Growing up, there were a few things that were worth getting in trouble for at school. Spending all of my dinner money on cakes, rather than using it to buy a proper meal; finding and playing DOOM on the teacher’s private computer network; and holding up the coach during a service station stop on a school trip, to play the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time arcade with friends. It’s that latter one, which stands out as a proud moment, because it was my first experience with a TMNT video game, and I’d be damned if having to get back to the school bus on time was going to prevent me from playing it. It’s the banner game in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection – a generous compendium of stone-cold arcade and console classics, following the exploits of leader Leonardo, Donatello who does machines, rude but crude Raphael, and party dude Michelangelo. Truly, this is a thing of pure green, half-shelled beauty.
Even now, Turtles in Time is sublime.
Comprising thirteen choice cuts from the TMNT’s video game back catalogue, including the ability to toggle between the US and JP versions of each, The Cowabunga Collection is about as complete a compendium of Turtles beat-’em-up action as one could hope for. Remaster specialist Digital Eclipse clearly knows what it’s doing, not only delivering perfect ports of each title, but also a range of display filters and a stack of bonus content to sift through via the ‘Turtle’s Lair’, a thorough archive of box art, instructions manuals, and promotional material. For anyone whose formative years revolved around Turtles comics, cartoons, and video games, The Cowabunga Collection is about as essential as it gets. For anyone else, it’s the perfect way to discover a selection of classics, all in one convenient place.
Other headline inclusions in The Cowabunga Collection, besides the original arcade and console versions of Turtles in Time, (rightly still considered to be not just one of the best TMNT games, but an all-time brawling great, providing inspiration for developer Tribute Games’ recent Shredder’s Revenge) are the SNES version of Tournament Fighters, which is a surprisingly competent and attractive versus fighting game, while shabby Game Boy platformers, Fall of the Foot Clan, Back From The Sewers, and Radical Rescue, are interesting little curios worth dipping into, despite their shortcomings. Similarly, the NES platformers, while fairly primitive and unusual, are great to revisit, especially if like me you only ever played the dodgy ZX Spectrum versions. Few games come close to digitally eclipsing those classic brawlers, though.
Turtles in Time and The Hyperstone Heist, in particular, while quite similar games, are utterly exemplary genre entries, and almost justify the bundle’s existence on their own. Comparatively, the NES and SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis versions of Tournament Fighters are lesser efforts – the latter being especially difficult and oddly pared down, when put side by side with its Super Nintendo counterpart. It can feel like there’s a bit of overlap, too, with the arcade and the lesser SNES version of Turtles in Time both included. However, given that The Cowabunga Collection aims to be a comprehensive stack of late-’80s and early-’90s TMNT titles, you can’t fault it for leaving no stone unturned. This is everything a fan could possibly ask for, and more.
Tournament Fighters is surprisingly good.
The real reason The Cowabunga Collection is such an enticing proposition, is not only down to the quality of those original beat ’em ups, but to the way they are presented. Modern features like the ability to save anywhere at anytime (with each game given its own save state), or rewind the action, make The Cowabunga Collection all the more compelling for newcomers, while the option to sit back and watch the games being played recalls a time when, as a penniless kid, I’d gaze longingly at an arcade cabinet with the words ‘insert coin’ flashing enticingly. Online options go above and beyond, too, offering the chance to play co-op with others even when no one is in the room with you. Digital Eclipse has even gone so far as to add in-game strategy guides for each of The Cowabunga Collection’s thirteen games on top of everything else – as far as fan service goes, this is the sort of thing you love to see.
Like any collection of retro titles, however, much of the appeal lies in the innate nostalgia factor to players of a certain age, and on that front I’m not even sure I need to make a case for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection – it’s immediately apparent that every one of the games included in Konami’s comprehensive TMNT bundle is imbibed with 8- and 16-bit loveliness: the perfect way for NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Mega Drive/Genesis owners to time travel, and, furthermore, the perfect way for twelve-year-olds to play the Turtles’ arcade highlights, without getting an angry letter sent home to their parents.