Shredder’s Revenge vs Turtles in Time: which is the greatest TMNT game of all?

Since its release last month, Shredder’s Revenge has stamped itself as one of the unsung must-have titles for 2022. Put quite simply, it delivers on every front it promises (except, apparently, bust size) and many have declared it the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game of them all.

Is this distinction truly deserved, however, or are we overlooking one of the absolute classics? Turtles in Time, the 1991 arcade juggernaut that would later become a multiplayer hit for the SNES, has long held the crown, surpassing the short-lived legacy held by its predecessor.

Now that we’ve had enough time for Shredder’s Revenge to sit in our system for a bit, it’s time to put the two head-to-head. Which one will be the true barometer of bodacious? Let’s kick shell!!

…Why the Turtles would declare this, considering they were often the only shelled combatants at any given time, is a little beyond me. But I digress.

Gameplay: Shredder’s Revenge

We’ll get the most important aspect out of the way, and that’s whether the game is even any fun in the first place. It was a long shot for the early 90’s Turtles in Time to edge out its competitor here, but it sure does hold up pretty damn well.

The Turtles formula had been developing throughout the first few games, and by Turtles in Time, Konami had pretty much perfected it. The Turtles all manoeuvre crisply and satisfyingly, with their differing strengths accomodating to particular playstyles. Want to live fast but deadly? Raphael is your guy. Prefer a strategic march? Gotta go Donny.

Clearing screens of enemies, especially with a buddy or three by your side, just feels so damned good, and if the ill-fated Re-Shelled remake was any indication, it’s actually quite a precise balance that you don’t want to mess with.

Shredder’s Revenge didn’t reinvent the wheel, but gaming has come a long way in 30 years. The fundamental aspects remain; including four-attack combos and the ability to slam Foot Soldiers into the turf, with simple quality-of-life improvements that pay big dividends.

The fact that you can defensively dodge with a single button press makes it easier to control large crowds. In Turtles in Time, the procedure was only available after beginning a run, making it more effective for spacing than escaping.

The Turtles also feel more defined, to boot. Their attacks cover different distances beyond just the reach of their weapons, and it takes a little bit longer to master. Where one character’s dashing strike might plow through enemies, another bounces back to allow for a follow-up combo — just as an example.

The moveset is also just more robust in general, including collaborative techniques that allow you to share health with an ally or even wake them up to prevent an avoidable death. They’re all smart additions, and none of them feel superfluous.

Expanding the roster by almost twice the size means there’s more to learn, and it’s a rewarding experience, overall. I will say, stocking up a Super is a little bit too easy for my tastes, requiring only dishing out enough damage or a quick taunt, in exchange for a versatile, powerful strike that can demolish entire waves of minions.

Conversely, Turtles in Time’s super attack dealt recoil damage, making it a riskier option in tense situations. This could be a personal preference, but it’s a tangible gripe, all the same.

Soundtrack: Turtles in Time

How could Tee Lopes’ musical efforts — unlikely to be topped in 2022 — possibly fall short? Simply by being compared to one of the greatest gaming soundtracks of all time.

The tunes of Shredder’s Revenge are definitely catchy, with some hooks that you want to return to again and again. The variation on offer is much broader, with no two stages ever sounding quite the same. Plus, it has a rap battle between Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, are you kidding me?!

Turtles in Time, however, is utterly iconic, liberally applying the snare drum like it was going out of style. That last point is quite significant, as it makes each encounter feel just a little bit more punchy: as if it corresponds with each blow that connects with metallic flesh.

Within the first few notes from Turtles in Time, I immediately know what it is, growing giddy with anticipation for the auditory treat that’s in store. Short of maybe David Wise’s contributions across the Donkey Kong Country series, I really don’t think there’s a rival on the Super Nintendo.

There’s a little voice in my head that ponders whether I’m applying an unfair advantage to the game that has had more time to establish its legend. A few years from now, will Shredder’s Revenge’s tracks be considered equally as reverential?

When it comes down to it, if you pitted your top three Turtles in Time stage themes against the top three of Shredder’s Revenge, which would come out on top? Is there really anything that sounds and feels quite Sewer Surfin’ or Neon Night-Riders?

I’d argue not, and as such, I awarded the victory to Mutsuhiko Izumi, Tsutomu Ogura, Kazuhiko Uehara and Harumi Ueko. Of all the decisions I make in this piece, this is likely the most contentious, and I will openly acknowledge that fact. As is the case across many of these sections, they’re both absolutely amazing in their own right.

