The Classics of the Cowabunga Collection

Konami recently came out with a collection of their licensed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games they released back in the late 80s and early 90s, during the first round of the Turtles’ heyday.  Since a lot of people grew up with and enjoyed these titles, this collection is a pretty big deal.  Especially since for a long time, it would’ve been hard to get the rights to all these games again!  But I guess since Nickelodeon has all the rights to TMNT stuff now, maybe that part was easier to do?  Anyway, of course I got this collection so grab a slice of pizza and let’s take a look at the games on here as well as my personal history with each title.

When I was a kid, I do remember seeing people carrying around black and white comic books with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles title.  I didn’t think much of it then, but I knew I’d remember that unusual name!  A little while later, I remember seeing the first few episodes of the TMNT cartoon airing on Sunday nights on the new at the time Fox channel.  But I didn’t watch it much there because I thought it was dumb.  But shortly after that, I saw it on Saturday mornings along with the toy commercials, and the popularity just skyrocketed from there.  I only watched the cartoon because I had met a few of the people who worked on it at an animation convention I recently attended at the time.  And I wanted to see their names in the credits.  So I really just watched it casually.  And I didn’t tell anyone I watched it because I was at that age where I was a little too old to play with the toys, and it would’ve been considered ‘uncool’ to admit I watched the cartoon.  I’m glad those days are over.  But it was still considered ‘cool’ to play the TMNT games, so that’s where most of my knowledge of the Turtles came from.

Before I get started talking about the games in this collection, I have to say they did a great job with the extras.  You can view scans of the boxes for each of the games, both US and Japan versions.  You can also look at the instruction booklets and view still scenes from the cartoons that have aired over the years.  There’s also concept art, comic book covers, music, and so much more!  They really outdid themselves with the extras.  OK now onto the games!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Even though the first NES game and the first arcade game were developed at the same time, the NES version came out first.  It was released fairly early in the Turtle fandom heyday, so it didn’t quite catch the cartoon feel like the arcade game did.  In fact, the cover for the NES game was just a modified version of one of the comic book covers.  Also on that cover, all the turtles have red bandanas, which probably confused many kids.  But because the game came out so early in the turtles’ popularity, it also sold really well.  I read it sold over five million copies and was the best selling NES licensed game!  I also read it was packaged with the NES in the UK and helped boost the popularity of the NES there.  The game is infamous for a difficulty spike in the second level where you disarm explosives at a dam.  I played that game a few times at my cousin’s house, and I remember getting past that level, but it was hard.  It’s the third level that got me!  A lot of people have fond memories of this game, but I really don’t think it’s that good.  Poor enemy placement and muddy graphics didn’t win me over as a kid, or now.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

All right, now THIS game is where it’s at.  There were four player beat ‘em ups before this one, but the TMNT arcade game is the one people remember the most.  I always say I put more quarters in Pac-Man than any other arcade machine.  But if there was a second place, this would have to be it.  I don’t even want to admit how much money I put into this machine as a kid!  We ALL played this game back then, and the only time we stopped was when The Simpsons four player beat ‘em up arcade game came out a year later!  This was the game that helped me decide who my favorite turtle was.  My favorite is Raphael, and it’s only because his joystick on the arcade machine was on the far right, and that was the easiest one to get to where I didn’t have to squeeze between people.  It’s also why I always picked Lisa on The Simpsons game, as her joystick was in the same spot!  It was hard to beat on the collection because it kept resetting on me.  My brother Jeff said that happened to him once while playing it in the arcade, but I don’t remember that happening to me back then!

TMNT 2: The Arcade Game (NES)

Sure the graphics aren’t as good as the arcade, and it’s only two players instead of four, but I think this NES version of the arcade game really kept the feel of the bigger game and it’s WAY better than the first TMNT NES outing.  To make up for the inferior technology, they added a couple of extra levels and bosses.  I never owned this game back then, but I really didn’t have to.  You see, back then I used to babysit some neighbor kids.  They were a girl and her younger brother.  The little boy just LOVED TMNT and he owned the game and we’d always play it together when I’d babysit.  They thought I was cool because I let them stay up about 30 minutes later than their parents said was their bedtime, and I would always make up bedtime stories for the kids involving the turtles.  Many, many years later, I attended both the girl’s and the boy’s high school graduation parties, so you know that made me feel old!

TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project (NES)

This is kind of a spiritual sequel to the NES version of the arcade game.  Still a two player beat em up, but since it came out a bit later in the NES lifecycle, it had a lot of neat graphic techniques and details.  I like it in the first beach level when the Foot Clan throws sand in your eyes and they even have a little animation of the turtles rubbing their eyes!  I only played this game once back in the day when I went to a friend’s house and they had rented it.  But I was pretty impressed with it back then, too.  Playing it now, it’s harder than I remember it being!

