Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection Review (PS5) – If you’re Casey Jonesying for co-op

Back in the time of better coin opportunities, every bowling alley and milkbar emitted a siren’s song. More often than not, it was the demo mode soundbite of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 cartoon. Few could resist the shell-out that followed. Such was the Turtle power of Konami’s arcade cabinet.

It didn’t matter if you had existing plans for your money at this point. You and your three mates would change financial course toward that coin slot. Minutes later, your crew would be wrecked. Entire allowances sunk into the non-result of a Game Over screen.

You wouldn’t sigh. Because hell— you just got to sai. For ten minutes you were Raphael, stomping Foot with your band of bodacious brothers. You couldn’t wait to go again, despite knowing you were stuck in an abusive relationship.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection

From 1989 onwards, Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and its ’91 sequel, Turtles in Time) were the apex of TMNT gaming. They were only recently dethroned by Tribute Games’ TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, a gushing love letter that upped the 4P to 6P and reinvigorated modern interest in amphibian arcade action.

Riding off that success, one might figure a compilation of OG Turtles games couldn’t be released at a better time. Yes and no…

On the positive side, Cowabunga Collection represents a 13 game extravaganza – more turtles than you can poke a bo staff at. Its capstone is the two aforementioned arcade cabinets with online multi support. They’re flanked by some mostly redundant console “conversions”, a smattering of console exclusive curiosities, handheld filler and several thousand ‘pages’ of bonus materials.

The home versions here include the following NES titles: TMNT, TMNT II, TMNT III and TMNT: Tournament Fighters. The latter Street Fighter II wannabe is barely needed, as an online-enabled SNES version features alongside that console’s take on Turtles in Time. On the other side of the console wars, we have the Mega Drive’s Tournament Fighters version, plus an online-enabled TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist.

That latter one is an oddity. A lot of its levels are drawn from Turtles in Time, but they are five environments as opposed to eleven (though they last longer, horizontally speaking). It also offers action that’s faster-paced (ditto with the soundtrack), tougher enemies and an exclusive Tatsu boss. In terms of uniqueness, you could barely call it a Splinter off the ol’ block. And, at 2-players max, certainly not a master splinter at that.

Last and quite a bit least, we have three monochromatic monstrosities. If you didn’t grow up subsisting on Gameboy titles, best set your expectations to somewhere below sewer level. Minus any rose-tinted glasses, you’ll grate your eyeballs upon the graphics of TMNT: Fall of The Foot Clan, TMNT II: Back From The Sewers and TMNT III: Radical Rescue. They’re basically Kung Fu Master meets basic platforming.

As you’d expect, the following modern creature comforts have been lavished upon more or less all of the above. You can remap controls as you see fit, rewind, savestate and set the aspect ratio to 1:1, Full or Wide (stretch). Aesthetics-wise, you can toggle one bit of game-specific border art and apply different scanlines, like TV, LCD and Monitor.

At a more granular level, every individual game comes with its own improvement tweaks. For example the 8-bit titles offer slowdown/sprite flicker removal, plus a range of ‘easier mode’ tweaks. More often than not, the 16-bit versions also feature extra lives, speed tweaks and playable bosses unlocked.

My personal favourite tweaks: the arcade versions include a ‘Nightmare mode’ to double the on-screen enemy count. There’s also God mode, level select and Penalty Bomb Removal. (For you youngins, they were dick moves coded in to kill you quicker.)

Aside from the fighting game ilk of Tournament Fighters, the remainder of the titles are a fairly even split of beat ’em ups and 2D platformers. Typically, they’re all staid and self-explanatory, though one common theme among them is a brutal difficulty spike whenever it’s boss o’clock. Fortunately, you can pause at any time and whip out what is basically a “Strategy Guide.pdf” for each game. Neat touch.

Is that not easy enough for you? Well, the ability to be a half-arsed hero in a half-shell exists here, too. Simply highlight a game in the main menu and push a button to “watch” the AI play it for you. Hell, you can even fast forward to any point in those preset proceedings, hit Play and then take control of the action. Pretty impressive stuff.

Sadly, some of Digital Eclipse’s other “improvements” aren’t appreciated. For starters, there’s a major upset in the audio department. That 1989 siren’s song I mentioned before? It’s been re-recorded and sounds kinda rubbish. You cop it twice, too: once at the title screen, then again when the rom boots for the arcade game.

Did it have to be redone due to licensing? Or did Konami hear what Shredder’s Revenge did with Mike Patton and try to compete? Whatever the reasoning, listening to this is like Tin Grin’s gauntlets going down a chalkboard.

That entire theme of “Shredder’s Revenge does it better” haunts this entire production. Tribute Games’ take on these beat ’em ups is superior in every metric, be it gameplay complexity, drop-in-and-out co-op, max player numbers, selectable heroes and more.

The only area Cowabunga Collection has this feisty newcomer beat is in the memorabilia stakes. From the get-go, you can dive into a fully stocked and unlocked Turtles Lair, fashioned of the digs of the OG cartoon. Tastefully arrayed about this virtual room is a comprehensive cassette collection BGM player, You can also thumb through hi-res advertisement flyers, game boxes, media kits, comic covers, character design docs, game manuals and TV season stills. All told, I counted 3,000 pages of things to peek at.

Taken as a whole, that sewer den of extras is probably all the impetus diehard fans need to dive right into this. Taken as a whole, however, Cowabunga Collection is a much harder sell to passing fans in a post-Shredder’s Revenge world.

Basically, many of the key draw cards here live or die on whether you can rope in three other people (preferably on a single couch). Achieve that, and those exemplary beat ’em ups can still shine like a freshly turtle-waxed Chrome Dome. That being said, when it comes to the endurance factor of the supporting titles, they have legs shorter than a Mouser.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection was reviewed on PS5 using a digital copy provided by the publisher.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Pros
Still some of the best 4P co-op going
A wealth of bonus materials
Exemplary creature comforts/added options
Cons
Redone theme is shell-shockingly awful
OG beat 'em ups outshined by 2022 remake
7
Overall

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Adam Mathew
Adam Mathew
I grew up knowing and loving a ludicrous amount of games, from dedicated Pong console onwards. Nowadays you'll find me covering and playing the next big things. Often on Stupid-Hard difficulty. Because I'm an idiot.

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