REVIEW: Tribute Games nails it again with TMNT: Shredder's Revenge
Updated: Jun 17
I don't have the same kind of nostalgia that most people my age have for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I never read the comics. I didn't really watch the shows. The suits from the movies genuinely creeped me out.
But still, I hold adoration and respect for the turtles. And it's because of one thing and one thing only.
Beat-em-ups are one of the purest forms of fun in all of gaming and the turtles starred in some of the best of the genre. I hold all of the TMNT games in high regard, so even with my deep respect for Tribute Games' historical success and even with how great the game looked, I had to be a little skeptical about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge.
After playing through it a few times, I am ashamed of my words and deeds. Tribute Games did it again.
Just the Facts
Developer: Tribute Games
Platform(s): PC, Switch, PS4*, Xbox One *platform reviewed on
Release Date: June 16, 2022
Review code provided by Tinsley PR.
A legacy of honoring legacies
Tribute Games, established in 2011, has long been focused on honoring gaming's past. The studio was founded soon after its core team released Ubisoft's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, a 2D beat-em-up rooted in retro game design concepts, chock full of nostalgic callbacks, and some of the purest couch co-op gameplay.
After leaving Ubisoft to spread their own wings, they've truly established themselves as one of the best modern-retro game developers of our time. There was Mercenary Kings honoring Metal Slug, Flinthook honoring Bionic Commando by way of Castlevania, and most recently Panzer Paladin honoring Mega Man, Blaster Master, and The Legend of Zelda II all at once. Each game drew inspiration from some of gaming's classics, but ultimately implemented modern game design sensibilities and created something brand new.
Nearly 10 years ago, in my freelancing days, I once called Tribute Games "gaming's ultimate cover band", comparing their skill for emulating industry classics to some pitch-perfect cover bands that tour the world performing another band's greatest hits. But I realize now I was wrong.
Tribute Games is way more than a cover band.
Their works have elevated the studio to be an all-time great as each release brings them closer to the hall-of-famers they revere and recapture. In fact, their latest release TMNT: Shredder's Revenge just might be better than what's come before.
Let's talk about it.
Bring the arcade home with you in Shredder's Revenge
In Shredder's Revenge, the set-up is simple. One day, while chillin' and eating pizza like a turtle is wont to do, the crew's R & R sesh is ruined by a hostile news takeover by who else... the Foot Clan.
What ensues is a chase through the streets of New York City, as all the major fiends of the TMNT Rogue's Gallery play hot potato with the body parts of the monstrous Krang. Their plan is to put him back together again and unleash him on the city to sow chaos. As the turtles give chase, you'll find yourself beating up Foot Clan Ninjas, robots, monstrous pizza demons, and more across a variety of iconic TMNT locations.
Shredder's Revenge is one of the truest love letters to decades of TMNT lore that I've ever seen. The beat-em-up genre has never been story-heavy, but even with that, Tribute Games has found a way to pack this game with winks and nods that I'm certain even the deepest TMNT fans will appreciate. (I mean damn, the story mode's world map is an homage to the better-off forgotten NES TMNT's overworld, who else is calling back to that game?)
The story might be slight, told in a series of charismatic vignettes before each level, but it's everything you want it to be for a game like this. An afternoon with a single playthrough of this game's 2-3 hour story mode will transport you back to the couch, watching the latest batch of Saturday morning cartoons with your buds, and that's the greatest compliment I can pay.
Pixel-perfect attention to detail
Tribute Games is a studio full of self-described perfectionists. Their attention to detail may go unmatched in the industry.
Shredder's Revenge has some of the best pixel art and some of the most fluid and character-full animations I've ever seen. Much like a cartoonist at the top of their game, Tribute Games' artists communicate so much personality within the confines of incredibly simple animations. Michelangelo's chaotic brain comes to life as he flails his arms wildly running across the screen; Donatello's methodical movements convey his self-seriousness; and Casey Jones' jock background is given life through each of his individual moves equipping him with a new set of sports gear.
Tribute Games have mastered pure arcade-y fun. Some of their past works have not quite captured the energy of their inspirations, but that couldn't be further from the truth here.
