Six players can team up online in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, Shredder’s Revenge. That is pretty wild, isn’t it? But even more wild is the fact that I’ve had to play single-player for the last few days, and yet I’ve still had a wonderful time. What a lovely game this is.
Shredder’s Revenge takes its cues from the classic arcade games that always used to scare me a bit when I was young, because the four-player cabinets tended to have clusters of older kids hanging around. It’s a pixel-art side-scrolling beat-’em-up, basically, and it has coin-op in its blood, from the message that flashes up telling you to “GO!” if you dawdle, to the bosses that drop in bearing the unmistakable health bars of people who want to get at least a couple of 50p pieces out of your crew.
It’s a wonderful thing, colourful, pacey, and filled with perfect Turtles music. But more than that it’s reminded me of why I love this era of video games so much. The 16-bit era – does the coin op count as 16-bit? I am not Digital Foundry – was the era of lavish incidental animations. It made games seem unspeakably rich.
And this is everywhere you look in Shredder’s Revenge. The turtles themselves are a delight – stocky yet nimble as you move them around the screen, building up to special attacks – but it’s the Foot Clan that get so much of the love. Here’s one of them sat behind the reception desk of a TV studio, knocking the phone away when you arrive. Here’s a few more in the studio’s cooking show set, attacking you with wooden spoons rather than katanas.
It never ends. Move on quickly from one encounter and you might see your enemies tapping away at Game Boys, or sat behind computers typing emails. Out in the street there are hydrants to smash and take foes out with spurts of water, or motorbikes to knock people off with a flying kick.
In the silent movies I gather they used to call these things “bits of business”, and the pleasure remains undimmed: one-off animations and gags that just ground you in the world a bit more and make the experience feel more lovingly created. At one point, playing as Leonardo, I fell down a manhole and was greeted with a speech bubble: “Gotta be careful!” Such a tiny little thing, but I’ll remember it for quite a while.
There’s more to this, I think. The Foot Clan are so much fun to fight in part because the game makes it clear that they’re really dumb. They attack in stupid ways and brandishing stupid items, so it’s just that bit more satisfying to give them a shoeing, and that bit more exhilarating to bat them all away when they arrive in groups of five or six.
So yes, Turtles single-player has been an absolute delight. I can’t wait for my first six-player match.