When Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird came up with the idea of four mutant turtles with ninjutsu skills in the 1980s, few would have believed that such a franchise could still be going strong nearly forty years later. But by the late 80s and early 90s, having the video game licensing to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was in effect a license to print money, and Konami were ready and raring to go. Here we arrive in the present day with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, a treasure trove of thirteen games developed by Konami for various platforms in their heyday; with genres spanning beat-‘em-ups, fighters, and platformers, and all featuring everyone’s favourite heroes in a half-shell.
TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection is a glorious trip back through time with an emphasis on preserving the game the way they were, while still throwing in some extra features and cool little easter eggs. This is how you want games to be emulated – scaled up for larger screen sizes (so it doesn’t look like you’ve just plugged a NES into your 65” OLED panel) as well as tweaked for speed and controller responsiveness.
Yes, it is still a tad jarring to be playing an old-school Game Boy game on your TV, but Digital Eclipse has done a fantastic job in mastering all of the retro titles for modern consoles and PC. There’s even some great TV/LCD screen filters to overlay as well, and the option to play certain games in their Japanese release too. For those who can’t stand the challenge, there’s save states and rewind modes to keep you from throwing your controller through the screen, and where available, local co-op is available too. At the time of writing, I wasn’t able to play the online features, but I guarantee if it’s anything like couch co-op it’ll be a blast.
Outside of the games themselves, Digital Eclipse has raided the vault and provided a wealth of material to explore when you’re not playing as well – concept art, design sketches and even box art is available to flip through for each title, so you can see the full history of the game without having to track down a physical copy.
But enough gushing about the features, what about the games? Well here’s a brief run-down of what you get in the Cowabunga Collection (in order of their original release);
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES): The original TMNT game for the NES which plays like an RPG game. Players transition from side-scrolling action to overworld environments in a top-down perspective, with the ability to switch between Turtles at any time. If your Turtle’s health drops to zero, they are ‘captured’ by the enemy (but can be saved and returned to the team later on). Be prepared to be frustrated by the map obstacles and the overall difficulty.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade): Chances are this is the game that your parents, older siblings or relatives fed countless coins into back when it was released. With the ability to pick one of four Turtles (usually the arcade cabinets had a designated spot for each one) players venture through Manhattan in an effort to save April O’Neil and Splinter from the evil Shredder. Each Turtle has pros and cons to their gameplay style, and the enemies are colour-coded to the way they attack as well. Fight your way through each stage until you reach the boss battle at the end, usually a notable TMNT sub-villain.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES): It wasn’t going to be easy porting an arcade game with its own board to the NES, but Konami did it anyway. Extending the existing levels and throwing a few extra stages in as well, the game (billed as a sequel due to the TMNT moniker taken already) lacks any multiplayer mode but does pretty well to hold its own.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy): The first handheld entry in the series, the game is a platformer where the four Turtles must venture to save April O’Neil while taking down Krang and Shredder. A pretty vanilla outing, but a good place to start nonetheless.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time (Arcade): One of, if not potentially THE best beat-‘em-up arcade games around, Turtles In Time builds on its arcade predecessor by adding more attacks and new stages. This time around you’re tasked with taking down Shredder and returning the Statue of Liberty to its rightful location. Expect to be hitting the “insert coin” button a fair bit though, because the difficulty really ramps up as you play through.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (Game Boy): A more polished sequel to the Fall of the Foot Clan game. Switching between Turtles before a stage, each Turtle has their own strength and weakness in gameplay. The game adds a bit more depth than just a simple platformer, with sections that can be jumped to in the background and foreground.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES): A sequel to the NES port of the arcade game, but also an original title. The game takes its cues from the 5th season of the TMNT cartoon, and improves on the original NES port by speeding up the gameplay and introducing a two-player mode.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time (SNES): The first entry for the SNES, and in my opinion the best of the lot. The port of the arcade game resembles its original title very closely, and adds levels and assets from the original arcade game to make it a longer, more fun experience. This game is worth the price of admission alone.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (Sega Genesis): Of course it wouldn’t have been fair on the Sega fans if they couldn’t get in on the TMNT action. Essentially a re-skinned version of Turtles in Time for the Genesis/Mega Drive, The Hyperstone Heist changes up a few of the boss characters and stages from Turtles in Time and creates a new story, while maintaining that difficulty.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (Game Boy): The third game in the Game Boy platformer series, we see a huge shake-up in the gameplay – no longer linear and horizontal, the stages also become vertical and add the ability to collect full pizzas to keep your health up as you fight your way through to save the Turtles from capture. This one gets a bit frustrating though, as enemies seem to re-spawn once just out of frame.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES/Sega Genesis/NES): Don’t be fooled – the games may have the same title, but all three iterations are wildly different.
The SNES version plays like a TMNT-skinned Street Fighter II, where you fight and build up a Mutagen Meter to perform special attacks, as well as having weak and strong kick and punch buttons assigned to the controller. The game introduces characters from the ‘Archie’ series of comics.
The NES version was the last game Konami released outside of Japan for the system, and strangely the game was never released in Japan. The game sees the Turtles hold a contest to see who is strong enough to take on the challenge of Shredder.
The Genesis version sees the Turtles and allies travelling through Dimension X, fighting clones of themselves as they rescue Splinter from Krang. This version is strangely darker and less fluid.
Of course, these games are all relics of their time, and are not without flaws – but usually indicative of the limitations of their technology. NES games still get some severe slowdowns with heaps of units on the screen, the Game Boy games have jarring and repetitive 8-bit music, and most or all of the games in the collection have a degree of difficulty that some are just not used to these days. Thankfully with the ability to change settings prior to playing, a lot of these gripes can be stopped before you start.
The PS5 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection really nails what a library of retro titles should look like. Hitting that sweet spot between nostalgia and playability, it is clear that Konami and Digital Eclipse have gone to great lengths not only to preserve some of the best beat-‘em-up titles from the late 80s and early 90s, but to make them accessible to younger Turtles fans as well. With stacks of bonus content to explore as well as online and offline multiplayer modes, grab yourself a pizza and kick some shell.
Thirteen titles worth of gameplay and bonus content to explore
Local and online co-op gameplay modes
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time. Yes, that’s a positive.