Developed By: Digital Eclipse Published By: Konami Categories: Retro, Compilation, Beatemup, Fighter, Platformer Release Date: 08.30.22
Holy freakin’ moly! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection is a release I never in a million years thought we’d get. Licensed games were all the rage back in the 80’s and 90’s. Konami was no stranger to this, X-Men, Batman, The Simpsons, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, and of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Cowabunga Collection gives us all thirteen games Konami did back in the day, from arcade beatemups, to platformers, to fighting games to…a pre-Super Metroid Metroidvania?
This miracle of a release is brought to us by the fine folks at Digital Eclipse, who in a way worked with Konami on their X-Men and Simpsons PSN/XBLA ports a decade ago. Those were pretty spiffy, if not short lived ports. How does Cowabunga Collection stand up? Lets dig in and find out!
Still in The Turtle Tank
The first game release is a tad infamous, mostly thanks to a certain web-reviewer. It’s kind of an outlier in Konami’s time with the IP. It’s not a beatemup, but kind of a more open platformer with an overworld, not too unlike Zelda 2 in a sense. And like Zelda 2, it’s pretty hard. I’m sure you all remember the Hudson River level vividly. The game isn’t really as hard as you’d get the feeling from online discourse however. You have all four turtles to control, some are…definitely better than others *cough*Donny*cough*, but each has their own life bar. Struggle as one, switch to another.
Not too unlike the NES Batman games, you can get side weapons to use. No guns here, but you get the standard shuriken, a nice shockewave from a scroll, and even a boomerang. You’ll want to find those Turtle Head icons too, they make you go nuts with a devastating spin attack that will keep you from harm and destroy everything.
Now, this isn’t as bad as people say, but I’d lie if I said it didn’t have some unavoidable issues. Jumps are tricky, real tricky. Not to much going from place to place, but more so when trying to make precise jumps. Some jumps might feel a little too long too. Weapon collision might also be a tad tricky as well. You might get hit more than you hit them.
FunFact: In Japan, this isn’t so much marketed or even titled TMNT, but Geki Kame Ninja Den, or rather Fierce Turtle Ninja Legend. This in addition to it’s different name in Japan feels like such a oddball in comparison to majority of these games. There’s some seeds being planted, like key mechanics with pizza and the turtles themselves, but this isn’t the game people really remember…
Tonight, I Dine on Turtle Soup
This is what everyone remembers. The same year we got the NES game, we also got the arcade game. Four players at once, awesome graphics, and it even has the main theme! I feel blessed to have actually experienced this in an arcade with people before. It’s 1989, most of these beatemups are just 2 players, they’re slow, a tad clunky. Four players was a game changer, the movement options were game changers. Keep in mind, Final Fight came out AFTER TMNT Arcade.
It’s fair to say this feels like the cartoon, but in game form, right? Konami had people putting their A Game into this title. Characters, bosses, animations, they all feel authentic. Hits feel nice and there’s even some interactivity to the environments, of which you have plenty. Love that skateboard level.
Though while it does feel great to play, especially with friends, it’s also hard as hell. This *is* an arcade game after all. Right in Turtle Mania? They’d be stupid to not try and get as much money from players as they can. Even better, if you’re doing maybe…too good, the game will actively drop bombs to make you die to spend more money, how devious.
Hey wait a minute…didn’t this get a console port to NES?
No Pizza Ads, Sorry
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade game is both a sequel to the platformer as well as a port of the arcade game to NES. The graphics are downgraded and you can only play the game with two players instead of four. This may seem downgraded, but there’s reason alone to try it out in the modern day when the original is right next to this. There’s two new stages and two new bosses! For kids back in the day who maybe didn’t have a local arcade or really the funds or skill to beat the game, this was a great way to make up for any cutbacks.
That said, I did feel like hitboxes were a tad iffy in this version. Enemies all fall quicker, but I had issues hitting Foot Clan ninjas.
This Isn’t the Only Konami Game that References The Manhattan Project
Did you enjoy TMNT2 on NES? Then have I got good news for you! Konami made a third NES game in that styled. Wholly original at that. This is a cross country trip, from Florida to Manhattan, home. Finally ending in the Technodrome. Hope you’re getting used to that. The games before felt closer to the cartoon, but Manhattan Project takes some from the second film, Secret of the Ooze, with some bosses. Again, get used to that.
Despite being close to the same style as TMNT2, this definitely plays smoother. I had no issues hitting enemies and you even get more moves.
Big Apple, 3AM
Here’s the big one! It’s Turtles in Time! When people think of the peak of Konami’s tenure with the franchise, it’s this arcade title. Imagine the 1989 arcade game, but better in every way. Better music, better stages, better sprites. You’re taking a an already great game and making it better. As the title implies, this is a time travel kind of game. From modern (for the time at least) New York, to the prehistoric age, to the wild west, and then the future!
New to the game is some combo finishers, like a slam or the famous screen throw. God it feels so good to do that to Foot Soldiers, even if it’s involuntary. Also, you can run now! This opens up to more moves you didn’t have before. All things considered the original game felt great for when it came out, but Turtles in Time is an improvement. Much like Manhattan Project, there’s a bit of crossover between cartoon and movie stuff with bosses like Tokka And Rahzar.
