How Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge captured the arcade experience

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Two years before “Streets of Rage” for the Sega Genesis wowed gamers with its diagonally scrolling levels, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made it to arcades around the world.

The “Streets of Rage” series, launched in 1991, is often considered one of the most influential games in the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre, sometimes referred to as a “belt action game”. His first stage or “belt” didn’t just scroll left to right like a Super Mario game, it also scrolled diagonally, creating a pseudo-3D effect as enemies popped onto the stage from the background or adjacent levels to attack players.

But in 1989, Konami’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game” pulled off the same trick. Just two years after the influential beat ’em up “Double Dragon”, it became the first fighting game to feature four-player co-op action. Now, arcade-goers – many of whom are drawn to the cabinet’s bright, pixelated graphics – could stand side-by-side to take on Shredder’s Foot Soldier’s henchmen.

Anyone who played it will tell you it was like playing the TMNT cartoon, a feeling that even Frederic Gemus, game designer at Tribute Games and lead developer of the new game “TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge” released this week, can’t. refrain but echo.

“It was the first time at the arcade that they had this big taxi with four players, and it was like playing a cartoon,” Gemus told The Washington Post, citing the slapstick humor and pixel-mimicking the classic 1987 anime series produced by Murakami. -Wolf-Swenson. “It was crazy, those visuals, but also the gameplay was so different from all the other games at the time. … We were just leaning on Nintendo, who didn’t have games to do that.

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Although “Double Dragon” for Nintendo’s first home game console was one of the godfathers of the genre, it looked like cave drawings compared to the large glowing turtles and swarms of enemies crashing across the screen. .

“Even in the arcade, they mostly had three enemies on screen,” Gemus said. “I remember when we talked to [Tribute co-founder and game director Jonathan Lavigne]we compared it to old-school shoot ’em ups, where enemies would arrive with patterns, and it was about how to deal with those patterns rather than waiting for enemies to arrive for a one-on-one fight .”

That’s what sets “Shredder’s Revenge” apart from publisher and developer Dotemu’s critically acclaimed 2020 fighting game “Streets of Rage 4.” Dotemu, a French retro games developer, worked with two other independent developers to update the franchise for the modern era; he also wore the editor’s hat for “Shredder’s Revenge”.

“’Streets of Rage’ is, I would say, closer to a versus fighting game, whereas TMNT is closer to an action game or a party game almost, and it really fits with the series: playful and not taking itself too seriously,” said Cyrille Imbert, CEO of Dotemu. “Both are fun to play, but feel different; with Rage it’s very hard and slow and you have to strategize, whereas TMNT is more like, go for it, try some crazy moves and have fun all the time.

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At a Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Imbert met Tribute Games, a Quebec studio that employed the developers of Ubisoft’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game” beginning in 2010. This title is often cited as the beginning of a new wave of retro games in the 21st century.

Dotemu had previously spoken with Turtles licensee Nickelodeon about creating a new game for the brand, so when Imbert heard through the grapevine at the conference that Tribute was making proposals for a similar project to relaunch the Turtles brawler series, he decided to offer a little wish fulfillment.

“We met in San Francisco, and I explained my vision for the project, and it was a perfect match,” Imbert said. “We didn’t want to develop the game ourselves, we thought we’d find a cool studio to do it, and Tribute was just a perfect fit. Teaming up as publisher and developer for this project was just the way to go.

In the 1980s, Japanese developer and publisher Konami was already a world-renowned arcade game developer. Its developers wanted to create an action game that would appeal to the Japanese and American markets, and the TMNT brand was a perfect fit. Its four turtle characters made four-player co-op play a natural and appropriate evolution for the genre.

Unlike other beat ’em ups of that era, the TMNT arcade game featured much more elaborate settings in its levels. The first level, journalist April O’Neil’s burning apartment, sees her being kidnapped at the end of the scene after the bad guys burst through her floor during the game. Shredder jumps out the window and the turtles set off in pursuit of the next level through the streets of New York.

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Enemy foot soldiers crawl around corners, kick through windows and out of manholes as Shredder threatens the Turtles on live television. Unlike other games in the genre where enemies would just walk across the screen or occasionally pop out of doors, the Turtles arcade game felt like a Broadway musical in the way the bad guys would swoop in with comedic timing.

“We all remember that skateboarding lady in the arcade game who just crossed the street in stage two for no reason,” Gemus said. “Aspects like these, how you spawn the enemies, are very important because that’s really part of the storytelling. This is what happens inside the game rather than in cutscenes.

This storytelling trick was repeated in Konami’s subsequent line of brawlers inspired by TMNT’s original arcade machine, including 1991’s “The Simpsons” and 1992’s six-player arcade game “X-Men.” .

“Shredder’s Revenge” amplifies this level of detail to the nth degree from its first images to the last. Throughout the first tier, April’s Channel 6 News television studio, foot soldiers furiously pound on desks, cook meals in its test kitchen and tap their smartphones like busy reporters before engaging the Turtles in a fight.

Creating so many of these moments was a big part of the game’s development, Gemus said, since the artists drew and animated the pixels by hand.

“At some point we wondered if we were spending too much time doing things that aren’t necessarily part of the gameplay,” he said. “But it’s really important and it pays off in the end. … It’s a lot of planning and work to put together properly, especially working with the artists and the set design, and ultimately it creates this really long narrative.

The artificial intelligence of the enemies from the original TMNT arcade game was also unique. Up until then, brawlers had a push-and-pull relationship, where players could hang back to ease the pressure of onslaught enemies. But turtle enemies would fly around in-game and swarm, prompting players to dodge across the screen and use every move from their tool set. “Shredder’s Revenge” tries to emulate this frenetic pace.

“If you deal with enemies as fast as you can, players will never be able to get deep into the system,” Gemus said. “So basically it’s about managing their entry. That’s why we spent a lot of time introducing attacks. Sometimes they come in with a jump kick and it creates this kind of dance where you’re not just attacking, you have to dodge, you have to move, you have to jump. It was important to us that it was more than just a button mashing game.

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Gemus said Dotemu provided advice to help differentiate the game from other brawlers like “Streets of Rage 4” and encouraged mechanics closer to older TMNT games.

Imbert said he was urging Nickelodeon to make a game based on the 1987 iteration of the Turtles, not the recent 21st century design revisions. His instinct was that he wasn’t the only player who wanted to return to those glory days of beat ’em ups. Tribute shared that passion, and the audience response to the early 2021 reveal of “Shredder’s Revenge” cemented it.

“It was just a dream to work on the 87 design because that’s what we grew up with,” Imbert said. “That Golden Age of TMNT wasn’t just the show, it was also the toys. We had to put in as many toys as we could because they were so cool and we’d love to play with them, but in a video game so that we can recreate the stories like we did when we were kids with these toys.”

Toy vehicles that make appearances in the game include the spider-like Knucklehead robot, the never-released Turtle Tenderizer monster truck, and the Rat King’s Footski watercraft.

“Shredder’s Revenge” was a dream project realized for both companies. Tribute members also worked on Turtles projects for the Game Boy Advance, but they dreamed of recreating the classic arcade titles. Konami would go on to create another arcade title, “Turtles in Time”, which would later be released on the Super Nintendo. This release was unique in that it had more content than the arcade game, which many cite as possibly the first arcade home console port that exceeded the quality of the arcade original. Now, “Shredder’s Revenge” takes all of that rich history and recreates it in a modernized package.

“I think we did it in a very honest way,” Gemus said. “We really tried to respect the source material and put all the love we have for it into the game. After spending all these years developing the game, especially during a pandemic, we know we have it. done for the right reasons.

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