Updated: Jul 1
TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is a love letter to fans of the original 1987 cartoon series as well as the ‘90s beat ‘em up video games but mostly does enough to appeal to new players alike.
But, let’s not kid ourselves here. This game’s core audience are those of us who were children of the eighties and nineties and have fond memories of that initial cartoon and the subsequent games it inspired. Those that know their Knuckleheads from their Mousers, their Baxter Stockman’s from their Rat King’s – that type. The developers Tribute Games (some worked on Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Game) and publishers Dotemu (Streets of Rage 4) have admitted in developer diaries of being in that very group and how passionate they were to recreate that particular aesthetic with the flourishes and life improvements afforded by modern gaming standards.
If you have played those old games or the more recent releases which homage the genre, then you know what to expect. Choose your playable character from a choice of six (with one further unlockable) and side-scroll your way through sixteen colourful levels pummelling different variations of Shredder’s foot clan and all sorts of other enemy types. At the end of each stage you fight a boss – or occasionally mid-stage – and these will be familiar to any TMNT fan but with a couple newly created ones specifically for this game to shake things up.
Similar to previous instalments, the character abilities are divided between three traits: speed, power and range, with each fighter statistics spread across each. Do you go for Donatello with his long reaching bo-staff but suffer in the speed category, or Raphael with his puny twin sai reach but much more powerful attacks? I personally tend to go for Leonardo for his completely even skill set and his straight no-nonsense delivery. Having Splinter and April O’Neil included also helps mix it up and adds a much fresher feel considering they have never been available previously.
Remember your training, young turtles
Building from the older SNES era controls and merged with the refreshing combo system from Streets of Rage 4, Tribute Games have wonderfully finessed the mechanics with simplicity and depth in equal measure. You have one main attack button but a myriad of ways it can be used including a four-string combo attack, jumping attack, back-attack, throws and many others which means mixing up your offence in the midst of skirmishes is the key to getting through the game’s many levels unscathed. There are also a few special attacks which are unique to each character and can be summoned whenever the Special Meter is filled (which can also be stacked and saved for bosses if preferred). Environmental attacks from the previous versions return with many moments you can time your button press to knock enemies senseless with a water hydrant or street lights, as well as use the classic Pizza Power Up to spin around and clobber entire groups of baddies.
Helpfully, there is a 21 page training section which handily takes you through the arsenal at your disposal and as lengthy as that sounds it is completely optional and brisk enough to check out. Crucially, the amount of options coupled with the slide mechanic for fast manoeuvrability and combo system allow the game satisfying depth and repetition doesn’t set in too often because the action moves and plays swiftly to keep things interesting.
Like any worthwhile beat ‘em-up, each of the enemies have different weapons and attack patterns and some require you to alter yours (for example, some dodge straight attacks and instead punish you so you have to slide in to surprise them whereas others with weapons require a timed attack after they have swung). With so many variations of enemies it does keep things engaging and likewise for the boss fights. Each one has a distinct pattern and the skill is in working it out and striking at the right moments. However, some of these encounters are where this game can be tricky. Several boss fights will frustrate you but mostly it can be down to player error although occasionally the difficulty and actual length of these fights can get a little tiresome.
Tribute Games have really delved into the cartoon series and plucked everything from side characters (April’s news team colleagues or the Mutant Punk Frogs) to locales for level designs. The Mike Patton (Faith No More) version of the cartoon series theme song as the pre-titles introduction is the clear statement of intent. The glorious art design also reflects this version of the Turtles instead of the pre-school-looking current Nickelodeon style. The in-game character sprites have a retro pixelated vibe and resemble up-scaled Game Boy Advance models, which works well for the tone. The backgrounds too are an abundance of colour and feature gorgeous parallax scrolling, with levels ranging from the Foot Clan-overrun Channel 6 News studio, arcade malls, New York streets to many others from the series such as the classic Technodrome and Dimension X.
Awesome! What’s the story, dude?
