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The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles careen across an indoor space in Shredder’s Revenge Image: Tribute Games/Dotemu

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge absolutely rules

Both a classic and modern delight

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

It’s worth reiterating this headline immediately: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge absolutely rules.

Shredder’s Revenge is, through and through, a modern game — but it feels exactly how I remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brawlers of my youth feeling. My siblings, cousins, and I crouched our tiny bodies around an even smaller TV, taking turns in duos to rough up the Foot Clan. But memory is fickle. More than how those games actually played, I remember the sensations of playing them: frantically button-mashing my way through environments that moved way too quickly, while gradually building out a repertoire of moves to fall back on.

I still get a lot of joy out of playing those games as an adult. But the veneer has rusted over the years — now, they feel impossibly slow and a little repetitive. With Shredder’s Revenge, developer Tribute Games has achieved exactly what a lot of nostalgia-based remakes have failed to achieve before: It plays just like my memory tells me those brawlers played in my childhood. And it’s delightful.

six characters playable in tmnt: shredder’s revenge Image: Tribute Games/Dotemu

Published by Dotemu, Shredder’s Revenge pulls from both the games and the TV series to put the turtles — Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and Leonardo — and pals April O’Neil, Splinter, and Casey Jones up against Shredder, Krang, and the Foot Clan. The bad guys, also joined by Bebop, Rocksteady, and plenty more troublemakers, are once again terrorizing New York City, this time in a 16-level heist that leads to the crew stealing the Statue of Liberty.

The game winds around classic locations: the Channel 6 newsroom, where Foot Clan soldiers type maniacally on keyboards when they’re not trying to punch your lights out; underground subway systems where rats thrive in both robotic and mammal forms; the Natural History Museum, where Triceratons hide among exhibits; and at the zoo, where Foot Clan soldiers eat popsicles in the sun (before trying to kick the heck out of you).

There are two modes to bash your way through. The Arcade mode is the classic experience — limited lives, no saves. The Story Mode is more generous with lives and lets you progress through the story on a pixelated top-down map, complete with side quests that reward points, which unlock new abilities for each character. Story progression and abilities are saved between play sessions, whereas each time you head into the Arcade, you start over from square one. Both offer three difficulty levels, which essentially boil down to easy, medium, and hard — or chill, okay, and gnarly.

turtles fighting with splinter at a mall food court Image: Tribute Games/Dotemu

Mechanically, Shredder’s Revenge is simple, but not without depth. You certainly can get by through button mashing — the main attack easily chains with itself for big damage, for instance. But there are a variety of simple combinations that round out each character: you can throw opponents in different directions with the D-pad; you can dive by hitting attack in midair; or you can hold attack for a heavy swing. And of course, you can chain them all together. The combat mechanics encapsulate the “easy to learn, difficult to master” ethos that makes for compelling action in so many other games. It didn’t take very long before I started to notice new moves or combinations — like throws pulled straight from Turtles in Time, along with useful dodges and counters.

There are also special, extra-powerful moves, too, which are charged by a hit meter or by taunting. You can use these moves simply by pushing one button, and more options unlock as you move through more levels.

Rather than obsessing over one-on-one fights, Shredder’s Revenge is more focused on throwing in hordes of enemies all at once; it’s helpful to know moves and to time your attacks well, but you can also just hit a lot of stuff, repeatedly, using the main attack button. Crowd control is more important than hitting someone in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. It’s satisfying to take out a huge wave of soldiers on your own or with a friend, regardless of how it’s accomplished.

turtles fighting in the channel 6 newsroom with splinter and casey jones Image: Tribute Games/Dotemu

This all makes Shredder’s Revenge a busy game, but it’s never overwhelming in a way that overshadows the game’s environmental details and visual gags — stuff like the turtles getting flattened by a Foot Clan soldier driving a car, or disguising themselves as busy cashiers. Elsewhere, there are collectibles, all of which fall into the Story Mode’s side quests. By finding bugs for the Punk Frogs or tapes for Vernon Fenwick, I can earn points — the same ones that upgrade the aforementioned moves and unlock extra lives.

These sorts of hidden items, as well as challenges tied to each level, are touted as reasons to replay the levels. And they definitely help. But I found myself wanting to complete levels again regardless, as the same characters and different ones — the nearly three hours of Story Mode feels different each time around, depending on your chosen character, and that was enough to hop back into the game immediately after finishing it.

This game is so mechanically satisfying, so endearingly fun, that I couldn’t wait to hop back into the familiar environments, which remind me so much of crouching around that TV as a kid all those years ago.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge will be released on June 16 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC via Steam, and Xbox One. The game was reviewed on Windows PC using a pre-release download code provided by Dotemu. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.