Tribute Games could have taken the easy route, creating a simple yet pleasing homage to Konami’s 1989 arcade classic. A dozen stages, a couple fan service-delivering boss battles, the fearless foursome as playable characters and a few modern concessions such as online play, all rolled up into one nostalgia fueled package. That may have even been enough to satisfy, considering the franchise has gone largely untouched over the years. But, this isn’t the route taken here. Tribute Games has gone far beyond that, delivering something that feels fresh yet familiar.
While essentially a follow-up to Turtles in Time, it soon emerges that Tribute has pilfered ideas from other beat’em ups – both of the scrolling and one-on-one variety – to create a melting pot of fighting game fundamentals. It features not just the grappling system from Streets of Rage (publisher DotEmu was responsible for SoR 4, incidentally) but also the ‘ISMs’ from Street Fighter Alpha 3, used here as flashy super moves.
Our half-shelled heroes can also roll and backflip out of harm’s way, giving plenty to experiment with while mastering no-hit runs. Aptly, it’s a mutated melee brawler.
To accommodate the new acrobatics, the action is presented in glorious widescreen. There’s a new focus on dashing between groups of enemies and wiping them out in a single combo, with more enemies than usual present. This makes for a far more chaotic experience than the simple but refined 1989 original arcade game, even if the vast majority of stages are no more complex, using the typical scrolling left-to-right formula – obligatory elevator stage notwithstanding.
The turtles now play differently from one another too, each having their own stats. They’re joined by April ‘O Neil, Splinter, and (eventually) Casey Jones – which further diversifies the roster. Calling back to Street Fighter, you’ll likely spot similarities within move sets. Combos into the 100s are easy to pull off, making for a fun experience, and the power-up are doled so rarely that they feel like unique instances.
One other modern touch is that characters level up through use, gaining new moves and additional hit points. Saying that this introduces an RPG-like slant may be a little off the mark, however. Teamwork is also more evident, including the ability to revive and share health.
Laying it out flat, Shredder’s Revenge features sixteen stages that last 8-10 minutes, each with an (again, obligatory) boss fight at the end, making for a far longer experience than your typical arcade game. Story mode presents an overhead world map – similar to that in the first NES escapade – making it possible to revisit past stages to mop up collectibles. Yes, collectibles – supporting characters each have a list of items to find, usually hidden in breakable objects. This adds some replayable value to the story mode, while also making it non-linear.
Some boss battles also have considerably modern bullet hell-esque attack patterns – spraying colorful projectiles across the screen. Tribute are also quite fond of pairing up bosses, which results in perhaps one too many irksome tag-teams. One less hoverboard/cheapskate section may have made for an even smoother ride. Another means to induce variety would have been more welcome, or perhaps more set-pieces to help some of the less exciting levels stand out – a few with city backdrops blurred into one another. In a genre known for its repetition – exacerbated here by the lengthy 2-3 hour runtime – less may have been more.
It’s the arcade mode that provides the linear experience – no leveling-up system, limited lives, and five continues. It’s a challenging proposition given the increased number of stages and not something that will be beaten in a single evening. Adding to the replay value, long-haul achievements/trophies are present – including one for raising each character to max level.
Fan service is applied thicky, creating a gooey sense of nostalgia. It draws inspiration from the late ’80s cartoon series primarily, while also being peppered with references from the Playmates toy line, the ’90s movies, and beyond. The general tone is comical and goofy, mostly evident within the static end of stage cut scenes. A lot of personality has been injected into the foot soldier clan; no time or expense has been spared when it comes to animation, with the foot soldiers amusing trying to blend in with day-to-day life.
Bosses are animated brilliantly too, while also being well-drawn, and the backdrops are rich and varied. The use of pastel colors is pleasing. The occasional off-model character portrait is the only downside; Splinter can look a little squiffy at times.
The music, meanwhile, comes from a pool of contributors – meaning several artists have brought their own influences to the table. The result is a soundtrack that’s a little jarring, varying from rap to some familiar melodies. It does, at least, start with an excellent animated intro recalling the original cartoon series, and the tracks themselves aren’t samey.
Minor quibbles aside, what Tribute Games has created here is a mini marvel – a winning combination of nostalgia and fan service, slick and surprisingly varied fighting mechanics, and some of the finest pixel art around. It far exceeds its 16-bit roots – this is a game even consoles of the era known for their 2D prowess, such as the Saturn and NeoGeo, would struggle with. It’s more than just a tribute.
Whatever the team turns their talents to next, rest assured that we’ll be there on day one – unless it’s a revival of the ’90s multi-media property Stone Protectors. I don’t think even Tribute could work their magic on that animated abomination.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is out now on all formats. A physical release is coming soon.