I spent much of my childhood hunkered around the family PC using an emulator to run Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game. Years have passed since I last played, causing the vague memories to distort into a recollection that’s nothing like reality. In my head, that first arcade game captured the frenetic energy of the TMNT cartoons I’d watch on a Saturday morning. The reality was quite different, with the turtles awkwardly bumbling through Manhattan while occasionally smacking an enemy.
That realisation has never been more apparent than after playing the first two levels of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a successor to those early beat ‘em up TMNT arcade games being developed by Tribute Games and published by DotEmu. It captures the aesthetic of those childhood memories and makes them a reality, which is a testament to Tribute Games’ understanding of TMNT as a brand. But it also feels far too familiar, failing to substantially innovate on the original formula.
In the first two levels of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, you chase classic villains Bebop and Rocksteady through the Channel 6 newsroom and the streets of Manhattan. These stages only cover the first 15 minutes of Shredder’s Revenge, but they offer a small slice of nostalgia that feels both faithful and flat. The action looks faster and smoother than it ever was 40 years ago, but a raised tempo doesn’t allow the often-monotonous combat to slip by unnoticed.
It's easy to master, with Foot Clan soldiers falling like dominos within minutes of booting up Shredder's Revenge. Even enemies do land a hit, the large health pool and stack of lives make every fight feel forgiving. Rather than clinging to lives and hoping to reach the end of the next stage, I often found myself in awe of the ridiculously high combos I achieved while juggling baddies. Those combos didn’t feel impressive, though, as attacks always consist of the same inputs: mash X for a combo, press A to hop up for a jump attack, and approach an enemy to grapple. The first two stages end with a boss encounter against either Bebop or Rocksteady, respectively, but the hulking henchmen aren’t a threat when it's so easy to survive.
According to IGN, the game will have a few difficulty options, but they weren't visible or available in this preview. Even so, I'm not convinced that the tweaks made with an easy or hard mode would add depth to the combat system, which feels too bland at its core.
This also extends to the different playable characters, who tend to feel very similar in action despite slight stat differences. The whole gang's here, with Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Master Splinter, and April O’Neil bringing different play styles - Raph is strong and slow, while April peppers enemies with faster, weaker punches, for example. The simple combat, however, means each fight ultimately boils down to button-mashing that feels identical regardless of the character you choose.
The simplicity of the combat in Shredder's Revenge isn't inherently bad - it's an enjoyable emulation of its arcade predecessors - but it soon grows repetitive. It's a sharp contrast to the creative combat of DotEmu’s own Streets Of Rage 4. While the character styles were largely similar, with Axel punching harder and Cherry fighting faster, the more complex fighting system offered combat solutions that felt intricate and rewarding. Instead, Shredder’s Revenge has a rather shallow loop that makes the character choice feel insignificant and irrelevant.
The most notable difference between heroes, outside of some funny taunts and victory animations, is the unique special attack they possess. These are powerful moves that charge up while fighting enemies, but they all fulfil the same purpose: kill everything. The varied animations add flavour, with Donatello swinging his stick around and April wildly spinning with her camera, but they don’t offer much to draw me towards one character over the rest.
But while the fights might not always feel riveting, the vibrant pixel-art, detailed environments, and charming animations manage to make it look thrilling. This is where those vague childhood memories really come to life, with gorgeous backdrops that feel ripped straight from the various TMNT cartoon series. As you tear through levels, you’ll destroy the scenery and send enemies bouncing around the edges of the screen in a stunning depiction of the turtles in their prime. It feels simple when you're in control, but rewatching my captured footage afterwards was exhilarating.
While only a small taste of what Shredder’s Revenge has to offer, the first two levels suggest a gorgeous, yet repetitive, successor to the original TMNT arcade game that I remember so fondly. It’s an oozing slice of nostalgia pizza that I’m eager to devour in one sitting, but it’ll need a few extra toppings to keep me engaged past the first playthrough. It won’t be long until you can try it yourself, though, as Shredder’s Revenge is set to release this Summer on Steam.