Do you have that food from your childhood that you just love, even though you know it’s objectively not that good? There is something about the memory of that taste that is amazing, even if you know that the sophistication of your palette has evolved a lot in the intervening years. That’s a bit how I feel about the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. I remember with crystal clarity huddled around a TMNT arcade cabinet with my friends, pumping tokens to try and defeat the Shredder before the birthday party was over. Or spend a weekend banging my head against the wall of the first NES game and its absurd sewer challenges. The Cowabunga Collection exists to serve up the nostalgic memory of these types of experiences, and it does so boldly. Are these really great games worth remembering? This is up for debate.
Digital Eclipse and Konami have worked together to create a particularly impressive collection of early Turtle video game entertainment. 13 titles are available to read and enjoy, running the gamut between the arcade, NES, SNES, Genesis and Game Boy versions. At their core, these games have been restored in a form very close to their original incarnations, and it’s a lot of fun to spend time in the ones you know how to recall individual sequences and smile. If the phrase “I’m going to eat turtle soup tonight” rings a few bells in your distant memory, chances are you feel the same way.
Even for TMNT enthusiasts, I’d be surprised if there weren’t a few surprises in the mix of games included. Familiar classics like the arcade version of Turtles in Time are certainly here, but there’s a good bet you might not have played everything else the collection has to offer. Read the list below, but I was pleasantly surprised by the speed and level designs for Hyperstone Heist, which was a Genesis game I hadn’t played when it first came out. And the Metroid-inspired Radical Rescue, originally on the Game Boy, was a highlight, delivering a stronger adventure than I expected.
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (Genesis)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (Genesis)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of The Foot Clan (Game Boy)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back From The Sewers (Game Boy)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (Game Boy)
However, it must be said that many of these games (even the most fondly remembered ones) mostly fail to pass as truly stellar games in today’s market. These were licensed games that were a product of their time, and many of them featured overly contrived levels, poorly structured boss encounters, or oversimplified structures. It can be hard to separate the joy of nostalgia from the reality of what a game actually is. However, having recently played Shredder’s Revenge, it’s easy to see how those who beat have progressed in the intervening decades. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine investing much time in a fighting game like TMNT: Tournament Fighters when we’re in the midst of such a renaissance in the fighting genre in recent years.
But taking these 80s and 90s games for what they are misses the point. This is not a dramatic remake of these classic games, but rather a wonderful way to rediscover and archive what made them memorable. And in that respect, it’s hard to find fault. In each game, you can save and load at your leisure, allowing you to jump into any section you like until you get it right. Each game has a list of enhancements that allow you to change the experience, like setting alternate starting levels so you can see the final boss you never got to as a kid, or the ability to remove the slowdown effects that were part of original code when there were many enemies were immediately on the screen. There’s a great “watch” feature that lets you watch an expert play any of the games through to completion, and then jump back in anytime you want during the course of the game. There is also the option to change your region and watch and play the Japanese versions of the games.
In addition, the Cowabunga Collection has an amazing and exhaustive collection of additional bonus materials to peruse. Entering the Turtle’s Lair section of the game, you can examine Konami’s early design documents, listen to music tracks, view comic book covers, and even investigate never-before-seen concept art. As a digital archive for these popular games, it’s a truly impressive resource.
While there’s certainly plenty to discover for younger Turtles fans, it seems like the Cowabunga Collection is aimed at older enthusiasts who want to relive the glory days, or perhaps have a more accessible way to enjoy the game with kids or other newcomers. In this regard, the game is a huge win and one could hardly ask for more. Even if these aren’t games I can recommend to today’s gamers, they are certainly an important page in the history of licensed video games, presented here with almost every option you could possibly want to find.