TUCSON, Ariz. — "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection" hauls 13 games from the 1980s and 90s from the arcade, NES, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, and Sega Genesis.
Many of the games were used as inspiration for the fantastic "TMNT: Shredder's Revenge," which was released earlier this year.
Phil Villarreal: I grew up with all of these games. Going back through them was a rush of good and bad childhood memories. The two arcade beat-em-up games were among my favorites, and the ability to continue with a simple tap of the "start" button was a relief.
Revisiting the 1989 NES version — truly one of the worst and most difficult games I've ever played — was a little traumatic.
I adore the depth and breadth of this collection. It would have been easy to overlook the Game Boy games, but they made the cut. Revisiting the split-pea soup monochrome button-mashing platformers was an oddball treat.
Sean, as someone who's somewhat new to these older games, which stood out to you?
Sean Newgent: As a fan of classic beat-em-up games, I immediately hopped onto the four-player co-op arcade brawlers "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Turtles in Time."
The games are difficult, quarter-munching adventures that perfectly capture that little moment of gaming history where every cartoon and movie needed to be accompanied by a game where you walk down the street, and everyone wants to beat the tar out of you. These games inspired "Shredder's Revenge", which we both really enjoyed, Phil. But that said, I almost feel like these two games needed to be included as a part of that title, not just as context, but because everything else on this collection is of lesser quality.
The infamous NES game is probably more famous for raising "The Angry Video Game Nerd's" ire than anything else. Then a slew of old-school Game Boy games and even a "Street Fighter 2" clone that, while competent, doesn't feel like anything I, as a modern gamer, need to revisit.
There are modern concessions, some online matchmaking, and many "Game Genie"-esque ways to enhance the games to make them more palatable to the modern, challenge-challenged gamer. But some toggles can make the already nightmarishly difficult games that much more insurmountable.
What additions did you enjoy, Phil, and do you think the collection missed any games?
Phil Villarreal: I appreciated the comic panel-style menu system that lets you quickly scroll through the baker's dozen games and shows you how many players each can support.
I would have loved to have seen four-player support on some of the other brawlers, such as "Turtles in Time" and "The Hyperstone Heist."
More unlockables might have spiced things up as well. The ability to substitute the Japanese versions on the arcade versions was welcome, and the addition of online play — at least for the multiplayer titles — is a godsend.
This game feels as though it were geared specifically to players like me, with little awareness or care for those like you. Our differing reactions make sense. To me, this collection is a brilliant time capsule of the Pandora's Box that were the TMNT games of yore. I choose to embrace the good and look back with a wince and smirk at the bad.
Final thoughts, Sean?
Sean Newgent: I have fond memories of a few of the TMNT games of the PS2 era when the series had a windfall, thanks to a pretty successful cartoon. That was my introduction to the series that I've since realized was a parody of comic books that turned into a kid-friendly toy-peddling franchise. So in some ways, this collection is interesting because you get to see that period where the turtles were going from hard-edged parody to parent-approved raditude. That comes out in the comic panels and all the included extras, a treasure trove of high-quality scans of comics, manuals, and other materials that fans will enjoy.
But the rest of the package didn't enthuse me as a gamer in 2022. We've covered a lot of time capsule collections this summer, and part of my issues with the game may be burnout from that. But also, in comparison to many of those collections, this one doesn't have the games to back it up. Nothing here is a certified classic, so your mileage with this package will come down to whether or not you grew up with the games and whether you like "TMNT." As I'm not in either category, it leaves this collection less a necessity and more a curiosity.
Plus, for the $40 asking price, there are more modern, interesting games for which to shell out your cash.
The publisher provided codes. Phil played on Xbox Series X. Sean played on PS4.
Past game reviews by Sean and Phil:
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Diablo II Resurrected
NEO: The World Ends with You
Rainbow Six: Extraction
King of Fighters XV
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
TMNT: Shredder's Revenge
Capcom Fighting Collection
Capcom Arcade: 2nd Stadium
Cult of the Lamb