My attachment to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not that big, but they were one of those things that were always around when I was growing up. While I have no attachment to the 80’s show and toys that spawned from it, I do really like many of the games based on it back in the day. The most prominent of these was Turtles in Time, which was for me, along with the Streets of Rage games on the Genesis, the genre’s gold standard back in the day. But it’s been decades and Beat ’em ups are few and far between, with the big standouts of the last decade being Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, followed by 2020’s Streets of Rage 4, which was fucking phenomenal. Now, Tribute Games, the developer of Panzer Dragoon, Flinthook, Mercenary Kings and goddamn Wizorb, got the rights to make a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game that is, in my opinion, the best Turtles game since Turtles in Time. Gets some pizza and have a seat, we’re talking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge.
The basic setup is this: The Foot Clan, Bebop and Rocksteady steal some weird-looking devices from the Channel Six News Studio so they can gather and rebuild Krang’s mechanical body and once again steal the statue of liberty because of reasons. It’s up to the Turtles, accompanied by April and in a rare delight, their master Splinter. It’s not much of a setup, but it’s structured like an episode of the 80’s show, complete with the level names narrated by the player characters, which is a neat touch. Everything that struck me about how this game is handled from a presentation standpoint is fucking awesome. The pixel art style is incredibly well animated, with each character getting huge doses of personality in their animations, down to having their own unique running cycles. While that sounds like not very much, it makes the titular turtles all standout far more from each other (an issue I sometimes had with this specific iteration of the Turtles in games), April feels like a lot of her later interpretations where she can hold her own and Splinter being the wise old master. The taunts and end-of-level animations best exemplify their personalities in fun ways. Hell, even the enemies and bosses get tonnes of personality through doing inane nonsense, taunts, and special attacks. I’m a mark for the small things in-game animations, so this gets top makes from me. Also, you cannot tell me that the folks at Tribute Games aren’t huge Fighting Game Nerds, because the animation references they snuck in are top tier.
The game is structured with a Super Mario Bros. 3/Super Mario World style world map, aka the best kind of world map to use in a game, and stretches its action across 16 levels. You play as either Leo, Donnie, Raph, Mikey, April or Splinter (and Casey Jones, who’s unlocked after finishing the story modest least once) and proceed to fight your way through droves of multicoloured Foot Clan Soldiers, Mouser Robots, Mutants, and eventually, even go head to head with the goddamn Triceratons and the Rock dudes from Dimension X, ending with a boss fight. These range from the expected like Bebop and Rocksteady, the less well-known like Metalhead and Chromedome, to the downright obscure like Tempestra. To take them on, you need an arsenal of moves like combos, super attacks and various throws like the metronome smash and flinging them into the screen like in Turtles in Time. And while all of the characters play largely the same, they have subtle but noticeable differences.
Leo is a Jack of all Stats who’s decent, but not amazing at everything and has the best dive attack, Raph’s got a shorter range than everyone else but can move during his super animation, Donnie’s staff gives him a longer range on all of his attacks, Mikey relies on hit and run tactics to close the distance, April is like a mix of Karin Kanzuki and Chun-li from Street Fighter in a Beat ’em up, which makes her take more damage, but compensates by being the fastest character in the cast, and Splinter is the slowest of our heroes, but thanks to his years of experience compared to everyone else, hits like a goddamn truck. Any combination of these six or all of them at once thanks to the six-player co-op (which is drop in and drop out) lets you cover any weaknesses you might have. And having played this game all the way through with friends in a full group of six, it gets chaotic as fuck due to the enemies flowing in and making it hard to see at times. This is not a deal-breaker because Shredder’s Revenge is the first game I’ve played in months where we’re all gone “one more level, y’all” and then before we knew it, we finished it. That’s the sign of a good game there. And while I’ll admit that it’s mechanically very simple compared to Street of Rage 4, it’s fine because this revels in the chaos in a way that’s a lot of fun.
Lastly, there’s the soundtrack, which fucking rules. Headed up by Lee Topes, composer of Sonic Mania’s excellent soundtrack and the music in the Street of Rage 4 DLC, makes a soundtrack that sounds like what would happen if Konami made Turtles in Time Today (which is basically what this game is, but better). He's not alone as he’s also pulled in Johnny Atma of GaMetal, Mega Ran, Mike Patton, and the inclusion that makes me wild out, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan. It lead to the most fire soundtrack in a video game since Streets of Rage 4 and was so good that the label, Kid Katana Records, put out a CD and Vynal Record and released it one streaming service day and date.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shredder’s Revenge, might not be the most mechanically deep Beat ’em Up I’ve ever played, but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had with a game in the genre. To the point where I accidentally finished the game in one sitting when I was grabbing screenshots for this post, it’s that fun and replayable. Go Play it. It’s on everything and Game Pass.