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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection review — It’s still time for turtles

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II for NES is one of the earliest games I can ever remember playing. That first level set in a burning apartment building — and the inexplicably smooth boulders that roll down those stairs — are forever ingrained into my brain.

My nostalgia extends to all of the TMNT beat-’em-ups from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Heck, I think that Turtles in Time was as synonymous with the Super Nintendo as Super Mario World for a lot of kids.

So it’s always been a bummer to have no easy way to play those games on modern platforms. Now The Cowabunga Collection comes to the rescue. Releasing on August 30 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, this compilation includes every Game Boy, NES, SNES, and Genesis TMNT game, along with the franchises iconic first two arcade offerings.

A wide range

In total, that means 13 titles. Not all of them are heroes in a half shell. Again, the SNES version of Turtles in Time is a beat-’em-up classic. It might seem simple compared to modern genre hits like Streets of Rage 4, River City Girls, or even the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, but Turtles in Time still has a lot of charm and a bit more depth than you may expect. It also has one of the best soundtracks of its era.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time.

The collection also has some surprises, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue for the Game Boy chief among them. This is, shockingly, a Metroidvania. You start as Michelangelo and explore a non-linear 2D map searching for keys, bosses and your captured brothers. Each turtle has a special skill — like Leonardo’s sword-drill maneuver that can destroy some blocks — that can help you open up new routes. Sure, it’s not as complex or atmospheric as Super Metroid, but it’s a fun time and surprisingly ambitious for a Game Boy title.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have more ho hum offerings like the first TMNT game for the NES. This is a bland and often meandering sidescroller that lives deep in the shadow of its two NES sequels. However, at least The Cowabunga’s Collection rewind and save state features help smooth out its ludicrous difficulty, especially when it comes to disarming those bombs in the infamous underwater level.

You also get three versions of Tournament Fighters, TMNT’s foray into the fighting game genre. The SNES version is the best of the bunch. Sure, it’s a Street Fighter II clone, but it’s a decent one. The collection even includes online play (with rollback netcode, no less) for this version of the game. The NES and Genesis versions aren’t nearly as good, but they make for interesting curiosities.

Little pluses

Aside from the standard features you expect from compilations like this — including rewind and screen filters — The Cowabunga Collection gives you a few bonus options for each game. For the NES titles, this includes the ability to turn off sprite flickering and slowdown, problems that plagued many games on the 8-bit platform.

Each title also has a built-in tips screen. This will tell you about things like certain boss strategies and even some secret codes. It’s not extensive, but it’s nice.

Oh, and remember that Metroidvania Game Boy game I mentioned? While Radical Rescue has its own in-game map, The Cowabunga Collection lets you access a more detailed one at any time. It’s a big help.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters.

Mileage may vary, but it takes me pretty far

Your reaction to The Cowabunga Collection will depend greatly on your affinity with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their earliest games. Again, I grew up with a lot of these titles.

And, honestly, I’m surprised how well most of these games hold up. I’m now convinced that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle III: The Manhattan Project is one of the best NES games ever. Radical Rescue is maybe the best Game Boy game you’ve never played. Turtles in Time is just as much fun as I remember, and I love getting to see the differences between the arcade and SNES versions.

A great selection of games make this a strong collection, and I also appreciate the accoutrements that Digital Eclipse has thrown into the package. If you’re a beat-’em-up or a TMNT fan, The Cowabunga Collection is going to offer a lot of fun for you and your friends.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection release son August 30 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The publisher sent us Switch and PC codes for this review.

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