by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Perhaps it’s different now in the age of streaming, but I think that everyone old enough to grow up with DVDs or VHS tapes has two or three movies that they watched on repeat simply because it's what their parents had around. For me, that was the delightfully cheesy (but unflinchingly awesome) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. I would later go on to watch and enjoy the other live-action films (well, the older ones) and cartoons, but that work will forever be engrained in my memory as an absolute treat.
That being said, the TMNT IP has so many quality pieces of media that fans have been introduced to Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo, and the rest of their supporting cast in a wide range of ways. For many, the Turtles are products of the fantastic 1989 arcade game. Though it shared many similarities with other coin-guzzling brawlers of the era, the game became a hit due to its diverse roster of playable characters and bright, eye-catching visual style. Unfortunately, arcades have largely gone the way of the dodo, meaning that the genre has seen a sharp, though not complete, decline.
Not Staying Chained To The Past
Despite hearing the positive buzz surrounding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge, I'll admit that I was a bit apprehensive about the game's attempt to emulate the arcade classics before I started playing it. For every Cuphead that comes out and proves to be a great game in its own right, dozens of "retro" experiences use nostalgia as a crutch to make up for poor game design. Fortunately, that's not the case with Shredder's Revenge, which expertly blends its influences from the past with modern conveniences and conventions.
As fondly as many of us remember them, it's an unfortunate truth that many (all?) arcade games were designed to make people spend quarters instead of being built to be the best games that they could be. Part of this meant that controls were often not super tight, and defensive options were limited to make sure that even the best players had to buy more lives sooner or later. Thankfully, the general flow of combat has been updated to meet modern sensibilities and more heavily enable and reward defensive movement and positioning.
Taking The Fight To The Foot Clan
Players can select from a bevy of popular fighters including, but not limited, to the titular turtles, and each one has a distinct style that prioritizes a unique combination of speed, range, and damage. Regardless of which character a player chooses, though, they'll rely on the same suite of general moves (with slight differences). I first tried out Donatello, assuming that I'd vibe with his bo's extended attack range, but I found Michelangelo's quick hits and better mobility more to my liking. I'll admit that I struggled early on, something I partially attribute to my lack of recent experience with beat-em-ups and partially blame on the game's poor "tutorial". I do understand that these kinds of games often don't have tutorials at all, but a 20-slide set of screens showing every button combination in the game and the corresponding moves was probably more overwhelming and helpful.
In addition to some basic light, strong, and jumping attacks, each character also has a few other tricks up their sleeves (shells?). Players can and must make liberal use of the roll dodge function, which can also transition into a follow-up attack. Throws are necessary to make quick work of some villains, and there's a special screen-clearing attack that can be unleashed after a combo meter has been built up. It doesn't sound like much, but I actually found myself putting a lot more thought into positioning and combat flow than I expected. Players simply trying to mash attacks will die quickly, and learning how to leverage each character's strengths is a must. If I have any complaints, it's that there's not really much to speak to in terms of evolving gameplay. For the most part, the moves are the moves, and they do what they do. This is minor, though, as the game plays so well right from the start.
Retro Graphics And Music
Story Mode presents as thin of a narrative as one would expect in a game like this, but the dozen and a half or so levels are bright, diverse, and full of life. Expected locations like streets and sewers are joined by more exciting broadcast studios and zoos, and many of them have unique environmental hazards (I particularly enjoyed dodging bananas thrown by monkeys at the zoo). Each level is closed with a boss fight and, while they're generally pretty straightforward, they all feel like 90s-era comfort food with cheesy monologues and flashy, telegraphed attack suites.
Beyond level design, the art style and overall presentation in Shredder's Revenge are simply superb. The character models are highly detailed, and the animations are smooth and emotionally evocative. It sounds insignificant, but even the way that the pizza looks, with that classically-90s blanket of physics-defying cheese, just feels right and brings me back to my days watching Saturday morning cartoons. The music is also about as perfect as I could have wanted, with the game featuring a mix of classic turtle songs, remixes of old jams, and entirely new works made very much in the style of early 90s pop-rap.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge could have been a nostalgic cash grab, but it is instead a wonderful side-scrolling beat-em-up that acts as a love letter to the entire genre. The game is made better by its license and fan-service references, but, beneath all that, it's an excellently crafted game that stands on its own merits. It’s a short game with a lot of replay value, and it’s worth the price of admissions for anyone with even a passing interest in what it offers.
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Retro art style that doesn’t feel cheap, tight controls, engaging combat, fantastic art design and presentation.
An overwhelming tutorial, little meaningful progression or gameplay changes throughout the story.