Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge Review: Dotemu And Tribute Games Raise The Bar For The Beat-‘Em-Up Genre
It’s not often a game like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge comes along. And when it does, boy, is it a special occasion.
Developed by Dotemu and Tribute Games, this love letter to Konami’s beloved TMNT arcade beat-’em-ups is such a radical evolution you’d think the developers poured a healthy dose of the ooze into its source code. It doesn’t just build upon the rock-solid foundation of classics like TMNT: The Arcade Game and its follow-up, Turtles in Time. Shredder’s Revenge leaves them in the dust. So much so that if my ten-year-old self knew what to expect, there’s a good chance he would have gladly munched his way into a pepperoni and marshmallow pizza coma if only to make the nearly three-decade wait a little more bearable.
Am I being hyperbolic? Well, maybe a little. But rest assured, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is about as good as fans of the long-running franchise could hope for. Much like how Streets of Rage 4 expanded upon Sega’s fan-favorite brawler series when it was released two years ago, it introduces a host of tweaks and refinements to create a game that feels instantly familiar. But once you begin to dig beneath the surface, you’ll find a wealth of updates and improvements that provide a satisfying sense of depth that will keep you coming back for more.
This evolution is immediately evident when you fire up the game and get plopped into a tutorial that introduces over 20 mechanics, including flashy combos, evasive rolls, co-op, multiplayer-specific team moves, taunts, wake-up rolls, rising attacks, and more. Again, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge may look familiar with its decidedly old-school sprite work, but make no mistake: the series has come a long way from its quarter-feeding, button-mashing roots. So while it’s easy to imagine this latest Dotemu and Tribute Games offering tucked in the corner of some long-lost arcade, mechanically speaking, Shredder’s Revenge is about as modern as they come and lightyears beyond the games that inspired it.
Like you’d expect from a beat-’em-up, the story here is straightforward enough. The bumbling duo of Bebob and Rocksteady are running amok across New York City, snatching an assortment of gadgets needed for Shredder and Krang’s latest evil scheme. So it’s up to the four totally tubular turtles and their friends to save the day as they duke it out with the Foot Clan, Triceraton Warriors, and Rock Troops in a fight that will take them from the city streets to Dimension X and everywhere in-between.
You start the game with six characters to choose from: the four Heroes in a Half-Shell, Master Splinter, and Channel 6’s star reporter April O’Neil. However, you’ll unlock the hockey mask-clad vigilante Casey Jones once you wrap up the game. Each of the playable protagonists features their own range, speed, and damage ratings, making them all feel unique. For example, April O’Neil lacks stopping power, but she’s the fastest of the bunch, making the judo master great for hit and run attacks. Splinter, on the other hand, packs a hell of a wallop and his reach is stellar. However, the old rat’s by far the slowest of the bunch, making him best used in the hands of skilled players.
I found myself gravitating to Leo, the most balanced of the bunch, along with April, because she played quite a bit like Blaze in Streets of Rage 4, who’s typically my go-to character in that game. However, all of the characters are fun to use, giving Shredder’s Revenge plenty of replay value.
And speaking of replay value, Shredder’s Revenge doubles your fun with two unique game modes. The main attraction here is the Story Mode. It’s similar to the one found in Streets of Rage 4 in that your lives restock between stages, and you can continue as many times as you want. But it also switches things up in a few other ways to keep things exciting. For example, throughout each stage, you can find hidden characters that will offer side quests for you to complete in the form of character-specific collectibles scattered around the environment. For example, Irma has missing diary pages you’ll need to find, while the Punk Frogs will request random bugs to munch on.
The story mode also allows you to level up your heroes, expanding their repertoire of moves and even permanently increasing their health bars. I had a blast with Story Mode and enjoyed how you travel around the city from location to location in the Turtle Van, much like the original NES TMNT game. It’s pure nostalgia overload. And while the side quests you’ll unlock aren’t particularly deep, they’re a good enough reason to keep completionists busy for a while.
