TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection is Retro Done Right

A playable time capsule from an era when turtles ruled the world.

It kind of seems like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did things backwards this year. Retro compilations are often a test by publishers to see whether there’s sufficient interest in a series to bring it back with an original release, but The Cowabunga Collection came out months after Shredder’s Revenge, a brand-new TMNT game that’s a lot of fun and a wonderful homage to the 90s games. So how is playing Cowabunga Collection after that? Well, the games included in this collection don’t have the same depth as Shredder’s Revenge, and they’re certainly trading on nostalgia, but they’re presented in such a complete package that it’s difficult to mind.

The Cowabunga Collection includes thirteen releases, though several are different versions of the same game. You get the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game; the sequel, Turtles in Time; the three NES games; Turtles in Time for the SNES and Hyperstone Heist for the Genesis, a slightly reimagined version of the same; SNES, Genesis, and NES versions of TMNT: Tournament Fighters; and three Game Boy titles. Most of these are beat-em-ups, though the first NES game is more of a 2D action platformer, Tournament Fighters is a one-on-one fighting game, and Radical Rescue on the Game Boy is an early Metroidvania.

TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection

All of these games include the modern amenities we’ve come to expect from emulated retro releases — a rewind feature, visual filters, save states, and so on. But they also go a little further, with options to, for example, remove the sprite flicker of the NES titles or give yourself invincibility or infinite lives. Four of the titles can be played online, too: the two arcade games, plus Hyperstone Heist and Tournament Fighters.

The quality varies across the TMNT games, and your interest in them will depend on your taste for fairly simple beat-em-ups, though Tournament Fighters is a capable Street Fighter clone that missed out on an audience the first time around simply because it came out too late in the turtles’ life cycle. The real draw of the Cowabunga Collection, aside from the ability to play the arcade games online, is the immense amount of historical material that Digital Eclipse have crammed in.

TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection

I’m on record as wanting retro compilations to include, at bare minimum, original manuals and other related materials. And sure enough, the manuals for each game are here — but so is much, much more. You get manuals, including even the original arcade manuals for operators. You get box art from both US and Japanese releases. You get magazine ads, catalogs and media kits intended for retailers at the time. You get a huge selection of comic book covers spanning several decades. You get stills from the cartoon (no clips, unfortunately), style guides and concept documents. And Digital Eclipse has even created miniature “strategy guides” for each title with some hints and video clips explaining them.

TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection
You can just walk over it?!

All of this stuff is unlocked right out of the gate, and I’ve only come across two issues in browsing through it. The first is that any non-TMNT game mentioned or depicted in an ad or catalog has been blacked out, which looks a little awkward but isn’t a huge deal. The second is that there’s an odd second or two to load in each image, as if they’re being streamed to your device. It’s kind of irritating, but it isn’t a dealbreaker or anything.

The Cowabunga Collection is the full package. If you’re a TMNT fan or you’re just into retro games, you should definitely pick it up. If, on the other hand, you’ve got no real attachment to these ninja teens, you’re probably better off jumping in with Shredder’s Revenge, which has more modern amenities and is a fantastic game in its own right. And hey — it’s pretty wild that there are two different TMNT releases to choose between in 2022, huh?