There is something just so intriguing about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise isn’t there? Despite being fad material from the late eighties and early nineties, the Turtles have managed to endure the test of time, whether that be in comics, movies and of course, video games. With over twenty titles spanning a career that started in 1989, it’s impressive to see Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael pulling in the numbers like they used to.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (hereby shortened to TMNT) happen to also be one of the few licensed gaming properties to earn the distinction of having games mad, despite the lofty expectations and usual cashgrab reputation. So much so that even non-fans could get into them and have a great time. For the record, I count myself among that number. While I was one of those kids that Playmates heavily marketed towards back in the day, I never really caught the Turtles bug that my cohorts on the playground did. Instead, I was more focussed on other pressing matters, such as arguing the toss about the Mega Drive being better than anything Nintendo and why Sonic could take Mario (and your dad) in a fight.
That’s not to say that I didn’t notice what was going on. I tuned into the cartoon every now and then, I enjoyed some spaghetti turtle shapes on toast and despite being a dyed in the wool Sega fan of the nineties, it was impossible to ignore the allure of TMNT: Turtles in Time on the SNES. Here you had a kinetic, superbly formed scrolling beat-em-up from Konami, that wasn’t only just a good game, but one of the best of its type. I remember attempting to invite myself over to my friends place just to play the game as we progressively made our way through the arcade mode, before retiring to the two-player versus mode. Great times were had for sure.
Cut to 2022 and Dotemu, the team responsible for the stellar Streets of Rage 4 and perhaps the renaissance of scrolling beat-em-ups, has come along once again to try and rekindle the bygone era when you would sit next to someone and play through a side-scrolling brawler. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, Dotemu has aimed at plucking the strings of nostalgia in both license and gameplay authenticity. Do they deliver? Boy, do they.
It’s hard not to get caught up in it. The first thing that hits you when you turn on the game for the first time, is that classic theme song. You know, the ridiculous one that repeats the name of the show in that subliminal way to ensure you know which toy you are bugging your mum for at Christmas. It’s pure nostalgia bait, with a lovingly animated opening that captures the look of the original late 80’s show down to a perfectly formed tee. I was sold immediately of course, thanks in no small part to one of my favourite vocalists, Mike Patton of Faith No More/ Mr Bungle lending his talents to singing the manipulative chant with what sounded like the biggest smile on his face.
It’s at this point I realised that I wasn’t starting up just some throwback, or another cashgrab licensed title. Instead, I was about to start playing a lovingly crafted tribute to one of the most endearing properties of my childhood, with each element being created by someone that loves the heroes in a half shell and professes it by giving nothing less than one hundred percent of their effort to ensuring that the legacy of the franchise is represented in the best light.
Let’s start at the most fundamental part of the experience, the gameplay. Playing TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge feels genuinely like stepping back in time to play Turtles in Time again. The action is immediately familiar. Whether playing as one of the four turtles or newly playable characters like April O’Neil and Splinter, the action is simple, fast, and moreish. Each character is equipped with a basic four hit combo, small selection of special attacks and dodges that can be combined with attacks to offer both evasion and safer attack strings when considering more aggressive foes. In addition to this, characters can charge attacks as part of a combo to deliver block breaking moves or knockbacks and throws that can toss enemies to the side or at the screen in classic Turtles fashion.
It’s retro brawler 101, giving players the most amount of moves with as few buttons to remember as possible. It is expertly executed in combination with the high speed of character movement, resulting in a speedy and chaotic blend that would be difficult to reason if this were any other license. Attacks feel incredibly satisfying to land and learning to read enemy tells and overcoming them with a perfectly timed dodge/ counterattack feels great. Now add up to five more players into the mix and you have even more potential to utilise the Turtle’s move set. In Multi-player, co-op partners can bounce moves off one another, while also gaining the ability to revive each other in the heat of the action. All balancing of gameplay to compensate for the extra players with ramped up enemy counts and more challenging attacks to contend with.
