TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge Is the Feel Good Game of the Year

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge reminds us that some things are worth being nostalgic for.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Photo: Dotemu

For many gamers who grew up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat-em-up games were a strange, yet undeniable part of our childhoods. At a time when most video games based on popular properties were…well, terrible, the TMNT games almost always delivered. It was always a little wild that the adventures of a group of teenage turtles with ninja skills and mutant powers became such a pop culture sensation. It was always even crazier that those same turtles became one of the most reliable sources for truly great video games. 

Of course, a lot has changed since the ‘90s. Konami, the company that made most of those TMNT games, has burned bridges, salted the earth, and has decided to choose record profits and Pachinko machines over making actual video games. TMNT remains strangely popular, but the franchise is obviously a different beast these days and perhaps not the pop culture powerhouse it once was. Even the beat-em-up genre (which was so firmly rooted in the arcades) is often relegated to the occasional retro release or re-release that often reminds us of how simple those games really were. 

Most of all, we’ve changed. We’ve grown older, we’ve probably become a bit more cynical, and we’ve certainly played a lot more video games. Our memories of those early TMNT titles remain strong, but there’s always that fear that actually trying to revisit them will cause the whole thing to fall apart. After all, how good could some retro beat-em-ups starring ninja turtle cartoon characters really have been? 

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you’re worried developer Tribute Games is going to make you realize that your nostalgia for those old TMNT games is nothing more than that, you can put those fears to rest. TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge isn’t just the rare game that completely justifies your nostalgia; it’s the feel-good game of the year. 

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TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge’s Graphics, Music, and Level Design are Simply Perfect

Most great beat-em-ups live and die by what they do outside of their often basic gameplay. As entertaining as it can be to punch, kick, and throw your way through waves of bad guys, that gimmick will grow old pretty fast if that game doesn’t have the production qualities needed to propel us through the many moments of potential monotony. 

Thankfully, the Shredder’s Revenge team clearly understands all of that. From the moment you boot up the game and take in the glory of its wonderful intro to the first time you jump into a level and watch Shredder make the most of his few frames of animation to enjoy an evil laugh, this game wastes no time in winning you over with the many joys of its presentation style. 

Mind you, this game doesn’t simply rely on wholesale copying the style of previous TMNT games. While Shredder’s Revenge is clearly influenced by the older TMNT games in terms of its presentation values (and features more than a few callbacks in that department), developer Tribute Games clearly wasn’t interested in settling on more of the same. Instead, they made everything look just a touch brighter, a bit more detailed, and generally smoother than the old TMNT games actually looked.

Similarly, this game’s soundtrack features more than a few nods to the excellent soundtracks of TMNT games gone by, but it also finds room for distinct sounds (including a perfect TMNT rap from Wu-Tang members Ghostface Killah and Raekwon The Chef). What the Shredder’s Revenge team really did was identify the core elements of the old TMNT games that made their presentation special and found ways to build upon those qualities rather than force your nostalgia to do all the heavy lifting.

There’s no clearer evidence of the benefits of that approach than the quality of this game’s level design. It’s sometimes too easy to forget the simple pleasures of a well-constructed level in the age of open-world titles that often emphasize size over style. You’ll be reminded of the virtues of classic level construction, though, the moment you step into Shredder’s Revenge’s first level (a Foot Clan-occupied TV station) and see Foot Clan goons mixing dough on the cooking show set, doing sit-ups in the exercise video area, and tying away in the newsroom. Nearly every part of every level in this game is designed to offer something so much more substantial than a static background. The sheer amount of sight gags on display in nearly every level of this game can sometimes feel more rewarding to discover than the most obscure objectives in significantly larger adventures. 

Of course, what really sets Shredder’s Revenge apart isn’t the game’s looks but rather its personality. 

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TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge Reminds Us That Personality Can Make Up For Years of Technological Advances

On some level, I think I always realized that the thing that really set those old TMNT beat-em-up games apart was their charm and personality. However, it wasn’t until I played Shredder’s Revenge that I truly appreciated what that meant. 

Almost nothing is taken for granted in this game. New enemies don’t just carry new weapons; they behave and move in ways that revolve around those weapons. A pizza box isn’t just a pizza box; it’s a pick-up with a visual design that perfectly relays what the item will do without any unnecessary text cluttering the screen. 

As mentioned above, a lot of this game’s personality comes through via its creative level design and fantastic sense of humor. More importantly, though, this game’s personality is the rocket fuel that makes the whole thing go, go, go. Every perfectly realized animation, every unique enemy design, every environmental hazard, and every boss fight that comes complete with some kind of gimmick keeps this game moving along at a blistering pace that is so much more important than frames per second. 

