Like many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans, I’m always looking for a way to inject more green, oozy nostalgia into my shell. When dressing up as Donatello for Halloween this year fell through, a new retro-styled video game became the perfect solution. As if answering the prayers of myself and many gamers who played through the glory that is the 8 and 16-bit TMNT generation, Shredder’s Revenge came in like a mutated miracle, a spiritual successor of sorts to the king of all licensed beat ’em ups: Turtles in Time. Developer Tribute Games hasn’t given much away beyond the reveal, so let’s instead talk about what this game, or even future titles like it, need to bring back from the golden era.
The Konami era for the turtle boys was as solid as their dance moves from the second movie. They aren’t all top of the pizza box pile for sure, but we can learn from the quirky offerings of each game. The TMNT games have found their greatest success in the beat ’em up genre, where they can flex those ninja muscles. It’s clear these games are best played co-op, and there is no reason not to allow the full four mutant machines in to kick the Foot all at once. In fact, the new developers seem to be teasing extra characters like Splinter and April O’Neil, so why not take that a step further and give us even more? We don’t have to go as far as the excellent fan game Rescue-Palooza‘s 60 characters, but give the longtime players some more iconic fighters, and maybe even a six-player mode to recall the glory of the big X-Men arcade cabinets.
With a good number of players, all using cool characters, we now need some gnarly backgrounds. The turtles make their home in the sewers of New York City, guaranteeing levels set in the sewers, streets, on a highway, the occasional rooftop, and inside the Technodrome. We’ve already beaten up plenty of goons in these locations, but interactive environments and exciting stage hazards could give these familiar settings a refresh. Outside the old classics, the brothers have been known to hit up swamps, the beach, a dojo or two, and travel through time. Manhattan Missions proved these games can have some creative level design even with limited pixels, however, creatively using obstructions, debris, layers, and worn environments to create a city that looked lived in, even on DOS.
It’s impossible to punch and kick through an entire adventure without some incredible tunes to rock out to. Konami provided so many good MIDI gems for each of the games, and these tracks have stuck with me years later. The classic intro was given an update in the form of a new cover for Shredder’s Revenge, a heavier one, which didn’t initially sit well with some fans. They’ve come around to it, though, especially after they found out Faith No More’s Mike Patton was behind it. This is what developer Tribute Games should be aiming for with the rest of the soundtrack: something that gives us a heady dose of nostalgia, but with a few surprises.
Now for the meat on the pizza: combat. It needs to be kinetic, always in motion, letting us bounce around and kick ass from above. The turtles don’t slow down, so a dedicated running button is a must—nothing is worse than going for a running attack in Turtles in Time and watching your turtle just stand there. The dedicated button is one of the best things Hyperstone Heist on the Genesis did, making the maneuver more reliable with no misfires. And let’s not forget about the awesome ability to throw enemies at the screen—thankfully it looks like that’s been brought back.
TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project is a great game to consult for moves. Having an upward strike that lets players throw enemies over ledges or toss them into the air for another free hit is useful, and it does special attacks right, giving each turtle their own move at the cost of some health—but not so much that it discourages you from using these attacks. This may be the perfect time to implement something like what Streets of Rage 4 had, where life can be risked with a powerful move but gained back if the player is quick enough.
The first TMNT outing on the NES is often judged unfairly. The game is difficult and requires some practice, but it also has something the other beat ’em ups don’t: sub-weapons. Whether it’s ninja stars, hammers, a grappling hook, or a scroll, these additional toys give you more ways to approach a fight and, importantly, give devs an excuse to throw in more complex boss battles. Some more healing items wouldn’t go amiss, either, so we’re not stuck waiting to find pizza at fixed points.
Managing life bars and items may not seem like a blast, but the ability to switch characters and equipment introduces a subtle tactical layer, letting you try again with a different plan of attack, like exploring all of the tricks in a magic bag. Mutants in Manhattan also let you switch turtles at will and assigned each of them unique powers, but they lacked personality and impact. The combat became messy and hard to follow, as well as committing the sin of being repetitive. It definitely wasn’t up to Platinum’s usual standards. Tribute can do better by cleaning up the timing of attacks so it isn’t just button bashing, and giving us more variety in the form of items and special moves.
A few new vehicles could be exciting, too. We often see the guys shredding waves or fighting on top of the Turtle Van, but limited-time assistance in the form of some iconic rides would kick some shell. Think of these like the mounts from Golden Axe, a feature that Rescue-Palooza also implemented quite well.
Individual characters getting their own stats was another great addition from the fan game. While the turtles themselves all share the same stats, there’s still a lot of variety among its massive roster. Picking between characters should be more than just a color or personality preference, and some genuine unique attacks and strengths would make that choice actually matter. With that in mind, Tribute should approach the bosses the same way. Give us some new and old villains with solid patterns that aren’t so tough they’re obnoxious—like Slash from Turtles in Time or Shredder at the end of Manhattan Project—but are fun to figure out and take down.
Where difficulty is concerned, gathering extra lives with points is fine, but minigames that offer these—another Rescue-Palooza bit of fun—make for a deeper experience than just hitting bad guys until it happens. There’s more opportunity and skill involved. Also, there’s nothing wrong with an easy mode or the ability to give the player more lives and continues from the start.
An interesting story goes a long way, but players don’t need much of a reason to hit the streets as the mean green machines. It’s always cool when Shredder or another villain gets the upper hand by stealing Manhattan, sending the turtles spiralling through time, or swiping the Statue of Liberty, but this time I’d love to see a game that strays from the tropes of having Splinter and/or April kidnapped. Radical Rescue on the Game Boy took things in a novel direction by putting the heroes in a Metroidvania style game where Michelangelo had to rescue his brothers. Each of the turtles came with the ability to unlock new places, making them all stand out. An overworld map (like in the first game), a bit of exploration possibility, or hidden secret levels and bosses would also be worthy improvements—anything to spice up the structure.
The ninja quartet’s adventures haven’t always gone smoothly, but there are clearly plenty of things Shredder’s Revenge can pluck from them. There are lessons to be learned from the movement, combat, pacing and flashy stuff like vehicle levels and boss gauntlets, but there’s also something to be said for restraint. Tribute has to figure out how to make them all play nicely together—considering the game holistically. Not all mechanics, even if they’re good on their own, work well together. Cut your darlings if they don’t improve the experience all around. If the developers keep this in mind and embrace the spirit of the older games, we can rest a bit easier and hold out hope for our heroes in a half shell.