Also, we’re not acknowledging sound design here just yet, but I really do miss those ‘gwoah, gwoah’ moans Turtles in Time’s bosses would take as they’re hit.

Lastability: Shredder’s Revenge

This is probably the only aspect that qualifies as a blowout, so we won’t labour over the finer details too much.

Turtles in Time is an arcade-style beat ’em ‘up, designed for one playthrough from start to finish. The Super Nintendo port would add a 2-player competitive mode and a time trial option, which both extend the game’s lifespan to a degree, while ultimately falling short of the base experience.

As a release across the current generation of consoles, Shredder’s Revenge simply would not have gotten away with being so barebones. It ups the ante with all of the trimmings we have now grown accustomed to, and they’re all integrated so seamlessly, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them.

The start-to-finish arcade mode is now a secondary offering, taking a backseat to a story mode with hidden collectibles and the freedom to jump back and forth between levels as you see fit. There are fun little achievements to accomplish and even an unlockable character in the form of Casey Jones.

There are also more stages to battle your way through: 16 in Shredder’s Revenge, compared to 9 or 10, depending on which version of Turtles in Time you were playing.

Throw in drop-in online gameplay, and yeah, it’s basically a no contest. The only thing Turtles in Time can claim here is the overwhelming charm that comes with being an arcade machine, which could lend it more longterm novelty attraction. Man, if they gave Shredder’s Revenge a stand-up port, I’d be tempted to shell out some greenbacks for that mofo.

Stages: Turtles in Time

One of the benefits of the time travelling narrative is that it allows the Turtles to randomly turn up anywhere without the need to justify how or why it happened. They also did this in Hyperstone Heist, and it was kind of bullshit, but still fun.

Turtles in Time takes you through a prehistoric wasteland, a pirate ship, a moving train, and the vast expanses of space. It’s wild and unique, and it keeps you guessing at every turn. It’s likely the grandest range of set pieces ever contained within one Turtles experience, unless you include that one time Michelangelo fought the physical manifestation of drug abuse through a rousing song and dance number.

Admittedly, Shredder’s Revenge does mix up its stage design by adding verticality to levels, but due to the fact that its scope is limited to New York City and Dimension X, atmospheres can bleed into one another to a degree. The moment to moment encounters are memorable, yet it can be hard to pinpoint where exactly it took place.

Also, if a stage is as good as the end boss that awaits you at its conclusion, Shredder’s Revenge does lose points for returning to the well of Bebop and/or Rocksteady four times in total. Which is a shame, because all of its other bosses are spectacular throwbacks: who would have ever thought we’d ever see Tempestra again?

As it was with the soundtrack element, there may come a day where I second guess myself on this one, but for now, I’m settling on Turtles in Time collecting another point. Feel free to eviscerate that choice at your discretion, that’s lowkey a fetish of mine.

Overall Experience: Shredder’s Revenge

With all the above considered, which would I prefer to play? The answer is emphatically, Shredder’s Revenge.

It is a near flawless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, treating its source material with clear reverence. Ironically, though Turtles in Time was made at the height of Turtlemania, Shredder’s Revenge ends up being truer to the 80s cartoon it’s based upon.

By enlisting the services of the Turtles’ original voice actors, we are at long last able to experience their expressive delivery in digital form, and that is a triumph to be treasured. The fact that they were able to integrate Rob Paulsen’s sarcastic take on the character of Raphael into a more aggressive mien is worth special mention.

Shredder’s Revenge is bigger, tighter and more fun, exceeding Turtles’ in Time’s two- or four- player limit by going balls to the wall with six people all at once. As I said after they announced this feature, I didn’t even know this was something I wanted. But like so many things in this game, it just absolutely works.

Further, though it’s unclear what kind of DLC this game will introduce — if any at all — it has the opportunity to add even more brownie points to its already overflowing dossier. There were always more ways you could improve on Turtles in Time, and Tribute Games and Dotemu have done all that and more.

Can you possibly make an even better Turtles game than Shredder’s Revenge, on the other hand? I really don’t see how you could, and to be honest, I’m not left wanting for anything. This is about as definitive a package as you get, and it will sit triumphantly as a highlight of my collection forevermore.

With all that in mind, I can comfortably declare Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge as the new golden standard for this storied franchise.

Pour one out for the Turtles’ alternate colour scheme that matched the action figures, though, that was always my favourite.

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