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

A lot of people say the SNES version is better, but while I think it’s definitely more memorable, I don’t know if it’s better.  Just different.  I played the arcade game before the SNES version, but I didn’t play it in a regular cabinet.  One time I went to Sea World and back then many amusement parks had arcades, too.  The arcade at Sea World had a couple of special rooms that were like home theaters, with a dark room and a podium with joysticks, and a huge projection screen in the back.  That may not seem like a big deal now, but back then that was a really novel way to play arcade games, and that’s how I first played Turtles in Time!  Throwing enemies toward the screen was so cool!

TMNT 4: Turtles in Time (SNES)

This is probably most people’s favorite TMNT game, and for good reason.  It’s EXTREMELY close to the arcade version.  Sure the animations aren’t as smooth, but it’s still darn good.  They even added some extra levels and bosses that were better than the arcade.  My brother Jeff got this for his SNES when he was little, so we played it all the time.  I know I told this story before, but when we would play it when Jeff was little, if I accidentally got the health filling pizza, Jeff would yell out, “Mom, Cary got the pizza!”  Give him a break, though, he was only five.  But we still joke about that to this day and that story is also how we named our podcast The Pizza Pixel Podcast!

TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist (Genesis)

I never had a Genesis as a kid, so this collection is the first time I’ve ever played this one.  They reworked stages and bosses from Turtles in Time (and a bit from the first game) to make a ‘new’ game.  There’s a stage that uses the pirate ship assets but it says you’re on a ghost ship, and then you’re in a cave afterward so it makes no sense.  And the game is pretty short at only five stages, and one of them is just a boss rush.  But honestly, even though this game is a bit of a disappointment, the core good gameplay is still there, so it’s not AS bad as I thought it would be.  I imagine Genesis owners made do with this, as back then kids usually only owned one of the two main consoles, not both.

TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy)

As a kid I was never really impressed with the original Game Boy (until Link’s Awakening came along), so I didn’t get a WHOLE lot of games for mine.  So I never played any of the Game Boy TMNT games until this collection.  But I imagine a lot of TMNT kid fans back then had Game Boys and these titles, so I’m glad they put them on this collection anyway.  This first game kind of plays like Kung Fu Master with a bit more platforming elements.  I do like the big sprite graphics of the characters.  They actually look like the characters way more than the original NES game.

TMNT: Back From the Sewers (Game Boy)

The second game is more of the same as the first.  The graphics are a bit more detailed, except now the turtles look like they’re just taking a stroll when moving forward.  One thing they added to this one are stages that more resemble the arcade beat ‘em ups, where you can move up and down a bit more on the screen.  You ride a tiny skateboard on the road in this fashion, for example.  Bebop and Rocksteady have huge heads in this one, too!

TMNT: Radical Rescue (Game Boy)

The third game is a bit more ambitious.  It’s still a 2D platformer, but it’s more like a Metroidvania.  You start out with just Mikey and must rescue the other turtles.  When you do, you can switch to them and use their special skills to reach more areas.  Mikey can use his nunchucks like a helicopter (ok sure) to glide down after jumping.  Leonardo can break certain blocks from underneath, another can climb walls, etc.  It’s a neat idea but it’s a bit hard as enemies take cheap potshots at you all the time.

TMNT: Tournament Fighters (SNES, Genesis, NES)

Towards the end of the initial round of Turtle Mania in the late 80s and early 90s, one on one fighting games replaced beat ‘em ups as the most popular genre in arcades.  So Konami made a few fighting games starting the turtles.  What’s interesting is that each of these titles is a totally different game!  The SNES version is probably the best one and is most like the cartoon, with brighter graphics and a story mode.  You can play as all four turtles and Shredder, and some new characters I had never heard of, like this one cute ninja lady named Aska.  The Genesis version is a bit grittier and you travel to different planets to fight foes.  And April is in this one as a playable character, but she’s dressed like Blaze from Streets of Rage and looks like she ate a can of spinach!  The NES version is the most basic, as you can only play as the four turtles, Shredder, Casey Jones, and some other critter.  I guess Konami felt like there wasn’t a lot of one on one fighters on the NES so they could corner the market.  One problem I had with all of these versions is that they’re way too hard!  I couldn’t get past the first guy on any of them, even when I put the difficulty on the easiest setting.  I know I’m bad at fighting games, but this is ridiculous!

And those are all the games on this collection.  This is a very good compilation and I highly recommend it even if you’re just a casual turtle fan like me.  Between this and Shredder’s Revenge released earlier this year, TMNT fans are eating good this year!  Later!  –Cary

One Response to “The Classics of the Cowabunga Collection”

  1. I just finished reading your article and I have to say, it was an absolute fulfilment. Your writing practice is engaging and illustrative, making me feel like I was right there with you on your adventures. The picture you included were also stunning and really added to the overall quest. good-luck

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