If you were to replace many of the design elements in this game with circles, squares, and X’s, you’d see how repetitive the whole thing really is. Instead, that circle is a player’s character who gleefully bounces around the screen and occasionally throws out a unique taunt or quip. That square is a new enemy who is either interacting with the environment in some fascinating way or conveying their attack pattern through their design and personality traits. That X isn’t yet another incoming obstacle; it’s a herd of stampeding animals or a convoy of Foot Clan cars that will always put a smile on your face. 

Few games released this year exemplify the positives of an infectious personality quite like Shredder’s Revenge. The sheer amount of fun and creativity in this game gets in your veins and compels you to stick around with it just a bit longer and simply enjoy the ride. With due respect to obviously impressive advances in gaming graphics and visual fidelity, I’ll take the charm that propels this whole thing over “realism” just about any day. 

Shredder’s Revenge Advances Basic TMNT Beat-Em-Up Gameplay Without Making This Game Something It’s Not

It’s a common video game criticism cliche to say that an updated game plays or looks like you remember the original version of that game playing or looking. However, that’s just about the best way to describe the things that the gameplay in Shredder’s Revenge does so well. 

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If you want to get through Shredder’s Revenge by mashing the attack button and throwing out the occasional jump, you’ll find that there are very few obstacles in the game that will stop you from doing so. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a little more depth here for those that want to find it. From managing your special power bar to tossing enemies at the screen and working in some devastating backflip abilities, anyone who wants to master this game will find just enough room to do so. Granted, the whole thing is closer to “easy to learn, slightly more complicated to master,” but given that the previous TMNT games were the height of beat-em-up simplicity, I’m legitimately impressed by the ways that Shredder’s Revenge adds a little depth without trying to make this game something it’s not. 

The game’s challenge system is probably the biggest reason to try a little harder to do just a little better. Every level features a few challenges that often require you to do things like avoid taking damage or dispose of “X enemies” with “Y move.” It’s not much, and it’s certainly not a new idea, but the constant reminder that there’s this little goal that is just out of your reach was often enough to incentive me to try out a few new things the next time around. 

The same is true of the game’s Story Mode: a variation on the classic arcade TMNT experience featuring collectibles, an overhead map, and opportunities to level your character up. It’s not the deepest thing in the world, but it also feels like exactly the thing Konami would have added to the console ports of the old TMNT games if they had the ability to squeeze anything more into those games. 

Mind you, the gameplay experience is far from perfect. Many of Shredder’s Revenge’s boss battles don’t feel balanced (some early ones are significantly more frustrating than later fights), there are a few too many vehicle sections, and the whole thing is way, way too easy (especially once you start playing the game with multiple people). Most importantly, Shredder’s Revenge proves to be an all-too-brief trip down memory lane. 

Shredder’s Revenge Just Isn’t Enough of a Good Thing

If I’m being very generous, I’d estimate that it would take you about two-and-a-half hours to beat Shredder’s Revenge by yourself. If you’re playing with friends, you can easily cut that number in half. While there are challenges, collectibles, and opportunities to level your turtle up throughout the game (at least if you play the Story Mode), there aren’t a lot of official reasons to keep playing it after you’ve seen and beaten every level. Casey Jones appears to be the only unlockable character, and aside from an Arcade Mode leaderboard and whatever goals you set for yourself, there really isn’t a lot to potentially do differently during subsequent playthroughs.

This is the kind of game you can theoretically jump back into at any time and have a little fun with (with or without couch/online friends), but that really only takes you so far. This game really needed some kind of punishingly difficult optional mode, boss rush option, a multiplayer battle feature, or…well, something that didn’t just ultimately boil down to playing through the campaign yet again. That campaign is incredible, but it would be even better if it was just a part of the experience or was greatly expanded upon in some way during subsequent playthroughs. 

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It’s interesting. In so many ways, Shredder’s Revenge shows that your undying love for those classic TMNT beat-em-ups has been more than justified after all this time. On the other hand, it kind of reminds you that there’s a reason why it’s sometimes better to keep a little distance from those titles and not just constantly revisit them. Part of the charm of those games was that there really wasn’t more to them than was strictly necessary. Part of the problem with Shredder’s Revenge is that you’ll be begging for the game to offer you some excuse to stay with it just a little longer and relive that incredible sensation it gives you when you’re working your way through it the first time. Maybe it’s greedy to want so much more from a game like this, but it’s hard to walk away from this game and not be left just wanting a little more than it’s prepared to give.

Every single person reading this is more than capable of deciding whether they’re willing to buy a pretty short game with replay value that is largely based on your own desire to see it all again. What I can tell you is that for about 30 years, a generation of gamers has been blessed with the ability to carry that feeling of playing those old TMNT games for the first time. It’s a feeling that we’ve always been able to look back on whenever we needed to put a smile on our faces. For whatever it’s worth to you, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is the playable realization of that feeling. It’s the rare piece of throwback entertainment that justifies your nostalgia rather than exploits it.