Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is stuck in a tricky position: It must play like the Konami-developed arcade beat-’em-ups of old, as you fondly remember them, but it needs to feel modern at the same time. After spending some time with a two-level demo of the new Ninja Turtles game, it’s clear developer Tribute Games is riding that katana-sharp edge of faithful, but not faithful to a fault.
Shredder’s Revenge sends the ninja turtles — Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael — and pals Splinter and April O’Neil on a mission to stop Shredder, Krang, and the Foot Clan’s evil schemes in a classic, arcade-style, conveyer-belt brawler. The first two levels take place in a television studio taken hostage by Bebop the mutant warthog and on the streets of New York, where Rocksteady the rhinoceros-man is causing chaos. In addition to delivering deep beat-’em-up combat, Shredder’s Revenge is sprinkled with great visual humor, thanks to stage-specific Foot Clan ninja animations, and subtle environmental storytelling.
In one area of the game, Foot Clan ninjas typed away on keyboards at office desks, ostensibly but hopelessly trying to blend in. In another section, they did ab crunches on what appeared to be yoga mats, but turned out to be shields. Elsewhere, Foot Clan ninjas emerged from an industrial freezer, lobbing massive hams frozen in ice blocks. Level two starts, humorously, with the Foot stealing the tires from the turtles’ signature van, ensuring the rest of the game is an on-foot adventure.
What developer Tribute Games appears to have captured best about those classic TMNT games, beyond the humor and colorful 16-bit aesthetic, is the pacing of combat.
“We noticed from the classic [TMNT] games that what made the combat fun wasn’t necessarily the combat moves themselves, or the combat mechanics, it was more like the pacing of the game,” Tribute Games co-founder and game designer Jonathan Lavigne told Polygon in an interview. “The game[s] played really fast, and the way enemies would enter the screen [in formation] and be defeated was really quick. So getting that pacing and that rhythm right was really important.
“And then, for the combat, that’s where we could modernize the mechanics and make it fresher with combo systems and all the bells and whistles of modern fighting game mechanics like juggles, ground bounces, cancels, and stuff like that. It’s all simple stuff to pull off, but there’s a lot of depth.”
Each playable character has a trio of stats (range, speed, and power) that govern how they play, making them feel distinct. An all-rounder like Leonardo feels noticeably different from the speedy April O’Neil or the slower, but hard-hitting Splinter. And each character has a just-deep-enough well of moves to keep the process of beating up dozens of Foot soldiers interesting. There’s also a combo counter, and chaining together 100-string combos feels rewarding. And while I played Shredder’s Revenge solo, the game offers co-op multiplayer for up to four players — the more players, the more Foot soldiers get thrown into the mix, adding to the game’s variety.
Co-op adds additional gameplay tweaks; players can use moves that require two players to pull off and can high five each other to share health.
Variety and replayability are obvious concerns for an arcade beat-’em-up-inspired game in the modern era. But Lavigne says there will be plenty to keep players interested, including a story mode and multiple levels of difficulty.
“The main [source of replayability] is how the story mode is structured,” Lavigne explained. “You have incentives to replay levels multiple times, [because] there are secondary challenges and NPCs that you can find that are hidden in different levels. NPCs will give you some little [fetch quests] and there are collectibles hidden in the levels. So you can try to replay them and find all of this stuff. And when you find them, it gives you extra points [that] are used for a progression system.”
Players will also be able to engage with that light progression system in Shredder’s Revenge’s story mode, unlocking new moves along the way. And Tribute Games’ take on the TMNT beat-’em-up is simply bigger than the classic Konami games, Lavigne said.
“Turtles in Time had, I think, 10 levels, and we have 16 of them so it’s not quite double in size but it’s a little longer,” he said. “It’s still doable in one sitting, I think, [but] it’s made to be played in more than one sitting.”
As for the future of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, Lavigne and DotEmu CEO Cyrille Imbert said there are no lack of ideas for additional playable characters, but that the six announced heroes are it, for now.
“Of course, we have tons of ideas for other characters, but you know making a character takes a lot of time and attention to detail to make it truly unique and interesting to play,” Imbert said. “So it’s hard to make more and more characters but of course it’s in our mind and we’ll try depending on the game success and depending on how production evolves.”
“There’s plenty of options if we decide to do so,” added Lavigne.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One sometime this summer. It will bring with it a new version of the classic TMNT theme song, sung by Mike Patton of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More fame.