My TMNT cup runneth over. On top of a summer that already saw the incredible release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Revenge of Shredder hit all the major gaming platforms as well as Xbox Game Pass, Konami Digital Entertainment has seen fit to bring forth the ultimate TMNT videogame anthology, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, an omnibus that brings together 13 classic TMNT titles from the franchise’s late 80s to early 90s videogame heyday across multiple platforms from that era, including the NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, and of course the original arcade coin-ops.
I was an early enthusiast of the original Laird & Eastman TMNT comic books back in the mid 80’s, as well as an “accepting” fan of the cartoon television series when it premiered in 1987, but it was really thanks to the Konami studio-developed TMNT games released between 1989 and 1993 in both the arcades and at home where I gained true appreciation for the latter. They were a perfect storm that baked three of my most cherished hobbies, comics, gaming and animation together into a steaming calzone stuffed with awesomeness (more pizza references ahead, be prepared). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection effectively represents the best and arguably the only TMNT games of the era that were worth playing.
All my TMNT favourites, including the original TMNT: The Arcade Game, its sequel, Turtles in Time, The Hyperstone Heist, The Manhattan Project, Fall of the Foot Clan and Tournament Fighters (SNES) are represented here, along with a handful of titles that I wasn’t quite so fond of as well as just as many that I’ve never had the chance to play. And as a bonus, publisher Konami and developer Digital Eclipse have included the Japanese variant of each title as well, except in the case where a Japanese version was never originally released.
Here’s the full list of TMNT games included in the package:
1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade – No JP Version)
1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)
1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy)
1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade)
1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (Game Boy)
1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES)
1992 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
1992 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (Sega Genesis)
1993 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (Game Boy)
1993 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)
1993 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (Sega Genesis)
1993 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES – No JP Version)
Even more shell-shocking is that in addition to local co-op and versus multiplayer being supported in all games that originally featured it, online multiplayer will be supported for particular games also. The titles confirmed for Online play are TMNT (Arcade), TMNT Turtles in Time (Arcade), TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist (Genesis) and TMNT: Tournament Fighters (SNES).
Sadly, I couldn’t sample the online mode for the purposes of this review as the game won’t be out until August 30th and as a consequence there are next to no other people out there yet with a copy of the game to play with or against. On the bright side though, there appears to be an option to join games in progress in addition to the ability to create lobbies, suggesting that the collection at least has some rudimentary matchmaking to help random players find each other once the game officially launches.
“The Cowabunga Collection effectively represents the best and arguably the only TMNT games of the era that were worth playing.”
Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper pizza party without some party favours for the kids, and when it comes to our beloved turtles Konami certainly hasn’t skimped. On top of what are arguably pixel-perfect ports of the original games, TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection features a special 3D section rendered in the style of the Turtles’ 1987 cartoon-era, sewer-based hideout, called “Turtles Lair”. It is here where players can browse through virtually hundreds of digital assets from the Turtles’ “Konami Era.”
We’re talking the works here; the complete soundtracks and high-quality digital scans of the box art and instruction manuals for every game in the collection, brand-new, full-colour single-page strategy guides tailored to each game, high-quality scans of the old magazine ads, catalogs and even media kits that were directed at retailers, and behind the scenes content that includes original sketches, animation cel art, design reference guides, storyboards and more. The Japanese equivalents are included here too!
If that isn’t enough for you, there’s even more content from the expanded universe outside the games, including all the cover art from the original 1984 Laird & Eastman TMNT comic books as well as their follow-up and spin-off books right up to 2019, as well as memorable screenshots from every season of every mainline TMNT cartoon, from the original 1987 series on up through the more recent 4Kids Entertainment and Nickelodeon incarnations. There’s so much stuff packed in here that the Turtles Lair even has a “Search” engine complete with filtering options to make things easier to find. I’m serious, there are exactly 3,741 items for players to peruse!
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a well worthwhile purchase for any TMNT videogame fan…”
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection itself and how it feels to play, Digital Eclipse seems to have outdone themselves with this massive project. During my playthroughs of several titles in the collection I never encountered any serious bugs or crashes that negatively impacted the experience, though TMNT: Turtles In Time did display some noticeable flicker.
Overall the games were just as fun and/or frustrating as I remembered them, and most of them have aged well thanks to great character and art design on the part of the Konami devs back in the day. The digital audio remastering is also top-notch, making those catchy Konami Turtles soundtracks sound better than ever, and the opening theme of the collection nails the vibe one-hundred percent.
There are a handful of convenient, quality-of-life features in the TMNT Collection that gamers will definitely appreciate, especially if they are unfamiliar with Turtles games or have yet to take on the harder ones (such as the infamously difficult 1989 TMNT game for the NES). With a simple press of the RB button, for instance, players can bring up the collection’s shared overlay menu to save their progress or load a previous save, at any time with any game, so they never have to start back from ground zero if they don’t want to.
Players can also press LB to rewind the game back by 30 seconds as many times as they want so they can immediately re-attempt a failed attack or evasion, effectively making them unstoppable (provided they have the patience to try, try and try again). And as is common with these collections, there are basic, optional visual filters to mimic the experience of playing on a CRT, LCD or Monitor.
There’s just one stinky anchovy on this extra deluxe pizza pie that might leave some players feeling salty, and that’s the button-mapping situation. Getting straight to the point, all the main buttons in The Cowabunga Collection can be remapped EXCEPT the RB and LB buttons, which as explained earlier are tied to the game’s shared overlay Options Menu and the Rewind feature, respectively. Obviously, it makes sense for those particular commands to be placed there for the sake of quick and easy access on a standard controller, but this can prove to be very problematic if you’re using something different.
Case in point, when playing TMNT: Tournament Fighters for SNES, I use a Hori Fighting Commander 6-button gamepad for Xbox rather than the standard Xbox Wireless controller as the experience feels more authentic to the era of the game for me. The problem however is that many fightpads like the Hori (as well as fightsticks) generally designate RB as one of the face buttons, and since neither LB or RB can be disabled or re-mapped, it becomes far too easy to hit RB by accident while trying to pull off attacks and combos in Tournament Fighters which immediately pauses the game.
Making things more awkward is that one must press the B button rather than the RB button to exit the menu, which is slower and less intuitive. It’s literally the kiss of death in a fighting game, and can’t really be worked around unless your controller can re-map its buttons at the hardware level, allowing you to isolate the RB button to a new spot.
Aside from this one gripe though, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a well worthwhile purchase for any TMNT videogame fan, easily worth its $49.99 CAD price tag just for access to the original arcade side-scrolling beat-‘em ups and their 16-bit home conversions on SNES and Genesis alone. Throw in the NES and Gameboy titles, all the Turtles Lair fan service and the potential for both local-co op and online play, and it’s like getting three pizzas for the price of one! OK, I promise to stop now.