Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection (XSX)

“This Bodacious Bundle is a Blast!”

On paper, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection is a dream compilation for the retro TMNT fans such as myself. As someone that has wished for a digital re-release of most of these titles, this is more or less a dream come true – all of the 8 and 16 bit classics bundled together with the three Game Boy releases, and both of the beat em up arcade games? Excellent!  However, some of these games are over 30 years old, most with no kind of re-release up until now. Are these games as radical as I remembered them to be? For the most part, hell yeah! Have these games aged particularly well? More yes than no. Will the younger gamers of today (those born after these were first released) find as much appreciation for these relics of the past? I think this collection does enough to warrant it.

Here’s the complete list of titles available in the Cowabunga Collection:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (GEN)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (GEN)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of The Foot Clan (GB)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back From The Sewers (GB)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (GB)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (ARC)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (ARC)

 

Just over a dozen games in this compilation, not to mention a ton of fan service in the “Turtle’s Lair” section.

 

Some of these are beloved treasures of gaming history (TMNT The Arcade Game, Turtles in Time, Hyperstone Heist), some tickle the nostalgia fancies of old school fans (TMNT 2: The Arcade Game, TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan), some are rare titles that most have never played (NES Tournament Fighters), and one is a widely despised game that honestly doesn’t deserve all the hate (NES TMNT). For the most part, just about any gamer, whether you’ve played any of these titles or have never even hard of half of these games, will find a few games that they will jive with.

The NES releases were a mixed bag for many that lived through that era. A vast majority lament the very first TMNT on the NES for a myriad of reasons, from the game helping coin the term “NES hard”, to a rogues gallery comprised of nonsensical riff-raff that were never in any of its media prior, to the accursed dam level. As for myself? Honestly it’s one of my favorite games on the NES. The challenge, while occasionally maddening, never turned me off. I very rarely ever completed the game throughout the years, but man, what a feather in my gaming cap to have beaten the game at all. By far the most difficult game in the entire package, and a misunderstood experience that gets more flak than it honestly deserves. To this day, I still own a complete in box copy that I got one year for Christmas in the early 90’s. I know I’m in the minority when I say that I consider this game to be a genuinely enjoyable time for me, although I can see most people previously unfamiliar with it having issues with it.

 

There’s no chance in hell that I’d ever part with my CIB copy of the original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

 

TMNT 2: The Arcade Game and TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project are a pair of beat em up titles released on the NES, with the former being an 8 bit port of, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest arcade games ever, TMNT: The Arcade Game. For a port of a game using vastly superior hardware, TMNT 2 manages to replicate the spirit of its arcade cousin as best as you could possibly imagine, all while adding two exclusive levels to elongate the experience. TMNT 3 follows up the previous game with its own brand new storyline, gameplay tweaks, and more of an effort to diversify the turtles from each other. I’ve had very little experience with The Manhattan Project over the years, but after finally sitting down with it for a complete playthrough, I really wish I had been keen to it back in the days and owned a copy for myself, as it’s actually a well made beat em up with a lot of charm to it. Are they a bit clunky compared to beat em ups these days? Well, yeah – these are more or less 30 year old games, but the fun factor remains, and the rough spots aren’t enough to deter anyone from playing through them more than once.

Rounding out the 8 bit catalog of Cowabunga Collection is the often forgotten fighting game, TMNT: Tournament Fighters. Being a low print title with little publicity prior to release, its price has shot up over the years, and its limited release also meant most gamers during that era ever heard of it, let alone played it. For a fighting game on 8 bit machinery, it’s rather competent. It has one sick soundtrack as well, perhaps the best of the TMNT games on the NES (which says a lot, as these NES Turtle games have some tubular tracks). It’s a welcome addition to the compilation, though it’s likely one that might only be played a couple of times (which is a couple more times than you should play the Genesis version of Tournament Fighters, but we’ll cross that bridge soon enough).  

 

The NES TMNT is an enjoyable, “NES hard” title, and one that needs more love than it gets.