Not unlike the original arcade game, Turtles in Time got some love in the home scene, and this is probably the game people more fondly look back to.
Bury My Shell at Wounded Knee
The Super Nintendo got a port of Turtles in Time, very much like the original game was ported to NES. This time however, the downgrades aren’t nearly as drastic, and big hunks of the game are practically upgrades! Yes, the animations aren’t as smooth, yes you can only play as two turtles again, but the cons stop here. Much like that NES port, we have a new Technodrome stage scrapped from the arcade game as well as lots of new bosses, including Bebop and Rocksteady in the pirate level! The final boss is also changed to Super Shredder!
Outside of having more content, the game just feels better to play. Hitboxes are updated for one. Enemy numbers are smaller to make up for less players. This in turn can make what was sometimes an overwhelming arcade game into something a tad more manageable. Infact, I definitely died a whole lot in the arcade game, but was pretty comfortable playing the SNES port. You can also actively throw enemies at the screen when you want to now. Get that sprite scaling going! There’s a bit of Mode 7 going on in stages that were otherwise auto-scrolling too.
Hey Wait, This All Seems Familiar
Hyperstone Heist would soon come out, not leaving The Genesis/Mega Drive to be all alone. At first glance, and if you only knew the music, you’d probably assume it’s just a new name for another Turtles in Time port. That’s not entirely true. Hyperstone Height is a bit of an amalgamation of Turtles games. You get a little bit from the original arcade game, a little bit from Turtles in Time, and then add some original content in there, like a boss fight with Tatsu, a film character who was also in a game we’ll discuss briefly.
You can now run at the press of a button, something that was more of a double tap kind of movement before. However, the throw has been removed. If that’s a fine trade off or not is up to you. I don’t really mind. There’s still co-op with two players, it’s still a fun time.
The Toitels On The Go
The little grey brick known as the Gameboy was home to three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. Much like Castlevania, they all almost seem like an improvement. And very much like the Gameboy Castlevania games, the third game is *radicallly* different.
Rise of the Foot Clan and Back to the Sewers are similar enough. Fairly standard platformers, just zoomed in. Perhaps similair to KungFu or Bad Dudes. Giving a Metroid connection, from TMNT NES to these games, the color is gone, but the sprites are much bigger and detailed. For Back to the Sewers, this might be a tad troublesome with hitboxes.
Radical Rescue on the otherhand is outstanding and a true highlight of the collection and dare I say it, the Gameboy period. It’s 1993, the world hasn’t been taken by storm by either Super Metroid (1994) or Symphony of the Night (1997). But what we have here is a bonafide Metroidvania. Truth be told, Konami had experimented with this style before with Castlevania 2 and The Goonies II , both in 1987, but this definitely feels like it’s patted down the format the genre and Castlevania would soon take.
Even beyond it being impressive for a Gameboy game, it’s still fun to play. The turtles (not April for once) have been kidnapped and Mikey needs to save them! Each of your brothers acts as those powerups you’d use to advance in a Metroidvania, a touch I liked. Sure the brothers are all different enough in most of the games, but it’s refreshing to see such a difference in Radical Rescue.
Oh Yeah, TMNT Had a Crossover Fighter
No, I don’t mean TMNT: Smash Up. I mean Tournament Fighters. Which one? Well, all three of them. Konami is no stranger to releasing games everywhere, so the NES, SNES, and Genesis all got Tournament Fighters. Here’s the twist though, they’re all unique games, again, something Konami is no stranger to (see Sparkster, Animaniacs, etc…). Before we get real deep into the differences, lets mention how much of a crossover these games are. We have characters from the mirage comic, the Archie comic, the movies, and of course, the cartoon. Pretty spiffy.
The SNES and Genesis versions launched just around the same time in 1993. And yes, both are completely different games. Different stories, different composers, and even different character rosters.
The SNES version feels a bit more traditional with a four button (light and heavy punch and kicks) scheme. Special attacks like you’d expect and even a super powerful attack when the Mutagen Meter is full. We have a story mode and surprise surprise, this is a game about rescuing April O’Neil again. Like always as well, you’ll pick your turtle of the four and go around America in the Turtle Blimp. You get Shredder, but in the SNES version you fight Rat King, Wingnut, Armaggon and War, from the Archie comic, and a new character? called Aska. Story mode only allows the Turtles, but Vs allows everyone else, even some unlockable bosses.
It’s a bit slow, and might be too clunky at times, but once you get the real gist of it, it’s a good fighter. The story mode might make it feel a little railroaded, but I just appreciate when any fighting game, new or old gets story modes. And if you want to play with friends…online perhaps, it’s all through that sweet, sweet rollback netplay.
Hey Casey Jones and April are actually in this one!
The Genesis game is a bit more open. Not only in how you can pick every character in the single player modes and even pick the order of stages, but alter how fast or strong you are. The game has it’s own built in turbo mode. The story this time goes a little more intergalactic with the Turtles going to different planets in Dimension X, with clones of the boys being more of a focus. Some of the stage are really creepy. It in general has a bit of a darker, more moody feel. The music reflects this too and it’s amazing.
