Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection
It’s early on a Saturday morning. I’m sitting on the floor in my living room. Behind me is a giant Donatello action figure and the familiar sound of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song is blaring from the TV yet again. I’m even wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt. No, this isn’t a sentimental stroll through the best days of my childhood. It’s late August in 2022, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is quickly cementing that this year marks yet another renaissance for Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection brings together all of the TMNT games published by Konami in the late 80s and early 90s. Each one has been masterfully maintained by Digital Eclipse. The result is a totally tubular package that thirty-something shell heads like myself would have considered a (sewer) pipe dream not that long ago. And whilst my (admittedly excellent) choice of attire is little more than some coincidental set dressing, it only helped to amp up the already overwhelming levels of nostalgia that go hand-in-hand with a collection like this.
Playing favourites, I naturally navigated through the collection’s slick menus towards Turtles in Time. I went with the arcade version first, although the arguably more iconic console version is available too. A theme of the Cowabunga Collection; several alternate versions make up its thirteen game roster and it’s hard not to view some of them as filler despite all of them having their place within the Ninja Turtles’ videogame cannon. Back to Turtles in Time: I wanted to know how this arcade classic played on a PlayStation 5 31 years after it was first released. After all, I did say that Dotemu’s TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge may have finally toppled it as the best TMNT game of all time. Turns out, it’s still incredibly fun and plays like a dream. Honestly, I could have only had a better experience standing at an actual arcade cabinet whilst holding a fresh pepperoni slice. Although then I wouldn’t have been able to give myself unlimited continues to finish it in one sitting.
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game is also a game I’ve revisited frequently over the course of writing this review, owing to the fact it’s been largely unavailable outside of an actual arcade for so long. Both this and Turtles in Time will likely be enough to justify the purchase of this collection for many and that’s completely understandable. Add to that the ability to play 4-player couch co-op and the option of online multiplayer too (something I was unable to test at the time of writing) and the deal is starting to feel sweeter than a 2-for-1 pizza offer. Ok, not quite.
Thankfully, multiplayer is a staple throughout the collection with online play also available for Tournament Fighters and Hyperstone Heist. These modern ‘enhancements’ make playing these retro titles more accessible than ever. After all, some of these games can be tough to play by modern standards, either through antiquated gameplay (Fall of the Foot Clan) or sheer difficulty. The addition of an unintrusive ‘rewind’ feature, save states, and even ‘god modes’ on select titles are all very welcome. Purists will be glad that every game is playable without these features too, whilst the hardest of hardcore might appreciate the occasional ‘Nightmare Mode’ to make these games even harder. There’s even the ability to select your starting level so that sadists can play the infamous underwater level of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game over and over again. I don’t know why anyone would want to do that, but it’s all about having options. And if you’d rather avoid that entirely and watch a perfect playthrough, you can do that too.
Someone with a more keen eye for the original versions of these games may be able to argue otherwise, but for me, the ports found in the Cowabunga Collection are flawless.
Still, Digital Eclipse really has ported these games warts and all and it’s a chance for fans new and old to explore the Ninja Turtles’ early video game career exactly how they released. Just in a way that is far more approachable than delving into old tech. Also available (where possible) are the Japanese versions of each game — regional variants offering some slight visual or gameplay changes to their US counterparts. Some may even argue this increases the amount of games in the collection. But, whilst they’re welcome additions, including them feels like more of a completionist's curio than anything else. However, it’s a prime example of the levels to which Digital Elclipse has been willing to go.
Hopping between games and switching between regions is a doddle. Each game is showcased with high-resolution box art, a gameplay clip, and a minimalist platform icon to help differentiate them. I’d have liked more in-game signposting of the changes between the versions (especially some of the fun regional variants), but that’s a very minor grumble. Hopping between games is easy enough and it becomes pretty obvious early on what an excellent job the developers have done in bringing all of these games to modern hardware. Where a simple collection of ports may have satisfied the majority of fans, Digital Eclipse has sought to give us everything they possibly could. After all, this passion for preserving retro games and videogame history is at the core of what the developer strives to do.
If the games themselves weren’t enough to prove that, the ‘Sewer Lair’ section would be. Rendered in the style of the 1987 cartoon, I could easily argue that this is one of, if not the most important parts of the Cowabunga Collection: Every game box and manual has been scanned at high resolution (both English and Japanese) for players to look through alongside a strategy guide created for this game. Sections of design documents, advertisements, and style guides have been included as well. It’s the kind of archive of Ninja Turtles history that has rarely (if ever) been available to fans and certainly never so easily. The ability to play every single piece of music from the games’ soundtracks from Mikey’s boombox is also a very cool addition. And finally, a TV section does tease episodes from each season and variant of the TMNT cartoon. Unfortunately, it only contains screenshots as opposed to any full episodes which feels like a missed opportunity. Still, I couldn’t get over all of this being included here — a little digital treasure trove of extra nerdy items to look through.
Removing the rose-tinting for just a second, I’ve found this a challenging review to write. My Turtle-based biases are clear for all to see, but that doesn’t mean I overlook the fact that this is a collection of licensed games of differing quality. So whilst they all look sharper than ever and the ports are fantastic, only a few of them are worth spending real time with. But is the point of this review to be critical of the games themselves, or to praise the manner in which they’ve been preserved? I’m going with the latter because I’m not sure anyone needs hot takes on the three versions of Tournament Fighters (all of them included here) in 2022.
I hadn’t thought about Tournament Fighters, or many of these games for that matter, for decades before this week and yet something as simple as a character select screen or hearing the music and sound effects again has brought memories flooding back. That feeling right there is what this collection is all about.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a glorious nostalgia trip. One that has allowed a fan like me to revisit old favourites and even get to experience some games — Hyperstone Heist and the original Game Boy games — for the first time. The games themselves might not all be perfect, but making them so easily accessible and preserving them so meticulously results in a collection that fans will cherish and revisit for a long time.
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