If you visited arcades in the late ’80s or early ’90s, you surely remember the golden age of beat-em-up games. Cabinets like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, X-Men and more followed a fairly simple formula: take a popular franchise and have its characters cut through swaths of bad guys, throw in some environmental challenges to keep the levels from getting too repetitive, and top it off with a big boss battle at the end. But the real draw was multiplayer — these games let four or even six friends (or strangers) play simultaneously, a totally chaotic but thrilling shared experience.
Given the popularity of the TMNT franchise, it’s no surprise that both the original arcade game and its sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time were both ported to the NES and SNES, respectively. As a pre-teen, my best friend and I spent untold hours playing these ports, as well as the arcade games on the too-rare occasions that we could get to the mall.
I clearly have a lot of nostalgia for these games, and I’m not alone. Last year, developer Tribute Games announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a brand-new beat-em-up title inspired by the arcade games of yesteryear. The game features retro pixel-art, two different game modes, online and local multiplayer (up to six players online), and seven playable characters, including the four turtles, Master Splinter, April O’Neil and Casey Jones. On the surface, it seems to have everything you could ask for in a modern version of an arcade classic, and Tribute’s comments prior to the game’s release showed a deep love for the source material.
After a week playing Shredder’s Revenge on the Xbox Series S, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch, I can confirm that Tribute absolutely nailed its mission of bringing the classic TMNT experience into the modern era. It all starts with the art style and music, both of which are spot-on for this franchise; it feels like a natural evolution of the original two arcade games, both of which were largely based on the 1987 cartoon (rather than the comic books, live-action films, or more recent animated shows). The music immediately sets the tone – the score by Tee Lopes immediately brings to mind classic 16-bit tunes, Mike Patton performs the opening theme, and Raekwon and Ghostface Killah contribute as well. While the music isn’t quite as compelling as the soundtrack from Turtles in Time (which is ), it evokes the essential mood of playing in an arcade with your friends in the early ’90s.
The gameplay essentials from earlier games are all intact here — each playable character has different strengths and weaknesses like range and speed, but they’re not so different that you’ll feel thrown by switching players. The core gameplay is still mostly accomplished with two buttons: attack and jump.
But, there are a lot more moves than in earlier games, including a variety of throws, slides, aerial attacks and dodges. Dashing lets you pull off different slide and charge attacks, you can grab enemies and throw them right towards the TV screen (just like you do in Turtles in Time), there’s a dodge button that lets you dance out of trouble and there are a host of different aerial moves. And unlike older games, Shredder’s Revenge has unique animations for every move each character in the game can pull off. Even though the gameplay between each character isn’t radically different, the distinct visuals for all four turtles and their friends keeps things looking fresh.
As with any good beat-’em-up, each character has their own special move, too. Unlike in old arcade games, where using a special would usually take a chunk out of your health, these moves are tied to a power bar that fills up as you string together longer and longer hit combos. When it’s full, you can unleash a special move or save it for later use. It’s a good way to make it so players can’t just use special attacks constantly and adds a bit of strategy to the otherwise chaotic melee.
Another way Tribute makes Shredder’s Revenge feel more modern is the game’s story mode. You’ll be able to level up your character over time, which unlocks more health, extra lives and new special attacks. You’ll also eventually get the ability to stack multiple special moves — when you fill up your bar and bank one move, you can keep filling it up and hold two and eventually three in reserve — or you can blow all three at once in a frenzied super-attack. Story mode also lets you re-enter levels to find hidden items or meet the achievement goals for each stage (things like take out 10 enemies with a special attack, or make it through without taking damage). And you can switch your character between levels, rather than stay locked to one turtle for the entire game.
Arcade mode, on the other hand, is for old-school fans who want a tougher challenge. The game is simple: pick a character, and fight through all of the game’s dozen-plus levels before you run out of lives and continues. You get the advantage of having your health bar extended to its max capacity and all your special moves are unlocked — but given the number of stages in this game, it won’t be easy, especially on the intense “gnarly” difficulty level.
This all makes for a fun single-player experience, but — just like the arcade games from the ’90s — Shredder’s Revenge really shines in multiplayer mode. You can have up to four player on local co-op, or an insane six-players online. It’s a glorious amount of chaos, but it’s managed surprisingly well. The game scales up in difficulty depending on how many people you’re playing with; that usually just amounts to more enemies and bosses that can take more damage.
Unfortunately, cross-play isn’t supported for now — Xbox and PC players can team up, but PlayStation and Switch players will need to play the same version as their friends if they want to work together. The good news is that it’s also not hard to get a game going with strangers. It’s not quite as much fun as playing with people you know, but the game definitely feels more alive when you have at least a pair taking on Shredder and the Foot clan.
This all adds up to a game that’s a lot more fun to play than even I expected. Nostalgia goes a long way, but Shredder’s Revenge manages to work as a love letter to games of the past while still feeling fresh. There’s just something incredibly satisfying about teaming up with a few friends and mowing down a never-ending swarm of enemies; that was true in the ’90s, and it’s still true today.
Of course, it helps if you have some affection for the TMNT franchise, but even if you don’t, the tight gameplay, addictive soundtrack and great co-op features should be enough to enjoy Shredder’s Revenge. And if you grew up playing the arcade games or their home console counterparts, this new adventure is a must-play. That’s especially true if you have friends to play it with, either IRL or online.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.