If you visited arcades in the late 1980s or early 1990s, you will surely remember the golden age of fighting games. Wardrobes like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, X-Men and much more followed a fairly simple formula: Take a popular franchise and have its characters cut the gangs of villains, throw in some environmental challenges to keep the levels from getting too repetitive, and top it all off with a great battle with a boss in the end. But the real draw was the multiplayer – these games allow four or even six friends (or strangers) to play at the same time, a totally chaotic but exciting shared experience.
Given the popularity of the TMNT franchise, it’s no surprise that both the original arcade game and its sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time they have both been ported to the NES and SNES, respectively. As a pre-teen, my best friend and I spent countless hours playing these ports, as well as arcade games on the all too rare occasions we could make it to the mall.
I clearly have a lot of nostalgia for these games and I’m not alone. Last year, developer Tribute Games announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a brand new fighting game inspired by the arcade games of yesteryear. The game features retro pixel art, two different game modes, online and local multiplayer (up to six players online), and seven playable characters, including the four turtles, Master Splinter, April O’Neil and Casey Jones. On the surface, it appears to have everything you could ask for in a modern take on an arcade classic, and Tribute’s comments before the game’s release showed a deep love for the source material.
After a week of playing Shredder’s Revenge on Xbox Series S, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch, I can confirm that Tribute has absolutely nailed its mission to bring the classic TMNT experience into the modern era. It all starts with the art style and the music, both of which hit the spot for this franchise; seems a natural evolution of the two original arcade games, both based largely on the 1987 cartoon (rather than the more recent comic books, live-action movies, or animated shows). The music immediately sets the tone: Tee Lopes’ soundtrack immediately brings to mind classic 16-bit tunes, Mike Patton plays the opening theme, and Raekwon and Ghostface Killah also contribute. Even if the music isn’t as compelling as the soundtrack’s Turtles over time (that is), it evokes the essential vibe of playing in an arcade with your friends in the early 90’s.
The gameplay essentials from previous games are all intact here – each playable character has different strengths and weaknesses such as range and speed, but they’re not so different that you’ll feel impressed by switching players. The core gameplay is still mostly done with two buttons: attack and jump.
But there are a lot more moves than in previous games, including a variety of flips, slides, air strikes, and dodges. Sprinting allows you to unleash different slide and charge attacks, you can grab enemies and throw them directly at the TV screen (just like you do in Turtles over time), there’s a dodge button that lets you dance off the hook, and there’s a myriad of different aerial moves. And unlike the old games, Shredder’s Revenge has unique animations for every move that each character in the game can perform. While the gameplay between each character isn’t radically different, the distinct graphics for all four turtles and their friends keep things fresh.
As in any good fighting game, each character also has their own special move. Unlike older arcade games, where using a special would usually take away a chunk of your health, these moves are tied to a power bar that fills up as you put together longer and longer combos. When it’s full, you can unleash a special move or save it for later use. It’s a good way to keep players from just using special attacks constantly and adds some strategy to the otherwise chaotic melee.
Another way Tribute does it Shredder’s Revenge feel more modern is the story mode of the game. You will be able to level up your character over time, which unlocks more health, extra lives, and new special attacks. Eventually you’ll also have a chance to rack up more special moves: when you fill the bar and bank a move, you can keep filling it up and keep two and finally three in reserve, or you can blast all three at once in a frenzied super attack. Story mode also allows you to re-enter levels to find hidden objects or achieve goal objectives for each stage (things like killing 10 enemies with a special attack or making it through without taking damage). And you can change your character between levels, instead of getting stuck on a turtle for the entire game.
Arcade mode, on the other hand, is for old school fans who want a tougher challenge. The game is simple – choose a character and battle through all the game’s over dozen levels before running out of lives and continuing. You have the advantage of having your health bar extended to its maximum capacity and all of your special moves are unlocked, but given the number of stages in this game, it won’t be easy, especially on the intense “gnarled” difficulty setting.
All of this makes for a fun single player experience, but just like arcade games of the 90s, Shredder’s Revenge it really shines in multiplayer mode. You can have up to four players in local co-op or an insane six player online. It’s a glorious amount of chaos, but it’s handled surprisingly well. The game increases in difficulty depending on how many people you are playing; which usually equates to more enemies and bosses that can take more damage.
Unfortunately, cross-play isn’t supported for now – Xbox and PC players can collaborate, but PlayStation and Switch players will need to play the same version as their friends if they want to work together. The good news is that starting a game with strangers isn’t hard. It’s not as fun as playing with people you know, but the game definitely feels more alive when you have at least one pair facing Shredder and the Foot clan.
All of this adds up to a much more fun game to play than I expected. Nostalgia goes a long way, but Shredder’s Revenge manages to function as a love letter to past games while still feeling fresh. There is something incredibly satisfying about teaming up with a few friends and mowing down an endless swarm of enemies; this was true in the 1990s, and is still true today.
Sure, it helps if you have some affection for the TMNT franchise, but even if you don’t, the tight gameplay, gripping soundtrack, and great co-op features should be enough to enjoy. Shredder’s Revenge. And if you grew up playing arcade games or their home console counterparts, this new adventure is a must. This is especially true if you have friends to play with, IRL or online.
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