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Shelling Out: The History Of TMNT Videogames

Shelling Out: The History Of TMNT Videogames

Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. Do Italian renaissance men spring to the forefront of your mind?

Who are you kidding, I’m sure you’ll be thinking of those green heroes in a half shell and not some fussy Italian painters.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – or TMNT for short – first appeared in a comic created in 1984 as a parody of popular Marvel series from the time such as Daredevil(even sharing their origin story of sorts with the Devil of Hells Kitchen) and Ronin. The Turtles’ peak popularity was between the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, with the franchise including everything from role-playing tabletop spin-offs to TMNT ‘Pizza Crunchabungas.’ And, of course, video games.

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There have been at least 60 video games that have featured the adolescent turtles, and another is looking to join the nest – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was announced this month. The game promises to be a side-scrolling brawler, published by Dotemu (known for Streets of Rage 4) and developed by Tribute Games, who previously worked on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game.

Unlike more recent titles featuring the fab four, such as the mobile game Mutant Madness released in 2020, Shredder’s Revenge will feature pixel art and pay homage to the ‘80s cartoon series. According to the trailer, the game will feature a litany of characters including Japanese mutant rat Splinter and the turtles’ companion April O’Neil. It doesn’t yet have a release date, but you can already wishlist it on Steam.

Dometsu’s press release even includes the tongue-in-cheek boast that the game will include “gnarly game design” that “takes you back to the ‘80s.” Alongside an arcade game of the same name, the first TMNT video game was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. It was an action-adventure game produced by Konami with both overhead areas and side-scrolling portions. 

The so-called ‘gnarly’ game design was a point of contention at the time, as a review in Electronic Gaming Monthly complained about jerky controls and scrolling putting the player in vulnerable positions. A 1991 review in Gamepro also commented that “The absence of a multi-player option detracts from the whole concept of Turtles togetherness.” Thankfully we don’t have to worry about that in Shredder’s Revenge. It’s slated to have four-player multiplayer, so you can argue with your friends over who gets to be the coolest turtle.

The second TMNT arcade game, later ported to the SNES, was the 1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. This was a scrolling beat ‘em up, itself inspired by the 1987 animated series. The SNES version included a bonus Technodrome stage with villain Shredder, requiring the player to hit his tank by throwing foot soldiers at the screen. This feature seems to be directly referenced in the trailer for Shredder’s Revenge, with a pixelated goon thrown towards the audience.

While the earlier cohort of games was based on ‘80s cartoons and comics, more recent iterations are based on the 2003 TV series and the unpopular films of the 2010s. The turtles have also made cameos in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 and Injustice 2, along with the Nickelodeon Kart Racer games. The last console TMNT game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, was made by PlatinumGames and released in 2016. It received mixed reviews, but its cel-shaded art style plus action hack-and-slash mechanics presaged what was to come.

With the unpopularity of the CGI films of the 2010s and the continued nostalgia for pixel art, it’s perhaps no surprise that Tribute Games looked to the history of the TMNT video game franchise as inspiration for Shredder’s Revenge. It’s also interesting that a fan-made game called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rescue-Palooza! was released to positive press coverage in 2019. It was itself a homage to the ‘80s and ‘90s games, and a good indication that nostalgia for the original titles is still going strong.

There’s a certain irony to a franchise that started off as a parody of other comics spawning so many spin-offs that it now ends up citing older versions of itself – versions which themselves were references to older TMNT cartoons. Then again, maybe that means Shredder’s Revenge is perfectly in the spirit of what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ultimately is: a zany, pizza-fueled romp satirizing popular media. As the hit 1990 single Turtle Power puts it: “In this day and age who could ask for more?”

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Article author: Florence Smith Nicholls, can be found on Twitter via @florencesn