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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection (Switch)

Sometimes nostalgia can be a fickle mistress. Almost everyone over the age of 30 develops a sense of nostalgia for something in their life. It could be classic cars, movies, action figures, and now more than ever, video games. Konami’s licensed run of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV franchise from 1989 until 1993 spawned thirteen titles across two console generations of consoles. Most of these are now becoming increasingly rare to find on their original formats, and at bank-busting prices if you do. But now, thanks to the beauty of nostalgia ultimately paving the way for common sense, and original developers Konami taking note of demand, those very titles have now been bundled together for the current generation. Welcome to the nostalgia-vein-bursting Cowabunga Collection. But is this a collection of celebration or worthy trepidation?

Opening the menu’s list of games triggered a whole wealth of memories for me. Just taking a moment to peruse the snippets of classic box art and accompanying game demonstrations is a highly palatable experience. Then there’s the games themselves, which are as follows: -

·        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 (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)

·        Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)

·        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)

As collections go the Cowabunga Collection is as comprehensive as it gets. It also happens to contain more than just a few oldie-world games from the 80s/90s, but it’s the obvious place to start. This can be where nostalgia plays tricks on us. Sometimes our memories of the past should remain as such, and thankfully only in minor cases the Cowabunga Collection falls into that trap. The earliest TMNT game is the self-titled NES platform adventure effort, and given its age of 33 years, it still looks pretty good, and boasts a great soundtrack too. It happened to be my first home console TMNT experience, and as a sprightly eight-year-old I clearly had more patience and enthusiasm for this one as it’s so difficult it feels broken and deeply unfair to play. I can’t believe I finished that one back in the day. Thankfully these broken memories are few and far between, with even the Game Boy games holding up pretty well despite their short length. Its feels right that Konami have finally released these for the first time for us to judge for ourselves, and not just be left with our memories and eBay search histories.  

On the more positive side, particularly with the still-fresh release of the excellent TMNT scroller Shredder’s Revenge in the memory bank, there is no better time to duke it out with the collection’s most beloved title, the Super Nintendo version of Turtles in Time. Building on the original arcade game, which is also on offer here, Konami’s home release may no longer be four players but its adaption from relentless coin-guzzler to a well-paced adventure/fighter is still worthy of anyone’s time. The time-travel aesthetic is fleshed out to incorporate more of the 1987 TMNT universe, including the excellent Technodrome level, complete with obligatory elevator section plus the superb Shredder boss that requires foot soldiers to be thrown into the screen to defeat. Staying in the same generation, the Genesis’ The Hyperstone Heist also holds up well, although it’s a bit of a cutting room floor version of Turtles in Time due to the differing hardware capabilities. Hyperstone Heist’s action is very much the same, and despite far less variety in its levels, enemies, and bosses, is still a ton of fun, more of a challenge than its SNES counterpart and both have excellent soundtracks too. Hyperstone Heist often comes up in many a best-of list and TMNT videogame discussion and remains one of the most valuable 16-bit items to own today, and on merit.

Following the worldwide phenomenon that was Street Fighter II releasing just a year prior, many a clone tried its luck at dethroning the Capcom giant. None ever did, but the SNES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is an excellent alternative. The first one-on-one fighter to pit turtle against turtle, along with a decent supporting cast of characters straight from the cartoon, even including super moves, Tournament Fighters is a quick, intuitive, and challenging fighter. There is even a story mode as you pit the Turtles against foe after foe to save April and Splinter, who are sadly not playable. It’s a little unbalanced for sure, but along with the scrolling fighters on offer Tournament Fighters really are the meaty products that are arguably worth the collection on their own. The less said about the Genesis version the better, which has a completely different, and ugly, visual base and is practically unplayable. Despite this contrasting mixed bag of titles, the good far outweighs the bad, and we haven’t got to what really makes this collection worth the money.

Developers Digital Eclipse have been at the helm of many retro re-issues over the years, but with Cowabunga Collection they are really spoiling us. Gallery mode, which contains all box art for all the games from all regions, scans of instruction manuals, covers from every comic series, and even screenshots from all four of the television series, really is the Ferrero Rocher of the party. Even strategy guides have been carefully crafted and TMNT themed for every game for all our pleasure. It sets the bar for retro memorabilia higher than ever, with only Capcom coming anywhere near close with their Disney Afternoon Collection. 

With TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection, Digital Eclipse have really pulled out all the stops. Like many collections, don’t expect all the titles to be great, but there are some true gems here that finally have been given the light of day after a long time in the archives. The wealth of memorabilia really is the cherry on a cake that any TMNT or retro gaming fan is going to scoff as they celebrate this generation’s greatest, and best value, collection of games yet.