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In the 1990s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were ubiquitous in the side-scrolling beat-‘em-up scene. Whether you’re talking about the 1989 arcade game, 1991’s Turtles in Time, or the myriad other brawlers starring everybody’s favorite Heroes in a Half-Shell, Konami’s creations in the ‘80s and ‘90s are legendary.
However, just as the side-scrolling beat-‘em-up genre faded, so too did the luster of the Turtles’ legacy. Following the IP’s late-‘80s/early-‘90s boom, the fan base of TMNT shrunk considerably, and much like the movies, TV shows, and merchandise, the brand’s gaming output slowed. After 1992’s Hyperstone Heist and 1993’s Tournament Fighters, the Turtles still starred in games, but few reached any level of acclaim. Even Ubisoft’s 2009 remake of Turtles in Time was met with harsh criticism.
Now, with talent that worked on games like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Streets of Rage 4, and the well-liked 2007 TMNT for Game Boy Advance, Dotemu and Tribute Games hope to restore the cowabunga kings to their former gaming glory. We met with the companies behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge to see the game in action and chat with the developers about how they’re hoping to make the video game Turtles fans have dreamt of for the past 30 years.
When the Evil Shredder Attacks…
Announced through a trailer featuring Faith No More’s Mike Patton singing the 1987 cartoon theme song, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is designed to appeal to fans from that earlier era. So much about the game – the aesthetics, character designs, enemies, and more – pull heavily from the period, including the beloved TV series and its accompanying toy lines.
During my demo, I watch members of Dotemu and Tribute Games play through three full stages. The first stage, “Jaw-Breaking News,” takes place inside the Channel 6 News studio. It’s here that Shredder begins his plot for revenge, part of which includes the reassembly of Krang. In keeping with the cartoon inspiration, each stage plays out like a single TV show episode, telling a story through the environment, enemies, boss fights, and short cutscenes between stages. The music, composed by Tee Lopes of Sonic Mania fame, also feels ripped straight out of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
That era of inspiration carries through in the gameplay, with fast, arcade-style action. Enemies arrive on screen and are vanquished just as fast as they show up. Just like in Turtles in Time, players can slam enemies back and forth and even toss them towards the camera.
This game may be all about the nostalgia, but Tribute wants to deliver more than just a greatest-hits package to fans. “Something that we wanted to do mostly with the game is try to visit locations that we have never seen before in previous 2D games, but also things from the 1987 TMNT universe from the cartoon,” game designer Frédéric Gémus says. “It’s a love letter not only to the TMNT franchise, but also to the whole era.”
Despite its nostalgic nature, Shredder’s Revenge implements many quality-of-life improvements. For instance, chaining together attacks is more fluid than in the classic games, and in co-op, players have a window where they can revive knocked-down teammates.
Shredder’s Revenge also offers two modes of play: standard arcade and story mode. Arcade mode is meant to replicate the experiences of the classic games where you begin with a limited number of lives and you need to beat the game in a single sitting. Story mode flips the script, allowing character progression by trading your accumulated points for upgrades to HP, extra lives, new moves, and a special Radical Mode ability that temporarily powers up your character. Story mode also lets you complete optional challenges within stages, offering replayability and the option to backtrack to each stage.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, players select from one of six playable characters: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, April O’Neil, and Master Splinter. Each character has their own distinct moveset, attacks, and gameplay feel. One of the key differentiating factors between the characters is their individual special moves.
In the classic games, players had to sacrifice a portion of their health bar to execute a special attack. With Shredder’s Revenge, players fill a special attack bar by landing consecutive attacks. This change is meant to encourage players to be more active and involved with the gameplay while also removing the punishment aspect of losing health for using a special attack. Each character now has three special attacks: a ground special, an air special, and a flying kick special.
Heroes in a Half-Shell
While the first level is full of Easter eggs, the next stage I see (the sixth level in the game), “Mall Meltdown,” further commits to the nostalgia. Fighting through the mall, players are treated to a plethora of nods to the mall culture of the time. Eventually, Donatello and April O’Neil fight through the food court and shopping promenades to arrive at the arcade.
While the first level featured Bebop, a familiar face for anyone who’s played through the Turtles’ past games, as its boss battle, this level gives players a foe who hasn’t appeared in a game before. Tempestra is a character who escaped from a video game with which Leonardo became obsessed in a 1990 episode of the cartoon, so her appearance in the mall arcade of Shredder’s Revenge makes sense.
In this boss battle, the virtual sorceress summons digital projections of Tokka and Rahzar from The Secret of the Ooze. Once you defeat the mutant snapping turtle and wolf, Tempestra becomes vulnerable to attack. After repeating this cycle a few times, Tempestra is defeated, and the mall is safe.
The final stage I see is the 10th level in the game, called “A Few Screws Loose.” Here, players battle through a back alley and into an electronics store full of tube TVs and mousers galore. This time, Raphael goes it alone. Co-op is drop-in/drop-out, and whenever the player count changes, the game adapts in real-time, adjusting the enemy compositions on the fly if you decide to suddenly invite three friends into the mix.
In one memorable section, Raph takes on several enemies on opposing conveyor belts. The dynamic footing and the fact that new smashable items are constantly arriving on screen adds new layers to the encounter. While the mouser infestation might lead you to believe the boss battle is against their inventor, Baxter Stockman, the climax of this electronics expedition is against an additional robotic rogue: Metalhead.
Shredder’s techno-turtle has a similar moveset as the version players faced in Turtles in Time, complete with arms that can stretch across the screen and flying kicks. He’s also joined by a menagerie of mousers and can shield himself while launching rockets your way. Metalhead’s moves don’t pose much of a threat to the player, and before long, the robot is out of commission, and Raph is eating a slice of pizza off his sai as my demo ends.
Laying It All Out
If you’re wanting to scope out the stages you’ll be fighting through as everyone’s favorite Manhattan mutants and their friends, we have exclusive looks at the layouts of three stages from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. The layouts given to us by the team at Tribute Games and Dotemu are those of the three stages I saw in action: Level 1 – Jaw-Breaking News, Level 6 – Mall Meltdown, and Level 10 – A Few Screws Loose.
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Everything I’ve seen and learned of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge suggests that it aims to be the brand’s grand re-entry to the gaming scene. It’s clear the teams at Dotemu and Tribute Games have abundant love for both the Turtles franchise and the side-scrolling brawler genre.
After watching the team play through the three stages, I immediately got the itch to replay my favorites, like Turtles in Time. Thankfully, through the recently announced Cowabunga Collection, I’ll have the opportunity to refresh my memory and brush up on my skills as I get ready for the launch of Shredder’s Revenge later this year.