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Review: TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is a must-play arcade throwback

Enlarge / Everyone’s favorite heroes in a half shell are back—and they’re here to reclaim their ’90s arcade-brawling glory.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge might be the best 2D beat-’em-up video game ever made. Depending on your preferences, it could drop down to #2 or #3 on your personal all-time list, but that still makes it an incredible, must-play game, and its production values and group-gaming fun factor are unmatched in the genre.

Since getting my copy, I’ve completed the game’s campaign four times and hosted gameplay sessions with a number of friends, and I’m still not tired of the fun on offer. Shredder’s Revenge is everything I have wanted in a Ninja Turtles arcade sequel: immediately accessible, gorgeously animated, hilarious, and packed with enough mechanical systems to make it satisfying to return to.

Beyond Guardian Heroes, beyond 2007’s TMNT

Enlarge / The game opens with a classically styled animated intro set to the TV series’ original theme song (re-recorded, sadly, but it has Mike Patton from Faith No More on vocals, which is cool.)
Dotemu / Tribute Games

Shredder’s Revenge rewinds to a 32-bit era of high-res, meticulously animated pixel art—perhaps one generation past the beloved likes of Guardian Heroes—and imagines a world in which Konami kept making TMNT arcade games. This week’s new game, out on Windows, Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch, imagines what directions the series might have gone in an alternate universe dominated by arcade games.

Enlarge / I’d love a version of the game’s title screen that doesn’t have text on it. This design looks rad, and I prefer the pixelated version over the hand-drawn one on the game’s physical box.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

As it turns out, the main developers of this new game tried such a concept 15 years ago. The simply named TMNT for the Game Boy Advance looked and felt a lot like games from the series’ arcade heyday, boosted by a satisfying combo-counter system and some experience-point chasing. Sadly, that solid 2007 game was lost in a portable-gaming world that had moved on to the Nintendo DS.

Somehow, the game’s devs stuck together and formed a new studio, Tribute Games (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World). Now, they’ve partnered with Dotemu (Streets of Rage 4) to take arcade-style turtling to the next level—and a big reason for the new game’s success is that it rewinds to the series’ past.

Enough humor and style to reward repeat playthroughs

Enlarge / This screenshot is so ’90s, you can practically smell the plastic toy version of the Turtles’ Party Wagon.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

This is the first Ninja Turtles game to return to the series’ breakout era of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and it does so with the bright aesthetics, era-appropriate music, and goofy comedy missing from other Turtles games that have come since. Each hero and enemy is loaded with comical and exaggerated animations, along with visual gags that don’t get old over repeated playthroughs.

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Newscaster April O’Neil joins the fight by beating up foes with microphones and cameras. Michelangelo madly dashes in a way that pays amusing homage to Wile E. Coyote. And your march toward the end of each level constantly interrupts members of the Foot Clan while they’re doing ridiculous things, from working fast-food counters at a mall to rifling through parked cars to steal their engines.

Tribute Games relishes the opportunity to animate other familiar characters from the ’90s animated series, and boss encounters in particular come with detailed, exaggerated takes on classic character designs that have aged incredibly well. From obvious mainstays Bebop and Rocksteady to deep cuts like Tempestra, each boss encounter benefits from charismatic dialogue and diverse battling patterns. The boss fights are so fun that I hope the game is eventually updated with a “boss rush” that lets players fast forward to them.

How mechanical do you want your turtles to get?

Enlarge / In story mode, you can use this Super Mario World-esque map to replay levels you’ve previously beaten. They each include optional challenges like “don’t fall into pits,” “take zero damage,” or “throw 10 enemies,” but the game doesn’t dole out noticeable rewards for completing them.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

At launch, the game has two modes. The gentler “story” mode includes between-level pauses and a way to rack up experience points for every main character, encouraging players to replay each level with different main characters (the four turtles, their sensei Splinter, their friend April O’Neil, and one secret, unlockable character). A frantic “arcade” mode puts players through a gauntlet of all 16 levels in sequential order, and it forgoes XP accumulation, instead rewarding players with crucial extra lives based on their enemies-beaten score.

Enlarge / Tag team, back again.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

The Konami arcade template of jumping and beating up enemies remains intact; novice players can lean on those two buttons alone and hold up fine in “easy” difficulty (or get help in co-op with friends, but more on that in a second). Just like in the ’90s classics, players can touch enemies without attacking to grapple and throw them, and they can also jump-kick over and over to get through quite a few sticky situations.

Even so, the game cleverly introduces new enemy types in “normal” difficulty in ways that force you to expand your tactics to succeed. A dedicated dodge button is quite useful on its own, but it also works as a “launcher” move: while mid-dodge, tap the attack button to launch forward at foes and knock them off their feet. The jump button activates a completely different jump-kick when pressed while “running” (double-tap left or right). Also, players can now double-jump by default, and when they do, their mid-air attacks change to a flurry of swipes, like something out of Smash Bros.

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Enlarge / Another new special move: Wind up to strike more stubborn foes.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

There are also four types of special attacks that each main character can access with a dedicated “special” button: one while walking, one while mid-air, one while mid-dodge, and a fourth that activates a Street Fighter-like “V-ism” flurry of super-fast attacks. Each attack has a different radius, movement ability, and other unique attributes, further differentiating the main characters (who already each have very different reach lengths, attack animations, and combos).

