It’s been several years now, but everyone’s favorite crime-fighting reptiles have graced the gaming world once again with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a game that came totally out of left field this month. Built from the ground up, it borrows heavy inspiration from the 1991 arcade game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time while adding plenty of new elements to modernize the retro beat ‘em up.
The first thing I noticed when I hopped in was the stunningly gorgeous and smooth pixel art. Between the once-ubiquitous 2D 16-bit era punctuated by platformers like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog and the shoddy-looking early-3D era there was a very brief window in the mid-’90s in which a handful of 2D 32-bit games hit the market, and most of them were jaw-droppingly stylish.
Games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Metal Slug remain in many arcades to this day for their smooth movement and timeless pixel art. Despite being released in 2022, Shredder’s Revenge would fit right in alongside such titles. Today we might laugh at some of the “realistic” graphics we were presented with years ago, while these stylized sprites drawn frame-by-frame will hold up forever. It’s for this reason that I feel Disney’s recent barrage of “live action” remakes of classics like “Mulan” and “The Lion King” won’t hold up over time, but I digress.
Because CD-quality sound was becoming a reality for video games around the same time, Tribute Games left chiptunes behind in favor of a crisp, melodic soundtrack arranged by Sonic Mania-veteran Tee Lopes. Mike Patton of Faith No More and the Wu-Tang Clan even make guest vocal appearances, which don’t feel as out-of-place as one might expect. Suffice to say, the graphics and music are both oozing with ‘90s charm.
While the presentation is a big part of what makes Shredder’s Revenge special, the fundamental gameplay is solid as well. The game is made up of a large variety of linear missions, and players can choose between the story mode with infinite retries and the appropriately unforgiving arcade mode. Gamers will beat waves of the TMNT’s enemies to a pulp before throwing down against a boss at the end of each stage – standard stuff, but it works.
Players can choose to play Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, Master Splinter or April O’Neil. Shredder’s Revenge even sports up to six player co-op locally or online, and the online netcode is surprisingly solid – latency is rarely an issue. The combo system isn’t terribly deep, but with dodge rolls and plenty of quick aerial moves are at your disposal, I can safely say it’s the most acrobatic beat ‘em up I’ve experienced.
Interestingly, some gamers and even critics have criticized this aspect of the game, accusing the game of “weightless” and “floaty” controls. While there’s merit to this argument, I suspect many of these people never experienced Turtles in Time. For better and worse, the weightlessness of the turtles is part of what set that 1991 title apart from the likes of brawlers such as Golden Axe and Final Fight.
They couldn’t throw that out entirely, or else it’d lose its identity and feel like a Streets of Rage clone with a TMNT skin. Instead Tribute Games took the middle road: add a little weight to the characters, but not too much. Especially following 2020’s excellent beat ‘em up Streets of Rage 4, which was also published by Dotemu, Shredder’s Revenge needed to set itself apart somehow. I think they accomplished just that.
Between Shredder’s Revenge and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, which was finally re-released last year after myriad licensing issues, Tribute Games has safely established itself as a solid contributor to the beat ‘em up genre, which is a very humble subset of the gaming industry today.
Despite that, Streets of Rage 4 surpassed all sales expectations when it pushed 2.5 million copies in its first year and went on to produce the Mr. X Nightmare DLC. Between that and the reasonably high hype for Shredder’s Revenge, the genre seems to be seeing a resurgence. Hey Sega, mind giving Tribute Games your blessing to create a new Golden Axe? Please?
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