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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s hard to read that without some version of the iconic song playing in your mind. When you boot up Shredder’s Revenge, you’re greeted with an incredible recreation of this tune (performed by Mike Patton of Faith No More), along with some fantastic animation. It’s a detail that gets you immediately ready for all of the Turtle action to come. Publisher Dotemu came off of their red-hot Streets of Rage 4 and went straight to the streets of The Big Apple, giving the entire Turtles playbook to developer Tribute Games, from the shows and movies to the old arcades that inspired Shredder’s Revenge. Clearly pouring all of their knowledge into the game, sprinkling it with loving detail, and distilling it into pure nostalgic bliss targeting the original ’80s series, the Tribute Games team offers a slice of Turtles, and gaming, history. But do they deliver it hot and on time?
After the amazing intro, I went into the options. It has all of the usual details, like control customization, volume controls, and a choice of seven different languages. Then some “old-school” features made me smile, like “Flick Sprint On/Off,” “Automatic Back Attacks,” and others. Even these details were accounted for. Jumping into the “Trophies” room (I played on PS5, so I’m not sure if this changes to “Achievements” room on Xbox), I noticed another incredible detail: the music. Every screen, option, graphic, and audible sound oozed love and care. Knowing I was apparently in good hands, and after browsing some interesting trophies to strive for, I dove in and started the game.
Taking the reigns of Mikey (the obvious and correct choice), I was immediately surprised at how much depth there was to the combat. I knew Streets of Rage 4 had a ton of depth, but seeing inspirations from those systems married perfectly to the old-school style of play from the Turtles arcade games of the past was a kind of joy I hadn’t felt since those good ol’ days.
Beyond the standard Foot-kicking action found in mashing the attack button, you can charge your attack to get through an opponent’s shield. Or you can grab that baddie and choose one of several throws, including the fan-favorite “throw into the screen” maneuver. A new “backflip” button joins the mix as well, allowing for escapes and interesting attack options. You can double jump for extra height, or go low with a slide attack. There is also a “ninja power” bar that fills as you fight, or you can taunt your enemies to fill it as well. Using this ninja power bar, you can perform character-specific special moves on the ground or in the air, unleashing chaos upon Shredder’s army.
It’s not all about the offense, either. You may perform an escape roll when attacked to flee the danger. And if you get knocked down, there are various wakeups you may employ to return to your feet. There are also a few actions you can take if you play with up to 5 friends or strangers (6-player co-op, online or offline!). Along with a few combined offensive maneuvers, there are a few ways to support your friends to be a well-oiled turtle machine. If your friend is feeling blue (health bar is low), you can perform a “cheer up” with a button press, sharing some of your health with them. And should someone fall in battle, you can “reanimate” them, returning them to the action with a portion of their health, provided you get through the animation unscathed.
Returning is something that you’ll be doing a lot, too, as each level contains many secrets and challenges to complete, granting awards and bonuses. Each stage is unique, crafted with a passion on display that, dare I say, often surpasses the old-school games that the Tribute Games team was clearly so fond of. There is personality in every aspect, from the music that is perfectly reminiscent of the older games (just wait until you see, and hear, the full talent that delivers the music!), to Easter eggs found throughout the levels that are sure to put a smile on the faces of Turtles fans.
The art and animations are also very well done, with inspirations taken from the arcade games, along with some special flourishes throughout. Whimsical animation details are found on every screen, among all of the characters, in a manner that reminded me very much of the Metal Slug games. Friend and foe alike pour their personality out on every frame, and it never gets old to witness.
There is a lot to witness, too, as there are plenty of things to do across the entirety of the game. From each stage’s individual challenges and collectibles to special requests that will have you exploring and scavenging every nook and cranny, you will be occupied for some time to come! At the title screen you choose “Story Mode” or “Arcade Mode,” and the bulk of your time will likely be spent in the Story Mode where all of these extra activities are found. You also level up your characters in Story Mode, granting them additional moves and abilities, though it’s much more akin to the NES Double Dragon game than anything truly RPG-ish. Still, it grants a progression to strive for, and finding all of the secrets is a blast.
For a true blast to the past, though, you’ll want to select “Arcade Mode.” This is exactly as you would expect. You choose your character and progress through the stages with limited lives and continues. There are three difficulty modes you’ll choose from, namely “Chill,” “Okay,” and “Gnarly,” basically being easy, normal, and hard, respectively. Both Story and Arcade Modes utilize these difficulties (along with 6-player co-op in both modes, I must add), though Arcade mode ends if you lose all of your lives and continues.
