I don’t remember what the first game I played was, but countless of my earliest gaming memories take place in a packed room shouting about a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. While vacationing with family, I found seemingly endless warmth in playing whatever Turtles game was immediately available to my cousins and I, and so much joy in shouting about the action on screen. Before Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, or Mario Party were in my life, there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, and it was wonderful. When I put those days and games behind me, I didn’t know I was leaving something that I loved so much, but it’s made my serendipitous return with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge all the sweeter.
The whole time I’ve been playing Shredder’s Revenge, I’ve been astounded at the sheer love it has drawn from me. I can’t help but feel like I’ve found it: a perfect game that I can share with others that genuinely communicates the absolute joy of videogames.
Shredder’s Revenge hardly needs to be set up, but here it is if you really want it: Bebop takes over a news broadcast and seemingly transforms (weaponizes?) the Statue of Liberty. Fight your way through New York City and a familiar rogues gallery as the Turtles, Master Splinter, and their close friends April O’Neil and Casey Jones. That’s all you need to know. More than anything, Shredder’s Revenge is a loving trip down memory lane. It’s a game so good it makes me want to break my self-imposed rules of writing and deploy every tacky, tired, and corny euphemism and/or phrase to describe the affection I have for it.
Shredder’s Revenge is a beat ‘em up like the iconic TMNT games before it and every step it takes serves as an ode to that legacy. It offers a memorably bright rendition of New York City that feels rundown but thrumming with life, and reminds me a lot of how much the classic cartoons seemed to love my home town. The Turtles and co. look and play wonderfully, with each having a distribution of attributes (range, speed, and power) that not only distinguish them in gameplay, but actually feel reminiscent of their characters. Raphael, for example, has some of the worst range in the game thanks to his twin Sais, but as the most aggressive and brutish of the brothers, he also packs the greatest overall punch. Leonardo, ever the calm center of the group, sits at a neutral place that makes him a great beginner character but paves the way for experimenting with others later. Casey, of course, plays like a hulking beast of a man, which I think you’d have to be to take up vigilantism in this version of New York. So many of the techniques the roster of characters use in Shredder’s Revenge seem ripped straight out of their retro outings, and the game goes out of its way to make these and countless more homages to other fighting games every second it can. Characters and locales, like the Punk Frogs and Dimension X, make very welcome returns, and some boss fights, like Chromedome, function as callbacks to levels I haven’t played since my childhood. The voice actors from the original 1987 show are back and the game’s soundtrack bops in step with its predecessors. There’s a sense of history and respect everywhere that colors Shredder’s Revenge so lovingly.
What makes this all land for me is how simple the game is. Every beat ‘em up is secretly hiding a depth that only the most seasoned players find, but on occasion rubes like me stumble onto them. Shredder’s Revenge is straightforward; it’s not hiding complex combos, as far as I can tell. It does however provide a stable of moves that naturally feed into one another, rewarding even the most basic experimentation. If that slide attack looks like it can go straight into a basic combo, try it and close out with an uppercut for extra flair! Really want to juggle enemies? Hit a super at the end of a basic combo and watch them fly. You don’t need to work hard to look and feel good in Shredder’s Revenge, which extends to the team attacks you’ll just happen upon, like throwing your teammate like a fireball if they happen to do a divekick into you. This means that, by and large, you can just focus on having a good time, which is inevitable with this game, especially if you play with others.
Most of Shredder’s Revenge will be intimately familiar to folks who’ve long had a love for these games, but it does modernize things quite a bit. For example, I can’t not bring up the absolute chaos of the six-player drop-in/drop-out co-op, which is some of the most delightful nonsense I’ve ever partaken in. While it was admittedly hard to make out what was happening at times, I can’t deny the smile that broke out over my face watching the Turtles unleash frenzy after frenzy on those poor unwitting Foot Clan ninjas. Shredder’s Revenge also has a leveling system for every character in the game which rewards continuous play with them. Upgrades range from bonus HP to additional super bars and moves. While you certainly don’t need most of it, since this game is generally more lax than its predecessors, it comes together to make a game that feels great to play the more you invest in it.
The place where the game most suffers, an acknowledgment that almost pains me considering how much I love it, is in its brevity. Shredder’s Revenge only has two modes, Story and Arcade, and both take you through the all-too-short campaign, which, at 16 levels, will take all of about two hours to complete. While each level has a trio of challenges to complete, as well as collectibles to find, I’m already running out of things to do as I exhaustively go back through the game trying to level everyone up. Arcade mode, which limits your lives and save progression, is a neat addition, but one that mostly serves people who thrive on setting high scores. It feels like something else could’ve been here, like an endless brawler or even a training arena, but alas Shredder’s Revenge, unlike the pizza the Turtles order, is woefully short on toppings.
The single best thing I can say about my time with Shredder’s Revenge is that I don’t want to give it up. I’ve gone through the story mode with several characters at this point on my continuing quest to see every ending. I’m dipping my toe into Arcade Mode to amp up the difficulty and test myself. I’m trying to clear every stage’s challenge, even the seemingly impossible ones, and making really good progress. I’m trying to rope my friends in as much as possible too. I want to invest in a good TMNT show again, and I even tried to navigate the absolute nightmare that is the now Amazon-run Comixology app to get in on the latest comic series based on my favorite turtles. I’ve come away from this experience with a rekindled love for my half-shelled heroes and I never want to give them up again. Cowabunga forever, my dudes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was developed by Tribute Games and published by Dotemu. Our review is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Switch.
Moises Taveras is a former intern for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.