My pizza party… of despair

With all these maneuvers combined, it’s never been easier to read and respond to enemy types in a Turtles game—and that’s saying something for a game that delivers the series’ most diverse and satisfying enemy combinations yet.

Enlarge / These guys will sure nip at your heels (or, in this segment’s case, spit up grenades).
Dotemu / Tribute Games

Here they come: a crowd of Foot Clan grunts here; a shield-toting nuisance there; some classic robo-pups on this side; and a bipedal, grenade-tossing triceratops on that side. As I type those enemy descriptions, I can imagine, with a grin on my face, dispatching each with special moves, dodge-launches, mid-air flurries, and grapples that end with me tossing enemy bodies at the game’s fourth wall, mimicking the silly “mode 7” effect seen in the SNES ports.

The game’s flow of levels is broken up by arcade-classic moments like enemy-rush elevators and flying hoverboards through the sky, and Tribute Games also includes a few new pizza pickups that activate temporary waves of special attacks—usually placed next to large gatherings of weak enemies. Eat a slice, fill the screen with dazzling attack effects, and quietly say to yourself, “All of you are you invited to my pizza party… of despair.”

Online and multiplayer: Easy to access, maybe too easy to win

In my dozen hours of testing, I’ve noticed that the game’s modernized mechanics are easiest to appreciate in either solo or two-player modes at “normal” or “hard” difficulty. The enemy-to-hero balance in each rewards snappy responses to waves of enemies, and beating the arcade mode as a 2.5-hour gauntlet with a friend was among the most satisfying beat-’em-up experiences of my life—sometimes harrowing yet always tactically engaging.

Enlarge / Five-player chaos.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

As a callback to Konami’s frantic X-Men arcade cabinet, Shredder’s Revenge supports up to six players in co-op mode. In a very nice touch, Tribute Games lets players combine local and online players with a beefy netcode model. Want to fill out a six-player roster by stationing two people on one machine, three people on another, and a sixth solo player, with all three systems connected via online friends-list matchmaking? Yep, that works! (Sadly, as of press time, there’s no cross-play support between different platforms, but I was able to lean on Steam Remote Play to add friends to my PC co-op sessions for free.)

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Enlarge / In multiplayer modes, use a dedicated “high-five” button to give an ally a few bars of health. This is a good way for someone to return to their friends’ good graces after picking up the only pizza on screen, despite having plenty of health. (We’ve all been there. It was an accident! My hand slipped!)
Dotemu / Tribute Games

While I had tons of fun getting the player count so high, I found that Shredder’s Revenge doesn’t crank up the difficulty much with four or more players. That’s arguably for the best since the game’s 16:9 screen gets crowded with so many players, but I would appreciate some sort of “unhappy party” difficulty mode to toggle on once friends have gotten good at the game. It’s currently quite easy for groups to stay alive for a long time due to an unlimited “revive downed teammate” option that is easy to perform in larger co-op groups. (With only two players, trying to revive a teammate usually means getting punched by nearby foes, but larger groups can spread the crowd further and enjoy unlimited healing opportunities.)

Enlarge / Choose your turtle. In addition to these varying stats, each character has entirely different attacks and maneuvers.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

To that end, my biggest gripe with the game is how often it errs on the side of simplicity. Though the story mode includes “hidden collectibles,” none of these are very well hidden; so long as you punch every wooden crate in each level, you’ll find them all. The game also allows players to repeatedly tap a “meditate” button to max out a special-attack meter, with no penalty for doing so beyond a slight pause in the action—and this pause doesn’t matter when you’re walking from one battling zone to the next. And while the game tracks each hero’s hit combos, there’s currently no real incentive for maintaining them.

One of the easiest game recommendations of my career

Enlarge / Raphael approaches a big fight.
Dotemu / Tribute Games

I could see the game getting a quality-of-life patch that attaches a perk to combo counts and a restriction to meditation access (perhaps with one affecting the other), along with one more super-hard difficulty mode, to keep beat-’em-up pros engaged beyond the game’s low barrier to entry. (If you savor arcade brawlers that reward careful combo accumulation, you’ll prefer Streets of Rage 4, but even that game had to be patched to get to its current state.) So far, Shredder’s Revenge‘s “hard” mode does little more than increase the amount of damage players take, a penalty I’ve found to be surmountable between co-op revivals and plentiful extra lives and continues.

And that’s honestly it on the nitpick front. Shredder’s Revenge nails the tricky balancing act needed to keep longtime brawler fans engaged in the same sessions as novices who have merely shown up for familiar Ninja Turtles fun. Its soundtrack, composed by the incredible Tee Lopes (Sonic Mania), combines modern hip-hop flourishes with upbeat ’90s MIDI melodies in a way that’s so catchy, I’ve already worn the music out as a personal rip from the game’s installation folder. And its battling environments are colorful, diverse, and unobtrusive, letting you easily differentiate between the good and bad guys amid a frantic fight.

In my 25 years of professionally reviewing video games, I have never felt more confident recommending everyone check out a video game than with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge.

Verdict: Buy (or download as part of a paid Xbox Game Pass subscription).

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