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TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection review: Turtles across the ages

Konami and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a rich history together and Digital Eclipse has captured it beautifully with The Cowabunga Collection.

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It's been a good year in gaming for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They're a few months removed from one of their first arcade-style beat 'em ups in many years, raising a renewed interest in the franchise. Newer players may be wondering exactly what inspired a game like Shredder's Revenge or curious about the Turtles' history in video games. Those will be the ones interested in the latest compilation from Konami and Digital Eclipse. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection serves as the best kind of time capsule, serving up over a dozen classic games with enough extras to satisfy anyone who has ever followed the Green Machine.

Turtles Through Time

Co-op through Level 1 of the NES TMNT 2: The Arcade Game
Local co-op is available in all the arcade beat 'em ups.
Source: Konami

The Cowabunga Collection collects most of the TMNT games released under the Konami umbrella, starting from the 1989 NES platformer to all three iterations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournaments Fighters. It is a fascinating tour through reptilian history collecting various Turtle anomalies, like the aforementioned NES platformer, the unique NES iteration of the TMNT fighting games, and the Metroidvania-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Radical Rescue.

Of course, the collection also features the various brawlers that made the Turtles (and, arguably, this entire genre) famous. That includes the original arcade versions and their console counterparts. The coin-operated beat 'em ups, unsurprisingly, hold up to this day and remain the gold standards of the arcade era. They feature some of the earliest instances of voice acting, some charming animated cutscenes, visual effects that often evoke both amazement and hearty laughter, and unforgettable music tracks. The arcade versions both feature online play, as well as unlimited continues. Unfortunately, there's no cross-platform play, so if you want to dive in with your friends, make sure to coordinate accordingly.

The console beat 'em ups are just as entertaining and, in some cases, more so. I will grant that the NES port of The Arcade Game doesn't look pretty, though there are a few things that can spruce it up that I'll get into shortly. However, The Manhattan Project is an interesting forgotten gem, leaning into many of the ideas that made the original arcade brawler such a hit. The SNES Turtles in Time is still not only as good, if not better, than its arcade counterpart, it remains one of the highlights of the Super Nintendo library, period. The same can also be said for the shorter, but equally entertaining, Turtle brawler Hyperstone Heist, which was originally released on the Sega Genesis. There was a reason that Konami and the Turtles used to be synonymous with this style of game and The Cowabunga Collection has that on full display. Sadly, out of the console arcade brawlers, only Hyperstone Heist has online play and it's just for two players. I would have loved to go for a run through the SNES Turtles in Time with an online buddy, but local co-op for all of these titles works just as they did in their heyday.

Swimming through the dam in TMNT 1
The dam is back. It's still awful.
Source: Shacknews

Tournament Fighters can be a mixed bag, as the fighters weren't exactly classics at the time. The SNES Tournament Fighters is easily the best of the bunch, featuring a mixture of classic and newer TMNT characters. Interestingly, all three Tournament Fighters games feature different stories and playable rosters. However, that's where the interest ends, because the Sega Genesis version is brutal, bogged down by an unfair AI and some of the worst sound quality that the Genesis had to offer. The NES version of Tournament Fighters was certainly a thing that existed, originally released in 1994 (three years after the Super NES had already graced the public) and having the distinction of being one of the only 1v1 fighters on the 8-bit platform. It had far fewer playable characters, but had its own story, competent fighting mechanics, and a decent art style. Still, of the Tournament Fighters games, only the SNES is likely to draw in players, especially with the Cowabunga Collection's Enhancement options available.

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES platformer is here, as well. If nothing else, this gives one of the Cowabunga Collection's major features a chance to shine. Rewind functions are available in each game and it's the NES and Game Boy titles where players will get the most use out of them. These are some unforgiving endeavors, testing skill, but testing patience a lot more. Even with the limited Rewind function, players are going to die a lot in these games, simply because of the input lag, the floaty jumping mechanics, and the scourge of respawning enemies in many cases. Not even the Enhancements will be enough to save most players. Speaking of which, that's the other major talking point of this compilation.

Turtle Power

Fighting Rocksteady in TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan

Source: Shacknews

Each of the games in the Cowabunga Collection features a massive array of options. First, it's possible to step beyond the North American release for each game. On the main menu, players will have the option of playing the Japanese version of every game. Regional differences are mostly subtle, but there are the occasional instances where the Japanese versions will have extra cheat codes programmed into them.

