Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Shredder’s Revenge succeeds in being true to genre’s traditions, accessible to anyone who is willing to try it, and thematically irresistible on account of the excellent use of a charming property that had already given birth to a few classics of the beat ’em up genre

The emergence of a strong indie scene in the gaming industry has paved the way to a number of benefits: it has allowed pretty much anyone with a clever idea and some skill to publish their work; it has led to the appearance of very unique concepts, not to mention the rising of a few genres; and it has nicely filled release schedules with a steady flow of interesting products in an era when big games take very long to produce. Although these are by all means remarkable achievements, perhaps the greatest treat brought in by indies has been the fact these developers tend to tackle projects that were unlikely to materialize through the hands of the industry’s larger players, whether because they would be seen as too niche or due to their sometimes very peculiar nature.

At first, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge does not seem to entirely fit that bill. After all, there is nothing niche about a popular property that has given birth to a handful of beloved games. Furthermore, the genre to which it belongs is not exactly peculiar, as beat ‘em ups have been a staple in the market since its early days. But the truth is that without the indie scene, this new installment within the long-running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise would have never materialized, because the large companies that dominate the market would probably be rather reluctant to, in the contemporary gaming landscape, invest in what is essentially a console game that tries to replicate an arcade experience.

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Back in the 1980s, this transition was pretty much the norm; the NES, for example, presented a strong and varied library which partially consisted either of arcade ports or of franchises that were born in that environment. In 2022, though, with headlines focused on open-worlds, dynamic narratives, virtual reality, online matches with dozens of simultaneous players, and graphics that can be sometimes mistaken for real life, the simplicity of arcade gameplay is neither flashy nor trendy enough to earn the attention of big studios, which means that if it were solely up to these, fans of the format would mostly be out of luck. Shredder’s Revenge, therefore, is one of those games that would probably not exist if it were not for the indie scene.

Developed by Tribute Games, Shredder’s Revenge arrives with notable expectations attached to it, and for good reasons. Firstly, it represents the rebirth of a beloved property that carries with it a good deal of nostalgia. Secondly, it unexpectedly aims for the straightforward arcade beat ‘em up style, which other than being a rare sight also causes excitement due to how it was the format responsible for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ finest gaming hours. Finally, it was built by a group of developers that have a spectacular history in the genre, since in 2010 – as part of Ubisoft – they were responsible for the excellent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World before going on to found Tribute Games and produce numerous solid efforts in the action-platforming niche. It is a lot of weight to support, but Shredder’s Revenge delivers.

The adventure begins when Bebop and Rocksteady assault Channel 6 to steal devices that will help both Krang and Shredder execute their latest evil plan. Given they were tuned into the broadcast when the attack happened, the turtles plus Splinter and April O’Neil rush into the scene to find the building overrun by ninjas. What follows is an action-packed chase through New York City as well as Dimension X, with the simple plot being developed via pixel art stills – which include nice voice-overs – that serve to connect the sixteen episodes that make up the quest into a coherent script. It is a simple approach, but it is one that besides being very well-done, also turns out to be a perfect match for the fast-paced arcade spirit that rules over the proceedings.

In a successful attempt to embrace both hardcore beat ‘em up lovers and newcomers who have hopped aboard attracted by the charisma of the turtles, Shredder’s Revenge presents its quest in two variations: a Story Mode where continues are infinite and an Arcade Mode where progress is not saved and getting a game over means having to start from the beginning. In addition, each of those options can be configured to one of three different difficulties. Thanks to this excellent flexibility, Shredder’s Revenge makes a format that tends to be brutal welcoming to all kinds of gamers while propelling its replay value. It needs to be said, though, that since the quest is the same in the two modes, players are better off tackling Story Mode in a higher difficulty setting than usual if they do not want the journey to come off as excessively easy, because it seems challenge levels were balanced with Arcade Mode in mind.

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As any beat ‘em up fan should know, though, ultimately the two elements that are the most important in defining the quality of an effort in the genre are the combat gameplay and the multiplayer action. And when it comes to these, Shredder’s Revenge is a nigh absolute success. Starting the quest invariably leads to a skippable tutorial screen that reveals the characters have a total of twenty-one moves. It may seem like a lot, and indeed there is some work involved in remembering every one of them, but the fact most actions are tied to a combination of basic commands causes the arsenal of attacks to be fully accessible for people of all skill levels. The B button is used for jumping, the Y button triggers a standard attack, the X button activates a mighty special blow, the A button is tied to dodging, and the shoulder buttons are related to assist actions like a taunt that fills up the energy gauge that powers the special attack or a cheering motion that awakens allies that have been knocked out.

Out of these building blocks, particularly the first four, Shredder’s Revenge constructs a moveset that is rather intuitive. For instance, jumping or dodging before an attack, be it regular or special, will lead to variations of those actions. Furthermore, simply walking into an enemy will trigger a grab, which can be followed by a movement in any direction to different effects, from throwing a foe around in order to potentially hit other nearby bad guys, to humorously launching the poor soul towards the screen. In the end, what this setup does is motivate experimentation rather than memorization, making combat rather interesting and flexible as a consequence. As far as its moveset goes, the only caveat is that Shredder’s Revenge allows the taunt to be spammed, letting players fill the energy gauge at will and making the special attack too easily accessible.

