Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is a perfect video game. Not, maybe, if we count “perfection” as a measure of some abstract level of quality. But if “perfect” means “accomplishing a piece of art’s goals to a T,” then yeah, Shredder’s Revenge is pretty much perfect.
Said goals are clear from the moment the game boots up: Capture the feeling of being a kid in 1991, pumping quarter after quarter into any of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games of that era—especially 1991's arcade/SNES favorite Turtles In Time, a game that still haunts my brain with cries of “Tonight I’ll dine on turtle soup.” And if developer Tribute Games (whose members previously worked on that other retro beat-em-up beauty, the Scott Pilgrim game) can work in a steady drip of references to the franchise’s ’80s animated cartoon, well, so much the better.
The result is a surprisingly beefy experience, taking Raph, Mikey, Leo, Don, and their allies April and Sprinter through numerous levels of cartoon mayhem—and if the gameplay rarely gets deeper than “punch the robot until the robot is dead,” well, that’s brawlers for you, right? (Even 2020's Streets Of Rage 4, developed by Revenge publisher Dotemu, could only do so much with this coin-crunching style of gameplay; there’s a reason the brawler usually only shows its face these days as a nostalgic exercise. Shredder’s Revenge at least advances the formula by differentiating the different Turtles by attack power, range, and speed, and including a few different super moves to bust out in dangerous moments.)
Nevertheless: Shredder’s Revenge is bright, it’s colorful, and it’s the only video game you’re likely to play this year in which Attila, Genghis, Napoleon, and Rasputin and the Punk Frogs will prominently feature. (To say nothing of the hated Neutrinos.) It is, in other words, a love letter to a past era, an affection it expresses every time it allows you to grab some poor Foot Soldier schmuck and throw them at the camera in beautiful Mode-7 glory.
Will it sustain your attention for more than a week? Almost certainly not, even with a few simple collection sidequests bolted on to its very basic “walk through the level, avoid the traps, hit the mutated rhino” design. But it’ll make for a hell of a weekend, especially if you can get together with friends (up to six, with online play!) to make your way through its candy-colored trip to Dimension X and back. In a world where we’re ever haunted by the specter of The Game That Must Last Forever, having a game like this that does exactly what it sets out to do, then gets out while leaving a series of happy memories old and new, is an accomplishment worthy of a “COWABUNGA!” at least.