My fandom for TMNT has never been a secret. Heck, to this day I still have two thirty-something year old posters from my childhood hanging up in the basement. The original cartoon mini-series from 1987 rocked my young world. The Turtles quickly replaced GI Joe as my toy of choice. And in the years following, I remained faithful to that cartoon series. I amassed a gigantic collection of action figures. I saw the original live action trilogy in the theater. I learned to love comic books thanks to a compendium of the first run of issues. And I played a lot of Ninja Turtle video games.
There's definitely some classic Turtles games. There's no denying that the first arcade game, and it's sequel (Turtles In Time) are excellent and still hold up today. Then there's some middling or mildly interesting games. Like, Hyperstone Heist is a kind of neat remix of Turtles In Time for the Genesis. And Fall Of The Foot Clan is a solid Game Boy title, even if it's a total cakewalk. And I thought that the game simply titled "TMNT" was an interesting Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time rip-off. I even think that the original NES game was better than it's remembered.
But there's also a lot of really bad Ninja Turtle games. I suffered through the whole Gamecube trilogy for instance, and barely remember a thing. There were attempts to rip-off Smash Bros. There was an awesome looking cell-shaded Xbox One game by Platinum that just... ugh. And when you start getting into portable games, the library is a real mess.
All of the above is why I'm pleased to announce that in 2022 there's a bonafide great new Ninja Turtles game. That's right, folks. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is actually worthy of the hype that it's garnered. Thank goodness. When it comes to writing about games, there's a really overused cliche. You just say that something is a "love letter to" (some other game or series). While I might feel tempted to call Shredder's Revenge a love letter to those Konami TMNT beat-em-ups, the truth is it's so much more than that. What it is, is a proper sequel.
Basically, Tribute Games has taken everything good about those old games - everything that you remember fondly - and carried it over while smoothing out the edges with quality of life improvements that would make the genre appeal to modern gamers. They've also done their homework. Shredder's Revenge is based heavily on the old 1987 cartoon series with obscure character cameos and throwbacks. They've also peppered in random bits and pieces from TMNT lore over the years. Did you ever wish there was a game that featured both Bebop & Rocksteady and Tokka and Rahzar? Well, here you go.
Shredder's Revenge also hearkens back to a time when arcades reigned supreme. As such, this is a console game with six-player co-op. On top of the four turtles you can also choose from April O'Neil, Splinter and (after unlocking him) Casey Jones! Each has their own abilities and drawbacks. Yes, this is a beat-em-up that encourages replays without making you feel like it's a tedious chore to see it all. There's also two modes of play - Arcade (preferred) and Story. The latter throws in optional challenges which push you to replay levels to unlock perks. I don't know, this mode feels kind of unnecessary to me, as this is an arcade game through and through. Except it just wasn't released to arcades. But you know what I mean. That said, there's nothing wrong with an extra mode obviously.
Beating the game took me about three hours on my first playthrough and sore hands aside, it was a great time. As a lifelong TMNT fan, I'm thrilled that this game exists. It feels like there's hope for an actual renaissance of good Turtles games. It's amazing to me that in a year that started out with Elden Ring, I'm still able to say that a new Ninja Turtles game will go down as one of my other favorites of 2022.
Although I don't watch horror movies as much as I used to, I still consider myself a lifelong fan of the slasher sub-genre. Truth be told, we just don't watch as many movies as we used to, period. I mean, we have a three year old in the house. We're tired people. But the first time I ever even talked to my wife, we bonded over slashers. I guess you could say they're in our blood. Or whatever ever stupid pun you can think of.
When I was a kid I was pretty scared of horror movies. And everything else really. But I had friends that were into them, so I was kind of forced to watch them. And they ended up growing on me early on. But it was slashers that really grabbed me. Something about the formulaic setup and the cool teen vibe of it all. My earliest exposures to the genre were A Nightmare On Elm Street 5 and 6; Halloween III and that one with Paul Rudd; and Jason Goes To Hell. In hindsight, none of these were high water marks for their respective series, but they grabbed me for sure.
In Junior High I was all about USA Up All Night and other cable runs of horror movies on the weekend. I watched everything I could, both good and bad. Some notable entries that standout from this period are The People Under The Stairs, The Serpent And The Rainbow, Troll, Pumpkinhead, Army Of Darkness, and many others. When I got to high school, I started branching out and investigating the classics. I got my own Blockbuster card and the sky was the limit. The original Nightmare On Elm Street became a serious classic, and I started to recognize Wes Craven as a favorite director. Around this time he put out Scream, and suddenly slashers were cool again. Once I got to college I started working in a store that sold movies, so my education went into the entire Friday The 13th series and the original Evil Dead, which would ultimately become my favorite slasher series, and favorite horror movie, respectively.
Another thing I've always been a pretty big fan of is adventure games. Maniac Mansion was my introduction to the genre, and to this day holds an especially important place in my gaming heart. A few years later I got The Secret Of Monkey Island, so I think it's fair to say that Lucas Arts shaped a lot of my adventure gaming love in my formative gaming years. And while it was easy to say that adventure games were dead for a long time - well, that's was mostly just the classic point and clicks that died off. Over the past decade or so we've seen an impressive renaissance with games and series like The Walking Dead or Life Is Strange. And frankly, I think Telltale holds just as much importance to me as a gamer adult as Lucas Arts did for me as a gamer kid.
