Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection review - A turtle game-changer

Image of Leonardo fighting foot soldiers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Image of Leonardo fighting foot soldiers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

It's official: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back. After the release of retro beat-em-up Shredder's Revenge earlier this year, fans were reminded of the incredible nostalgic strength of Leonardo, Rafael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. It was a romp through arcade-style levels of yore, alongside easy-to-learn mechanics and a blasting soundtrack.

If Shredder's Revenge left you wanting more, then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is the perfect remedy. This collection of 13 classic TMNT games, spanning their arcade roots to handheld and NES releases, is the definitive compilation of the turtles' video game antics. It faithfully updates those older titles to modern standards, and is in itself a veritable treasury of TMNT history to boot.

From the 1989 arcade original to mid-nineties fighters, it's exactly what nostalgic fans will yearn for, while also providing tons of new memories for those won over by Shredder's Revenge. Perhaps the biggest compliment of all is that most of these games didn't need a remaster: it's precious enough to bring them to new platforms with much-needed quality of life improvements.

Image of Rafael fighting Shredder in TMNT IV: Turtles in Time.
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A time-spanning turtles adventure

When you first boot up The Cowabunga Collection, the first thing that'll hit you is the incredible breadth of titles on offer. The game lets you pick any of the 13 titles at any time, each with individual save files and cheats so you can hop in and out of each one at your pleasure. That's alongside a toggle switch between the US and JP versions, coming with slight graphical tweaks and gorgeous alternative box art to gaze at.

With all those games to choose from, it can be hard to decide exactly where to start. If you're like me and are too young to remember these titles in their heyday, then the original 1989 arcade classic is a great entry point. It zips along at about an hour in length, and the ability to hit the start button to 'add coins', thus giving you more lives while mimicking its arcade roots, is very charming. It's not quite as technically advanced as Shredder's Revenge - no surprise given it's over three decades old now - but it's a blast and a great reintroduction to the side-scrolling beat-em-up formula nonetheless.

From there, the entire collection really is your oyster. You can dive straight into its 1991 arcade sequel, the time-hopping Turtles in Time, or its 1992 SNES port, with extra levels and bosses. If you skew more towards the handheld era, there are three original Game Boy titles here, with the lovingly recreated black and white display and adorably clunky movement.

With so many games on offer, it's almost hard to choose which one to play next. Some haven't aged as well as others - notably the Tournament Fighters games, which control fairly laboriously compared to other fighters. That said, there's so much to dive into, and I already can't wait to get back in and go through the games I've yet to beat. In terms of sheer return on investment, you're getting a wealth of TMNT games at astounding value.

Image of the turtles eating pizza in TMNT Tournament Fighters.
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Kicking into action

Even better, the Cowabunga Collection runs like an absolute dream. As you'd expect from fairly old games, they load up almost instantly on PlayStation 5, and breeze by without any hitches. The only shame is a lack of DualSense utility and controller vibration more broadly. The gamepad hums as you scroll through menus, but fails to rumble when hit by an enemy, or taking down a boss. That feels like a missed opportunity to give the game a proper reason to be a next-gen release rather than just a PS4-era title ported to newer hardware.

It's hard to complain too much though, because these games look absolutely gorgeous. The settings menu gives you the option to tweak the aspect ratio, screen filter, or even borders to get rid of any black bars on your display. Colours pop and the retro music bops away, alongside a new animated intro that perfectly captures that Turtles nostalgia.

The game can also be as challenging or forgiving as you like. As mentioned, the arcade titles give you unlimited coins to manually insert, though the console and handheld releases also feature constant saves, extra lives if desired, and the ability to start a game on any level. It all works to make the Cowabunga Collection so accessible to newcomers, without any need to feel overwhelmed by the range of experiences on offer.

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Image of the four turtles in TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist.
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Back to the future

In many ways, it's these quality-of-life changes that are the most impressive feature of the collection. Most of these games were great fun anyway, but the way that Digital Eclipse tinkers behind the scenes makes them all a pleasure to dive into. As with most arcade remasters, you can save and reload at any point, doing away with the frustrating need to restart from level one if you die. Of course, you can opt for that as well, which is part of the beauty of it. The Cowabunga Collection gives you the options to hone the experience exactly to your liking: be it a brutal one-life-only run or enabling God Mode to breeze through fights. Sadly you can only have one active save file per game, which seems like a missed opportunity.

Ultimately though, it's clear through every pixel and twirl of Rafael's sai that the developers absolutely love the franchise. Aside from the games, there's a Turtles' Lair section that acts like a museum of all things TMNT. You can browse stills from the various animated shows, sift through authentic concept art, and look at HD scans of the original game boxes from all those decades ago. It's an absolute treasure trove of the franchise's history, and fans will be extremely grateful for all the love and care that has gone into making this as definitive as possible.

The very best remasters are subtle by nature. They update graphics, gameplay, or presentation in a way that doesn't even feel different: it just restores the source material to exactly how you remember it with rose-tinted glasses, all those years ago. That's exactly what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection does, and it completely elevates the package as a result. It's brimming with incredible games to play, and oozing with reverence and love for the franchise. If you liked Shredder's Revenge, you'll simply adore The Cowabunga collection.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is dripping with admiration for the franchise, and immortalises these games with astounding polish.
PlayStation 5
9 out of 10

Reviewed on PlayStation 5. A code was provided by the publisher.

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