Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is fueled by the power of nostalgia and (presumably) dozens of slices of New York pizza. 1992’s Turtles in Time is one of the most popular Super Nintendo games of all time and comes at a time when Heroes in a Half-Shell was at the peak of its popularity. It’s clear that developer Tribute Games’ beat ’em up connoisseurs have a great deal of deference to both this game and the Turtles of the late ’80s and early ’90s, because Shredder’s Revenge is essentially a sequel that’s been around for 30 years the thing is. It faithfully recaptures what made Turtles in Time such a cherished brawler while introducing a few new ideas to refresh the classic 16-bit gameplay for a modern audience.
If you’re a Turtles in Time fan, you’ll feel right at home once Shredder’s Revenge begins. In the opening cutscene, the anthropomorphic brothers gather around an old CRT TV and watch a news report, which is interrupted when some of their notorious opponents attack the Statue of Liberty. It’s not exactly the same as Turtles in Time’s opening, but it’s very close. Once you jump into the first level, that sense of familiarity doesn’t fade. The level introductions feature the same silhouette of the boss you face, and if you’re playing as either Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, or Michelangelo, you’ll find that their abilities and combos have been faithfully adapted to their adventure in ’92. Chaining attacks is smoother than it used to be, but you can still pull off a wealth of recognizable moves, from rolling over enemies with a running shoulder attack to canceling a dodge to launch into a slide blast. You can even grab foot soldiers and throw them straight at the camera.
Playing Shredder’s Revenge feels like playing Turtles in Time – or at least that’s the way I remember it in my mind’s eye – but it’s still fun even if you don’t have that strong nostalgia. It’s still very much inspired by the beat-’em-ups of the era – including the earlier Turtles games released for the NES – with its fast-paced, arcade-style action with enemies appearing on screen just as quickly how they were defeated . There’s also a ton of enemy variety, often forcing you to diversify your offense to get behind a shielded enemy or finish off a flying nuisance. Defeating most bosses requires learning their attack patterns and knowing when to dodge and when to deal damage. However, some of these end-of-level obstacles are more complicated, such as the Rat King, who leaps out of danger and summons swarms of rats for you to dodge. It’s all relatively simple, but there’s some depth behind the surface with juggling and floor jumping, and the fast-paced rhythm of the action is particularly satisfying.
Shredder’s Revenge also introduces a number of new features and some quality of life improvements. Each character has a unique super attack that allows them to deal a ton of damage for a few seconds. Instead of sacrificing health to use these attacks, you now have a charge meter that fills up as you deal damage. When there’s a lull in the action, you can also taunt to fill the meter, which pulls Donatello out and plays a Game Boy while Michelangelo dances on the spot. These add character moments aside from the obvious gameplay benefits. They also have a charged heavy attack, useful against shielded enemies and fast enemies that have a habit of running across the screen. Playing co-op – which supports up to six players online or locally – lets you high-five to share health, and you’ll also go into a knocked-out state when your health bar is depleted, giving your teammates a brief window to in where they can revitalize you with the rejuvenating power of pizza.
Co-op represents Shredder’s Revenge at its most chaotic. I played with three friends and that was manic enough, so a six player game has to be absolute carnage. This is mainly because the game scales with the number of players by throwing more foot soldiers into the mix. Keeping track of where your character is is possibly the hardest part given how much is happening on screen at any given time, and there have been several occasions where I haven’t attacked anything on the edge of the screen because i thought i was somewhere else Playing as either April O’Neil, Splinter, or the unlockable Casey Jones makes this a little easier since you don’t blend into the Turtles as much. Embracing the chaos is the best route, though, and ultimately it doesn’t greatly detract from how much fun it is to play with friends. The only time this isn’t the case are some levels where you ride a turtle’s hoverboard. Since you’re constantly moving forward, avoiding obstacles proves overly difficult when you don’t know what’s going on, making these levels quite frustrating. This isn’t an issue when playing solo, only during co-op when the screen can get overly busy.
However, most of the levels are fantastic as they are both varied and full of amusing details. For example, in the first level, you’re chasing bebop through the Channel 6 news studio. One of the running gags in Shredder’s Revenge revolves around how poorly the Foot Clan blends in with the environment. As you make your way through the television studio, you’ll see them tapping away at computers, stirring a cake mix on the kitchen set, and coming out of an industrial freezer with frozen hams that are now handy projectile weapons. Meanwhile, in another level, you fight your way through a mall where foot soldiers walk through the food court with burgers and fries and play games in the arcade. It captures the tone and fun-loving personality of the Turtles in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The colorful 16-bit aesthetic is also a treat, and the superb music sounds like it’s ripped right out of the era.
You can easily complete Shredder’s Revenge in about two and a half hours, which is definitely short, but there’s a decent amount of replayability. The game has two different modes: Story and Arcade. The former provides an overworld and an incentive to replay levels to complete challenges, find hidden NPCs, and complete quests, which boils down to hitting every obstacle within a level to uncover those hidden mysteries. This isn’t addicting in any way, but it will reward you with points that feed into an easy progression system that increases your health bar, unlocks new moves – like diving special attacks – and more. Arcade, on the other hand, dilutes the experience down to the basics. You can’t save and you only have a limited number of lives, so you have to complete the whole game in a single play without dying too much. You know, like old times. Playing through the game multiple times also gives you the chance to try out all the playable characters. Each of the six has a trio of stats (range, speed, and power) that give them a distinctive feel. Donatello and his ranged bo staff, for example, feel noticeably different than the slow, hard-hitting Shredder or the speedy Michelangelo.
Whether or not you can get more playtime out of Shredder’s Revenge depends on how willing you are to replay levels with different characters and on higher difficulties. Despite its brevity, however, this is still a tremendous labor of love that lives up to the legacy of Turtles in Time and the thugs that came before it. Combat is fast and simple but satisfying, while new features help modernize the action without tampering with the 16-bit essence. Co-op is overly chaotic and could use some indicators to help you keep track, but playing with friends is still a blast. Rehashing a classic retro game is always a difficult task, but Shredder’s Revenge avoids the obvious pitfalls and successfully brings about a revival of everyone’s favorite mutant turtles.