Three buttons are used this time. Two for attacks and…a taunt button? It’s a lot simpler of a fighter, but it just gets to the point quicker. Special attacks work no matter the attack, despite your standard punches and kicks being different. Instead of a bar that gives you a special move, the Genesis version has a revenge move that can only be used if close to being KO’d. If you hit with it, it’ll hit realll hard. Once a fight is over, you can mess around with an instant replay. Rewind, pause, forward, rewind. Just rub it in their face.
The Tutles, once again return, as does Karai as a boss, just like the SNES version, but the cast otherwise is entirely unique. April and Casey are playable! Ray Fillet from the Archie comic is playable too as well as a completely original character named Sisyphus. In the original release, you only get those eight characters, but new to this port is the ability to play as the boss characters. Krang and Triceriton are unique.
Oh yeah, about that NES version
Release just shortly after the others, as the final game released for the NES in 1994, is this rather impressive outing. For real, how many non-bootleg NES fighting games can you think of? Off the bat, there is a bit of cutting back. Outside of color, all four turtles share the same sprite. They all do have unique special moves and Leonardo’s case, a slide kick. Not to mention, this is one of those games that has a boss that can’t be mirror matched properly due to NES sprite flicker.
The story is a tad low key. It’s the 4 brothers having a bit of a tournament to see who should take on Shredder. You fight your brothers, then Casey Jones, then Hothead, a huge sprite based off of a Dragon Warrior from the Archie comic and ending with Shredder.
Each character this time has a single, though unique special move. The big draw in this version is the Fire Ball. A flying monitor with Splinter’s face will come by occasionally. Destory it and a red ball will fall down. Grab it before the opponent and then do a quarter circle (a hadoken motion) and you shoot out a move that is practically a free KO. As expected, there isn’t a whole lot to this game compared to the others, but a full featured fighter with two players, tournaments, a story. All on an NES. That’s impressive.
Into the Turtle Lair
Holy Shell the museum, titled Turtle’s Lair is next level. Now, you know how I love when collections have robust art galleries, and I love them even more when they have box art and manual scans. Every game has them in the collection, in super hi-res. None of them have console or license names removed either. You see those Sega and Nintendo logos. Even the arcade games have their manuals, which is strictly an operator manual. Not needed, but wholly appreciated. Want advertisements from magazines for the games, then you got plenty of them. There’s even catalog and media kit scans. Holy moly.
Want covers for all of the comic series out, including variants? There’s hundreds. Screenshots of each episode from every series from 87 to Rise. All of the soundtracks are available and Turtle Swing is still one of the best tunes Konami has put out. And top top it all off, there is an outright absurd amount of archival material when it comes to style guides, concept art for so many of the games. All of which is translated. Want pitches, animation guides, storyboards? Go nuts.
A Shell of a Collection
I always have to comment Digital Eclipse when it comes to making their releases historical pieces. You’re going for a museum, a history lesson. Unfortunately, their actual emulation isn’t always the best, it’s been improving, but even Cowabunga Collection has issues, so lets cover the bad before the good. Music in certain games, in game can be way too quiet. Also, mapping controls is awful. You have set selections to map everything, so say you want to map a special move from the beatemups (jump and attack simultaneously) into a single button, a free button, you can’t. Not to mention, making the game menu the R button and Insert Coin as + does come off as questionable. But these are easy fixes.
So the good. Thirteen games, both American and Japanese (TF NES and Arcade lack this) versions. All play as you remember, intact with only TMNT Arcade having the theme changed, which I didn’t even notice at first. All of the museum stuff ranges to those two regions too. Four games have online, TMNT Arcade, Turtles in Time, Hyperstone Heist, and SNES Tournament Fighters. I wish SNES Turtles in Time as well as the other Tournament Fight games were online as well, but I can dream it happens in an update. Each game also has enhancements. From level selects, to hard or god mode, to removal of slowdown and sprite flicker, something really appreciated for the NES games, especially the first.
If you’re struggling a bit too, Digital Eclipse has a few options. Like their older releases, there’s a watch feature. You’re watching a perfect run through all of these games, almost like a TAS Speedrun. You can jump in and take over any time you want. Say you’re just at a really really tricky part, just get to there and take over at the last hit and pretend you did all of it. There’s rewinds too, as well as save states, a standard feature. However, now we have brand new strategy guides. Some are a bit more indepth than others, but it really is like reading an issue of Nintendo Power or Tips and Tricks, even with the art and cute little blurbs. It helped a lot when I got lost in NES Turtles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowbunga Collection is again, a miracle in it’s existence. All of these games now on modern consoles, some of which have recently gotten very, very expensive, this says to shell with prohibitive prices online and gatekeeping, let people play Radical Rescue. I do have problems with the game, but they’re relatively minor and can be fixed in patches. Konami fixed similar issues when Castlevania and Arcade Anniversary lacked separate regions and button mapping, they can do that here too.