largely due to the wall-to-wall reverence for anything and everything TMNT. The general art design takes a similar approach to games like Sonic Mania, where it not only uses a graphical style not available at the time, but also has the cast going through familiar locales and using elements from past games with reckless abandon. That’s not a complaint. The art may use a 32-bit 2D style, but there’s so much personality shining through the environment and spritework. If it isn’t the taunts giving everyone a character appropriate moment, it’s using visual elements and nods from the past. It’s pulling up obscure characters and visual gags that poke fun, or just straight up throwing fan-centric nods when you least expect it.

The combination of sprite work and environments absolutely nail the 32-bit aesthetic that Tribute were going for. Animation in general is fluid and detailed, and has fun in the process. If you’re a hardcore Turtle fan, there’s going to be a lot for you to look out for during your playthrough. It’s been a very long time since I actually sat down and watched some classic TMNT, and even I was going “that’s a great nod” and “I understood that reference” more times than I care to admit. It doesn’t overly rely on this, but it strikes a good balance of nostalgia and reverence as a result. You better believe I was jamming and loving the opening cutscene as soon as I fired this up. I’m not afraid to say that I fell victim to nostalgia here, and it was enjoyable the whole way through.

Every environment is full of detail, and it often compliments the level design. They may not be a total 1:1 recreation of past stages, but it does borrow many elements from prior titles or puts a twist on it. Without giving too much away, anyone with a history with TMNT games will know what came from where when they pop into each stage. In some ways, it could be seen as lazy. But there is precedent for making something fresh out of existing environments, and it feels appropriate to say that was achieved here.

The star of the game for me has to be the overall audio presentation. Due to technological limitations at the time, things like voice acting were seen as a rare treat to indulge in. Here? It’s taken to it’s logical conclusion, and it seems like they spared no expense in going absolutely all out with the sound design. Combat sound is appropriately punchy, and there’s way more voice acting than you would expect from a game channeling the 90s.

What’s more is that they pulled a Ducktales: Remastered and brought back as many voice actors from the original series as they could, with subsequent cast members from later iterations filling in where necessary. I’d be lying if I wasn’t smiling ear to ear when I heard Cam Clarke, Townsend Coleman, Barry Gordon, and Rob Paulsen reprise their roles as the core four. Sure, this is absolutely playing to the crowd. But you can tell that everyone involved was having fun.

Bringing all of the audio together is Tee Lopes in the soundtrack department. Needless to say, his back catalogue speaks for itself. Channeling musical aesthetics from the 90s and tailoring it to the vibe of well known IPs is 100% in his wheelhouse, and it shows from the time you start up the game to when you hit the credits. Not everything is a certifiable bop, but there are plenty of sweet jams along the way I found myself loving every second of. Not content to let things rest there, the guest tracks from the certified rap legends Raekwon/Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang Clan (For the children!) and nerdcore rapper Mega Ran (His own back catalogue is just *chef’s kiss*. Legend.) are absolute delights to listen to. This is one soundtrack that I’m definitely adding to my vinyl collection thanks to the folks over at Kid Katana.

Everything about the presentation doesn’t miss at all, and I’m glad that they went as hard as they did. Even if you’re a casual fan, you’re gonna find something to love at every corner. The overall aesthetics were nailed, everything is beautifully animated, and everything audio-wise is just top-notch. Oftentimes you see this attention to detail with games with way bigger budgets than this, but I love that the “less is more” approach taken here just works in every possible way.

It’s a Party, Dudes!

From start to finish, Shredder’s Revenge is the best kind of nostalgia bait. If the tight gameplay doesn’t totally pull you in, the presentation absolutely will. Tribute wanted to make a worthwhile follow-up to one of the best beat ’em ups in the genre and absolutely killed it. Whether you’re playing alone or with your buddies, it’s a nonstop celebration of TMNT in a way that doesn’t lean too much on fan pandering. I can’t in good faith level a perfect score with a few minor nitpicks, but it sure comes close to netting one.

If you’re a hardcore Ninja Turtle fan or someone looking for a fun as hell beat ’em up to play with friends on a pizza-filled Saturday night, you’re going to have a lot of fun no matter what crowd you find yourself in. It succeeds in bridging the past and present, and knows how to hit the mark for any fan. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a worthy follow-up to an arcade/console classic, and a game worthy of counting itself as one of the genre’s best examples of how to do a beat ’em up right. This is Turtle Power at its absolute best.

~ Final Score: 9/10 ~

Review copy provided by DotEmu for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of DotEmu.