Speaking of enemies, there are a myriad of these to fight, all which hail from the cartoon or video game history. You have the classic foot soldiers, coloured based on the weaponry they hold and infused with tons of personality as they interact with the stages before jumping into the fight. You have the Triceraton’s from Turtles in Time and a ton of others to content with. While dealing with the Foot clan over time can feel repetitive, in the later stages there is plenty thrown at you that will give players the opportunity to try out all the character moves and do so effectively. Boss fighters are another piece of this puzzle, boasting a large part of the Turtles rogue’s gallery, from Bebop and Rocksteady to Shredder and Krang, each with their impressive and fun boss battles that again, capture the character of the franchise perfectly.
Featuring this number of characters in the game could have been difficult to pull off when trying to create a cohesive story, but thankfully, we are talking about a scrolling beat-em-up here, where narrative falls to the wayside in favour of a good time. I do like the approach though, With Shredder up to his old tricks, trying to take over Manhattan while using his various mutant cronies to reassemble Krang, transform the statue of liberty and other misdeeds. Each level is presented as if it were an episode of the TV show, complete with the characters taking turns to state the name of the section and a ‘villain of the week’ silhouette that fans will love as they test their knowledge to see who they are up against.
Special mention must be given to the overall presentation. The Turtles have never looked this good, albeit with the familiarity that captures the original TV show run perfectly. An even more special mention must go to the soundtrack, which has been provided by Tee Lopes, who previously worked wonders for the blue blur for Sonic Mania. Lopes brings his best to the Turtles, reimagining the Konami soundtracks while bringing plenty of his audio design into the mix, with plenty of ‘heroes in a half-shell’ refrains for good measure. There is plenty of talent on top of this, the Mike Patton definitely comes to mind, but more baffling and welcome is the inclusion of Raekwon (the chef) and Ghostface Killah who provide one of the standout tracks in ‘We ain’t come to lose’. This is not forgetting of course, that the voices of the original Turtles have returned to their roles to provide the trademark quips and outdated slogans that made them famous in the first place. It works wonders for authenticity, it’s just a shame that James Avery isn’t around to voice Shredder. RIP Uncle Phil.
Key to the presentation is the ways in which the game can be played. Story mode lets players work through each level individually with a fresh set of lives and restarts from the start of any episode. Throughout the campaign, there are collectables and characters to find hidden around the worlds that unlock points, all of which culminating to your chosen character becoming more powerful with unlocked special moves or increased life/power bars. Arcade mode is far more traditional, giving players limited credits to tackle the game with and provides a more challenging experience as the good retro lords intended. I love this approach as while I didn’t encounter much resistance in my playthrough of the story mode, I was appreciated the pressure free approach, allowing me to make more risks with each battle so I can better learn the flow of attacking and dodging. Whereas in other games of this ilk, on limited credits there would be less incentive to experiment and instead use tried and tested mechanics which could be considered cheesy to some.
Not only this, but the story mode offers something that is fundamental to a good scrolling beat-em-up. Replayability. This is provided by making it so that each individual character gets their own experience bar, with the incentive to see each character through to the end of the story to see their ending and to ensure you are prepared with the strongest version of those characters when playing with others online. Both the story mode and Arcade can be played online fully also, with up to 5 other players at any given time and this works extremely well with drop-in-drop-out matchmaking. The only gripe being is that if you join another person’s game, you don’t get to pick the character to drop in as (at least, I wasn’t able to drop in with my turtle of choice). That is a minor drop in the sea of excellence however, it just ends up incentivising upgrades to all characters besides the one.
There are plenty of things that cannot be mentioned above due to spoilers. For example, i could talk about the stellar level design with their various traps and set pieces, the character moments, the excellent chase sequences. Yet, with Beat-em-ups being as fleeting as they are in playtime and with this being a nostalgic powerbomb to the brain, I wouldn’t want to take away any of the exceptionally cool moments away from discovery. Just know that TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is exactly what you would want from a Turtles game in 2022, and in some cases, is much better than what you would have in mind. The game is made with love, including everything down to the visuals, gameplay, and music. Essential if you are a TMNT fan, even still if you are not, as even without the license considered, this is one of the best side-scrolling brawlers of recent memory.
+ Captures the feel of the classic Konami brawlers and the look of the 90’s TV show perfectly
+ As fluid and chaotic as the gameplay should be
+ Superb soundtrack with some surprising stars lending their vocals
- A little bit more level variety would have gone a long way