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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (PS4)

2022 is becoming quite the year for fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. With the upcoming release of Konami’s TMNT back catalogue Cowabunga Collection coming later this year, there is a new TMNT in town to stake its claim amongst today’s generation. Coming from the aptly named Tribute Games, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is indeed a tribute to the treasured original cartoon universe, and to the genre it has always served best: the scrolling beat-em-up. Between Tribute and publisher Dotemu, who also released the bold yet excellent Streets of Rage 4 a couple of years ago, they certainly understand the formula to ‘Go Straight’.

Let’s get something else straight here right off the bat: Streets of Rage 4 and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge hail from the same genre yet are very different experiences. SOR4 is the clinical, finesse-driven fighter, whereas TMNT:SR is more akin to a madcap brawl in a carpark. And that’s no criticism, either. I’ve always found it amusing that in a franchise with the word ‘ninja’ in the title there is very little ninjitsu involved. Instead, four mutant teenagers showcase their weaponry and fighting skills for all to see, and often in public. Teenage Mutant Martial Arts Turtles just doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?

The premise of TMNT: SR is simple: pick from up to seven heroes and prepare to kick robot foot soldiers around multiple locations straight out of the 1980’s series, from the Channel 5 News building to Dimension X itself. What’s that you say? SEVEN heroes? You read it right, as we finally get our hands on Master Splinter, Casey Jones and…. April o’Neil? Turns out not only is she now a bad-ass fighter equipped with a, er, microphone, but she is also the super quick fighter option we didn’t know we always needed. Splinter ranks at the other end of the speed scale, but boasts more powerful attacks, whereas each of the turtle team continue to vary in speed, reach and power as they did in one of its predecessors, Turtles in Time.

For those familiar with the treasured time travel based SNES fighter, the fighting fundamentals are much the same here in TMNT: SR, but with some totally excellent upgrades (sorry). In addition to the simple button-tap combos as well as jump, run and slide attacks is a lengthy dodge roll that allows you to close screen-wide gaps in an instant, along with the ability to chain into lunging attacks and further combo heaven. This form of recovery really is a game-changer for the genre, evolving away from the shackles of 30+ years ago without diminishing the genre’s legacy. The ability to take on several enemies at once, from both the front and back can be spectacularly pleasing to execute. For the solo players who find themselves a little overwhelmed by the numbers can clear the way with a simple tap of the triangle button, activating a wide-ranging special attack either on the ground or from above. It adds a bit of a fantastical effect the series hasn’t seen before whilst firmly cementing the wacky cartoon aesthetics.

Just like Turtles in Time, Shredder’s Revenge remains true to its cartoon universe. Each character is uniquely animated, and more cartoon-like than ever before; aside from the distinct turtle-team expressions and weapon animations, the bad guys are larger than life and more menacing in view than ever before. Foot Soldiers are often seen hilariously badly blending into the various stages, pushing shopping trollies in the mall, eating an ice lolly at the fair, even playing Gameboy in the mall arcade. Even the various locations are bursting with animated life, both to accompany the story or offering excellent fan service in the form of pleasing cameos. The retro aesthetic is a perfect fit, and quite frankly absolutely gorgeous to see in action.

The importance of a soundtrack to the scrolling beat 'em up genre can never be understated. The tunes should be constant, need to reflect the action going on around them, as well as the odd adrenaline kick to keep us in the mood to continuously scrap, even if the repetitive action inevitably begins to wane. Especially in a 16-stage brawler. Fear not, as
Tee Lopes of Sonic Mania and Streets of Rage 4 fame is the music man here, and the results do not disappoint. Tee’s approach in his own words stated how he dived into the golden era of TMNT to gather up the most memorable elements and bring them back in a creative and modernized package, along with plenty of fun references for that sweet nostalgia feeling. You simply can’t put it more eloquently than that. Mixes of the original theme song are simply essential listening, particularly the introduction sequence that could easily be a new intro for the classic cartoon series. There are even shades of slightly Sonic-esque beats from time to time, such as the ‘Mall Meltdown’ stages later bridge, and I’m all for it. Look out for Panic in the Sky! From YouTube guitarist Jonny Atma, complete with vocals, as another absolute rock out highlight. Additionally pleasing is most of the original voice cast make the return to their respective roles, and I have to say it is so great to hear Cam Clarke’s Rocksteady again.

Taking a leaf out of Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game's book, an overworld map tracks the level progression in story mode, as well as multiple unlockable secrets as you locate the aforementioned character cameos. Finding all of them grants extra points to level up your character, meaning stronger attacks and earning extra special gauges. Moving around a Turtle van icon like a token around a 1980’s TMNT-universe board game is another nice touch and sure-fire fan pleaser. Once you’ve properly cut your teeth on story mode, the only alternative mode on offer is arcade mode, which is the same game, same stages, albeit a much steeper difficulty level and the expectation to plough through in a single sitting. Unless you’ve got yourselves a decent online group together of at least four (you can have up to six) this can become quite an eventual chore, and chances are you’ve completed Story mode already, so you have already seen it all before.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is, on all technical levels, the best Turtles beat 'em up ever made. It looks excellent, sounds fantastic, and for fans hits all the right nostalgic spots. Its endless combat capabilities will keep you compelled throughout, and its animation and fabulous soundtrack will keep the entertainment coming until the action eventually dries up. Multiplayer will keep the experience going, but a lack of alternative modes will dry things up for some a lot quicker than others. Even so, this is one cowabunga party you should not miss.