Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection
A few months ago we looked at TMNT Shredder's Revenge, a love letter to the classic arcade and 16-bit era of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. The 80s and 90s were a treasure trove of gaming and one of the standout IPs during that era was the pizza-loving turtles that helped blurred the line between television and video games. Konami was on a bit of a hot streak by combining the two unlikely ingredients successfully with The Simpsons and X-Men. As coveted as those games were, it was perhaps the Turtles that most arcade goers were fond of.
In recent years, the arcade games have seen a release from Arcade1UP yet for the console generation, it would be at least over a decade until players would get the chance to play these titles again. While I'll cover the arcade and 16-bit era titles featured in The Cowabunga Collection, I wanted to discuss the overall game's presentation. Players who boot up the collection will be treated to a comic-style select screen. The games aren't in release order, rather they are in order of platforms beginning with Arcade, SNES, Genesis, NES, and finally Game Boy.
As with most collections, there is a plethora of goodies and bonus content for fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and gaming in general. The developer, Digital Eclipse, is responsible for several 8-bit and 16-bit compilations, some of which we have covered in the past here including the Disney Collection. With that in mind, there are tons of concept art, original box art, game manuals, and even comic book covers from various eras of the TMNT lifespan. The manuals are a nice touch as it shows the particular "radical" jargon used during that time, as well as letting the newer players know how to play the games.
For every game featured in The Cowabunga Collection, there are several enhancements that players can tinker with. Similar to that of the Capcom Fighting Collection, there are hidden cheat codes and modifiers that can be easily accessed by turning on some options. While I've had difficulties making some of the options for the SNES and Genesis games, the Arcade modifiers worked flawlessly. The original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually ran better with some framerate smoothening effects, something that Digital Eclipse added for quality-of-life cases.
While I did mention I'd cover the Arcade and 16-bit games, what best to start than with the beginning? The original TMNT on the NES was released early in 1989 based on the cartoon series. As this was before the Arcade TMNT, the gameplay featured here is vastly different from what would be the gold standard later on. For starters, the player controls all four turtles at once, switching between each of them in the pause menu. Each turtle has a unique fighting style, for example, Donatello has the longest range but slowest attack speed, and Mikey has the fastest attack but limited range.
The concept of going above ground, avoiding an instant death steamroller, and going underground to fight hoards of mutants seemed well on paper. It wouldn't be until later on that year when Konami was able to fully realize the potential of Turtle Power. Aptly named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the ability to play as all four turtles with up to four players at once was an ingenious idea. The gameplay was simple and its animations were true to its source material. There are modifiers to increase the number of enemies on the screen, titled Nightmare Mode. While I feel it was a mode meant to be played with four players, during single player things certainly wound up a...nightmare.
The sequel to the arcade hit, Turtles In Time, was released two years later in 1991 and it's often considered one of the best beat-em-ups of all time. The game took many things from the original and fine-tuned it, including many different locations outside of New York. In this game, Shredder has released a time machine and displaces the Statue Of Liberty with it. Eventually, he sends the turtles to various points in history including the prehistoric dinosaurs and the wild west.
What's funny about this game is that the dates in the "future" levels have either passed or are approaching, making it very possible to see it in a lifetime. The first one is the stage "Neon Night Riders," which takes place in A.D 2020. By now, we should be riding on hoverboards fighting cyber-ninjas on elevated highways. Not the "balance boards on wheels" we go now, but literal hoverboards. There's a tongue-in-cheek reference in the game's hint book that references how "close" the future actually is.
As with most successful arcade games, there are console ports of varying qualities. Fortunately, the SNES port of Turtles In Time maintains the core gameplay of the original the best a 16-bit console could. While I only played the first stage of the SNES version, it's as close to the arcade version with some key differences. Enemy density is lowered in the console version, perhaps due to hardware limitations. For that reason, there's only two-player co-op instead of four players as in the arcade.
The sounds and graphics are crushed, but it's still close to the original as possible. On the other hand, the Genesis "port" is a different story. Titled The Hyperstone Heist, this title is essentially Turtles In Time with an altered plot and unique elements to make it different than an average port.
The assets, presentation, and even its intro are based on Turtles In Time, yet instead of fighting on top of a skyscraper, the player crawls through the sewers in the opening level. Of the TMNT games, I wasn't too fond of the Genesis titles as the sound is considerably crunched in comparison.
The core gameplay is there and I do applaud Konami for taking a different approach, but I feel the SNES version reigned supreme here. Cool box art though in my opinion.
The comparison between the same titles on different platforms is perhaps best clear with TMNT Tournament Fighters, released not only on the SNES and Genesis but also on the NES for some reason. Focusing on the first two, TMNT Tournament Fighters was released in 1993, right around the time that fighting games started to kick off. Bearing no shame in this, there are two plots in the SNES version. The story mode focuses on the Turtles rescuing April O'Neil, again, from Shredder and his foes. The second is a traditional Street Fighter-style tournament in which April is the announcer.
Tournament Fighters differs from the Genesis by having a different plot and a different cast of characters, allowing players to play as April and Casey Jones for the first time in a TMNT game. This time, the crew answers the call of an intergalactic threat where there are clones of the Turtles running amok. The gameplay felt different, feeling more like a brawler on the Genesis than a fighting game on the SNES. Again, I'd prefer the SNES version although the Genesis had more characters to choose from.
It was at this point that I felt I played the core TMNT games from this era. You had the two arcade games, two 16-bit beat-em-ups, and the two fighters. Everything else that was either on the NES or the handheld platforms would be lesser versions. The apps to the full course meal, if you will.
That said, the rest of the titles featured I'd say are for the purists who either had fond memories of them or who wish to play all of the TMNT titles for the first time. As an entire package, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is the definitive TMNT experience and paired with Shredder's Revenge, it truly is a Summer of Turtles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is available on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S.