If you’ve been to arcades in the late ’80s or early ’90s, you definitely remember the golden age of beat-em-up games. Cabinets like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles† The Simpsons† X-Men and more followed a fairly simple formula: take a popular franchise and have the characters cut through a series of bad guys, throw in some environmental challenges to keep the levels from getting too repetitive, and top it off with a big boss battle. But the real draw was multiplayer – these games allowed 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 were both ported to the NES and SNES respectively. As a pre-teen, my best friend and I spent untold hours playing these gates as well as the arcade games on the all-too-rare occasions when we could go to the mall.
Obviously I have a lot of nostalgia for these games, and I’m not the only one. Last year, developer Tribute Games announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a brand new beat-em-up title 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. At first glance, it seems to have everything you could ask for in a modern take on an arcade classic, and Tribute’s comments prior to 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 accomplished its mission to bring the classic TMNT experience into the modern era. It all starts with the art style and music, both of which are perfect for this franchise; it feels like a natural evolution of the original two arcade games, both of which were largely based on the 1987 cartoon (rather than the comic books, live-action movies, or more recent animated shows). The music immediately sets the tone – Tee Lopes’ score is instantly reminiscent of classic 16-bit tunes, Mike Patton plays the opening theme, and Raekwon and Ghostface Killah also contribute. Although the music isn’t as immersive as the soundtrack of Turtles in time (that is), it evokes the essential atmosphere of playing in an arcade with your friends in the early 90s.
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 feel like you’re being thrown by switching players. The core of the game is still largely achieved with two buttons: attack and jump.
But there are many more moves than in previous games, including a variety of throws, slides, air strikes, and dodges. Dashing allows you to perform various slide and charge attacks, grab enemies and throw them directly at the TV screen (just like you do in Turtles in time), there’s a dodge button that lets you dance out of trouble, and plenty of different air moves. And unlike older games, Shredder’s Revenge has unique animations for each move that each character in the game can perform. While the gameplay isn’t radically different between each character, the different visuals for all four turtles and their friends keep everything looking fresh.
As with any good beat ’em up, each character also has their own special move. Unlike old arcade games, where using a special would usually cost a chunk of your health, these moves are coupled with a power bar that fills up as you string longer and longer hit combos together. 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 constantly using special attacks and adds a bit of strategy to the otherwise chaotic melee.
Another way Tribute makes Shredder’s Revenge feel more modern is the story mode of the game. You can upgrade your character over time, unlocking more health, extra lives, and new special attacks. You also eventually get the option to stack multiple special moves – if you fill your bar and save one move, you can keep filling it and keep two and eventually three in reserve – or you can do all three at once in an insane super attack. In Story Mode, you can re-enter levels to find hidden items or achieve achievement goals for each stage (such as taking out 10 enemies with a special attack, or making it without taking damage). And you can switch your character between levels, instead of being stuck with one turtle for the entire game.
The Arcade mode, on the other hand, is for old-school fans who want a bigger challenge. The game play is simple: choose a character and fight through all dozens of levels of the game before you run out of lives and move on. You get the benefit of expanding your health bar to its maximum capacity and unlocking all your special moves – but given the number of stages in this game, it won’t be easy, especially on the intense “knotty” difficulty.
All of this makes for a fun single player experience, but – like the arcade games of the ’90s – Shredder’s Revenge really shines in multiplayer mode. You can have up to four players in local co-op, or an insane six players online. It’s a glorious amount of chaos, but it’s surprisingly well managed. The game scales up in difficulty depending on how many people you’re playing with; that usually comes down to more enemies and bosses that can deal more damage.
Unfortunately, cross-play is not supported for now – Xbox and PC players can work together, but PlayStation and Switch players must play the same version as their friends if they want to work together. The good news is that it’s not hard to get a game going with strangers either. It’s not as much fun as playing with people you know, but the game definitely feels more alive when you at least have a few going up against Shredder and the Foot clan.
All this makes for a game that is much more fun to play than I expected. Nostalgia goes a long way, but Shredder’s Revenge manages to work like a love letter to games from the past while still feeling fresh. It’s just incredibly satisfying to team up with a few friends and mow down an endless swarm of enemies; that was true in the ’90s, and it’s still true today.
Sure, it helps if you have some affection for the TMNT franchise, but even if you don’t, the tight gameplay, addictive soundtrack, and great co-op features should be enough for you to enjoy. Shredder’s Revenge† And if you grew up playing the arcade games or their home console counterparts, this new adventure is a must-play. That’s especially true if you have friends to play with, IRL or online.
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