Growing up as a child of the 90s, whenever I stepped into an arcade, I’d always do a walk around to see what they had before putting my quarters into any machines. This usually didn’t last very long because as soon as I saw a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cabinet, I’d shout to my friends “They got Turtles!” and we’d rush on over.
It’s abundantly clear that the developers at Tribute Games share a similar love for the 90s TMNT beat-em-ups. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is nothing but unwaveringly reverent to the classic 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade game, and more prominently, 1991’s Turtles in Time. Best of all, it transforms the arcadey quarter-munching design of combat into something much more skill forward while still maintaining the same button mashy appeal. Put simply, Shredder’s Revenge is a prime example of how to breathe new life into a classic arcade beat-em-up.
Shredder’s Revenge is full of all sorts of winks and nods to the arcade games that inspired it, but it smartly doesn’t chain itself to them. Arcade beat-em-ups were originally designed to suck as many quarters as they could from the pockets of players, and thus have inherited a tendency to limit your ability to get out of the way of attacks or ramp up the difficulty without also ramping up your own power. Shredder’s Revenge changes all of that, as the turtles and friends can now freely dodge roll left and right; they can hold the attack button down to charge up attacks, which also has the added bonus of letting them take damage without flinching; they each have a Shoryuken-like rising attack that makes hitting aerial enemies a breeze; and most importantly, they each have a meter that allows them to use a screen clearing super attack when it’s full.
The meter fills by landing hits and resets when you take damage, but the kicker is that if you’re able to fill it up completely, the super charge is stored until you use it. This adds a nice extra incentive to play smart and be vigilant about avoiding damage, because those super moves are clutch, especially in the later stages when enemies start to get tankier and more aggressive.
Aside from those additions, this is still very much the same type of game that fans of the old arcade cabinets know and love. It’s simple beat-em-up action at its finest – with a big focus on crowd clearing AOE attacks, power ups, and environmental interactables that can turn the tide of a fight in your favor.
There are a total of 16 levels in Shredder’s Revenge, and many of them are arranged like a remixed “Greatest Hits” of previous games. You’ve got the streets and highways of TMNT: The Arcade Game, the sewers and subways of The Manhattan Project, and the prehistoric settings of Turtles in Time. But there are also a handful of levels that are wholly original, including one that takes place at a zoo and had me contending with regular stampedes, Foot ninjas, and aggravating little monkeys in cages that threw bananas at both me and my enemies. The levels are all charming in their own right, with plenty of easter eggs and gags throughout, though I do wish there was a little more variety in the mix. There are only two types of levels: traditional stages where you just move from left to right, beating up all the baddies in your way, and high speed hoverboard stages where you move from left to right, beating up all the baddies in your way, only faster and on a hoverboard. Tribute Games plays it safe with its level design, and the result is a very even experience, but also one that started to feel quite samey by the end.
Each of the levels are brought to life thanks to an impeccable soundtrack. It’s high energy, completely fits the 90s nostalgia vibe, and features a eclectic mix of remixes of familiar songs from the original games alongside entirely new songs that are equally catchy. That includes tracks from big names like Ghostface Killa and Mega Ran, a rap about the Turtles “rollin’ on broadway” in the level “Mutants Over Broadway,” and even a super cheesy rock song that feels like it’d be right at home in a Sonic Adventure game. It’s honestly one of my favorite soundtracks of the year so far.
Heroes in a Half Shell
Of course, a lot of the appeal of Shredder’s Revenge is playing as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themselves, and Tribute Games has done a wonderful job of making each character feel distinct and true to their personality while still having essentially the same set of moves. Obviously they each have their own attack animations with their own unique weapons, but it’s the little things that really go a long way. That could be the way Mikey runs like a goofball, Raph’s permanent scowl and intimidating grimace, or Donny’s amusing taunt where he pulls out a gameboy. There are some notable gameplay differences between them as well: Leo’s the only character with a flipping summersault attack out of his double jump, Michelangelo can bounce off enemies with his divekick, Raph can german suplex his opponents, and Donny can hit from a football field away thanks to the reach of his staff.
The Turtles aren’t the only playable characters either. Splinter and April O’Neil also join in on the action, with Splinter using his claws, martial arts, and walking stick, and April fighting with TV cameras, microphones, and array of punches and kicks. All together, there are six characters playable right from the start, and Shredder’s Revenge even allows for up to six people to play simultaneously. I haven’t done that yet myself, but even playing with just three players is absolute chaos in the best kind of way.
Tribute Games does a great job of appropriately scaling the difficulty with more players by both adding more enemies and upping their aggression with each new player that joins in. There’s also a handful of fun team up attacks that are a little difficult to coordinate, but feel great when you manage to pull them off, such as the ability for one player to dive kick into another, who can catch them and throw them like a projectile to deal big damage to anything in your path.
There are only two modes of play in Shredder’s Revenge: A campaign mode that lets you select levels from an overworld, and an arcade mode that gives you that classic experience of taking on the whole game from the start with a limited number of lives and continues, with no checkpoints and no saving your progress. The whole game can be completed in about two hours, so arcade mode isn’t as daunting of a task as it might initially seem, and it ultimately ended up being my preferred way to play after beating the campaign once. Those who are completionists might find themselves preferring campaign mode, however, as it features hidden collectibles, a variety of challenges to complete per level, and persistent progression per character with new stats and abilities unlocked every time you level up. Arcade mode simply gives you all these abilities from the outset.