There was a time when alleyways were filled with lurking ninjas and trash cans with freshly cooked turkey legs — if you were at the local arcade.
Beat ‘em ups are intrinsically linked to the arcades of yesteryear. Despite plenty of console ports over the years, the genre was born in cacophonous, neon-soaked rooms full of deliberately difficult game cabinets perfectly tuned to gobble up your allowance. A recent wave of excellent beat ‘em ups including River City Girls and Streets of Rage 4 have brought the classics to a more modern audience, but none achieves as satisfying a mix of nostalgia and invention as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge.
Developer Tribute Games has been putting out solid retro throwbacks like Mercenary Kings and Panzer Paladin for years, and that expertise shows in every part of Shredder’s Revenge. Its gameplay loop is exactly the same as the brutally difficult Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game: You trek through side-scrolling levels, dispatching color-coordinated Foot Clan ninjas and robots to reach a climactic boss fight and move to the next stage. While there are collectibles galore and a secret character to unlock, Shredder’s Revenge keeps things dead simple. Rather than branching out to try anything new, it does exactly what you’d expect extraordinarily well.
Better than the real thing
In even the best beat ‘em ups, simple actions like moving up and down or hitting enemies behind your character can be a pain. If you don’t remember that being the case, trust me, they all feel clunkier than you remember. Tribute Games and publisher Dotemu told Inverse that Shredder’s Revenge should feel how players remember arcade games, but with the rough edges sanded off to satisfy modern audiences. Shredder’s Revenge succeeds at that, and it does it with such confidence.
In Shredder’s Revenge, movement feels smooth and fast whether you’re jumping for aerial attacks or dashing around the battlefield. A handful of toggles in the game’s settings let you tweak how sprinting, back-attacks, and escaping from grabs work if their manual controls aren’t to your liking.
It’s not just about precision either; controlling your turtle (or rat, or news reporter) is a joy. Every character has the same basic moves, which are explained in an efficient tutorial when you start a session, but they all act a little differently. A dodge and follow-up attack might have Leonardo lunge with his sword while April does the same action with a boom mic. The result is the same (you knock a conspicuous purple ninja onto their back), but it does a lot to make each character feel unique. In another small but charming touch, every character has their own victory animation after they clear a level. April’s celebratory mic drop still never fails to make me laugh after I’ve seen it dozens of times.
Characters also differ in stats and how their Special attack, charged by defeating enemies, works. The difference in Specials is small, mostly determining how many enemies you can hit with it, but stats are important. Every character in Shredder’s Revenge is rated one to three stars in strength, speed, and range. They’re small nuances that do a remarkable job of differentiating characters. Splinter lumbers around the screen but hits like a truck. Michelangelo’s dual nunchaku have terribly short range, but he’s fast enough to zip around levels and dish out high-speed combos.
You can earn a series of upgrades for reaching score milestones with each character, which in turn leads to stat boosts and new attacks. It’s a system that rewards going for big combos and high scores but feels a little punitive if you like trying out characters. After hopping between fighters throughout the campaign, I was a little underpowered and lacking some devastating unlockable moves by the end. It wasn’t a big enough difference to make the game unbeatable, but I couldn’t help feeling a little left out of the fun for my indecision.
Shredder’s Revenge lacks more detailed difficulty options, which is a bummer. You choose one of three difficulty settings at the beginning of a campaign and there’s no way to change it afterward. At about three hours long, this campaign isn’t a total wash if you need to start over completely on a new difficulty. Especially as a few late-game bosses and enemies can be incredibly irritating on higher difficulties (looking at you, sai-wielding jerks), the option to momentarily tone down the difficulty would be welcome. Likewise, there are no assist options to speak of. Your only real way of making the game easier is getting a pal to help in multiplayer. Online or offline, co-op works without a hitch, but the action gets increasingly difficult to follow when you go above three players or so (to a maximum of six).
Tune in next time
The story of Shredder’s Revenge is so thin it’s functionally nonexistent. You need to chase bad guy Shredder and stop him from doing bad guy things. Again, that simplicity works in the game’s favor. Playing through the story feels like watching the original animated show with a heaping bowl of dangerously sugary cereal, from its radical opening cartoon cutscene until the very end.
If you’re a TMNT superfan, Shredder’s Revenge will delight you with its depth and fan-service references and in-jokes, but it never gets so bogged down that newcomers will be put off. Even if you don’t know your Bebops from your Razhars, the game is full of sight gags that make scanning the background of every level a treat. Alongside TMNT references, Shredder’s Revenge feels like a loving ode to arcade beat ‘em ups in general. Health-restoring food hidden in trash cans, attacks that fling enemies into the screen, the obligatory vehicle levels – it’s all here, and it all feels like a worthy tribute rather than a nostalgia checklist.
Naturally, fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and classic beat ‘em ups will get the most out of Shredder’s Revenge, but that shouldn’t stop you from playing if you can’t recite the theme song from memory. Even for non-fans, you can beat the game in a single afternoon and have more fun than you will in most 50-hour open-world epics. If you’re looking for a new multiplayer game, Shredder’s Revenge is a must-play, thanks to its stellar combat and upbeat tone that makes it worth revisiting levels again and again.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Inverse reviewed the game on PlayStation 4.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.