Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is stuck in an awkward position: it has to play like the Konami-developed arcade beat-’em-ups of yesteryear, as you like to remember them, but it has 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 that developer Tribute Games is riding that katana-edge of fidelity, but not fidelity to error.
Shredder’s Revenge sends the ninja turtles – Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael – and friends Splinter and April O’Neil on a mission to stop the evil plans of Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan in a classic arcade-style assembly line brawl. The first two levels take place in a television studio held hostage by Bebop the mutated warthog and on the streets of New York, where Rocksteady the Rhino Man is wreaking havoc. 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 storytelling about the environment.
In one part of the game, Foot Clan ninjas typed on keyboards on office desks, seemingly but hopelessly trying to blend in. In another part, they cracked on what appeared to be yoga mats, but turned out to be shields. Elsewhere, Foot Clan ninjas emerged from an industrial freezer, with massive hams frozen in blocks of ice. Level two begins, humorously, with the Foot stealing the tires from the turtles’ signature van, turning the rest of the game into an adventure on foot.
What developer Tribute Games seems to have captured best about those classic TMNT games, beyond the humor and colorful 16-bit aesthetic, is the pace of the combat.
“We noticed the classic [TMNT] games that made combat fun weren’t necessarily the combat moves themselves, or the combat mechanics, it was more the pace of the game,” Tribute Games co-founder and game designer Jonathan Lavigne told Polygon in an interview. “The game[s] played very quickly, and the way enemies would enter the screen [in formation] and being defeated was very quick. So getting the right pace and that rhythm was really important.
“And then, for the fights, we could modernize the mechanics and make them fresher with combo systems and all the bells and whistles of modern fighting game mechanics like juggling, ground bounces, cancels and that sort of thing. It’s all simple things to get done, but there’s a lot of depth to it.”
Each playable character has a trio of stats (range, speed, and strength) that determine 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 tough Splinter. And each character has a just deep enough well of movement to keep the process of beating up dozens of foot soldiers interesting. There’s also a combo counter, and pairing 100-string combos together 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 thrown into the mix, increasing the game’s variety.
Co-op adds additional gameplay tweaks; players can use moves that require two players 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 difficulty settings.
“The most important” [source of replayability] is how the story mode is structured,” Lavigne explained. “You have incentives to play levels multiple times, [because] there are secondary challenges and NPCs that you can find hidden in different levels. NPCs will give you some [fetch quests] and there are collectibles hidden in the levels. So you can try to play them again and find all these things. And if you find them, you get extra points [that] be used for a progression system.”
Players can also participate in that light progression system in Shredder’s Revenge‘s story mode, where you unlock new moves along the way. And Tribute Games’ take on the TMNT beat ’em-up is just bigger than the classic Konami games, Lavigne said.
†Turtles in time had, I think, 10 levels, and we have 16, so it’s not quite double the size, but it’s a little longer,” he said. “It’s still doable in one go, I guess, [but] it is made to be played in more than one sitting.”
As for the future of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s RevengeLavigne and DotEmu CEO Cyrille Imbert said there’s no shortage of ideas for additional playable characters, but the six heroes announced are for now.
“Obviously we have a lot of ideas for other characters, but you know that creating a character takes a lot of time and attention to detail to make it really unique and interesting to play,” Imbert said. “So it’s hard to create more and more characters, but of course it’s in our minds and we’ll try, depending on the game’s success and depending on how the production evolves.”
“There are plenty of options if we decide to do that,” Lavigne added.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One sometime this summer. It will feature a new version of the classic TMNT theme song sung by Mike Patton of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More.