• Navigation
View RSS Feed


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shredder’s Revenge Review -- A Love Letter to a Bygone Era

Rate this Entry
Late last week I came across an amazing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed mecha figure that is planned to release early next year. And after picking my jaw off the floor and adding a reoccurring calendar reminder to keep an eye open for the inevitable announcement of the Michelangelo mech, I remembered I had never finished my review of the recent Ninja Turtles beat-em-up. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is the latest entry in a largely forgotten genre that attempts to strike a balance between a deluge of nostalgia and a satisfying and enjoyable gameplay experience.

For many of a certain age, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that originally aired in the late 1980s and ran for nearly a decade was a cornerstone of their childhood. This classic series drew inspiration from the comic books created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird while also deviating heavily from the darker and more serious source material. Of course, like many Saturday morning cartoons of the time, that series was less about telling a compelling narrative and more about serving as a vehicle to sell action figures. Regardless of that intention, the series was a commercial and cultural success, giving rise to apparel, food, feature films, and video games. The most popular of those video games were the side-scrolling beat-em-up arcade games that allowed groups of friends to pick their favorite turtle and play together to thwart the Shredder’s evil plans (at least until everyone ran out of quarters).

There have been numerous iterations of the Ninja Turtles over the years, but Shredder’s Revenge is a nostalgic cornucopia that mostly roots itself in the original cartoon series. The game opens with Bebop and Rocksteady hijacking the airwaves to broadcast the Shredder’s latest harebrained scheme, a plot involving the head of Krang’s android body and the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, the turtles speed off to Channel 6 News to thwart this plot and the story progresses across sixteen levels (or episodes) which send the turtles and their allies across New York City. Over twenty years after it went off the air, this is a game that could seamlessly blend in with that original series. Each level is filled with waves of robotic Foot Soliders; the bosses draw heavily from the cartoon’s rouges gallery (although some are less iconic and more bargain bin); and each level is filled with cameos and references to events, characters, and locales from the original series and those classic arcade games.

Shredder’s Revenge is not just a carefully and lovingly crafted homage to the original Ninja Turtles cartoon, but also to old-school beat-em-up arcade games. A few years ago, a video game themed bar opened near me, complete with around a half dozen arcade machines. While I was able to resist for a time, I caved when they rotated in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade machine. And while it sent me back to my youth, it also surprised me how clunky movement felt in that game. Shredder’s Revenge isn’t a game that is trying to revolutionize the genre, but rather takes the experience out of the arcade and tweaks it to deliver a more modern and enjoyable product. Movement and combat are a lot smoother and are structured in such a way to keep players engaged and increasing their combo count. Players can dodge, counter, and quickly recover from hits to hop back into the action. The game also offers a wider variety of moves (compared to the attack and special attack of its arcade ancestor), but not so many that it ever feels overwhelming. Each character has a powerful and unique area-of-effect super move that charges over time as players defeat foes and rake up longer and longer combos. Players can also charge their super bar by taunting, which makes the game a bit easier since it guarantees you can enter every fight with a full super bar, but that slows down the combat, and honestly, where’s the fun in that?

Like many of its predecessors, Shredder’s Revenge throws hordes of Foot Soldiers at players, sporting different colors like those old arcade games to easily denote differences in weapons. As players progress, those adversaries will be supplemented by variations on the Mouser, Rock Soldiers, and even Triceratons. The developers did not hesitate to pull from the Ninja Turtles’ rich catalog of opponents from across their numerous comics, cartoons, and even other video games to continuously add variation to the combat and game-play experience. At the same time, it is never so oppressive that you can’t enjoy the environment and look for Easter eggs that hearken back to the old cartoon or old games. I imagine there will be some subset of players that will be disappointed that the level of difficulty of the game, but I think this game was crafted with a specific audience in mind. It feels like the developers wanted players to notice all the little things that were placed to ignite that nostalgic part of our brains that overwhelms objective judgment. This game wants you to shout out, “I recognize that!” at the sight of the Party Van or “I got that reference!” when the Punk Frogs cruise by on a roller-coaster.

The game offers two game-modes, a classic arcade mode and a story mode. Both use the same levels, but the story mode offers a top-down map from which to select levels, hidden unlockables, challenges and side quests, and character progression with new abilities to unlock. While the story mode also features (slightly) more story, you will be disappointed if you go in expecting an especially deep or engaging story. The story is minimal, at best, but also feels like a perfect match to the stories of the old Saturday morning cartoon series. Just like that cartoon, no one is here for the story, they are here for the titular turtles. On the other hand, the arcade mode plays like another entry in the Ninja Turtles arcade pantheon. Players start with a fixed number of lives and continues and must reach the end before running out. It also lacks the character progression of the story mode, but many of the upgrades are unlocked at the start, although some are unavailable.

The beat-em-up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games were the pinnacle of arcade games in my youth. They managed to slam together the Ninja Turtles and video games, producing a final product that was very much the sum of its parts. Like many of you, I remember going to arcades and quickly burning through handfuls of quarters button-mashing my way through these games with friends. This all changed when we managed to snag Ninja Turtles 2 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. My brother and I (and our friends) were freed from the compulsive need to hoard quarters, we could play these games as much as we wanted. This sentiment only grew stronger when another friend acquired Turtles in Time for the Super Nintendo. But at the same time, these at-home games couldn’t capture the excitement of 4 players, each controlling a different turtle, running rampant across a stage. But those console limitations are long forgotten, and Shredder’s Revenge not only recreates that classic arcade experience, it exceeds it by letting six players (I believe it is capped at four players for local co-op, however) traverse through a Saturday morning cartoon dreamscape together. I have played through the game three times now, once solo, once with a friend, and once with a group of four (I am still trying to get a full team of six going), and this is definitely a game that is more fun the more players you bring. Given that lack of complexity in the game, the increase in players translates to more enemies and bosses with larger health pools, but that does not make it any less fun. All that said, I do not believe the game currently supports cross-play, which is definitely a letdown in an era that is starting to tear down the cross-platform barriers.

There is no denying that this game is built on a foundation of pure, refined, and triple distilled nostalgia. And I could fawn over that nostalgia until the sun comes up, but nostalgia alone is not enough to produce a satisfying game. Tribute Games took that nostalgia and tempered it with copious amounts of love for the source material and built a modern take on those arcade classics. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge feels like a natural evolution of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Arcade Game or Turtles in Time. There is no denying this game does not do anything revolutionary nor does it advance gaming in an especially meaningful way, but that was clearly not the intention behind this game. If you grew up playing those games in dimly lit arcades or on a crowded couch, I imagine this game will hit all the right notes. And yes, getting together with a group of friends to blitz through the Shredder’s army of Foot Soldiers to stop his evil plot is just as good as I remember it from my youth.

Shredder...where's that SHREDDER?
What are you talking about? I'm looking for my electric cheese shredder. I'm just dying for a pizza ~ Donatello

All images owned by Tribute Games.