Due to the way video game licensing works, I never expected to see a collection of most of Konami’s TMNT games. Somehow, in some way, things were finagled to allow nearly every one of them to be sold together in a single package. All of these games won’t mean much to everyone, and it’s clear that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection includes some of its entries for completion’s sake. But there are some truly great games here with some nice bells and whistles, even if the games and their options aren’t all winners.
There are technically 13 games included with TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection. If you want to get more technical, there are really only nine, as there are multiple versions of the original arcade game, Turtles in Time, and the fighting game. There are a whopping three versions of the latter, covering SNES, Genesis, and NES. Still, this is a mostly beefy collection of titles, more so because it includes nearly every single pre-2003 Konami TMNT game (Manhattan Missions is unfortunately nowhere to be found). Both the American and Japanese versions of each game are included here, again for posterity’s sake.
Each game is selectable from a menu that you have to move left and right through. They’re grouped by system, and have an icon indicating this, using the correct controllers for consoles and an arcade machine for the arcade games. Each game has “enhancements,” which are either cheats or modifications, such as the removal of some sprite flicker or slowdown in the NES games. The cheats on offer are woefully inconsistent, though. The two arcade games feature invulnerability, but pretty much none of the other games do. TMNT III on the NES and TMNT II on the Game Boy offer infinite lives, but this option is inexplicably missing from TMNT II on the NES and TMNT III on the Game Boy.
Hop into the sewer
Not all of the games included in The Cowabunga Collection have aged well. But I’d say most of them have! The very first game released is the original NES title. This was an obnoxious, cheap game in the late ’80s and so it remains. You have all four Turtles at your disposal albeit with a single life each. You lose a life, that Turtle is gone and you have to pick another. Lose all four and it’s back to the beginning.
The game is extremely rough, to put it mildly. Leonardo and Donatello have a downward attack that stabs at the ground. Donatello’s staff gives him a ton of extra range, which allows him to hit enemies far above or below him. But he can’t hit enemies directly in front of him that are lower to the ground without dropping down directly on top of them. Leonardo’s sword slashes do allow him to hit these enemies, though. Raphael and Michelangelo can crouch and attack them without issue.
There are plenty of times that it’s impossible to avoid damage, and the game’s level design can be asinine and confounding. Let’s not forget the famous underwater section where you have to avoid electrified seaweed while on a time limit. People who grew up with this game will possibly enjoy going back to it, but most other people will turn it off after a few minutes. Thankfully, this is the worst game here. The rest of The Cowabunga Collection holds up a lot better, even if you’ll find yourself picking certain versions and ignoring others.
A stand-up time
Speaking of which, next up is the original arcade game. It holds up well, even if it lacks the hit accuracy of its stellar follow-up. TMNT (arcade) is bright and colorful and has a ton of personality on display. The NES version is still fun enough, but there’s not much reason to play it outside of pure nostalgia. TMNT III on the NES is a sequel to the NES version of the arcade game. It plays very similarly, only there’s no superior arcade version this time, so there are plenty of reasons to play it.
Rounding out the rest of the beat ’em ups are the various versions of Turtles in Time, which is easily the best game included here. And, not to mention, it’s one of the best beat ’em ups in existence. The arcade version has the best graphics, but the SNES version has more precise action. They also have unique elements, such as bosses and levels that make both versions well worth playing on their own. I still love this game, and it’s great to have a legal way to play it on PC.
We’ve also got The Hypersone Heist. This release reuses pieces of Turtles of Time that the Sega Genesis could handle, while filling in the cracks with some all-new stuff. Granted, that new stuff is notably less interesting than what it replaces. The first level of Turtles in Time is a classic walk through a bridge under construction as Krang fires electricity at you. Conversely, this level couldn’t be replicated on the Genesis. So the first level in that game is made up of generic sewers stitched together with Turtles in Time‘s second level, Alleycat Blues. Still, The Hyperstone Heist is worth playing, as it controls as well as the SNES game — and more Turtles in Time is hardly a bad thing.
Tournament Fighters is a bit of a strange story, as there aren’t so much three different versions as there are three different games. The SNES and Genesis versions both have different characters, sprites, and moves. The SNES version has four buttons used for fighting, with two punches and two kicks. The Genesis version has three buttons, but only has a punch, a kick, and a taunt. The NES version is fine for what it is, but it has one less button than the Genesis even had. It’s so simplistic that it really can’t come close to the level of a real fighting game, but it’s not bad by any means.
Finally, we have the trilogy of Game Boy games. All three of these are better than the original NES game. The first two are incredibly simple side-scrollers, but they’re fun. The second game has much better visuals than the first and there’s still amusement to be had playing them. Radical Rescue, the third game, is easily the best of the bunch as it has a Metroid-style open map. I really wish it had an option for infinite continues, and the map the game offers you kind of sucks, but it’s a noteworthy throwback.
All of the games in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection allow you to make save states or rewind the game, which makes some of the tougher entries much more manageable. You can choose your aspect ratio, whether you want borders on the side or if you want to stretch the image to fill the screen. But one of the coolest things here is The Turtles’ Lair, which is a digital museum containing comic covers, old magazine ads, and actual design documents from each game, among a bevy of other inclusions.
The co-op factor
You can play the arcade games, the fighting game, or The Hyperstone Heist online, but I was only able to find a couple of games on launch day — which is concerning. When I connected to a party playing the first arcade game, the hitching was so bad that it was unplayable. I couldn’t find any games for the latter two whatsoever. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a good compilation, but it’s definitely more aimed at fans who grew up with the games. However, I’d argue that it’s worth owning for the beat ’em ups alone, although you may want to wait for a sale. Asking $39.99 USD is a bit much. Finally, the borders for the games are inconsistent and weird. The arcade game has a neat border, but Turtles in Time is cut off and has nothing of interest aside from a background. Some of the art is also extremely ugly.