TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection review – the ultimate retro compilation

The heroes in a half shell are back with what may be the best retro collection ever made, but do the games themselves deserve the attention?

Video game compilations aren’t all that common but when they do turn up it’s always frustrating how incomplete they tend to be. Not only are they usually missing all but the most mainstream entries in a particular franchise but there’s often no context given for them, in terms of behind the scenes info and other museum content. Sonic Origins and Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium are typical recent examples and surprisingly it’s down to The Cowabunga Collection to show how things should be done.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a long and storied history with video games, one that was recently renewed with the retro inspired beat ‘em-up Shredder’s Revenge. It was heavily inspired by Konami’s original 1989 arcade game, but it had nothing to do with Konami themselves – except that it was presumably the inspiration for this retro compilation of all their previous games.

And for once we really do mean all the games, as not only does The Cowabunga Collection include the arcade game and its contemporary sequel but every Turtles related game that Konami ever released on the NES, SNES, Mega Drive, and even Game Boy. Konami did get the licence back in the 2000s, for a few largely forgotten tie-ins to the then current TV show, but everything here is based solely on the original 80s cartoon.

Developer Digital Eclipse has been handling remasters of retro games for decades, but this is undoubtedly their masterwork. Not because of the games themselves, which we’ll get into later, but the raft of extra content. There’s a whole separate section of the game called the Turtle’s Lair that’s filled with scans of instruction books, comic book covers, stills from the cartoons, magazine ads, soundtrack collections, and box art (although only US and Japanese versions).

There’s concept art and style guides for each of the bigger games and even faux strategy guides presented in the style of physical books from the era. It’s a fantastic amount of effort, especially as most of the behind the scenes stuff is in Japanese, and exactly what most other compilations are missing.

A good deal of effort has also gone into adding extra value to the games themselves, with all of them having quality of life options for things like extra lives and level selectors. You can rewind the action at any time but there’s also an option to watch a video of someone else playing, if you just want to see the game all the way to the end. On top of this, four of the games (the original arcade game, Turtles In Time, Tournament Fighters, and The Hyperstone Heist) have new online multiplayer options.

You really couldn’t ask for more, especially as, and this is the only problem with the collection, none of the games are really all that good. That’s not anyone’s fault, especially not Digital Eclipse’s, but as fondly remembered as some of the games are that’s because of a combination of nostalgia and/or a love for the Turtles themselves.

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