Review – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection
Gaming preservation is a hot topic nowadays, but we mostly talk about the downright classics or, at most, hidden gems from a bygone era. We rarely, if ever, talk about licensed games, for instance, given how we’re already aware of the legal issues surrounding them, as well as the fact that, well, a good chunk of them just isn’t very good. There is no demand when it comes to preserving tie-ins. The problem lies on the handful of really good licensed games lost throughout history. Games like, for example, the magnificent streak of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles developed and published by Konami back in the early 90s.
We never thought these games would ever see the light of day again, for a myriad of reasons. There’s the fact that the TMNT rights keep hopping from one owner to another (nowadays, somehow, Nickelodeon owns it, for instance). There’s the fact these games are old, created at a time when people just weren’t aware of the need to preserve source codes. Finally, considering the Western public’s perception of Konami over the past few years, admonishing most of their outcome before those games are even released, why would the company go out of its way to swim through a sea of legal issues and ramifications in order to remaster and re-release these classics?
Yet they did. Konami did what we never thought they would. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a compilation of every single TMNT game released for consoles and arcade machines during the 90s. Yep, all of them. And it’s freaking brilliant.
From the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game (the one that would be eventually ported to the NES as TMNT 2: The Arcade Game) up until the Ultra Games published Game Boy spinoffs, every single TMNT game developed by Konami during that period is included in The Cowabunga Collection. There are titles from arcade machines, the NES, the SNES, the Mega Drive (yes, I’m still sticking to this name), and the original Game Boy. All games come with multiple regional variants, given how there are slight differences pertaining to their level of difficulty. Gotta love the early 90s.
Let’s talk about the games included in this collection in chunks. First of all, the NES titles. I don’t need to say anything else about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game that I haven’t said beforehands. The first game I have ever played in my life, it’s a strong nostalgia bomb to me. Surprisingly enough, it holds up, all thanks to a feature I’m going to talk about later. Its sequel, The Manhattan Project, isn’t as iconic, but it plays as well, if not better. For a NES beat ’em up, I doubt there’s anything else out there that surpasses it in terms of polish and ambition.
The first TMNT game for NES is infamous for its technical issues and stupidly impossible level of difficulty, all immortalized in one of the earliest episodes of The Angry Videogame Nerd. Yes, it doesn’t hold up at all. You pretty much can only beat the game with Donatello (a big issue, as I always choose Leo). That said, one of the main improvements added to this collection is the option to tweak some modifiers before booting each game up. The options vary from game to game, but in TMNT‘s case, you can improve the framerate and remove any classical glitches, in case you want to play the best version of that flawed mess.
If that isn’t enough to help you out, upon pressing RB, you are granted access to a small tips guide (not only for this game, but for every game in this collection), with tips, tricks and codes to help you out. Each page of said guide is designed to emulate the layout of an old Nintendo Power magazine, by the way. That might be the coolest inclusion in this collection as a whole. It hit me with a roundhouse kick of warm and fuzzy nostalgia to the point of making me feel borderline emotional. I miss those gaming magazines…
The SNES and Mega Drive eras of games comprise two pairs of the same (but different) titles. Turtles in Time and The Hyperstone Heist are, for all intents and purposes, the same game, with just a few differences between them. Technically speaking, they are the best games in this collection. Turtles in Time might possibly be the best beat ’em up of its generation, but deciding between both is a matter of personal preference. Tournament Fighters is a decent-at-best fighting game that might not be as good as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, its main competitors from its time, but its charming enough. All three versions of this fighting game (there’s a NES port as well) are extremely polished, a staple from early 90s Konami.
The Game Boy titles are interesting, to say the least. Two of them are basic 2D platformers. They have some interesting elements that make them stand out from the crowd of generic Game Boy games of the time, namely the inclusion of digitized voices and the fact they were original titles, not ports, but they aren’t the best titles in this collection. Radical Rescue, on the other hand, might be the most underrated and overlooked title in this collection as a whole. Released in 1993, it’s a freaking metroidvania, possibly the blueprint for Konami to eventually craft Castlevania: Symphony of the Night a few years later. For a Game Boy game, it looks great, sounds even better, and plays well enough as well. Might be my second favorite title in this collection as a whole.
Finally, The Cowabunga Collection features the arcade versions of Turtles in Time and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They are as fantastic as you would expect, mostly thanks to the additional modifiers that let you tweak them to your liking. There’s another thing that elevates these titles, however. In fact, it elevates The Cowabunga Collection as a whole: online multiplayer. Imagine playing the OG Turtles in Time online? Thanks to this collection, you can. And it’s brilliant. Freaking brilliant.
Are there issues in The Cowabunga Collection? Well, most of them are a consequence of the limitations of the hardware each game was originally released on. Digital Eclipse did a great job emulating and porting these games with all the necessary additions needed, all while retaining their original design and style, but there were a few audio glitches here and there, namely in the arcade games. The Game Boy titles are also limited to a black-and-white display. I would have loved the option to change their color pallette just like I could back in the GBC/GBA days. All in all, those are gripes. Small nitpicks at best.
I would have already loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection if it were a mere collection of a handful of TMNT titles from back in the day, with little to no extras. But the addition of online co-op, gameplay modifiers, regional variants, and that adorable Nintendo Power-esque tips guide for each title just elevates this compilation to nonsensical heights. This is Rare Replay levels of good, one of the best retro compilations of the past years. More than just a warm and fuzzy shot of nostalgia, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection also ensures that the TMNT catalogue of games is now preserved and accessible to a wider audience in 2022. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
Some of the games in this collection still hold up visually, despite being more than 30 years old. There are a few screen filters and size options as well.
The gameplay is kept intact thanks to some pristine emulation. That said, Digital Eclipse did add extra gameplay and difficulty features in each game, making some of the most obnoxious titles more bearable and appealing for the vast majority of audiences.
A few audio issues here and there, namely when playing the arcade games, but they were few and far between. This collection features games boasting some of the best soundtracks of their respective generations. I can’t help but love almost all of them.
I would have loved it if it was just a mere compilation of games, but the inclusion of extra modifiers, regional variants, and the nostalgic tip guides elevated The Cowabunga Collection to a whole new level of awesomeness.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection was provided by the publisher.