Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge Review
Radical and fresh yet totally nostalgic. forged together like melted cheese and you have to try a slice!
Whilst the modern world has video game developers worrying about haptic feedback, procedural generation and creating 100-hour epics, developers of the 90s needed only worry about the basic concept of enjoyment. Games back then were no longer than a few hours in length, realism was out of the question and blockbuster narratives were still exclusive to movies. They were fast, they were fun and little did we know at the time they would leave an imprint on us that would carry across decades. But what was once the norm for video game creators has become more like capturing lightning in a bottle for modern-day developers. Just a handful of those that try actually succeed at replicating the majesty of retro classics, and for good reason. Whilst the games themselves are reasonably straightforward to create, at least by today's standards, one thing that is extremely difficult to reproduce is the feeling of nostalgia. This momentous challenge doesn't stop indie developers from giving it a shot though and one such developer is Tribute Games who, as the name suggests, look to pay tribute to games of eras gone by. Their latest attempt? TMNT: Shredder's Revenge. A love letter to the immensely popular Turtles arcade beat ‘em up's of the 90s and the fan favourite Turtles in Time on the SNES.
Loading up TMNT: Shredder's Revenge on the PlayStation 5 doesn't quite have the same feeling as crunching the cartridge into its seating and snapping the chunky power switch up to turn on your SNES. The high-pitched hum from the CRT TV is missing and unravelling the wire wrapped around the controller is a thing of the past, yet that's where the lack of 90's charm ends. From the moment the game flashes onto your screen, it is clear to see the developers have taken great care in preserving the aesthetics of the classics. Not just the games, but the legendary cartoon, as well as bringing back the original cast of voice actors to reprise their roles for the game. The presentation is a sight to behold, with charming pixel animation and bright and vibrant colours which pop out of the screen. The game is wonderfully animated. From the combat to the specials, to the environments themselves, the art direction is jam-packed with delightful nostalgia right down to the last pixel. The soundtrack feels like the natural evolution from where the excellent Turtles in Time left off. Breaking free of the limitations of old brings us a fuller, deeper and more compelling soundtrack whilst still evoking the necessary feeling of playing the game in an arcade in the early 90s.
Shredder's Revenge has six characters to choose from and one further unlockable character. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo are joined by April O'Neil and Splinter as the starting roster with Casey Jones joining the gang once you complete the game. Each character carries a different weapon and has different stats; range, speed and power. Whilst their effects on gameplay are minimal they are enough to make playing different characters feel fresh.
The game opens with a cutscene setting the stage for the simple yet authentic plot. During a routine Channel 6 News broadcast, the show is rudely interrupted by Shredder and his gang of thugs. They have stolen the Statue of Liberty and plan to “give it a makeover”. The Channel 6 news station is now crawling with Shredder's henchmen so naturally, that's where the game begins. From there on out the game is nothing but classic beat-em-up action with a few tweaks thrown in to make gameplay more accessible to the modern audience. Players can freely dash to avoid enemy attacks and environmental hazards. The dash feels tight and responsive, with successful dashes giving you some of the more satisfying moments in the game. The dash is joined by a variety of skills at the players' disposal including aerial attacks, charge attacks and a special meter that, once full, allows players to use an AOE special which is exceptionally useful for getting you out of tight spots in the face of overwhelming enemy presence. These combined functions give you a real sense of skill and reward whilst still walking the line between masterful combat and arcade-style button mashing. It puts the onus on the player to succeed and negates moments taking tawdry damage or the frustrating unavoidable deaths that are present in other beat-em-ups of this nature.