However, Arcade Mode is where it’s at if you’re looking for something more in line with the original coin-op TMNT releases. It boils Shredder’s Revenge down to its base elements, as you and up to three friends in local (with support for up to six online) attempt to bash your way through the game’s 15 stages with a limited supply of lives. The standard difficulty mode offers a decent enough challenge. Still, I feel experienced beat-’em-up players will probably want to dive right into the game’s most brutal of the three available difficulty modes.
A lengthy campaign is great and all. But it’s not worth much if the game doesn’t play well, right? Thankfully, Teenage Mutant Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is about as close to beat-’em-up Nirvana as you’re likely to find. The controls are nothing short of perfect, and each punch and slash delivers a satisfying dopamine rush as you send Foot Soldiers, Mousers, and the game’s host of iconic bosses soaring across the screen. In addition to your regular slashes, you also have a charged attack that delivers a mighty hit that can break the guard of armored enemies and even a dodge roll that you can use to get out of sticky situations.
You’ll fill your Ninja Power gauge as you beat down your adversaries or taunt them. This is your super meter, and using one stock lets you execute a flashy Super Attack that substantially damages your opponents. Team attacks are also quite entertaining to pull off. They require precise timing, but they allow you to crush a hapless foe between two turtles’ shells or even launch an airborne ally across the screen like a corkscrewing fireball.
And, in case you didn’t notice on the screen above, you can once again toss your enemies towards the screen in Turtles in Time fashion, and it feels just as great today as it did back in 1991!
All of these abilities come together to create a robust fighting engine that’s easy to pick up but offers a surprising amount of depth for those willing to peel the onion back and learn to fully utilize the tools it puts at your fingertips. So whether you’re firing up Shredder’s Revenge for some casual action with friends and family on game night or a beat-’em-up veteran looking to go all-out and test your skills in the game’s most challenging mode, the game’s got you covered.
Dotemu’s productions have consistently raised the bar when it comes to how good modern 2D games can look. This is evidenced by such jaw-dropping releases as 2017’s Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Windjammers 2, and the aforementioned Streets of Rage 4. Shredder’s Revenge raises the bar even further, delivering a retro-inspired feast for the senses. The sprite work is top-notch and gorgeously animated and the backgrounds are loaded with little details, making each screen feel like a cartoon brought to life. I especially love just how much is going on in every scene, like Foot Soldiers working cash registers in stores, working out on yoga mats, and more before jumping into the fray. And with all of this going on, Shredder’s Revenge never takes a hit to its frame rate, even with four payers and half a dozen enemies on-screen. It’s really impressive stuff, to be sure.
It’s hard to believe it, but Shredder’s Revenge sounds just as good as it looks. Tee Lopes, the composer behind Sonic Mania and Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare, delivers some absolute bangers that pay tribute to Konami Kukeiha Club’s classic tunes with their driving melodies and ample orchestra hits. In addition to Lopes’ compositions, the game also features a few guest tracks, including rhymes by Mega Ran and an absolutely epic track courtesy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Ghost Face Killah. If that doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, then you’re already dead.
As stellar as Shredder’s Revenge is, some players may be put off a bit by its length. This is easily one of the longest beat-’em-ups I’ve ever played, and it’ll take most players a bit over two hours to finish its 15 stages. That said, it’s not ideal for a pick-up-and-play session like many games of its ilk. Still, when an embarrassment of riches is the only sticking point about the entire package, you know you’ve got something special.
Look, I know I’ve been piling on the praise in this review, but believe me when I say this is a game that deserves every last bit of it. I’ve probably played hundreds of beat-’em-ups over the years. However, precious few manage to do what Dotemu and Tribute Games have managed to do here. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is nothing short of lightning in a bottle; one of those rare examples of a game that simply doesn’t miss a beat from the moment it starts until the credits roll. Sure, you may come for the nostalgia and irresistible retro-inspired presentation, but it’s the rock-solid core mechanics that offer the perfect balance of depth and approachability that will keep you coming back time and time again. If that sounds even remotely up your alley, then go, ninja, go, ninja, go and add this game to your collection. It’s a true testament to Turtle Power.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch, PC ; Publisher: Dotemu; Developer: Tribute Games; Players: 1 – 4 (local) 1–6 (online) ; Released: June 16, 2022; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge provided by the publisher.