There's also the option to play these games with different aspect ratios. Playing each title with their original display offers unique borders, while still allowing enough space for players to enjoy themselves. Full and Wide options do stretch the proportions, but not to an unplayable level, and even looks slightly better in a few cases, like with the arcade titles. TV, LCD, and Monitor filter options are also available, though I didn't find myself using these too much, since they left the character models looking a little off-color.

On top of that, each game will have individual Enhancement options that players can tweak prior to starting each one. These will vary from game to game. From a visual standpoint, the NES and Game Boy titles benefit the most, as Digital Eclipse has included options to reduce frame rate slowdown and graphical flickers. Users of a certain age will remember that the original TMNT platformer would often move at a snail's pace due to technical limitations. Worry no more about lag killing you in this game. With these Enhancements, everything else in the game will kill you instead. (Do not get me started on the Dam level, which got its infamous reputation for a reason.)

While there's no making the Dam level (or any part) of the NES Turtles game easier, most other games do have Enhancements that will make completing them more of a breeze. Some of the arcade games will have God Mode, others will simply have extra lives, and many of them will have a level select feature. While I wish the Enhancements were consistent between each title, I wish more that some of them weren't bugged. For example, I wanted to set extra lives for the SNES Turtles in Time and start from halfway through the game, but if you go into the Options menu to try and set the life count, it'll ignore the stage setting and start from the beginning. The NES TMNT: The Arcade Game nearly did the same thing, as it forgot the level select Enhancements when left idle on the title screen. Still, when these Enhancements work, they make the game a little more fun for younger players or those who typically don't play these games.

The Tournament Fighters games have a different set of Enhancements. The SNES version has the most Enhancements, likely due to its newly-added online capabilities. Not only is there an option to play as the game's boss characters, but it's possible to increase its speed. It's full-blown mayhem attempting to play this game at hyperspeed, but it was the best way to experience it. The Genesis likewise has its own different set of boss characters that can be unlocked, though there isn't much that can help with its inherent shortcomings.

For any games that prove too difficult, the Cowabunga Collection would also like to teach players how to take the next step forward. Each game has an attached strategy guide. Some of the guides contain a few simple tips and a couple of cheat codes. The guides for the NES Turtles platformer and the SNES Tournament Fighters are far more detailed. The former contains full-blown maps of every world, while the latter contains move lists for every fighter, including the unplayable boss characters.

That's just the beginning for the Cowabunga Collection's extras.

Studying the way of the ninja

The Turtles Lair in TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection

Source: Shacknews

Digital Eclipse went full pizza deluxe with the Cowabunga Collection's extras. Beyond the Enhancements for each individual game, there's also a dedicated Turtles Lair mode. This contains a full library of behind-the-scenes assets for every game included in this compilation. This includes the original boxes, instruction manuals, concept art, design documents, and so much more. It's not just for the console versions, either. The full design documents for each of the two arcade games are included, too.

If that's not enough of a Turtles mancover to fall down, Digital Eclipse wanted to provide background on everything seen throughout the various games. That's why there are magazine scans, featuring advertisements from classic magazines like Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly. There are animated stills from throughout the Turtles' history on television, not just from the 1987 series that inspired these games, but also from the shows that would air long after these titles were released, like the 2003 TMNT series, the 2012 CGI series, and the more recent Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Add all of that to a full soundtrack library and it's possible to get lost in this section for hours. There's even a capable Search function, though I spent most of my time just browsing through individual pieces without noticing the hours tick by on the clock.

Heroic collection on a half shell

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is one of the most comprehensive gaming collections I've ever seen. There are a few things that keep it from perfection, like the Enhancement bugs, the inconsistent Enhancement options across games, the inability to play certain games online, and (this last one hurts a lot) the lack of crossplay. Despite all of that, this is clearly a compilation crafted with love for both the Turtles franchise and for this specific age in gaming.

If you're a fan of the Turtles, this is the collection for you. If you're a fan of arcade brawlers, this is the collection for you. If you're simply curious about this specific time in gaming history, the Cowabunga Collection is still worth owning. It's a phenomenal piece of work and a reminder of why the Turtles remain such a relevant franchise in video games to this day.


This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection will be available Tuesday, August 30 on PC (via Steam), PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch for $39.99 USD. The game is rated T.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Pros
  • Comprehensive collection of nearly every Konami TMNT title
  • Enhancements available across all games
  • Online play available in four games
  • Strategy guides, rewind, and save points are all helpful
  • A New York pizza-sized helping of extras
Cons
  • No crossplay
  • Some Enhancements don't work
  • No online play for every console brawler
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