TMNT Cowabunga Collection Review

Video game compilations either go one of two ways. Either it’s the original games whacked into fairly dull surroundings as we saw with the Sega Mega Drive Classics on PS4, or we get something meatier.

The TMNT Cowabunga Collection raises the bar when it comes to compilations. It’s not only the best way to play the classics, it’s also the best way to relive the hype surrounding Turtlemania.

TMNT Cowabunga Collection Review

Image showing the TMNT Tournament fighters game.

The Cowabunga Collection features a selection of retro TMNT games. You know, the ones people over the age of 30 probably grew up on. It’s a nostalgia arrow straight to the heart.

But there is a catch here: Some of the old TMNT games were awful. Like, seriously, seriously bad. For every TMNT The Arcade Game, there’s a Fall of the Foot Clan. For every Turtles in Time, there’s a NES version of TMNT Tournament Fighters.

Take the Game Boy games as an example. While Radical Rescue is a fun Metroid-style game, the final boss gauntlet is unintelligent and, frankly, a ballache to push through. Even with cheats to skip to the final area, the bosses are designed simply to punish the player.

Jumps that require NASA-precision to avoid, needlessly large area attacks, massive health bars – hell, bosses even have invincibility frames when they’re hit. Thankfully there is a rewind function but that doesn’t make up for what is purely unenjoyable game design.

Then there’s something like the TMNT game on NES, which just exists to make money on a popular IP. Visually it’s fine, but there isn’t anything there to sink your teeth into. It’s just an onslaught of enemies and rough movement.

Even though the Cowabunga Collection adds tweaks to the older games – think flicker and lag fixes – it can’t do anything about the fact some of the games are over 30 years old. They weren’t great then, and given how much gaming has evolved since then, are even worse when viewed today.

All About the Classics

TMNT game with Leonardo in the center and TMNT-themed boarders around the outside.

Although some of the games in this collection are best forgotten, there are enough of the true classics to turn things around.

Turtles in Time remains one of the best TMNT games out there. So much so, it inspired TMNT Shredder’s Revenge, which is so popular people are porting it to Anbernic devices. Wild, right?

I mentioned raising the bar earlier, and Turtles in Time is a good example of that. You’ve got the SNES version, which is the one most will have played growing up, but it’s also got the vastly superior Arcade version.

For those who haven’t tried it, the Arcade version is the definitive offering, complete with more detailed animations, extra scenery, and higher-quality audio.

The same goes for TMNT II: The Arcade Game. This one was a huge shock for me as I never realized just how different the two versions are. The original Arcade game looks and plays more like Turtles in Time, while the NES version by comparison looks like a cheap knock-off.

Being able to play both versions of the same game, and compare and contrast is a real joy. From a gaming point of view, it’s legit eye-opening to see how the arcade and console versions differ. Most know arcade machines were always more powerful, but to have them side by side, and being able to dig into them at your leisure, is truly special.

Emulation Performance

Leonardo getting hit by Raphael in the NES version of TMNT Tournament fighters.

The console used for this review was a PS5. As you can probably guess, if the PS5 wasn’t able to produce perfect emulation for what are essentially 8-and-16-bit titles, something would have gone horribly wrong.

As you can also probably guess, emulation is as precise as they come. During my testing, I suffered zero additional lag or dropped frames, even when stretching the image across the screen. Everything works as it should and, most importantly, those pixels come out nice and crisp.

TMNT Cowabunga Collection New Features

NES TMNT Box Art as seen in the Cowabunga Collection.

Players have the option to play the games in their native resolution with or without borders or can stretch the image to fit the screen. Stretching will elongate the image somewhat, but what’s amazing here is pixel density still looks great. It’s just a bit smushed.

There’s also the option to add a variety of scanlines to the image. Personally, I don’t care for scanlines, but I’ve gotta give the team at Digital Eclipse props for how they’ve implemented them. They feel authentic and create the feeling of playing on an old-school TV effortlessly. Definitely give them a blast if you pick it up.

Elsewhere you’ve got the option to turn on select cheats prior to launching each game and a ridiculously deep extras section.

Here you can check out images from a selection of TMNT cartoons, listen to music, that sort of thing. But where this area really shines is when viewing high-quality scans of instruction manuals and box art or checking out design docs.

This isn’t game preservation, but being able to view box art in stupidly high quality and design docs is what separates the Cowabunga Collection from the likes of Sega’s Mega Drive Classics. This is exactly the kind of nerdy stuff those who grew up on these games want.

Yeah, sure, it’s zooming in and out of a box, but being able to view them like this is strangely euphoric. I know everyone reading this is rolling their eyes, but trust me, try it and get back to me. I’m right. You’ll see.

What Games Are In TMNT Cowabunga Collection?

  • 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
  • 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 – Super Nintendo
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters – Super Nintendo
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist – Sega Genesis
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters – Sega Genesis
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Arcade
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time – Arcade

TMNT Cowabunga Collection: The Verdict

Leo in a burning building from TMNT The Arcade Game surrounded by purple foot soldiers.

The Cowabunga Collection is an easy game to recommend. Yes, some of the games are flat-out awful, but there’s enjoyment to be had seeing just how bad they are. And the flipside to that is you’ve got the bad games paired with some of the best TMNT games ever created.

Turtles in Time remains timeless, Tournament Fighters sure isn’t Street Fighter but can be a blast, and TMNT II: The Arcade Game proved Turtles games could be enjoyable on 8-bit systems.

Marry all of the above with some truly inventive and worthwhile extra features and the TMNT Cowabunga Collection is perfect for older fans of the games or those looking to force their kids to play some couch co-op.

You could argue there are more games this collection could have included but if you’re after an enjoyable and worthwhile trip down memory lane, the Cowabunga Collection does nostalgia right.

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Review code supplied by the publisher. Version reviewed on PS5 hardware. 

Wesley Copeland
Wesley Copeland

Wesley Copeland is a gaming, tech, and toys journalist with over 10 years of experience writing online. Originally starting in video games before specializing in tech and toys, you can find his bylines at IGN, VG24/7, Kotaku, Tech Radar, Games Radar, PC Gamer, Heavy, and many more. He's also highly passionate about how tech can be used to better our day-to-day lives.