 

All three Game Boy Ninja Turtles games are represented in this package as well. Outside Fall of the Foot Clan, I don’t think many have heard of, or even seen these games in action. Fall of the Foot Clan aged slightly better than the other two Game Boy titles. It’s still challenging enough, which is a theme you’ll notice with most of these games, though stages feel either too brisk or dull and never ending. Back From the Sewers and Radical Rescue, outside Tournament Fighters on the Genesis, are the weakest games in the entire line up. While not inherently flawed, both games are mediocre experiences compared to the rest of the package, and even on their own merits. Back From the Sewers feels like a dressed up Kung Fu, with nothing but a mindless gauntlet of foot soldiers and/or mousers filing through from every direction, with next to no AI to them (although the stages become a little bit interesting later in the game). Radical Rescue is a bit more proper, offering a much faster paced gameplay experience, with much more turtle diversity in comparison. Certain turtles have perks that are needed to advance throughout the game (Michelangelo can spin his nunchaku over his head to help float down and across treacherous hazards, Donatello can climb some walls), but at times there’s too much pausing and switching that slows the gameplay down quite a bit.

The arcade and 16 bit offerings are probably the games that most fans have been looking forward to the most, and who can blame them? While the 8 bit releases are still a blast to this day, the 16 bit and arcade line up are some of the most enjoyable licensed retro gaming ever. TMNT IV: Turtles in Time is easily considered one of, if not the best beat em up titles on the Super Nintendo. While mostly an arcade port, Turtles in Time offers console exclusive stages and twists, but still retains the charm and feel of its arcade brethren. Whether you’re going into this solo or with a friend, this can easily be considered the best non-arcade title in this collection.

Not to be outdone, the Sega Genesis sorta had their own version of the Turtles in Time arcade game with Hyperstone Heist. This one deviates a bit from both the arcade and SNES incarnations, with fewer stages overall, though most of them are unique, or have a unique path they take when compared to similar levels found in the two Turtles in Time games. It still provides high quality beat em up action that’s a small step less impactful than Turtles in Time, and it’s one that had a bit of scarcity to it as well, with a low print on release. It’s a gem that time seemingly has a habit of forgetting more often than not, but not anymore.  

 

Hyperstone Heist is the often forgotten 16 bit Turtles game. Hopefully it won’t be anymore.

 

Now we come to a rather fascinating pair of games that share the same name, but couldn’t feel any different. TMNT: Tournament Fighters are fighting games for the SNES and Genesis, with one being cherished by many (SNES), and the other, shunned by nearly everyone (Genesis). Back in the days, most multiplatform releases differed from each other in a plethora of ways – sometimes it’s due to the music quality, sometimes the controls are completely different, etc. The SNES Tournament Fighters is a competently constructed 16 bit brawler that, while there were a number of others in the genre that superseded it, offered quite a bit of entertainment, colorful and well designed visuals, and a four button control scheme. The Genesis version offered dark, unappealing graphics, as well as two attack buttons (holding towards an opponent and pressing an attack button enables players to do their “hard” attacks) with a taunt button. The gameplay its self is mired by frustratingly sluggish controls, and the way “hard” attacks were implemented, felt completely wrong and off in execution. The Genesis fighter is by far the worst game in this package, and one you really shouldn’t think about ever again past your first exposure to it. Think of the SNES Tournament Fighters as a real Italian pizza made in Brooklyn, and the Genesis version as a frozen pizza by Celeste.

 

SNES Tournament Fighters
vs. Genesis Tournament Fighters

 

Finally, the crown jewels of the Cowabunga CollectionTMNT: The Arcade Game and TMNT: Turtles in Time. Considered one of the greatest and one of the most beloved arcade games ever by many who played it, TMNT: The Arcade Game is immensely enjoyable game that surprisingly holds up quite well today. Playing with three other people really makes the experience that much more enjoyable and memorable. It might lack a lot of gimmicks that future Konami and Capcom beat em up titles implemented in their games to help differentiate themselves from each other and innovate the gameplay structure some, but it’s still a straight up blast, and has a fantastic, hard to forget soundtrack. Turtles in Time offers a similar enough gameplay experience, with wildly more imaginative stages, better boss fights, stronger beat em up action, and more. While Turtles in Time does offer a lot more overall than the first game, TMNT: The Arcade Game will always be my sentimental favorite. Both are arcade beat em up bliss.

