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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2022


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PC Review - 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 29, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection brings together all 13 console and arcade games and their regional versions.

In the late '80s and early '90s, Turtle-mania was in full swing. Kids couldn't get enough of the four amphibious ninjas taking their fight to the Foot Clan and related aliens; the toys flew off store shelves, the cartoon was watched by millions, and the live-action movie did big business. Like any big property at the time, it got some video games, but unlike most of the licensed stuff out there, almost all of the TMNT games were very good. With the announcement and release of Shredder's Revenge earlier this summer, Konami decided to piggyback on that with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, a 13-game compilation of all of the games it created for the 1987 incarnation of the comic book/cartoon series.

It's all from the same franchise, but you can split the games into three distinct categories. The most popular and most enduring of TMNT games is the beat-'em-up, and the first arcade game is most likely the one that players will immediately gravitate toward. It's still a simple formula; you have one attack button and a jump button, but the inclusion of just about every popular enemy at the time and four-player simultaneous play made this a winner. The NES port of this arcade hit doesn't have the four-player element, and it also doesn't have the simultaneous Bebop and Rocksteady fight from the middle of the game. However, it makes up for it by introducing a new enemy, some new bosses, and even a new stage and stage elements.

The second arcade game, Turtles in Time, runs with the formula established by the first title and features a few new things aside from the big graphical and sound overhaul. You can now grab and slam Foot Clan soldiers instead of performing a simple throw, and you can also hurl them toward the screen. You can initiate a short hop-slash that takes away some of your health but delivers a more powerful blow. You can also run, adding a shoulder bash to your arsenal. Because of the time travel plotline, the environments are more diverse, and the game retains the same punchy combat of the original, making it a worthy successor. The SNES port, like the NES one before it, is only a two-player game but shuffles some levels and bosses due to technical limitations. It also adds in a new part of the Shredder fight where you need to throw Foot Clan soldiers at him, making it worth a run for die-hard arcade fans.

From here, the two other beat-'em-ups are original works that go in slightly different directions. The Hyperstone Heist, the debut game on the Genesis, is more of a remix of the first arcade game and Turtles in Time in terms of levels and mechanics. You can still slam Foot Clan soldiers, but you can't throw them toward the screen, and you still have a short jumping smash that deals more damage at the cost of your health. The levels are stitched together from bits and pieces of both games, with bosses also getting shuffled around. The level count is lower than either arcade title, but levels are also longer, and the experience remains enjoyable since you know that this is a remix.

Meanwhile, The Manhattan Project, released on the NES after Turtles in Time but before The Hyperstone Heist, goes for something distinct. It takes the basic gameplay from the original arcade but adds a direct throw action and changes up the super moves. Leonardo's tornado spin, Donatello's rolling smash, Raphael's drill attack, and Michelangelo's handspring kick all replace the regular short jump-slash that was introduced in Turtles in Time. The levels are all new, and there are a good number of bosses that only show up here, which makes the experience even more special. Considering that this was a late release on the NES, a good chunk of people picking up this compilation may be playing this for the first time, and it is well worth it.

The adventure game is the next genre in the compilation, and there are four games that fit the bill. The NES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is perhaps the most well-known of these; it displayed some depth in an active overworld map that led you to buildings and sewers with side-scrolling action. It is also the most infamous of the games thanks to the difficulty of the underwater dam level. Like most licensed games at the time, most of the enemies aren't canon, but it remains a solid enough entry for fans who want some nifty features, like being able to switch between turtles at any time, getting a fresh health bar, and helpful abilities like extended weapon reach.

The compilation's three Game Boy entries also belong to the adventure genre but have very different approaches. Fall of the Foot Clan feels inspired by Irem's classic Kung Fu, as it only takes one hit to kill enemies that come directly at you from the front. A few foes occasionally strike from behind. There are a few platforming elements to vary the gameplay, but a good portion of the jumping is done blindly. The large size of your turtle causes the camera to obscure platforms and pits until you're about to land on them. Like the NES game, dying means losing that turtle and having to rescue him later on by completing a bonus game. Overall, it's fine but very short like most Game Boy games of the era. It's easy enough that players should be able to defeat it the first time.

The second Game Boy title, Back from the Sewers, does what any good sequel does and takes what worked from the first game and tweaks it just enough to make things feel better. The game still follows a Kung Fu blueprint but adds more things, like grabbing pipes for traversal and using a skateboard. You don't have the shurikens anymore, but you have a jab and a sliding kick in addition to weapons. Rescuing fallen turtles means fighting a boss, and there are more levels to accompany the big graphical and sound upgrades. Perhaps the only point of contention would be with the turtles being presented with a full 90-degree side profile instead of a 45-degree one like its predecessor. It works fine enough in motion, but it's awkward when you jump-kick.

