Frederic Gemus still remembers the first time he played the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Something about this experience, with its large expressive characters and accessible gameplay, immediately drew him in. “Playing this game was so overwhelming because it was like playing an animated movie,” he tells me via Zoom (which has a massive collection). of retro games behind him). “It was so different from the Nintendo back then.” So, when Gemus, now a designer at Montreal-based studio Tribute Games, got a chance to work on a modern version TMNT, it was pretty much a dream project. “It was pretty awesome to learn about it,” he says of being accepted into the project.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is available now and comes from some acknowledged experts in the field. It was developed by Tribute, which includes developers working on titles such as Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game and the cult hit TMNT Game for the Game Boy Advance and published by Dotemu, the team behind the incredible revival of streets of anger. The goal of Shredder’s revenge was similar: taking the best parts of the classic TMNT titles and make them work for a modern audience.
For Gemus, there were a few things about these classic games that he wanted to highlight Shredder’s revenge. The first was accessibility. While arcade games were still designed to use up as many of your quarters as possible – and were therefore quite challenging – they were still easier to learn and play than many of their contemporaries. He also believes the pacing and level design are true to the original TMNT Games felt a lot more like an action game than a standard side scrolling beat ’em up. “You have enemies that come in in different patterns and it’s all about taking them out very quickly so you don’t get swamped” , he explains. “It’s something we really wanted to bring back into the game.”
While the team followed a similar design philosophy, they were of course also able to take advantage of modern technology. Shredder’s revenge is available on PS4, Switch, Xbox and Steam, which is a slight improvement over 16-bit consoles and 90’s arcade cabinets. Crucially, it still looks deliciously retro, with beautiful and expressive pixel art full of all sorts of cool animations. I especially love the Foot Clan enemies hiding in garbage bags or disguising themselves as cooks before attacking. (The thing also ends with a brilliant soundtrack sonic mania composer Tee Lopes.)
“We like to say we love making games the way you remember them, not the way they were,” says Gemus. But the developers weren’t as limited when it came to how much they could fit on screen, and weren’t forced to do things like reuse animations or character sprites to save memory. Also, they could add completely modern features like online games.
Finding this balance between modern and retro was a challenge that required a lot of research and testing. The development team played most of the classics – not only TMNT Games, but also other beat ’em ups – and old editions of Unearthed Nintendo power to get a better sense of how the levels are laid out. Testing, meanwhile, was particularly tricky. Due to the pandemic, it was initially impossible to let testers play together on site. But even if they were able to, the chaotic nature of the game’s multiplayer – which supports up to six players – made the playthroughs difficult to follow. “Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to analyze what’s going on because there are so many things happening on screen,” says Gemus.
And while nostalgia is obviously a big part of the experience, for both the classic games and the original animated series, Gemus says Shredder’s revenge was designed so that even brand new players can pick it up. “There aren’t any real points in the game that you need to know about [the original games],” he says. “Of course, there are a lot of Easter eggs and little tributes. But there’s never really a requirement to be able to enjoy the game anyway.”
Shredder’s revenge comes out at a time when there’s something of a resurgence in side-scrolling beat-’em-ups. It’s an especially great time to be a turtle fan; in addition to Shredder’s revenge, 13 classic games are also getting a bundle later this year. And Gemus has a theory as to why these games, which once dominated arcades, are so enduring.
“At first you feel like it’s just a push of a button, but eventually you realize it’s more like a dance,” he explains. “There’s a lot of positioning, a lot of rhythm — it’s like dancing. You can dance just for fun, but you can also become a professional dancer and do all these incredible moves.”