Various images of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles surround the logo for The Cowabunga Collection.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection Review

September 7, 2022

By: Alex Santa Maria

 
 

At the start of the summer, Shredder's Revenge proved that there was plenty of gas left in the Turtle Van for TMNT video games. As we near the fall, Turtle fans have the opportunity to see all the games DotEmu used as inspiration for their instant classic brawler. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is another welcome retro compilation from Digital Eclipse that gathers everything Konami put out featuring the heroes in a half shell during the 8 and 16-bit eras. From that dam level on the NES all the way to a trio of tournament fighters, The Cowabunga Collection gives a comprehensive look at the gaming history of the Turtles at their peak.

The Cowabunga Collection is one of the more extensive collections by Digital Eclipse, covering the Japanese and American versions of thirteen separate titles. This includes the two arcade brawlers, their home ports, and Game Boy originals. Each game feels accurate to its original version and adapts well to a modern console gamepad. There are enough display options and filters to please all types of retro fans, and there are built-in cheat code toggles to let new players experience the games without needing to discover the joy of chucking their hardware across the room. As expected with this developer, the improvements to performance and presentation make this the best way to play these games, even including original hardware.

 

That said, the question is whether you want to play these games in 2022. For someone who grew up in the height of Turtlemania, finally cracking into their fighting game after seeing countless magazine ads for it throughout childhood is a thrill. However, TMNT: Tournament Fighters is a fun distraction at best when compared to its 16-bit peers. The original NES Turtles game is infamous for its lack of quality, but YouTube aficionados may get a kick about feeling the pain for themselves. When these two games stand out the most in a collection, you know that killer gameplay isn't its strong suit.

The NES TMNT game showcases its infamous difficulty

The rest of the collection is filled with brawling and side-scrolling action. Almost too much of it. I will say that Turtles in Time on the SNES and the arcade games still hold up as great games for their time. However, the release of Shredder's Revenge earlier this year does damper the impact of these games returning after so long. DotEmu combined the best of every Turtles game into one expanded, replayable package. Multiple playable characters, varied boss fights and locales, and fantastic music bring that game above anything Konami could have achieved in the '90s. After conquering Shredder in that game, loading up a Genesis game complete with difficulty spikes and gameplay oddities feels like going backward in the worst way.

 
 

If you are really into these games, you can take four of them online at your leisure. Both arcade games, Hyperstone Heist for the Genesis and Tournament Fighters all have network multiplayer for the first time. Tournament Fighters also has a suite of separate options that align with other fighting game releases. It's probably too much to expect a constant stream of strangers randomly ready to brawl with you, but franchise fans can team up with their friends and play through these games like it's 1994 all over again. The few matches I could jump into on the service formally known as Xbox Live did see some lag, so it might still be best to gather around a single couch if you can.

Cowabunga Collection showcases Tournament Fighters gameplay

Like with many Digital Eclipse collections, it helps to go into The Cowabunga Collection with the mindset of a historian. From that angle, this is a near-perfect collection that preserves these games for modern times and provides historical context. A vault of extras unlocked from the start gives you access to high-quality box scans, behind-the-scenes documentation, and even an of-the-time press release, which is a rarity to see from the NES era. Each game also has a Nintendo Power-esque strategy guide that brings you back to the radical era with its over-the-top verbiage and incredible graphic design.

 
 

The only thing that could have made it perfect is some form of video content, be it behind-the-scenes interviews with developers or sample clips from various TMNT properties that showcase the varied origins of each game's characters. With the state of Konami as a game maker seemingly shifting every other week, it's understandable that developers may not have been on hand, but it does hurt this collection compared to some of Digital Eclipse's work for the upcoming Atari 50 and Street Fighter releases.

April is kidnapped by Shredder and his goons once again in a screenshot from the TMNT arcade game.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection Review | Final Thoughts

While Shredder's Revenge is a crowdpleaser that serves all ages of TMNT faithful, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is for the hardcore fans who still have their ticket stubs to the original films. These games have aged like a pizza sitting on the kitchen counter overnight. They're still fun here at the end of the day, but you know you're not taking in something fresh or modern. With historical context or nostalgia on your side, there's plenty to recommend here, and Digital Eclipse never lets up regarding the quality presentation of older games. I'll continue to line up for whatever historical rabbit hole they want to dive into next, but I also understand anyone who'd rather jump onto the latest fad instead of exploring one of the best from decades ago.


TechRaptor reviewed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection on Xbox Series X with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Nintendo Swich, and PC. 

Review Summary

Review Summary

7.5
Preserving licensed games is a noble endeavor, and Digital Eclipse are the best in the business, but many of The Cowabunga Collection's inclusions are best left in the '90s.

Pros

  • Excellent emulation on all fronts, including the Japanese versions of each game
  • Vault of extras filled with detailed looks behind the scenes
  • Konami's arcade brawlers are still top-tier, and that hasn't changed here

Cons

  • Most of the collection only provides fleeting novelty
  • Lack of video extras feels like a missed opportunity
  • Online play is extremely hit and miss