While Arcade Mode is great for those quick sessions and party-building exercises, you’ll likely be constantly returning to Story Mode, rummaging through it for some time. While giving Shredder his just desserts and getting every character to max power, you will be greeted to a stage select screen that reminded me of the top down levels in the first NES Turtles game. While not as open as that, you drive the Party Wagon to various stages and other areas. You also have access to the turtle lair, where you can check the power levels of your characters, view the various challenges, requests, and collectibles you’ve acquired or have yet to discover, and browse your completed accomplishments.
As you make your way through the varied stages, you’ll encounter infamous Turtles bosses that will have fans smiling at how on point they are, from voice acting to shenanigans while you fight them. The music is instantly familiar during these encounters, and each is exciting and memorable, often quite reminiscent to their older arcade counterparts. The only issue I have with them is that their health bars are small compared to the bosses of the older arcade games. They certainly never overstay their welcome this way, and adding more players does increase the bosses’ health bars, but most bosses can feel like they’re over too quickly, especially early on.
Speaking of issues, there are a few others I had, too. The biggest one is how the taunt can absolutely break the game, making it extremely easy. See, whenever you taunt, if you get through the entire animation without getting hit, you are awarded a full level of Ninja Power. Because a few of the special moves that utilize this bar are completely dominant, you’ll likely find yourself relying on this method as you can obliterate otherwise very challenging encounters. In Story Mode, you can progress to having 3 bars at a time, meaning you can unleash 3 devastating attacks, demolishing whatever is on the screen, and then simply taunt 3 times in a row before moving to the next screen and unleashing your destruction there.
Thankfully, arcade mode limits you to a single bar, meaning you’ll have to successfully taunt in the middle of imminent danger much more often, balancing this tactic to a greater degree. Still, it’s a tactic that can become a crutch, and I found myself wishing the power of some of the attacks wasn’t quite as potent. Combined with the bosses’ relatively low health bars, even boss encounters that were meant to be much tougher are instead hampered by this.
Beyond this, there were a couple of bugs found, at least in the review code, so they may be quashed with the launch patches to come. One occurred in Arcade Mode, and it found my character freezing in the air, unable to move for several moments until the screen “reset” and all was well again. It happened twice in the same stage, and it certainly was jarring to see. There was a boss that stayed stuck in a pose and wouldn’t budge even after getting hit, leading to an easy victory. Another is a bug that my friend encountered, where he was playing local co-op on the Series S with a group of players, and the game froze on him, repeatedly. Again, hopefully these issues may be completely fixed when the game officially launches, but they did occur.
Thankfully, besides these rare bugs (so rare that they didn’t affect my score in the least), the game runs like a dream. I never noticed an issue with frame rates, regardless of how many enemies filled the screen or how much chaos was going on. The controls are tight and feel perfect. You will quickly develop your tactics, and you’ll need to change them on the fly as different types of enemies constantly mix things up, requiring you to always be aware.
Shredder’s Revenge also contains a good amount of stages, giving the game a length that feels just right. It’s longer than the older arcade games, feeling around the same as playing the original Turtles arcade game and Turtles in Time, back-to-back. The stages are varied, and they often contain unique gameplay elements specific to the stage.
The sound effects and audible cues are fantastic, too, with the theme of nostalgia continuing to be used to great effect. Much of the voice talent from the ’80s series was collected as well, including each of the ’80s Turtles actors providing their voices for their respective turtles, here. And, again, just wait until you hear the music along with the action!
When Shredder’s Revenge was announced, I got excited at the prospect of a modern take on the Turtles arcades. After learning that Dotemu was at the publishing helm, I got even more excited knowing the incredible work they did with Streets of Rage 4. But I didn’t expect those lofty expectations to be shattered by the masterpiece that Dotemu and Tribute Games delivered in Shredder’s Revenge. This amount of love, passion, and execution must be rewarded, as anyone who plays the game will immediately know that they are playing one of the greatest beat-em-up brawlers of all time. It is absolutely a must play, and it’s a game people will play time and again to experience pure, well-baked fun, served passionately and with great care. Shredder’s Revenge is cowabunga perfected.
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