Casual Friday - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge

My kids have no idea how a classic cabinet arcade game works. They understand the basic concept: put in quarters, mash buttons until dead, produce more quarters. But outside the odd "Stranger Things" reference to Dragon's Lair, they haven't the context for playing on borrowed (or earned via dog-walking and lawn-mowing) time and money. So, even though they have terrific taste and jumped at the idea of playing a co-op Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the home console, I worried that the throwback beat-em-up genre would translate into tantrums and rage-quitting early on. And because this is 2022, and not 1992, the twenty-five cents has been inflated to twenty-five bucks.

I shouldn't have worried, because Tribute Games has done a fantastic job translating the simple pleasures of conquering the cabinet with your buds while also building a smart hybrid experience for console families. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge has three difficulty levels, and allows for up to six players at once, tiering the number of enemies and the heartiness of their fighting ability on how many heroes in a half shell are on screen. But what's more, the Turtles can now dodge-roll left and right, they have upward attacks to better destroy flying foes, and a special attack that can be charged and stored until the player is sufficiently overwhelmed and needs to clear the screen. Aside from these helpful additions, there are also more powerups, and the ability to revive and "cheer up" teammates in the form of a high-five that trades your health points to them. It's a far more forgiving type of "old school" than, say, Cuphead.

Styled upon the 1987 TMNT cartoon series, the game is a goofball recreation of Saturday morning antics, with a perfectly pixelated and candy-coated aesthetic to give you all the nostalgic vibes if you're as old as me. The 16 chapters each bring a classic staple of the Turtle lore to the forefront, be it a location or villain. The real time travel feelings come from the expertly crafted soundtrack, however. Composer Tee Lopes focused on bringing back the old chiptune methods of manipulating preset synthesizer loops, but with some added technological high fidelity and terrific instrumentation layered in to give it more texture. There are also tracks by Ghostface Killa and Mega Ran, if your tastes skew more modern.

The game features six playable characters from the beginning including all four Turtle bros as well as Master Splinter and...yes, finally, April O'Neil. I can't stress this enough: this is the first time April has been a playable character in a TMNT video game. She was also a playable character in last year's Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, but outside these two games in just the last year, she has always been sidelined, relegated to exposition only. Each character is given fighting stats, abilities, and animated taunts that perfectly compliment their personalities. The three main stats are Range, Speed, and Power. Splinter is slow but powerful, Donatello of course always has a much longer reach than everyone else, Raphael's range is very low but the speed of his attacks is devastating, and Leonardo is the only character whose three stats are all perfectly balanced in the middle. That figures. The coolest part of playing with friends, besides using these stats to properly balance your team for each level's situation, are the co-op attacks. A favorite on our couch was the classic crunching of an enemy between two Turtles' shells--very difficult to pull off in the heat of battle, but very rewarding.

While levels are rendered beautifully, they are heavily limited in variety. You're essentially constrained to either walking through a map and defeating enemies until reaching a boss battle, or you're riding hoverboards and defeating enemies while dodging obstacles. Pretty standard for a cabinet game, and a little rudimentary for a cabinet-style modern beat-em-up. Luckily, the settings are filled with interactive tidbits that not only are fun to bash on, but also can provide a strategic advantage during the battle if you learn to use them properly. Shredder's Revenge does have two play modes. Campaign separates out the chapters via a world map and including pit stops with beloved old side-characters who provide collection challenges to accomplish inside the levels. This encourages replay, as does an ample list of challenges found in the menu. Arcade mode gives the better early-'90s simulation, pushing you directly from one chapter to the next with only a handful of extra lives to last you the entire story. Either way, the game can be finished in only about two hours for the experienced player.

To say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is aimed specifically at an older audience's nostalgia-fueled joy is putting it mildly, but the modern touches and the more accessible mechanics melt together with the franchise's undeniable fun vibes to make the game an energetic romp for everyone. Sure, thirty-something and forty-something folks are going to recognize all the stuff that they loved from childhood, but I watched a six-year-old--who frequently gets too frustrated to play Yoshi's Crafted World, mind you--pump her fist in triumph and shout "Cowabunga!" It's a party game, pure and simple.
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