On the front of cooperative multiplayer action, the game allows for a whopping total of six simultaneous players without ever taking dips in performance or making what happens on the screen become too frantic for its own good. However, the real highlight in this case is how quick and easy setting up online encounters is. As soon as they are in the character selection menu, players can choose to open their session so anyone can enter, invite specific friends, or look for rooms made available by fellow gamers, and the fact jumping in and out of these matches can be done at any point – be it while one is choosing a level or in the middle of the beating up – means it is very easy to find somebody to join forces with.

Like it happens with the moveset, though, there is a little nitpick to be made here: since Shredder’s Revenge does not show any extra information beside the available rooms, one never knows what kind of game they are joining. As such, if somebody is looking to either clear a certain episode or find partners who are in a specific portion of the adventure, they are better off doing it alone while leaving the door open for others to join. Fortunately, even if playing solo is not as fun as saving the world in multiplayer fashion, since the kind of arcade gameplay exhibited here is ideal for that configuration, there is still a good time to be had as a lonely hero. The reason for that is, of course, the fact Shredder’s Revenge is pretty well designed. There is nothing about its core that abandons the essence of an arcade beat ‘em up, because all its stages respect the traditional formula of locking the screen in place and only allowing players to advance once they have defeated the enemies that have popped up. Yet, in those tight confines, the game excels.

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Beating foes is very satisfying. Shredder’s army is a varied organization made up of ninjas that carry different weapons, flying creatures, aggressive Triceratons, dangerous robots, and other bad guys that will push the heroes to use all of their skills. The bosses that wrap up every stage are different from one another in attack style and patterns, with some battles – especially towards the end of the quest – even going as far as requiring the performing of specific actions. The stages themselves, despite displaying the structural rigidity that is common in the genre, have pretty nice twists that give them character, like dynamic traps that can either hurt or help players. Finally, the graphics and soundtrack are so perfectly done that they make the whole package come off as a love letter to the property: the visuals are covered in appealing bright colors, the animations are bursting with personality, and the music is stellar whether it is diving into 16-bit songs or recorded performances, like the Wu-Tang Clan’s amazing execution of the game’s main theme.

The arcade constitution of Shredder’s Revenge means it is a short game: its levels last between five and eight minutes each whereas going through its Story Mode should not take more than three hours. It is not much, even by indie standards, but it is a length that is pretty good for a traditional beat ‘em up. The game, though, knows how to take advantage of its home-console nature to add a few bells and whistles to its adventure, and some of them contribute to giving it an extra layer of value on top of the one that already exists due to the fact fun multiplayer beat ‘em ups naturally beget replays.

For starters, every stage has three challenges attached to it, and although some of these are the commonplace and somewhat annoying task of going through a level without being hit, which in a beat ‘em up is specially hard, others offer more interesting goals such as defeating a specific number of enemies in a certain way. Additionally, the game also has a list of achievements, which like the challenges should be very appealing to the genre’s aficionados. Moreover, as they advance through the episodes, players will unlock sidequests, which have multiple characters from the property’s universe asking for collectibles to be gathered; and even though beat ‘em up stages do not have the nooks and crannies that are ideal for hiding items of this kind, these optional missions still demand some effort to be cleared. Lastly, Shredder’s Revenge has a leveling system: as stages are beaten and sidequests are cleared, experience points are accumulated by the character being used, and every promotion to a higher level (which is capped at ten) leads to the gaining of a new ability, from extra hit points to stronger attacks.

Regarding these levels, the sole point of contention is that perhaps every hero would be better served by having their own unlockable boosts, since these new skills are the same for all of them. In fact this is a minor complaint that is tied to a slightly bigger issue: the lack of notable gameplay differences between the characters. With six selectable heroes (the four turtles plus Splinter and April O’Neil) and another one that is made available once the game is beaten, Shredder’s Revenge has a satisfying cast. The problem is that even if each character has distinctly distributed stats between range, speed, and power, they do not feel very unique, as they can all succeed with the same play-style. Therefore, the choice of picking one over the others has minimal consequence and it can be said Shredder’s Revenge could have done a better job in forcing players to adapt according to the hero they selected.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is not without possible points of improvement, as extra work could have been done to make its characters feel more distinctive and for its difficulty settings to be more balanced. But ultimately, what the title provides is an experience seldom seen in the contemporary gaming landscape: a genuine arcade beat ‘em up. And better yet, it is a package that succeeds in being true to genre’s traditions, accessible to anyone who is willing to try it, and thematically irresistible on account of the excellent use of a charming property that had already given birth to a few classics of the format. With these qualities in place, the game is easy to recommend, and whether one chooses to tackle it alone, alongside friends, or by joining unknown players in online sessions, having fun is pretty much inevitable.

FINAL SCORE: 7 – VERY GOOD

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