Few franchises have quite as rich a gaming history as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After the 1987 animated series became a hit, we’ve seen over 20 games along with guest appearances in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, Injustice 2, and many Nickelodeon titles. Konami’s TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection focuses on the oldest video game adaptations of the series, which include classic arcade beat ’em ups, a few mediocre action games, and some novelties that are surprisingly still entertaining. Although the overall game quality is inconsistent, developer Digital Eclipse has put a lot of thought and care into this collection, making it a must-have for fans of the half-shell heroes.
As far as both nostalgia and quality are concerned, the main feature is of The Cowabunga Collection are Konami’s two arcade classics: the 1989s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the 1991s Turtles in time. These are two of the best beat ’em ups ever made, and they still hold up because of great presentation, satisfying brawling, and colorful visuals. They may not have the depth of the recently released Shredder’s Revengebut they’re just as much of a blast as they were in the arcades, but now you won’t break since you don’t have to spend quarters every time you die.
These are the true gems here, but they are quite short and not nearly as difficult as they both have unlimited continues. But they can still be replayed with friends thanks to the online options, and since these games are old, it’s not a revelation that they’re on the short side.
Besides beat ’em ups, there are also quite a few side-scrolling action games you can potentially enjoy. The most popular is the divisive NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which features some of the hardest and most outdated gameplay out there. The trio of Game Boy titles (Fall of the Foot Clan, Back from the Sewerand Radical rescue) are the most surprising. The first two are fairly straightforward action games; think the original Castlevania with only a few stages. However, Radical rescue is highlighted as it is more similar Metroid and you’ll need to use the turtles’ unique abilities (Michelangelo has a sick levitation using his nunchucks) to make it through the game. None of these will compete with the best of the Game Boy’s library, but these are interesting news with solid sprite work that looks surprisingly good on the big screen.
Of course, many of the games included in the collection are inferior versions of the games you actually want to play. This dilutes the overall quality of the package, but including them is better than leaving them out; it’s also good to remember the low points of a series. For example, the Genesis and NES versions of the Tournament fighters are greatly simplified and lack the depth of the superior SNES version (which is the only one of the three with online play). Additionally, there is little reason to play the NES version of the classic TMNT arcade game or its remakes Turtles in time more than once.
Despite nine of the included games including multiplayer elements locally, only four can be played online. This shouldn’t be seen as a huge disappointment, as these are all the games you’ll actually want to play with friends or strangers: the arcade original, Turtles in timeSNES Tournament fighters (which is a simple but surprisingly fun fighter for a licensed title from 1993), and Genesis’ Hyperstone Heist (a reimagining of Turtles in time). The actual online works well, although four-player romps can get pretty lame if a player joins with a bad connection. But if you’re playing with well-connected friends rather than random players, it’s a pretty smooth experience. All four games only have lobbies, so don’t expect ranked play either Tournament fighters or much in terms of online options. However, it has the essentials, which is all that counts.
While there are several worthwhile games, it’s really the bonus content and amazing options that help The Cowabunga Collection really stands out smaller collections such as Pac-Man Museum+. Digital Eclipse and Konami did an admirable job of including design documents and concept art that, in addition to being smart art, have incredible historical value. These are even searchable based on tags, so if you want to see every instance of Krang throughout the archives, you can do just that. Beyond that, there are strategy guides that provide tips or cool features (and even bugs) that make the experience more fun, in addition to plenty of bonus options like cheats, easier modes, and a way for players to enable or disable braking. All this extra effort goes a long way and is exactly the kind of care a beloved franchise should receive.
With a mix of true classics and some exciting historical novelties, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is an amazing bundle intended for those who want to delve deep into TMNT video game history. Not all TMNT games published by Konami came here (the DOS platform Manhattan missions and Konami’s post-2000 output are missing), but the titles that created memories of fun and frustration (the awful water dam level in the original NES game is just as bad now as it was then) are all here and fully intact. Digital Eclipse deserves credit for making this a truly fantastic, full-featured compilation rather than a middling one with only a few excellent games included. History deserves to be fully respected and this collection does just that.
Like ComingSoon’s audit policy explains, a score of 8.5 corresponds to “Fantastic”. Although there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds in its goal and leaves a memorable impact.