It must be nice to have a game created as a send-up to a beloved slice of your childhood – that’s exactly what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge will be for a subset of folks in their thirties. To have a place in your heart for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of the 1980s, and see that property revived with ample reverence and modern advances, must feel great. It's like a gaggle of Canadians made a game just for you.
I wasn’t alive back in 1987 when the legendary TMNT cartoon first aired, nor did I really jump on the bandwagon at any point (aside from one regretful ticket purchase to the Michael Bay produced film). Even then, the work done by the team at Tribute Games is bursting with so much passion as to crack even the most indifferent of hard shells.
As an elevator pitch – TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up where the player takes control of one of the four ninja turtles, or one of their compatriots. The Foot Clan is causing havoc in New York City and beyond, in typical cartoon villain style, so it’s up to the gang to jump into the action and stop the villains before it’s too late.
What this actually means in terms of gameplay is you – plus up to five others in cooperative play – fight your way through waves of Foot Clan ninjas in a variety of colourful levels, each with a big boss at the end. Limited lives, floor pizza that heals you (don’t worry, it’s still good), high scores and stage transitions are all a blast for the past for some, but all core features to any good beat ‘em up. Everything you’d expect is present here.
In TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, there’s this perfect blend between the feel of an old school side-scrolling action game and the smoothness and ease of play only possible with modern day development. Tribute Games, to give the team the kudos it’s due, keep to that balance flawlessly. Playing this game brings back old memories of Streets of Rage or Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, but I’m not yanked out of the fun through janky controls, clunky combat, or having to wait 10 seconds for an enemy to walk back on screen after being thrown out.
Tribute Games has made sure that once enemies walk onto the stage, they’re stuck there. All characters can charge up attacks, and characters let off a little spark when you’ve passed the threshold for a bit of extra damage. The proximity at which you automatically grab enemies is clear and easy to pull off, and it’s these small aspects that combine to make the experience that much more enjoyable. I don’t think there was a moment in my time playing where I felt an ounce of frustration weigh me down. Aside of course from when I got rocked in a tough fight – but even I was keen to jump back in.
There’s some proper depth here, too, and a larger move list than you may expect. What this means is, if you don’t care to invest too much time into learning the ins and outs of TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, you can mash away at your attack button and be alright. But, if you do take the time to wrap your head around the full extent of abilities, movement-reliant attacks, and supers at your disposal, you can pull off some pretty impressive combos. Weaving rising attacks with dive kicks, regular combos with charged up strikes, and using my dash to kick-off engagements with a sliding tackle is what kept my brain from going into auto mode during longer periods of play.
For what it’s worth, I feel the game is far better played with a controller. For the review, I was playing on my PC and while I jumped in using a keyboard, it just didn’t quite feel. You certainly can if you wish – and I’m sure a bit of key rebinding may sort out any feelings of discomfort or general weirdness – but the moment I plugged in my DualShock 4, I was right at home.
It sounds obvious, but I was glad to see – almost immediately – that this game didn’t take itself seriously at all. At every opportunity, there’s a goofy joke or fun scenario that you’d hope to see in a game about ninja turtles fighting ninjas out on the streets. This is all brilliantly set up from the first level I played – the TV studio – and only ramps up as the game progresses. You walk into the Foot Clan seemingly cooking live, popping out of freezers with frozen chunks of meat that they throw at you, and typing at desks as if they were trying to blend in and sneak up on you.
In this way it feels like you're playing through episodes pulled right out of the cartoon and I think that’s crucial here. I went back and watched a few episodes before and after sessions with the game just to get to grips with what tone I should expect and whether it’s present in TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. I think they just about hit the nail on the head; it’s fast paced and packed with action.
There’s never a slow moment, and little details like enemies splatting against walls when knocked back into them further envelops you in the cartoon feel. Even as someone without much stake in the source material, I feel it – like a kind of phantom nostalgia. I may not have sat around a CRTV and watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid, but I’ll bet you £10 that a good number of the development team did.
Hand in hand with creating a game that appeals to a desire for a retro experience is a retro aesthetic, and it’ll come as no surprise that TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge comes with gorgeous pixel art visuals that go a long way in taking you back to the 1980s. Each level, each character, and enemy pop off the screen with vibrant primary colours reminiscent of a now overpriced TMNT lunchbox or sugary cereal. The green of the turtles or the yellow of April O’Neil’s jumpsuit stand out clearly even at the most hectic of moments.
It goes beyond just some great visual work. If you take a look back at one of the previous titles from Tribute Games founders Jonathan Lavigne, Jean-Francois Major and Justin Cyr – Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – you’ll know how it managed to capture the unique art style of the original graphic novel. The same is true of TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, which manages to blend the art style from the original 1987 cartoon with pixel art inherent to that era.
If a game's longevity is an important factor for any purchase, that may become a problem when it comes to Shredder's Revenge. To go through and beat the story mode once took me around three and a half hours, which obviously is on the tad short side. To the game's credit, there are plenty of optional collectables to go around and find, as well as challenges for each level to complete.
Add on top of that multiple difficulties, unique endings for each character, Casey as an unlockable character for those who complete the game once over, and a challenging arcade mode, and there is ample room for replay value – if you so desire. This is clearly the kind of game that is intended for social play, which obviously muddies up any "how long to beat" measurement and leaves it very much up to each buyer's own preference.
Obviously, if you love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you’ll love Shredder's Revenge. As hinted at in the intro to this review, it’s built for you! If you’re like me and don’t have that history, you’ll still find a polished, super enjoyable experience here. With up to six player co-op, it’s the perfect game to slap on in the living room with some friends crashing round, plug in a few controllers and have a bash. I did, for important critique-related reasons, order some pizza while I was testing it out. I can confirm that it does, in fact, make the experience that much more enjoyable. Additional toppings aside from cheese were not tested.