The Story Mode allows each stage to be played with your limited amount of lives replenishing per level and includes bonus collectables, unique challenges and story art-scenes at the completion of each one. It’s the main mode of the game and even features a Super Mario World-style world map with the Turtles van acting as your icon for selecting a level which is adorable and a neat touch from the developers. It will only take you around three hours to complete which is admittedly a little short but there is enough in-game challenges and achievements to give it lasting appeal. The classic Arcade Mode is also available for those that want the proper challenge of beating the game with a set amount of Continues and with three difficulty settings there is plenty to keep players busy to master it fully.
However, Story Mode includes a progression system which allows you to upgrade all of the playable fighters to a maximum level ten and with each incremental increase your character gains extra hit points, lives, additional super attacks and a few other neat improvements which ultimately rewards repeat playthroughs of the campaign with each character. This is not something that you could say about the traditional brawler game and it’s these little RPG enhancements which Tribute Games have added to give tonnes more replayability.
Additionally, as much fun as this game is on single-player, it really comes alive online. And to dial up the frenetic action, Tribute Games have provided six-player co-op functionality. This changes the nature of the game as with the added players comes more enemies on screen and with that a ludicrous amount of combos that it resembles a cartoon dust cloud of limbs and Foot Clan bodies. It’s supposed to be balanced and I can’t tell which difficulty the matches I have joined have been on but it seems dramatically easier playing with a group. But – vitally- more fun. And connecting on the Switch has been effortless as there are currently always games to join but there have been a fair few which have ended abruptly due to server disconnection (though, difficult to know what caused it). Yet, for the most part, the online has been an absolute blast and the frame rate has remained smooth which has helped immensely.
There are a few niggles which I feel could have improved things slightly. In the Story Mode, I have selected the easiest setting of Chill but if I want to play it through on the next two difficulty settings I need to restart the whole thing and lose all of my progress (including challenge completion and timing records) which I am not keen to do. I feel it shouldn’t have been so difficult to allow me to switch the difficulty and have separate records and progress for each setting.
Ugh, shell shock!
There are moments in combat where I wish there was a block ability as there are so many times you will be ganged up on by groups of enemies but are mid combo so not able to interrupt and parry like in the Batman Arkham games. It’s not something these games have had before – maybe too radical to introduce in a two-dimentional beat ‘em up – and go against the nostalgia aspect but it definitely became a recurring thought as I was routinely knocked senseless for misjudging a surprise attack.
Additionally, the music is mostly catchy and serves its purpose but the mixture of the jaunty beats with hip hop artists rapping over it somehow doesn’t feel as symbiotic as the creators intended and I admittedly pine for the absolutely stellar 16-bit simplicity of the Turtles In Time soundtrack. Again, not a major issue and definitely personal preference on this one – but on listening to both whilst writing this review has reaffirmed my appreciation for that classic Konami score.
The creative minds at Tribute Games and Dotemu have excelled in other ways though as the actual humour and personality of the television series and classic games has been marvellously rekindled. Stages begin with characters like Bebop and Rocksteady mingling about but then comically darting off screen as the Turtles appear or Foot Clan soldiers will be wearing chef’s outfits and seemingly baking cakes – you get the impression the Turtles are a nuisance for ruining their productivity – before throwing ninja stars at you. The voice talent returning from the cartoon show is an incredible feat and mostly sound terrific (if occasionally a little older and sometimes muffled). Each character has their own distinct taunt move and all are adorably animated (April thrusts out a microphone asking for a comment, Michelangelo chicken dances with his nunchucks and an excitable ‘Party dude!’).
Verdict – The attention to detail is remarkable that only the most cynical of players will not warm to its bouncy charm. Tribute Games have done a remarkable job to bring the franchise back to its roots and bolted on a tonne of modern enhancements to make it enjoyable for all gamers. There are some areas where it could be slightly tightened like the occasional boss battle length or ability to change Story Mode difficulty but otherwise it’s a pure blast of nostalgic joy from start screen to end credits. It may be fan service dialled to extreme heights but when it’s this well delivered, it’s difficult to complain.