Sunday, June 26, 2022

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge Review

Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher Dotemu
Platforms: NS, PS4, XBO, PC
Price: $25
Version Played: PC

Back in 1989, before Street Fighter II took over the world of video games, Turtle mania was running wild and arcades were full of beat 'em ups. So naturally, Konami made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat 'em up, and it was a huge hit. It stood out because it was fun, it looked like the most popular cartoon at the time, and it had a huge 4 player cabinet. You couldn't miss it. It was so popular that Konami kept making BEUs throughout the fighting game craze, including a sequel to TMNT, Turtles in Time. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge isn't actually a sequel to Konami's games, but it's totally a sequel to Konami's games in spirit. The art style is a little different, but it's also based on the first cartoon series, it plays like those games, it sounds like them, and Tribute Games has put in even more love and attention to detail than Konami did back in the day. This game truly is a labor of love, dude.
If you want to hold your own against modern BEUs, like Fight’n Rage and River City Girls, you need a great combat system, and Shredder’s Revenge has one of the best I’ve seen in recent years. This game might play like a sequel to Konami's games, but it doesn’t play like a game made in 1992. This game has pretty much everything short of quarter circle motions. It has juggles, running, specials, anti-airs, rolls, dive kicks, you name it. They’re not simply adding juggles to 1991 gameplay, they’re fleshing out the movesets and giving you more precise control over everything with more buttons and lots of different ways to build combos.
This game has that sort of Devil May Cry-like flow to the combat. There’s never a dull moment. All the moves flow perfectly into each other. I can do a special coming out of a dodge, in the air, or on the ground. I can combo regular melee attacks into running or jumping attacks, and so on. I never feel like I’m helpless against an enemy, don't have options for attacking, or can't quickly get across the screen.
This game is also a lot of fun to watch. I love seeing how it takes attacks and animations from the old games and makes unique fighting styles for the Turtles out of them. I see a lot of Turtles in Time here, and even some stuff from Tournament Fighters and Manhattan Project. A lot of the taunts and win poses look like they’re straight out of the cartoon, too. Splinter, Casey Jones, and April O’Neil weren’t in the old games, so you can’t use old versions as reference, but they did a really good job of equipping them with moves that fit the characters. You’ll probably recognize where they got the inspiration for a lot of them because they’re straight out of Street Fighter, KOF, or even Pro Wrestling.
There are 2 modes of play; Adventure and Arcade. Adventure is a more modern way to play a beat 'em up. You go from level to level on a Super Mario World-like map, which looks a lot like the overworld from the 1st TMNT on NES, you're free to replay any level you've beaten, and your progress is saved after you close the game. You only get 1 credit for each level, but you get all your health and lives back after each one, and there are no game overs in this mode. Adventure mode is also the only place you’ll see cameos from a bunch of the Turtle’s friends. They have side missions in which you collect stuff for experience points.
There's also some character progression in Adventure mode. You can level every character up to 10 and get extra lives, more health, more super meter levels, and unlock more super moves, including a level 3 super not available in the arcade mode, which is basically a Street Fighter Alpha 2 Custom Combo. This really feels like the main mode of the game. It's very well done. The only bummer here is that you only get one save file. You can restart the game on another difficulty and carry over your character progression, but you have to beat every level again, even if you've beaten them in that difficulty before. I'd love to be able to have a cleared save on normal for multiplayer and start a new one to play on hard by myself.
Arcade is basically what you'd get on the console versions of the old Turtles games. You play through the levels in order, with limited lives and continues, and no saves. This mode doesn't have an overworld map, or any sort or character progression either. That means you only get one level of super meter, fewer lives, and less health than a level 10 character in Adventure mode. You get all the super moves at the start; though, minus the level 3 Custom Combo. This mode is great for speedrunners, people doing 1 credit clears, or just those looking for an old-school experience, but it's not something I'm going to spend much time with. The game is just too long for me to be trying to beat it all in one go. Especially on PC, where I have to keep the game running. There's 16 levels in the game, and they each take around 5 to 8 minutes to complete. It would be nice to have some kind of quick save for this.
One of the coolest things about this game is the online. It's by far the best implementation of online I've ever seen in a beat 'em up. You can play with friends or randoms, make a party in the middle of a level, and group up for whatever level you want in Adventure mode. Want a little help with a specific level? Just make a group for it. You don't have to join others at the beginning or on whatever level they're on. It's different on Arcade mode, though. You can join others at any point in their game, and you can open your game up at any point, but you can't look for a group on a specific level.
You can play with up to 6 players online, but honestly, it gets way too hectic for me. 4 is fine, though. Playing online also introduces a lot of bugs, like disappearing players and items that can't be picked up. I did notice other players skipping around as the game corrected itself for lag, but the gameplay never slowed down on my end, like in some other games.
This might be the best looking of the recent beat 'em ups. I think it looks even better than River City Girls and Streets of Rage 4. There's just so much going on. All the player characters have a ton of animations, of course, and so do the enemies. You can see Foot Soldiers doing all sorts of goofy stuff, like stealing a tire off the Party Wagon, playing Game Boy, and carrying pieces of Krang's suit around. There's a ton of detail and variety in the backgrounds, too. I also love the cutscenes in between each level. They don't have much animation, but they use huge beautiful sprites, just like back in the day.
The soundtrack is also really good. It has a few remixes of old tunes from the arcade games, lots of very 80s pop rock, a new version of the cartoon theme song sung by Mike Patton from Faith No More, and a new track from Tee-Lopes with vocals from Ghostface Killah and Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan. Yeah, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon rapping about pizza and the Ninja Turtles. It's crazy. A lot of the voice actors from the cartoon also came back for this game, and they earned their payday. There's tons of quips and Cowabungas all throughout the game.

