I was born in 1987. When I was five years old, my most prized possession was a pair of Ninja Turtles shoes with light-up soles. I, along with millions of other kids of roughly the same age, was afflicted with Turtlemania. And after the cartoon and the movies, perhaps the most beloved artifact of the time is the pair of licensed arcade beat-em-up games: the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its sequel, Turtles in Time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a loving homage to those specific games, that era of beat-em-ups and fighting games in general, and of course, the cartoon that became a worldwide phenomenon. But developers Tribute and Dotemu weren’t content to merely replicate the games from the late 80s and early 90s, incredibly simple as they are by today’s standards. Shredder’s Revenge is a time machine that, while paying its respect to the era, embraces the renaissance of pixelated 2D games that have boomed since digital distribution began.
The result is an absolute treat for both beat-em-up fans and Turtlemania sufferers, longing still for that which further nurseth the disease. Shredder’s Revenge doesn’t do anything particularly innovative in terms of gameplay, but it’s rock-solid and polished to a mirror shine in the way even the original arcade games weren’t. Plus, its shell is absolutely stuffed full of goodies for fans of the first TMNT cartoon and the franchise as a whole. If you count yourself in either camp, it’s well worth the $25 asking price.
Shredder’s Revenge starts with a familiar-looking stage in the Channel 6 TV studio, then goes on a whirlwind tour of the Turtles’ colorful version of 1980s New York City. You’ll have to be an absolute wizard of franchise knowledge to recall the bosses of all sixteen side-scrolling levels, to say nothing of the near-endless parade of side characters and Easter eggs. Naturally the 3-5 hour ride (on standard difficulty with one player) ends with face-offs against Shredder and Krang, and the short, single-frame story interstitials don’t really care how you get there.
The more immediate means of progression is beating the absolute snot out of about a million variations of robots, Foot Clan ninjas (who I am reliably assured are also robots — hey, it’s been a long time since I watched the show!), and a few more interesting mutants. At the end of each level you’re treated with a boss who surely has their own fan wiki page. It would be easy for things to get repetitive — it is a beat-em-up, after all — but new bad guys, interactive stage elements, and expanded moves and powers are introduced at just enough of a clip to keep you engaged. It’s also a treat just to see what goofy visual gag is around the next corner, like the Foot Clan goons above manning food court counters.
I am self-admittedly terrible at old beat-em-ups, including the original Turtles games and similar era fare like X-Men. While Shredder’s Revenge doesn’t do anything to change the basic awkwardness of the 2.5D setup, it’s forgiving enough with its hitboxes and combos that I could reliably understand and pull off what I was trying to do. Get a long enough combo without getting hit and you’ll charge up a super move, but between a variety of attacks and dodges and frequent healing items and power-ups, you can generally get through without them even on a solo play. I think veterans of the genre will need to crank up the difficulty to the max to get a challenge.
This is perhaps the one downside of Shredder’s Revenge. While it is a loving homage to the genre, an homage is all it is in terms of gameplay. The smooth, forgiving combat feels great, but doesn’t add anything you haven’t seen before. I suspect that connoisseurs who have been spoiled as of late on excellent entries like Streets of Rage IV or River City Girls will be underwhelmed by the lack of innovation and challenge. For them, the game will have to win through on presentation and nostalgia alone.
You can bring along a friend (or two, or five) either locally or online, which unlocks combo moves and support. This is where the game really shines, unlocking even more of the characters’ charming animations and voice lines (some of which are delivered by the original cartoon voice actors). You can have as many as six player characters on screen at once — any of the four Turtles, plucky reporter April O’Neil, fuzzy dad figure Splinter, or once you finish the story mode, legendary railroad engineer hockey mask enthusiast Casey Jones. With all six on-screen at once it gets chaotic and occasionally incomprehensible, but the pixelated beauty never lets down a frame.
Visually Shredder’s Revenge is a joy for fans of the pixelated style. Every background bleeds unique, colorful elements, and every fighter’s animations are stuffed full of personality and charm. The four Turtles’ methods of movement and attack are visually unique to both their weapons and their characters, and even the lowliest grunts get to do something interesting with each new frame. Search every nook and cranny of the stages and you’ll find secrets that will challenge the memory of even the most devoted 80s cartoon fan.
But what really surprised me is the music. You get the expected remasters of the classic themes and TV show music, but there are also original songs, some with full vocals, ripped out of a radical alternate dimension of 1980s hip hop and power rock. It’s a devastating three-fingered punch right to the memory, somehow achieved with a track list of entirely new tunes.
The Steam version of the game is identical to the console version (where I admit I played most of the story mode). Unfortunately that means no real enhancements on PC, like support for ultrawide resolutions, but to be fair that would have required some fairly intense reprogramming of the very intentional stage design. PC players do get the advantage of online multiplayer, including crossplay with the Xbox, without needing to pay for a console service subscription. The game is also available on the PC version of Xbox Game Pass.
Shredder’s Revenge is a near-perfect nostalgia trip. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel for side-scrolling beat-em-ups, no one was asking it to. The game manages a subtle feat through a combination of modern design, classic sensibilities, and a Party Wagon full of cartoon callbacks. It doesn’t deliver the experience of playing the original TMNT games, it delivers the experience of how you remember feeling when you played those games. And that’s something truly special.
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