There are two ways to play a beat ‘em up. You can carefully learn all the moves, practice delivering them as you make your way through the early levels, until you’ve mastered the moveset of your character and masterfully plow your way forward with balletic displays. Or, you can just hit all the buttons at random and hope.
For reasons deserving of many other articles, there is a really unpleasant intolerance among games players toward those who aren’t skilled at a particular genre. As we’ve seen multiple times, when a gaming critic is brave enough to upload a video of themselves being bad at a game, the reaction from the loudest parts of the internet is truly frightening, real primal torch-and-pitchfork rage. Driven by fear, as all such reactions are, the very idea that someone might be willing to show weakness threatens these mobs on an existential level. In other news, I’m terrible at beat ‘em ups.
I’ve always been terrible at them, ever since their original run in the 1980s, as a child. Not because I’m incapable of mastering them, as clearly it’s a possible skill to learn. But because I’m just unwilling and uninterested in putting in the required level of practice before I will start being any good. To me, such games feel like homework, vast lists of moves to memorize, button combinations to rehearse, then enemy attack patterns to learn, and you know what? I had other stuff to do. In the ‘80s it was running around and falling in stinging nettles. In the ‘90s it was smooching and failing exams. Or, more truthfully, enjoying other types of games like FPS, RPGs, platformers, and adventures.
But I still played beat ‘em ups! Mostly demos, obviously, or at arcades, or on a friend’s Mega Drive. I was just really terrible at them. Whether side-scrolling a la Streets Of Rage, or fighting games like your Street Fighters, my approach was that trusty shortcut past all the learning and practice: button-mashing. The moves you could pull off with this most unrefined of techniques were mind-blowing, letting your character unleash attacks that your more dedicated companion had never seen before.
“How did you do that?!” they would cry.
“I dunno,” would be my maddening response. “I guess I was just hitting these buttons while I hammered at the d-pad?”
It’s surprising how effective this technique remains to this day. Like a newb at a poker table, the button-masher can be the most impossible opponent, unpredictable simply because they’re unaware of the proper way of things. Sometimes you can scoop the whole pot with the 7-2 off-suit you should have folded before the flop, when it hits a full-house, simply because you card-mashed your way toward it.
So does this apply to Shredder’s Revenge? Well, to an extent. On the easiest mode, it seems pretty possible to mash your way through most levels, and still have a fair amount of fun. But what manner of ridiculousness is this? I’m 44 years old. I don’t have any excuses for approaching these games in this way these days. I take pride in my ability to avoid falling into stinging nettles, and I don’t have to fail exams any more. Smooching I’ve got on tap. I could just learn the moves, right?
But something inside me still resists. I’ve read through the achingly long list of button combinations, and tried to memorize as many as I can. I’ve attempted pulling them off as I play through the levels, and have discovered that rolling past and then kicking backward is a technique effective enough that most of the time a level can be completed only using that. Cheesing, I believe this is called. But then a new enemy type appears, and I find myself straight back to mashing away to see if it can be got.
Let alone the boss fights. Far be it from someone as inept as me to be criticizing Shredder’s Revenge, but I’m not enamored with the boss fights. As someone who hates the very concept of such things, I can at least recognize when there’s a pattern to learn and exploit. Here, the Turtles’ bigger bads seem to be begging for a mashing approach, so erratic are their approaches, and so frequently do they spawn other regular enemies to break any sense of considered attacks. I’ve managed to get past a large number of them purely by getting close enough and pressing everything at once.
I can only imagine how infuriating reading this must be for anyone approaching the game with any degree of finesse or skill. But I think it’s also helpful to those wondering if they’d have any nostalgic fun with this, fearful that it would have been infected and infested by the worst aspects of modern gaming. The curse of games being too hard for the sake of it thankfully hasn’t affected our turtle friends, and you’ll still have plenty of fun if you don’t have the patience or skill to master its million moves. Especially if you’re playing with someone else equally as uninterested in edgelording, because then you can laugh and enjoy yourselves, even when it goes wrong. In fact, if anything, it’s easier than the classic brawlers of the early ‘90s.
In the end, my odd reaction to Shredder’s Revenge was to wish there were less of it, but more to do. Levels like the awful hoverboarding one are so freaking long, with a lot of repetition, and really lack the background joy of the more detailed on-foot locations. Plus, after a while, for a button-masher at least, there just doesn’t feel like there’s enough to do. It’s so faithful to the games on which it’s based, but I’d love to have seen some more inspiration of its own.
But if you, like me, have no desire or ability to become great at this sort of game, there’s definitely still fun to be found. Especially if you’re old enough to remember both the genre and the cartoon from the first time ‘round. So mash away, with not a moment of shame.