TMNT Shredder's Revenge isn't just a nostalgic romp, it's legitimately one of the best beat 'em ups in recent years. It has amazing combat, great online with rollback netcode, beautiful graphics, a totally tubular soundtrack, and awesome VOs. There's something for everyone here, whether you're a Turtles fan, or just a fan of beat 'em ups in general.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Wonder Boy Collection Review

Developer: Bliss Brain
Publisher: ININ
Platforms: NS, PS4
Price: $30
Version Played: NS

I'm a huge fan of the Wonder Boy series, so when I heard there was a Wonder Boy Collection coming, I was very excited. For about 5 minutes. That's because everything about this release reeks of exploitation. You see, this collection has been split into 2 versions; the $30 retail version, and the $55+ Strictly Limited Games version. The $30 one comes with 4 games, and the Strictly Limited Games version has all 6 of the classic Wonder Boy games, along with every Master System, Genesis, Game Gear, and arcade version of those games, in both English and Japanese, for a total of 21 games. Oh, and the $55 Switch version sold out already, so if I wanted to get the complete collection, I’d have to buy the $110 version, which is the only one left. Strictly Limited Games takes even longer than Limited Run to ship their games, too. I know people who are still waiting for the special editions of the Monster World IV remake, which came out almost a year ago. There has been some vague talk about some kind of DLC for the $30 version later on, but who knows with a company like this. ININ is obviously trying to push WB fans into importing these overpriced limited editions from Strictly Limited because they’re both part of the same company.
The games you get for $30 aren't terrible, but the quality of this collection is severely lacking. Konami and Capcom have both done much better jobs with their collections. This version includes the original Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land arcade games, and Wonder Boy in Monster World and Monster World IV for Genesis. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap and Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair are exclusive to Strictly Limited’s Anniversary edition. The emulator features rewind, fast forward, save states, button remapping, difficulty options for the arcade games, and a decent amount of CRT filters and display modes. The game also scales from 4x in 1080p to 3x in 720p by changing the TV resolution in your system settings, which is something that these collections don’t always let you do. The collection only has 1 border for all the games; though, and you can’t turn it off. At least it’s not an ugly picture. There is a gallery with some key art and covers, but it’s only 20 pictures, and you can’t even zoom in. There is also no music player, which is a real shame. Probably because the more expensive Anniversary editions come with a soundtrack.

Let’s take a look at the games!

Wonder Boy (1986 Arcade)
If you’ve ever played Adventure Island, this is the same game with a different character. It’s a very Super Mario Bros inspired platformer with 32 levels, bright colorful graphics, and cute anime style character designs. A real classic, which holds up to this day, in my opinion. There is one major flaw with the version in the collection; though, they put run on a separate button apart from the attack button. In the original version, you had to press the attack button and hold it down to run faster and jump higher, just like in Super Mario Bros. This version puts attack and run on separate buttons, and you can’t put them together again. I literally play this game with the R button held down all the time to run, which is pretty annoying.
Wonder Boy in Monster Land (1987 Arcade)
I don’t really like this game, but it’s very important to the series. Even though this was originally released as an arcade game, this is the game in which the Action Adventure and RPG elements started being introduced into the series.It’s level-based, and it has a timer, but it also has currency, shops, upgradable equipment, and some light exploration and puzzles. It’s also the first time we get to see a lot of the monster designs which would become Monster World staples. It’s a very interesting game to check out if you’re more familiar with Dragon’s Trap and Monster World III and IV. There’s nothing really wrong with this version, and it might actually be the best release of the game since it has rewind, but it’s a very hard and often unfair quarter munching arcade game, which is definitely not for everyone.
Wonder Boy in Monster World (1991 Genesis)
This is the game that followed Dragon’s Trap. It’s my favorite of the old WB games. It’s a huge Action Adventure/Metroidvania in the same style as Dragon’s Trap, but with a much bigger scope. It has beautiful graphics, a great soundtrack, a bigger focus on story, more weapons, and lots of villages, dungeons, and interesting environments to explore. The thing they messed up in this version is the 4:3 display mode. It’s much wider than it should be! Genesis games in 4:3 should look a bit narrower than in pixel perfect because the games were drawn wider and then squeezed in horizontally by 4:3 TVs, but this game goes in the opposite direction and keeps on going. It looks ridiculous in 4:3. The “Perfect” aspect ratio does indeed look perfect; though, and that’s what I play on.
Monster World IV (1994 Mega Drive)
This is that game nerds on the Internet claim Shantae ripped off! But seriously, this is an amazing game. Great graphics, great soundtrack, the best story and characters in the series, and really fun Metroidvania style gameplay based around Asha’s pet, Pepelogoo. This version is exactly the same thing that was included with the physical version of the remake, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, and has the same botched 4:3 aspect ratio as Wonder Boy in Monster World, but besides that, it’s a pretty good version. The main addition is the dash button, which lets you start a dash without double tapping left or right on the d-pad. You don’t have to hold it in, like in Wonder Boy 1, and you can still run by double tapping if you want. I’d recommend playing the remake over this, though. I just think it plays better with all the modern touches.
Overall, this collection is not great, but it’s not the most terrible thing either. What they’re doing with the Strictly Limited Games Anniversary edition is definitely terrible and exploitative, though. I also don’t think $30 is too bad considering you get 2 amazing Metroidvanias and a pretty great arcade platformer in the original Wonder Boy.