Emulation wise, everything feels proper. Anywhere that had slowdown on original hardware, features it in these emulated versions as well. Each game has its own set of options before you begin your playthrough; TMNT on the NES has an option to remove flickering and slowdown, while something like the Genesis Tournament Fighters will let you enable playable bosses. Some games go as far as to let players enable features like God Mode, selecting your starting level, extra lives, dramatically increasing the number of enemies you fight at once, and so on. You can also enable/disable backgrounds, set screen filters to replicate a few different TV options, stretch the game screen (why anyone would do that is beyond me), change between US and JP versions, watch a complete playthrough of each game, and more.

Players have access to the “Turtle’s Lair” option right off the bat, which comes jam packed full of extras that really cater to the TMNT fans, but also gives newcomers material to digest and learn more about these games, and the franchise as a whole. You can open up a digital strategy guide that look like a throwback from late 80’s/early 90’s video game paperback strategy guides, offering several tips for each game (and movesets for Tournament Fighters) and some full color maps on the more precarious titles, such as the first TMNT on the NES. There’s a cassette player with a cassette of each game’s soundtrack, to listen to at your leisure. Most of the games available have catchy, memorable tunes that will pop up randomly in your head well after you put this collection down, and being able to listen to them outside each game is a welcome bonus.  

 

The Nintendo Power vibes this digital strategy guide gives puts a big smile on my face.

 

There’s box art to view (which is pretty radical to see a Nintendo seal of approval logo in a game I am playing on my Xbox Series X) with their accompanied manuals (both US and Japanese versions for the non-arcade installments). You can even view print ads for each and every game, as well as press releases and other related media from its time. There are comic book covers from the original Eastman and Laird comic series, stills from the many animated adaptations of the animated TMNT franchise (including that heinous, abhorrent abomination Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and finally some behind the scenes notes and documentations for some of the featured games. Digital Eclipse really went all-out to give as much fan service as possible, short of putting actual full episodes of any of the cartoon series released throughout the years.  

 

The majority of Cowabunga Collection’s soundtrack slaps hard, and thankfully we can listen to them at our leisure.

There’s an online suite available as well, with four games having online functionality. The expected additions of both arcade games are there, as well as the SNES Tournament Fighters, and Hyperstone Heist. No inclusion of The Manhattan Project was a bit head scratching as well, but at least all of the games that are not online capable, are offline multiplayer ready. As for the connections – I can’t say. Maybe it’s because I bought a copy on the console that would likely sell the least copies of the Cowabunga Collection, but I haven’t been able to find anyone to play with, which makes the fact that it’s not a cross platform multiplayer experience that much more disappointing.

If by chance you were someone that played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge a couple of months ago, then you played one of the best beat em up games ever released, and perhaps the best Turtles game ever. If that was your introduction to the franchise in gaming, and it’s something you derived an immense amount of pleasure from, you owe it to yourself to give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection a try. If you’re a parent and want to have your kids try out some of these multiplayer Turtles games that you grew up with alongside yourself, between how enjoyable most of the games are, as well as some of the quality of life additions (rewind feature, setting lives on some games), everyone involved will come away with smiles on their faces and a good time had. While Shredder’s Revenge is a more enjoyable playthrough than any singular title in the compilation, it’s still more than worth your time to experience where Shredder’s Revenge heavily drew its inspiration from. While yeah, this collection is fan service that’s predominantly aimed towards fans of the old school Turtles titles, anyone interested in unearthing some of these cherished relics of the past that may not have lived through those glory days of gaming, should give it a go.

At $40, there’s more than enough content to warrant your time and money. It’s a slice of retro gaming goodness, with enough toppings to satisfy just about anyone’s cravings.

Rating: 8.3

Developer: Konami, Digital Eclipse
Publisher: Konami
Price: $39.99
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, PC (Steam)

 

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