The moment that iconic theme tune kicks in, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge had me in its vice-like kung-fu grip and I knew that it would never let go. Using and re-imagining the Turtles cartoon’s opening credits is a statement of intent from Dotemu and Tribute Games and a ninja chop of a nostalgic hit, but it’s then backed up by a focused dev dedicated on delivering not just a pizza slice of your past but a mighty fine and progressive beat ’em up too.
One glace at Shredder’s Revenge’s distinctive retro arcade aesthetic tells you everything you need to know; this is the sequel to TMNT: Turtles In Time that we always wanted but, after thirty-ish years, never thought we’d received.
The 2D visuals are bright, punchy, and full of character. The turtles and their key allies are all here – that’s Splinter, April and, after you complete the game, Casey Jones – and are a butt-kicking joy to behold. Every attack is brought to life with distinct character animations; there’s Raphael and his lethally efficient sai thrusts, Casey Jones’ brutal baseball bat bashing, and April’s innovative offensive combination of microphone smacks and video camera whacks. Did I get a little weepy-eyed when all four turtles teamed up onscreen for some local multiplayer? Sure I did, but, you know, give me a break.
In addition to our heroes in a half shell, any villain of note from the expansive TMNT universe will crop up for you to smack down. This is a love letter to Turtles fans, with big hitters like Shredder, Bebop, and Rocksteady, given equal billing to the lesser-known, but no less awesome Chrome Dome, Wingnut, and Slash.
The nods and winks don’t end there. Frankly, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is gorgeous to look at, a retro aesthetic brought bang up to date with smooth and detailed animation. The backgrounds are cram-packed with easter eggs just waiting for turtle aficionados to spot.
So, what of gameplay? Well, at its core this is your standard scrolling beat ‘em up fare. You walk left to right and biff everyone in your path. What Shredder’s Revenge absolutely nails is pacing. Bad guys and bosses are a challenge, but none overstay their welcome by being tedious damage sponges. The same goes for the levels themselves. They breeze by, each one doing enough to change up its visuals, traps, and introduction of new enemy types, to ensure that this is one scrolling beat ’em up that doesn’t deteriorate into tedious lethargic button bashing.
Combat is satisfying and, far more importantly, just plain fun. Each player character has a chunky combo of attacks, throws, and specials available to them. A neat dodge and counter-attack ability proves vital and makes your player character feel far more nimble and responsive than is typical for the genre. You can also throw your foes out of the screen – that’s worth one whole point on the end score right there.
Going beyond the call, you can team up with not two, not four, but six players all sharing the screen! Manage to pull that off and the screen will soon become filled with explosive fisticuffs; foot soldiers sent spinning from player to player in a jaw-smashingly epic combo.
In story mode you’ll travel from level to level on a cute little map and get to upgrade your turtles on the way by gathering points – these will provide you with new attacks as well as an expanded specials bar. It is basic stuff, but helps keep things fresh as you battle through all sixteen levels. This is certainly the gentler way to experience Shredders’ Revenge, offering both save points and an endless supply of credits, but if a hardcore challenge is more your thing then arcade mode will serve you well, limiting credits and forcing you to play through the whole game from beginning to end. Not that you’ll be complaining with a game this freaking enjoyable.
Sadly that is it for game modes. This is a light and slight game, all over far too soon. Fingers crossed for a survival mode to be dropped in with an update, one akin to the Mr. X Nightmare DLC for Streets of Rage 4.
Online play is smooth and quick to set up and I never struggled to find another five players to team up with, but it is prone to crashing. This is deeply frustrating, particularly when you’ have almost cleared arcade mode on top difficulty, only to have to begin over. Of course, local play suffers from no such issues and offers the best multiplayer beat ‘em up experience since Street of Rage 4.
There are some other minor frustrations with Shredder’s Revenge. Despite taunting being vital to charge up your specials, particularly on the higher difficulties, each character only has one accompanying soundbite. Hearing Donatello shrilly declare ‘Just a minute!’ for the ten-thousandth time soon loses its shine. There are also some really cheap bonus challenges – having to clear a level and not get hit once is no fun at all. Thankfully these are optional and so happily ignored. Unless you’re a completionist. In which case, good luck!