Like its predecessors, this TMNT beat-em-up keeps things relatively simple. You won't have to memorize complicated move lists, you'll mostly be doing the same things all throughout the game's 16 levels, and platforming is hardly a priority. But there's enough variety in level design and your turtle-bilities that you'll have fun pushing through. The TMNT experience is more about fighting back giant waves of enemies and avoiding environmental hazards than anything else, hearkening back to their arcade roots and even the musou experience of games like Dynasty Warriors. As you add players — Shredder's Revenge touts the ability to play with up to six — the game balances things by adding more enemies for you and your friends to bash through, enhancing the chaos the more friends you bring to the table.
You'll have the opportunity to play as just about everyone you'd want to in a TMNT game: the full team of turtles, their mentor Master Splinter, the turtles' best companion reporter April O'Neill, and fellow crimefighter and sports star, Casey Jones. Each character has their own set of stats, but identical move sets, meaning you're likely to have a good time no matter who you choose.
There are countless combos to master if you're good with memorization or muscle memory, but as my partner can attest: Certified Button Mashers are welcome. Shredder's Revenge is approachable and accessible, which is perfect for the Saturday morning cartoon vibe — everyone from youngsters to wizened gamers can drop by for a shell of a good time.
We mostly played through the game single-player, which is admittedly the lesser experience as levels feel more empty and this game's charming mayhem, like pizza, is best when shared with friends. But if you're lonely don't worry. There are easy ways to squad up with randoms and a drop-in-drop-out experience that works easily both locally and online.
Kick shell however you like
You can play through the game's 16 "episodes" a few different ways. A story mode gives you a big overworld map that connects each level, a level-up system for each of your turtle warriors, and a generally less punishing experience. Your lives replenish after every level and the aforementioned level-up system helps to make the game easier and easier as you go on.
For a more traditional arcade experience, there's the aptly named arcade mode. It gives you one set of lives, a handful of continues to run through when you lose those lives, and your target is to run through all of the levels in one go.
Both modes come equipped with three difficulty levels — Chill, Okay, and Gnarly — that primarily scale the damage you take from enemies. The game's "normal" difficulty, Okay, keeps things tense, particularly as you get deeper into the game, but ultimately is much easier than expected.
Without a need to pry quarter after quarter from your pocket, the experience is overall a more welcoming one, which could be exciting or disappointing news for different sets of gamers. Having only been able to get through some older arcade classics through the power of cough emulation cough and unlimited credits, I think this is a great move, because everyone should be able to experience this rollercoaster ride of joy.
We will say Gnarly is more representative of the "hard-as-nails" level of difficulty these games used to provide and that beating Arcade is no easy feat on even Okay difficulty, so those who like their games painful have no reason to worry either.
Replayability is a key part of the experience, especially with such a short story, and Tribute Games has a few fun ways to keep you playing.
For starters, the story mode comes equipped with a set of unique challenges per level that range from attempting to beat each level without getting hit to using a unique move a certain number of times or against certain foes. These challenges force players to utilize the game's full toolbox more regularly and be a little more thoughtful with their actions, which is nice considering mashing is a more than viable strategy. Collectibles and side characters are hidden throughout levels as well, which is little more than a fun diversion, because they're not the hardest things in the world to find.
There are also a variety of leaderboards available in the arcade mode.
One more thing that deserves a shoutout is the delightful soundtrack from Tee Lopes, most known for his work with SEGA and some of the more recent Sonic games. His 90s-inspired rock/rap soundtrack pulls from the classic TMNT soundtrack, with perfect loops that never feel like they overstay their welcome — the sign of a great arcade cabinet's soundtrack.
We NEED to shoutout every single one of this game's vocal tracks. From the game's iconic TMNT opening theme to the original track from Raekwon The Chef and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan that accompanies one of the game's most exciting moments, Lopes and crew have perfectly captured the 90s anthem vibes that helped propel the turtles to fame all those years ago.
Tribute Games, working with a property so near and dear to a whole generation's sentimental hearts, somehow managed to honor TMNT's roots both in gaming and in general while providing an experience worthy of a pedestal right alongside its many inspirations, if not above them.
This cover band has become so much more — and I look forward to the day when we look back and see Tribute Games' greatest hits laid out in front of us.
video games are good and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is . . . GREAT (9/10)
+ pure arcade gameplay with a few modernizations, tons of reasons to go back again and again, the perfect couch co-op experience, a killer soundtrack, and some of the best pixel art in the industry
- doesn't feel quite as hard as arcade classics, the solo experience feels hollow comparatively, wish I had more friends (but maybe that's a personal problem)
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