I’m a ‘90s kid, which means the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were roughly as important to my childhood as the 15th century artists who they’re named after were to the Renaissance itself. Like many other ‘90s kids, I not only watched the original cartoon with religious fervor – I also had (much to my parents’ dismay) every combination of Ninja Turtles toys, cereal, bedsheets, underwear and of course, the video games that you could think of.
The video games, which started for me with the quarter-eating 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game from Konami (I’ll purposely gloss over the egregiously difficult original TMNT NES game for article length and sanity reasons) and continued with the TMNT: Turtles in Time sequel as well as the many emulations and successors for the NES, Super NES and Sega Genesis consoles, were fun-filled, side-scrolling, beat ‘em up games; they are some of my most cherished and enduring gaming memories to this day.
Rolling into the mall arcade with my little brother and two of my best friends, our zebra-striped Zubaz pants pockets and Starter jacket front pouches brimming with weeks worth of allowance-earned dollar bills hoarded specifically for the TMNT arcade cabinet (and maybe a few set aside for Mortal Kombat too) or playing TMNT II: The Arcade game all day, night and into the early hours of the following day until the B-button on my NES controller was permanently concave were weekend rituals; memories that still make me nod my head in rose-tinted remembrance, longing for the “good ol’ days.”
Which is why the recently released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, developed by Tribute Games and published by Dotemu (who also published the similarly retro-steeped Streets of Rage 4) is nothing short of nostalgic, Foot Soldier stomping bliss for an old head like myself. Much like Streets of Rage 4 was to its predecessors, Shredder’s Revenge is an unabashed love letter to the classic TMNT beat ‘em up games, from the arcade-style gameplay to the ‘90s animated series inspired, pixel-based art style to the distinctively offbeat cast of characters to the Fred Wolfian narrative.
Despite being a game that leans heavily on sentimentality, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is far from a stale rehash; instead it fills an admirable, retro niche which both recaptures qualities that made the original TMNT games so enjoyable back in the day and infuses them with enough new ingredients to make it a fresh, modern day experience.
Those new ingredients include more variety to the Turtles’ moveset repertoire in the form of a dodge button, charged attacks, three different jump attacks, a variety of throws, and three different Special Attacks that can be built up by consecutive attacks landed without getting hit or the new Taunt mechanic (harmless, funny actions like Splinter sitting cross-legged and meditating or Michelangelo busting out a dance move) and tracked via Super meter at the top of the screen – all additions that provide much needed variety to the moveset core of original games, where the Turtles were pretty much relegated to a basic attack, a jump kick and a throw.
New moves aren’t the only welcome addition – there are three new playable characters added to the mix as well. They include the Turtle’s father figure “who taught them to be Ninja teens,” the purple-robed, half-man, half-rodent, Master Splinter; and April O’Neil, plucky news reporter for Channel 6 and longtime confidante of the Turtles. There’s also a staple Ninja Turtles ally that can be unlocked by beating all sixteen episodes and the final boss.
While it’s clearly novel and pretty damn cool to play as Master Splinter, who uses his walking stick in tandem with his incisors and rat-paws for attacks and April, who has a mean bicycle kick and swings a camera for her special attack, what makes these new additions even more special is the new attribute stat system which is scored by a rating of up to three stars for each attribute.
To further clarify, a quick history lesson. If you ever played the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game you might remember that purple-masked Donatello had a distinct advantage over on account of his bo staff weapon, which had better overall reach than his brothers’ weapons (and thus, could hit Foot Soldiers and bosses from further away). This has been balanced in TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge with each playable character having their attributes ranked in three different categories: Power, Speed and Range. It’s a nuance that adds a surprising amount of variety into the game, making the Turtles and their allies’ playstyles more diverse than simple palette swaps with different weapons.
In order to make the most of the additions of April, Splinter, et al as playable characters in TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, Tribute has beefed up the multiplayer possibilities as well, with local and online co-op of up to six players.
And it’s the multiplayer where this game truly glows as bright as a canister full of Mutagen. Yes, it’s still fun to play through the game by yourself. But add a little brother or best friend who grew up just as diehard a TMNT fan as yourself? Or maybe a son or daughter who was too young to have grown up with the old school TMNT cartoon and games but who can fall in love with this game and its colorful cast of characters much the same way you did as a kid? Throw in a couple of orders of marshmallow and pepperoni pizza (the Turtles actually ate a pizza with that topping combination in Episode 39, “The Missing Map”) for you and up to five of your friends and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge becomes a no-brainer party game.
The soundtrack is also to be commended; no, Tribute wasn’t able to procure the licensing properties to “Turtle Power” by Partners in Kryme or “Ninja Rap” by Vanilla Ice (two songs from the Ninja Turtles movies that are still stuck in my head to this day, for better or worse) but maybe you’ve heard of a couple dudes named Raekwon and Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang Clan, who drop a track for one of the later levels that’s better than it has any right to be; the rest of the soundtrack is handled by Tee Lopes, whose resume includes Sonic Mania, League of Legends and Streets of Rage 4. Lopes (who is also helped by contributions from Jonny Atma, Mega Ran and Mike Patton) quite simply, nails it – there are the requisite tracks that sound like contemporary variations of the old school arcade games and the rousing tempo changes for boss battles but these are accentuated by uplifting rock anthems as you hoverboard above the Manhattan skyline, energetic hip hop hooks for mall arcade brawls and did I already mention there’s a fresh Wu-Banga to nod your head to while you scrap with Shredder and Krang? Because there is. And no cap, it’s pretty fire.
As if all that sonic sweetness wasn’t enough, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge features all of the voice actors who voiced the Turtles from the 1987 cartoon reprising their roles: Cam Clarke as Leonardo, Barry Gordon as Donatello, Townsend Coleman as Michelangelo and Rob Paulson as Raphael. So when Donatello is stooped over playing a video game, saying “Just a minute” for his Taunt or Michelangelo says, “Mondo notion, dude!” on the character select screen, it’s the same guys doing the voices that did them for the old school cartoon. Which is a pretty mondo notion, truth be told.
Despite all the welcome additions and refurbishments, the double-edged katana in a game that’s such a faithful reproduction to its predecessors is just that – at its core, it’s still very much the same game as the ones you’ve played already. If you’re not a fan of beat ‘em ups, you probably won’t be anything more than whelmed by TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge.
The game is also fairly short; even with sixteen episodes, a dedicated player can cruise through the game in five hours or less. There are collectibles hidden throughout levels like Vernon’s VHS Tapes or Irma’s Diaries that reward bonus experience, but unless you’re a diehard completionist, there’s no real impetus to find them all.
Nonetheless, Tribute and Dotemu have a lot of love for the ‘87 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property and beat ‘em up games in general and it shows; if you have even a little bit of love for the Turtles and beat ‘em ups as well, Shredder’s Revenge is going to provide an inordinate amount of fun. Many times experiences you fondly remember as a kid become dulled when you try to rekindle them as an adult – Shredder’s Revenge makes playing a Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up every bit as fun as the arcade and NES games you remember as a child. And better still? You might be able to help a friend or loved one form an indelible gaming memory with you this time around too.