This is a lot of personal backstory, I know. But I think it's an important context that's needed to write about The Quarry - a game that I knew I HAD to play as soon as it was announced. The irony being that it launched at the same time as an Evil Dead game (by the same folks who made the Friday The 13th game that I enjoyed) and yet I just had to play The Quarry first. And so when my summer vacation rolled around, I downloaded The Quarry to my Series X and dug in every night.
Oh, all that background up above? It was important because The Quarry is an adventure game that is very obviously inspired by 80's slashers. Just look at the cover or some screen shots and all screams of Friday The 13th, The Burning, The Evil Dead, and so on. And the influences are worn proudly on sleeves. Heck, The Evil Dead is mentioned in-game within the first chapter.
Also there's some pretty horror royalty within the voice cast. Let's run it down quickly...
David Arquette - Scream
Ted Raimi - The Evil Dead
Lance Henrikson - Pumpkinhead
Grace Zabriskie - Twin Peaks
...I mean, my wow.
The Quarry's setup is fairly generic, but that's to be expected when you're paying homage to a genre that has some pretty predefined tropes. You've got a group of camp counselors on the last day of summer who are stranded at the abandoned camp and have to fend themselves from unknown evil within the woods. The form certainly owes much to "And Then There Were None." But what the game does well within its early hours is introduce you to the characters. While many slasher movies were known for their stereotypical characters (at least until Scream came along with its meta commentary), The Quarry likes to scramble up some of these stereotypes. So as our teens scramble to get things ready for a big bonfire party, we get to see (and control) how they act and react. This leaves us with some pretty interesting antagonists, such as Josh - the jock dude who also goes off and cries over the girl who broke up with him. Or Dylan - the jokester... who's also secretly a science nerd but doesn't want his camp co-workers to know so puts on an aloof act as a coping mechanism. It's at least outside-the-box character development.
It also helps that the voice act is top notch. Everyone really nailed their roles. Obviously names like Ted Raimi and David Arquette have been around the block. But even the younger actors crush it here. Justice Smith was perfectly fine in Detective Pikachu, but in this game he has some tremendously impressive range. I also found the deflecting sarcasm of Miles Robbins fantastic. And I've never heard of Siobhan Williams before, but she really stole the show for me. But honestly, the whole cast was perfectly selected.
While there are some quick time events, the action and interactivity is fairly low in this game. There's maybe some light exploring or puzzle solving, but the bulk of the gameplay is about the decisions you make. These are heavy decisions, but you wouldn't know it from the choices. The best way I can describe it is that in The Walking Dead you have a very clear choice to make: which of these two people do you save? That kind of thing. But in The Quarry, your options are far less explicit. In conversations you might have a choice of being aggressive or understanding. Or you might have an option to check a door or search through some bags. You really don't have context to tell you which option will lead to which outcome. Instead, you're doing a lot of thinking with your gut, which I suppose is truly putting yourself in a horrible b-movie situation.
Sadly, I lost Emma very early in the game. It was in one of those decisions, and I agonized over it, and felt like I had made the wrong decision as soon as I hit the button. On the flip, I lost Max late in the game and really, I had no idea which was the right thing to do. Though in hindsight, I can see why I made the wrong choice. But again, if I were actually stuck out there in the woods acting on my feet - would I have the calmness to make those rational choices? I don't know.
OKAY NOW FOR THE PART WHERE SPOILERS HAPPEN, SO IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ SPOILERS THEN STOP READING NOW...
Digging deeper into the plot, that unknown evil in the woods? It's werewolves. Something I wasn't expecting. I wasn't expecting supernatural at all. I just figured it would be a stand-in for Jason or Cropsey. But nope, it turns out it's werewolves. And not the run of the mill Howling type - but rather grotesque humanoids. It's actually pretty cool, and mildly refreshing that they didn't go in such an obvious direction. I actually found the werewolf thing to be pretty cool, and maybe it was in part because I was surprised by the direction given that it wasn't mentioned in any of the promo materials ahead of launch.
A bit later in the game there's a full flashback chapter that focuses on Laura and Max - the two counselors who didn't make it to camp on the first day. They're being locked up by the town's sheriff and it's a pretty riveting chapter. As it turns out the sheriff is related to the guy who runs the summer camp. And later we get to enter the backwoods family's shack-mansion hybrid. It's pretty huge and creepy and reminds me of a cross between Resident Evil and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Oh, and the was more bloodshed. As I approached the later chapters of the game, I started to see more bodies hit the floor. I did my best, you guys. Also, some of these deaths are absolutely brutal. Your game will differ from mine based on your decisions, but I saw an old lady get her head blown off in shocking detail. I also watched a werewolf throw one of my counselors around a room like a chew toy. Yikes.
That mansion also held a pretty brilliant moment. I'm given a shotgun with a silver bullet. I'm in the middle of chaos in a room with two werewolves - one is definitely a bad guy and the other is my friend who has turned. I have seconds to pull the trigger, but in the scuffle I lose track of which werewolf is which. So I play eenie-meenie and get lucky. I let out a huge sigh of relief. It's moments like these that make The Quarry great.
The ending of the story goes maybe slightly off the rails. I mean, I won't get into the whole thing but there's a gypsy and at least a nod to the movie Freaks. But the game and story are fun until the closing moments. There's even a supernatural podcast that plays while the credits roll that recap their theories on the events that happened in the game, which is a pretty brilliant touch. Add to that that there's over a hundred possible endings based on what you do in the game, and you're left with a lot of replayability. I'm sure folks will complain about the length clocking in at under ten hours. For me it was just a great summer vacation game, and one I'd happily revisit in the future.