We tried Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge: Cowabunga!
We've played the first couple of episodes with almost every character in this new version of the game.
Since the game industry has discovered they can make sequels of classic series without updating (that being making it 3D) their style and gameplay, the past and present are better and more connected than ever. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is one of these old games that draws on a story of another time, using the 2D pixel style without needing to turn to remakes or remasters.
Dotemu, who has positioned itself on top of this market by showing careful attention with its alliances, revealed at PAX East this beat'em up multiplayer game for console and PC (someone please make an arcade!), and we've already been hands-on with it via Steam. We were looking forward to checking whether the gameplay was as promising as the trailers showed and whether it takes another different path from Streets of Rage 4. Two full episodes are enough to get a good idea.
There's no better way to transport yourself to those wonderful 80s and early 90s than paying a visit to Bebop and Rocksteady. Their tacky attitude and their punk and casual military looks gather the street stereotypes of those days. They are the main focus of the two first episodes of this new title about an assault on Channel 6 Studios in New York by the Foot Clan. The expressive animations and the burst of colour, together with a set of short predictable movements are a great representation of what you are going to face in this game. But watch out, because they are fast and persistent so don't think fights are going to be a walk in the park.
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These two episodes sum up what I have encountered so far in the new Ninja Turtles game, which has left me pretty satisfied. Tribute Games has brought back the narrow fight spaces, where direct conflict is almost unavoidable, and shorter levels (around six minutes each including the final fight) so that the rhythm doesn't miss a beat. Knowing the problems that plague other beat'em ups, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge there are almost no pauses between sections; you can't afford lifting the finger from the attack button even for a moment. That's what has surprised me the most in this title, there is no room for boredom.
Another problem this genre faces is that it could feel repetitive after beating up hundreds or thousands of the same basic enemies by pushing buttons with no sense. In this case, the developers' strategy has been upgrading the number and range of battle movements, boosting the combos significantly and giving it an extra bit of oomph with the multiplayer mode.
Only four buttons are necessary to create an attack list more typical of battle games. There's only one button for basic attack, but it can be combined with jumps (or super jumps), grabs and special movements. Dodge is important to avoid being beaten up too much, because even if the demo difficulty is moderate and the enemy attacks don't remove too much health, things could become a bit more difficult when the stronger ones show up, because enemy ninjas are quite active.
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While going through the hallways of Channel 6 movie sets you'll come across some enemy variants, like object users, ninja sword users, and even some robots. Even though the scenarios are visually-striking and made to avoid the already mentioned repetitive trait of the genre, to this point the interaction is scarce. There are some secrets you can find by breaking something and of course, sewers to be careful not to fall in.
To add to the classic cast of Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael (or Don, Leo, Mikey and Raph, as they appear on the screen) we have to add Master Splinter and April O'Neil. As the range of movements is the same for everyone except for a couple of personalised special ones, your choice is based on your taste and the balance between strength, speed and strike range. I've played the demo with almost every character and for me the best were the ones where speed was used over strength, because easily going in and out of the 2D firing line is really useful (dodge is a horizontal movement, not vertical).
If there's something we especially enjoyed in arcades, it was playing with four friends in the huge Ninja Turtles arcade, and this is going to return in this game, with the multiplayer online and offline modes. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to try the results of the apparently hard work accomplished by Tribute Games in this area: there are a lot of combos, support and animations that seem to be (as we can see in the videos) really stylised.
I'm left with a good feeling after going hands-on with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge for the first time, even if its music hasn't surprised me enough. Yet it seems to be all we can expect for a modern 2D pixel game: more refined and beautiful, with modernised combat, better rhythm and less flaws. It still has to prove that this first impression is not caused only by nostalgia, and it will certainly prove it when it gets launched for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox and PC.