Unless you’ve been living in a commune, there’s a very strong chance you’ve heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Or, if you’re like us, the Hero Turtles because we Brits couldn’t handle ninjas, apparently. They’re one of the staples of 80’s childhood, alongside Transformers, G.I. Joe and ThunderCats. There’s even a chance you’ve played at least one game, too. Now, thanks to the Cowabunga Collection, you can revisit that memory.
Whether you’re like me, and Turtles in Time was your childhood side-scrolling favourite, or you cut your teeth on the original NES title, there’s a lot of variety here. The arcade and console brawlers, the Tournament Fighters, right down to the Game Boy variants that I personally had never seen before. Whatever your flavour, there’s plenty of slices here to choose from.
But is it a welcome trip down memory lane, jazzed up with modern interludes, or just a lazy cash-in with some glaring flaws? Let’s see if TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection kicks shell or not.
Not Today, Shred-Head!
Normally, this would be the part of a review in which the story is discussed. Now, whilst there are thirteen games here, it would take a while to explain each one in detail. But really, do you need me to explain plots based around a Saturday morning cartoon?
The long and short of it is that the Turtles are good, whilst characters named Shredder, Krang and other nefarious villains are bad. It’s just the context of each game that’s different, adding some variety of motivation. The Hyperstone Heist, for example, is a battle against Shredder wielding the eponymous stone. Turtles in Time, as you may have worked out, is the TMNT’s battling… through time.
If it sounds like I’m being cynical, I’m not (well, much), it’s just that the plots in these are as formulaic as they come. Tournament Fighters is non-canon, otherwise it would literally be ripping Street Fighter off for its concept. I can’t imagine Shredder starting a fighting tournament in which he’s on equal footing with the Turtles, is all.
But formulaic isn’t necessarily bad, especially if any of these are what you grew up with.
Speaking of growing up, The Cowabunga Collection hits right at the childhood when you open up the game collection. Would you expect to be filed chronologically, or alphabetically, perhaps? Nope, TMNT: The Arcade Game is front and centre. Konami knows this was the popular one, plus it saves hunting for it.
Among the thirteen, the popular ones are near the front, such as the aforementioned and Turtles in Time (both arcade and SNES versions), with the obscure Game Boy ones tucked at the back. For the true aficionado, players can switch between the US and Japanese versions of several titles. There are differences, such as voices and localisation notes, but to the average nerd it’s negligible.
Each game has a border featuring either the box art for the console versions or key art for arcade games. These can be turned off, as well as different aspect ratios to be toggled with. If you want some true nostalgia, there’s various screen filters to pop on too. Did I turn the CRT filter to play the SNES version of Turtles in Time? You bet your shell I did.
Turtles In A Time Capsule
The challenge with any retro/nostalgic compilation is the handling of the classics. If you try and remake them with modern stylings, it can go wrong. It was tried once with Turtles in Time Re-Shelled and it wasn’t great. The Alex Kidd in Miracle World remake is a prime example: offering a switch between new and old without much change.
With The Cowabunga Collection however, there really hasn’t been much done to it. All the games are in their mostly original forms, albeit with some Game Shark level of “enhancements” that can be toggled. God mode in TMNT: The Arcade Game, for example.
So, depending on your outlook, this is either blessing or curse. If you’re a massive Turtles fan, looking to encapsulate that retro spirit but not pay CEX prices, then this will be right up your Alleycat Blues. If you’re expecting mod cons, new quality of life improvements and the like, then you’re going to be disappointed.
But on the bright side, it does have some nice archival tidbits.
Donatello Does Machines…
As mentioned, if you are a big fan of the heroes in a half-shell, there’s a fair bit of extra materials to peruse. The Cowabunga Collection does respect the games that made it, offering up plenty of archival scans of their original packaging and such.
Heading to the archives lets players view hi-res scans of the boxes the console games came in, as well as the instruction manuals. These come in both English and Japanese, again for those that like to see the differences. There’s even promotional materials, trailers and such to look at too. But that’s not all.
There’s even clips from the various TV shows, from the 1987 show to the 2013 Nickelodeon version. You can’t watch whole episodes, obviously, but it’s nice to check out old materials. There’s even comics, too: not the whole things but cover arts and styles to trip back in time over.
Again, the level of enjoyment that one will get out of this depends on the love for Turtles. If, like me, a few games shaped your childhood, then you’ll enjoy it. If you don’t, then… well, why would you buy a retrospective collection in the first place?
Where’s The Remote?!
Of course, with any kind of retro compilation, one always expects a bit of clunk and jank with it. Fortunately, the Cowabunga Collection doesn’t have many issues, but enough to cause a few irritations.
The online functionality is a bit hit and miss. On the few attempts at playing Tournament Fighters and Turtles in Time online, there were connection issues. Or they’d get to the lobby, online to disconnect. Now, that could be down to me getting it pre-release, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt there.
What I can’t get over, however, is how terrible the audio volume is. Not overall, but in the games themselves. There’s only one main audio option in the collection menu, but that’s it. I’ve had to crank the volume up to hear it, then forget I have when I exit to the main menu.
Which scares the shit out of me, let alone trying to imagine if you’ve got sleeping kids or whatever. It seems a massive oversight to not have one main volume option, or at least one per game setting. You might hate vintage bleeps and bloops, but they shouldn’t all be quiet as default.
The other boggle I had was with the aspect ratios. Yes, I get that 16bit games will look a bit stretched on a 43″ TV. But unless you’re playing in the standard aspect, something will inevitably be cut off at the top/bottom of the screen. Considering these are games that require concentration on many on-screen elements, seems a bit odd cutting them out at times.
Half-Shell, Full Nostalgia
So, in terms of recommendation, this does seem to be a bit of an obvious one. As mentioned earlier, if you’re a fan of the classics, and retro collections in general, then this adds or takes nothing away. There are thirteen classic games here, each preserved as they originally were.
The Turtle’s Lair is where the rest of the content lies, bulking out this package of emulated titles. Again, if you’re a Turtles historian then this will be your gold mine. For anyone else, it’s more a passing “Oh cool” of nostalgia to look at then forget.
Personally, I relish being able to play one of my all-time favourite SNES titles again. That there are twelve other titles to dabble in is a pretty nifty bonus. The Lair stuff is cool, but I’m not a historian. I won’t be inviting friends over to scour the Japanese scans of instruction manuals, let’s say.
In closing, if you’ve got the nostalgic inkling for Turtles and fancy reliving it, solo or co-op, then you can’t go amiss here. Digital Eclipse have emulated these titles as close to the originals as possible, with the usual trappings of save states and rewinds. If you don’t fancy bringing up the repressed memories of the original NES game, no one will blame you for giving this a miss.
The TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection is exactly what it says it is. It’s thirteen classic Turtles adventures, with some modern quality of life improvements to tip the scales on occasion. For those expecting more in terms of remake, remaster or more content, it won’t be found here. Just pure nostalgia.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is available from August 30th on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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