Following the fantastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge released this past June, Digital Eclipse — developer of compilations like Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection — has teamed up with Konami to re-release its TMNT games based on the 1987 series. Cowabunga Collection collates 13 titles from the NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Mega Drive into one radical package.
The touted 13 titles may be a bit of an exaggeration. Among the games included, three of them are versions of Tournament Fighters, a further three of them are iterations of Turtles in Time, and two are editions of the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Don’t get us wrong, these versions aren’t identical, however it's worth noting you’re really only getting eight wholly original games.
The stars of the show are the beloved arcade beat-em-ups — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Turtles in Time — both of which are held in high regard by fans to this day. TMNT 1989, when viewed as a product of its time, is good fun. However, due to its limited move sets for each of the turtles it can get repetitive quickly. Also included is the NES port of the game: TMNT 2: The Arcade Game, which adds two extra levels and new bosses, but as you might expect, it doesn’t hold a candle to the arcade original.
Turtles in Time is generally considered the gold standard of TMNT releases, and for good reason — it took what TMNT 1989 did and ramped it up in every way. This time around the Turtles have a wealth of new techniques, like health-depleting special moves and a slide kick. The time travel plot of this game allows the level design to be far more inventive than the prior game, replacing the streets of New York with the likes of the prehistoric era and a battle on a wild west train.
Shockingly, Turtles in Time is one of the rare cases of that era where we view the console edition as better than the arcade original. Alongside better music, extra levels, and bosses, the SNES port doesn't come with unlimited lives like the Arcade edition, making you play strategically or risk losing out. Also included is TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist, a Mega Drive game heavily based on Turtles in Time — it borrows music, user interface, and plot elements, while re-contextualising some stages to account for the lack of time travel (like turning the pirate ship into a mysterious shipwreck). It’s a solid entry, but feels lacking when compared to the other two.
Tournament Fighters is Konami’s attempt to capture the Street Fighter 2 craze with a Turtles flavour. Each of the three versions of the game feel radically different from each other, with each boasting different rosters. SNES is by far the best of the three: it’s a four-button fighter that feels more in line with SF2 with Mega Drive and NES both using two buttons. In theory a TMNT fighter sounds great, but the roster of each version leaves a lot to be desired. Characters like Splinter, Bebop, and Rocksteady are totally absent, with others like Krang, April, and Casey only being a part of the inferior Mega Drive and NES versions.
Rounding out the collection is TMNT for the NES which is — to put it politely — terrible. TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project, is a beat-em-up sequel to the NES port of the arcade game, and definitely the best of the NES trilogy. Finally, there's the Game Boy trilogy of Fall of the Foot Clan, Back from the Sewers, and Radical Rescue. The prior two are extremely basic side-scrollers, consisting almost entirely of left-to-right combat.
To us, the nicest surprise in the entire collection is TMNT 3: Radical Rescue, a game which — for the Game Boy — is incredibly impressive. Rather than continue the side-scroller efforts of the previous game, TMNT 3 is a Metroidvania, a genre Konami would later revolutionise. You start the game as Michelangelo and you set out to rescue the other Turtles. Each Turtle has a specific ability — Mikey can spin his chucks to hover, Donnie can climb walls, and so on — allowing you to access more of the map. It may not stand up to the great Metroidvanias, but it's a solid game for its time and one we're excited to get back to playing.
So, what's new in the collection? Aside from the things you’ve come to expect like screen filters and rewind features, each game comes with its own set of "enhancements", such as God mode, boss characters in Tournament Fighters, and even the removal of slowdown and sprite flicker in the NES games. Each game also comes with its own in-game strategy guide with video tips and other musings. You also have the option to watch a playthrough of each game with the ability to jump in at any point. Online Play is also available for TMNT 1989, Turtles in Time arcade, Hyperstone Heist, and Tournament Fighters SNES. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a game during the review period.
Cowabunga Collection is host to one of the greatest gallery modes we’ve ever seen in a collection like this. The Turtle Lair has the usual suspects like concept art and soundtracks. It also has screens from the four shows, sprite sheets, scans of every game’s boxes in both the US and Japan, comic book covers, and even magazine ads for the games. It even has its own search function, so if you just want to see pictures of Mikey (the best Turtle) it will compile them from every single category.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a great package. While not every game is a winner — and a lot of them are variants of other games in the collection — there's still lots here to love. It brings two of the most beloved beat-'em-ups in history to modern platforms, and is host to some hidden gems like Radical Rescue. This is all polished up with a host of great enhancements and the fantastic Turtle Lair gallery, which — for any TMNT fan — may be worth the price of admission alone.