The special meter is built in two ways. Firstly, the more damage you do without taking damage, the more the bar builds. The second, and lesser-known way, is to taunt. Taunting enemies is a hilariously audacious way to build a full special bar. Simply press the taunt button and each character will perform a unique provocation to enemies. It does leave you vulnerable to attacks, but if you manage to pull one off you will be rewarded with a full bar of special. As you progress through the game you will unlock extra damage levels for this bar. Each character has 3 unique moves that utilize the special meter, including Super Attack, Super Dive Attack and Super Flying Attack. The first can be executed whilst stationary, the second whilst descending from the air and the third is a dash-style attack that will see you perform the special as you dash across the screen. Of course, each one has its own benefits and it is up to you to make the correct call depending on the enemy's presence.
The game boasts a decent amount of enemy variation too, almost all of which are classic enemies from the old games. Mostly, you will be fighting Shredder's foot soldiers who in themselves have several different archetypes, each with different weapons and attack patterns for you to learn. Beyond these there are some sub-bosses and over 15 main bosses to take on. This is especially appealing because the boss battles, for me at least, were the highlight in an already extremely enjoyable game. The bosses feel like a retro boss should. They are a step up in difficulty from the rest of the level and they take a little more calculated intuition than the dash and mash tactics from regular play.
The level design also deserves special mention. From re-imaginings of classic levels to brand new never before seen areas, these levels pay wonderful homage to the TMNT headspring. Packed with Easter eggs and callbacks to the old games and the cartoons, there is plenty to keep you entertained. It is clear that in-depth research of the source materials has been carried out and implemented into the wonderful presentation of the game. Unfortunately whilst the re-imaginings of old levels have been executed exceptionally, a few of the fresh additions are less impressive. Namely, the hoverboard levels. There are 3 of these and at first seem like an exciting deviation from the norm, but in reality, they are just more awkward, less fun versions of the standard levels. You move around with increased speed on these levels and environmental hazards come in thick and fast. All the while you are expected to take on enemies, most of which are airborne, and require repetition of the same move to kill them. These levels feel like you are less in control and more just bumbling your way through.
A playthrough of TMNT: Shredder's Revenge will only take you about 2 and a half hours which I did think was a little short even by the standards of the games they were trying to replicate. The thing is, I can understand why these games need to be short in length. There is a lot of repetition associated with beat 'em up games, and ones that drag on too long fail to retain the interest of the players. That being said, there are plenty of reasons to go back. Even though you can switch up characters at any point throughout the campaign, it's unlikely in 2 and a half hours you will get your fill of them all. Going back and experiencing the game as the other characters is almost as joyous as the first time you play it. Not to mention upon completion you unlock Casey Jones whose playstyle is maniacal and feels different enough to the other characters to make it worth another full run. There is also Arcade Mode which ditches the overworld map, checkpoints and saves. You have a set amount of lives and continues to try and get through all 16 levels back to back. It's a perfect mode for those looking to experience something much closer to the classic arcade experience.
The most appealing of all the reasons to revisit this game again though is the multiplayer. Teaming up with friends in either local or online co-op is undeniable fun. Co-op mode is available with up to 6 players which makes for some of the busiest and most hectic gameplay I have ever experienced in a beat ‘em up game. Luckily the game comes with a function where at the press of a button you can locate your character on the screen. Trust me, you will need it. Multiplayer also comes with a few extra gameplay elements. You are able to revive fallen teammates by feeding them pizza, but this will leave you open to enemy attacks. You can team taunt by high-fiving teammates which will boost the special bar of those involved. Best of all you can use those special bars together to perform “Radical” team moves. If you have your full squad maxed out with level 3 special bars the results are devastating for any enemies on screen. Enemies are scaled so the game never feels too easy even with 6 on your side. This can feel a tad laborious in boss fights though; a full squad will have you chipping away at their health bar for what can feel like an eternity.
When all is said and done, Shredder's Revenge is a fantastic game for both newcomers to the beat 'em up genre or retro enthusiasts looking for a refreshed trip down memory lane. There is plenty to get stuck into and something for every level of player to enjoy, whether it be leisurely playthrough of story mode or a frenetic run on story mode. Solo or with friends TMNT: Shredders Revenge is a great experience well worth the price tag.