Radical Rescue is the final Game Boy title, and it's very different from its predecessors. You begin with only Michelangelo and must rescue your brothers before going after Splinter and April. This game takes on more of a Metroid blueprint. You backtrack to previously inaccessible areas once you rescue someone and add their powers to the team. Michelangelo twirls nunchucks to hover, Donatello climbs walls with his staff, Leonardo goes through floors, and Raphael squeezes through tight spaces. It is a very enjoyable title and a hidden gem for those not familiar with the Game Boy library, but the constantly respawning enemies make it frustrating at times.

Finally, there's Tournament Fighters, which was released on three systems. They all share the same name, but they aren't ports of one another; each entry is wildly different, but they're all one-on-one fighting games. The NES version has seven fighters and four arenas in New York City. The two-button scheme of the NES controller means that you only have a punch and kick button, but the game still feels surprisingly competent since you can pull off some special moves. In the middle of a match, a machine hovers around the arena. Destroying it allows you to take a red ball that gives you the chance to pull off a super move.

The SNES version — perhaps the most popular of the trio — expands the arenas to the entire U.S. and increases the roster to 10 fighters, ditching Hothead and Casey Jones in the process. It feels like a more modern game, since you have weak and strong versions of the punch and kick buttons, and a special meter fills as you fight; you can unleash a super move once it fills up. Meanwhile, the Genesis version feels like the half-step between the NES and SNES versions in terms of mechanics. The lineup of fighters is pared back to eight, and the kicks and punches are reduced to one button each. The taunt button gives you access to a desperation move once you're really low on health, but the storyline makes things more fantastical. You're now fighting in outer space on different planets and trying to save Splinter instead of just stopping Shredder again. Of the trio, the SNES version is the one to play, but the other two remain fascinating as distinct takes on the then-emerging fighting game genre before standards were set.

Every game that features multiplayer can do so locally, but only a few have actual online play. Both of the arcade games get that option, as do The Hyperstone Heist and the SNES version of Tournament Fighters. The lack of cross-platform play means that we didn't get a chance to see how online play performs, since the pool of players on PC reviewing the game is rather low at the moment. What hurts is that the game isn't cleared for Steam Remote Play, so anyone hoping to clear out the console ports of the arcade games or The Manhattan Project with an online friend are out of luck.

For the games themselves, there is more to the compilation than just having the titles listed in a sweet comic book-style menu. As in Konami's other compilations, you can play either the North American or Japanese versions of the games. New to this compilation is the ability to play any of the games with some modifications or extras that previously required input codes, such as the ability to play as bosses and a few other secret characters. Some of the options, like god mode in the two arcade games, seem a bit superfluous since you can flood the game with infinite lives, but they're still nice to have if you forget about that ability. You can select a stage or watch a recording of the game and jump in at any point to take over, and you still have standard emulator functions, like save states and the ability to rewind.

The compilation also comes with a bunch of extra content that covers all regions, some of which is unexpected. You have the manuals for all games, along with some print ads, arcade flyers, and box art. There are also design documents, behind-the-scenes material, and a few classic and modern covers from the comics. There's an unexpected strategy guide that covers some basic tips for every game and provides a few maps and move guides. It has the look and feel of a Nintendo Power guide but includes some small videos. For those who grew up in the era, this is a nice bit of nostalgia. About the only extra that isn't so great is the pictures associated with the animated series. They're fine to have but don't add much to the experience.

There's some disappointment in this section because navigation is terrible. Select any image, and it starts off blurry and takes a second before it appears cleanly. It might have been fine if it only did this the first time an image loaded, but it still does this for images you've previously seen. It's bad, especially if you're looking at the animation stills for characters and want to see it animated since all you'll get is a blurry mess.

Aside from the occasional stuttering and issues with texture pop-in for the extras, the one issue with the compilation is its actual size. At 8.14GB, it's huge for what amounts to 13 titles whose ROMS and associated emulators could fit in a fraction of that size. It's also far larger than the company's other compilations, which take up less than 1GB each. We cannot confirm what can be taking up all that space, as the game's files and folders are packaged in one large container instead of individually. Hopefully this is a case where some smart compression can create a much more reasonable footprint.

If you're playing on the Steam Deck, you're getting a slightly better experience than those on a Windows PC. The opening video for the compilation features stutter that isn't present when playing the game on Windows, and while the texture pop-in for the extras section is still here, there's a smoother transition between low- and high-resolution images. More importantly, the stutter while playing the actual games on Windows is gone on the Steam Deck, so those running the game on a Linux machine will have no issues. As expected from a compilation of old games, the battery drain is mild enough that you can get up to six hours out of the game before having to recharge the Deck.

Despite the stuttering and issues with the extras, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is still a very good title thanks to the quality of titles on offer and the enhancements to make each game a little easier for inexperienced players. The duo of arcade classics still stands the test of time, and their home version counterparts do a very good job of porting it all over while adding new elements to mask the parts that didn't get moved over. The portable games can be hit-and-miss, but they're still very good compared to the Game Boy lineup. The fighting games are interesting, and the other beat-'em-ups are solid. Hopefully the title gets patched for improvements, but retro fans will definitely enjoy it.

Score: 7.5/10

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