Side-scrolling brawlers haven’t made the smoothest transition to the current day. They don’t hold up as well outside of the arcade realm since their difficulty and short, repetitive gameplay loops aren’t as tuned for the home console experience. Dotemu and Tribute Games have been developing and modernizing nostalgia-driven titles for some time, which has naturally culminated in a collaboration to reimagine one of the most beloved arcade games, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, the product of that partnership, is a wonderful contemporary brawler that uses the skills of those two studios well, even if it doesn’t push the Turtles as far out of their shells as it could have.
Shredder’s Revenge is only marginally held back by its adherence to nostalgia, but it mainly excels by taking familiar qualities of those old brawlers and modifying them to better align with today’s standards. Its visual presentation is the most glaring example since it does use a pixelated art style, but does so magnificently. The game’s color palette is so much more vibrant than what came before and is packed with more objects and structures, yet it doesn’t lose its retro charm. Characters and environments obviously don’t push technical boundaries, but the game is able to stand out among its indie peers because of the sheer quality of pixel art.
Most of this quality stems from its fantastic animation that is trying to do more than grasp at the styles it has taken inspiration from. Attacks and movement are generally pretty smooth on the whole, however, the smaller details show the extra care put into every frame. The Foot Clan members not only shake when stuck, which is helpful for providing feedback and selling impact, but they will also cartoonishly wince in pain and sometimes grab their stomachs before they go flying. The Turtles are the same way, having their own exaggerated facial expressions as the Foot Clan smacks them around; the inverse of which is on display when any two characters joyously high-five each other with huge grins. Casey Jones’ attacks are the most notable, as almost all of them are inventive sports references that outwardly display the diligence and respect paid to every aspect.
Taunts and specials are similarly detailed and even better when played back slowly, as if to highlight the intricacies that are easy to skip over among the chaos. Donatello’s panicked expression look after playing his Game Boy-like handheld in the middle of the fight and reviving a fallen squad member by dangling a cheesy pizza slice in front of them are two of the best examples of its charming animation and are great every single time. Shredder’s Revenge’s zoomed-out view meant that its animation had to be capable enough to be noticeable and readable from a distance, and Tribute and Dotemu more than overcame that challenge.
The fantastic animation works in tandem with the other visual flourishes that make the levels more lively. Foot Clan ninjas will often be hanging out in the background before jumping into the fight and usually do more than just fly in from off the screen. While there are great examples later on like the ninjas acting as carnival employees, the first stage at the TV station is the best since they’re often hilariously taking part in a cooking or workout show before they’re interrupted by the heroes in a half-shell. Finding ways to creatively spawn in the enemies helps avoid stagnation because it is able to give each level its own silly personality that matches the series, something further enhanced by its energetic throwback soundtrack full of pop, rap, and instrumentals that all fit its overall vibe and fast pace.
Hazards can also differ from level to level, but the game’s slick controls are a constant. Even Shredder’s Revenge‘s basic attacks are more satisfying since they autocorrect and slide to enemies just a tad if players are just above or below their target, cutting down on tedious targeting and annoying whiffs, but it’s also got its own suite of special moves and abilities. There are dash, slide, running, aerial, and charge attacks, as well as an upward and downward dive kick, a grab, and meter-based special, all of which have their uses. Cycling between them all not only more or less keeps repetition — a shortcoming the genre is extra susceptible to — at bay, but it also is more efficient to change things up.
Shredder’s Revenge has an impressive variety of enemies and some are more vulnerable to certain attacks, and it’s up to players to analyze what works better in a given situation. Shielded foes are easily grabbed while those with guns usually quickly die after a bonk from a divekick and figuring out when to use which attack adds a welcome bit of strategy. The new defensive roll (that has a generous amount of invulnerability) is also an incredibly thoughtful addition that complements the expanded offensive arsenal and makes the cast more nimble and less stiff to control. Mashing can work on lower difficulties or in its marvelous co-op, making it approachable for casual players, but the increased utility adds more nuance and a higher skill ceiling in order to satisfy those who want a little more. Although brawls are more about picking the right attack at the right time, extra combo strings or juggle possibilities could have ideally added even more depth and player expression and elevated the combat to another level.
Shredder’s Revenge generally pushes forward, but it doesn’t forget to look back at that influential 1989 arcade game in addition to other Turtles toys and media. It borrows its enemies and environmental hazards and has more than a few visual nods to that Konami game (including tossing foes at the camera), and even updates or augments them when appropriate. For example, by virtue of it not trying to squeeze quarters out of players, incoming obstacles warn players first. This approach means that Shredder’s Revenge is able to tap into the familiar bits of that old game without bringing them up just to provide predictable fan service.
However, while Shredder’s Revenge does improve on that game, it doesn’t go too far beyond that. Characters have different stats, but, with only a few exceptions, many have similar specials and they all have the same attacks. Its solid core mechanics and natural multiplayer trappings already make it worth running through a few times, but having a selection of more unique characters — like Streets of Rage 4’s tanky Floyd and agile Cherry — would add even more replayability. There also aren’t any new level types or novel takes on the beat ’em up formula, either, as it just cycles between on-foot and Cheapskate missions. Lovingly modernizing an arcade hit like this is remarkable, but it’s disappointing that it doesn’t aim a little higher.
TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge still hits that slightly lowered target quite well because it is able to effectively channel its nostalgia and become more than a shallow remix that solely leans on fan service. It is the antithesis of 2009’s oft-forgotten TMNT: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, a game that just slapped new paint on the old Party Wagon and failed to fix its rusted engine. Shredder’s Revenge’s new pixelated paint job is vivid and lively and its engine is deeper and more streamlined, both of which mean that this enhanced Party Wagon is in the best shape it has ever been in.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.