When the Digital Eclipse team at Konami boasted that they’d put a lot of care into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection I wrote it off as the standard marketing line we see around any repackaging of beloved games. However, this may be the first instance where we really have gotten a truly excellent collection of these 13 games, many of which hold up well and are exceptionally difficult and expensive to get hold of in their physical forms. Not only does Cowabunga collect some fan favorites, but tucked away in the Turtles’ lair are 2,000+ items for fans to explore, including (previously) rare pieces of concept art, soundtracks with newly revealed track names added, nostalgic magazine advertisements we ‘90s kids were bombarded with, and a ton more. There are a few sour, but important caveats, though: The online component is barely functioning at launch, and when it does work there are jittering and audio issues. And while Digital Eclipse has done an okay job with latency when playing solo, there is still a lot of room for improvement when compared to other TMNT beat-’em-ups.
TMNT Cowabunga Collection
Most things in this collection have been a treat for a fan like myself. I’ve longed to own one of those hard-to-find arcade cabinets that can go for around $700, expensive NES cartridges like TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project, which still goes for around $50 at the low end, or the NES version of TMNT: Tournament Fighters that goes for $200 if you’re lucky to find one that “cheap.”
Getting to boot up any of these beloved games from my childhood without hassle is a joy. The Cowabunga Collection has some gems like the aforementioned NES version of Tournament Fighters or the arcade version of TMNT: Turtles in Time that, until now, could only be legally played if you tracked down an arcade board or cabinet from that era. Now, Digital Eclipse has collected everything, good and bad, all in one place. From the notoriously difficult TMNT on the NES to the esteemed Super Nintendo version of Turtles in Time, you have it all.
A lot of these games are similar but had slight but important enhancements that hardcore fans will likely remember. Using Turtles in Time Arcade as an example, there are some entirely new enemies not found in the home version. If that wasn’t enough, I love the sheer amount of options you have available for each game. You can turn on cheats, consult an interactive guide that will play short movies showing you how to execute an attack or reveal secrets you may have missed, rewind if you accidentally become turtle soup, create a save state to resume from anywhere or, if you’d rather just watch a near-perfect playthrough of your favorites, you can choose that and see exactly how the pros complete the entire game in record time. Sure, you can already do that on YouTube, but it’s great to have it all at your fingertips in one place.
Beyond that there’s control remapping, of course, so you can tweak things to your liking. You can toggle the screen size from the original 4:3 aspect ratio to full (which simply expands the square to fill the screen while maintaining the original 4:3 aspect ratio), or a stretched widescreen perspective if you’re a monster. Filters can be applied, including a CRT TV, Monitor, or LCD effect if you prefer. And the border can be turned on or off depending on your preference. I’m not one to use many of those filters so I usually leave them off, but it’s one of those “nice to have” things for anybody who wants that old-school experience.
And then there’s the mega multimedia collection known as the Turtles’ Lair. I found myself lingering here for far longer than expected, and getting to browse through comic covers and the bizarre magazine marketing of the ‘90s took me back to my childhood days of reading the latest Ninja Turtle comic and being slammed in the face by an ad for the next game I needed to buy. Box art for both US and Japan editions, manuals in both languages, the entire soundtrack for each included game, every TMNT comic book cover from several of the since-discontinued series, cells from the original animated series, strategy guides for every game, and even a behind-the-scenes section where you can look at sketches, cel animation, and more than I could list here. There are so many great things to see – a lot of which I’ve never seen elsewhere – there’s even a search feature that will allow you to browse for something specific instead of having to sift through the enormous pile manually. For me, getting to see all those covers in one place reminds me of a time when I owned the entire Archie + Mirage set so it was really neat to see them all in one place. (Yes, I am aware that’s a humblebrag.)
As for the 13 games, each has its own set of enhancements to choose from – though it’s somewhat uneven in which games get what new features. For instance, 11 of the 13 include the Japanese versions and let you toggle back and forth between them before starting, which is great because they had interesting quirks in some games. I’ve spotted different voices that make the Turtles seem more like teenagers, and outfits that are much different than their US counterparts, for starters. It’s really interesting to see those changes for the first time.
The original TMNT Arcade Game will let you choose the starting level, turn on god mode, remove penalty bombs that would be thrown by a Foot Soldier and instant kill you if you stay idle too long, and even offers a “Nightmare mode” should you feel in the mood for punishment. Tournament Fighters on the Sega Genesis, on the other hand, feels a bit neglected with only playable bosses as a bonus, and the Game Boy’s TMNT 3: Radical Rescue only allows you to turn on some helpful map icons. Selfishly, I do wish there was at least a god mode or unlimited continues for each game so I could power through at my leisure and not have to contend with the sometimes brutally unfair nature of ‘90s game design, especially when it comes to fighting game bosses. Then again, I suppose I could just try getting good at video games for a change.
Naturally, the value of each game will be reflective of how nostalgic you feel for that particular one. But even if you’ve never played them before, you’re getting a lot of excellent games in this collection – including some of the best beat ‘em-ups ever made. Specifically, the original arcade version of TMNT and the follow-up, Turtles in Time are spectacular games to this day, which is why the recent TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge stuck so closely to their design and look.
The Game Boy section of the Cowabunga Collection will bring you TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan, TMNT: Back from the Sewers, and TMNT: Radical Rescue. Each of these are side-scrolling adventure/platforming games that will have you working your way through Metroid-like levels to find your friends. I had only played some of these while I was a kid, but I actually really liked hopping back into each. They’re simple, but I was surprised by how fun they still were.
The NES selection includes the notoriously difficult TMNT game from Konami that looks like a fever dream due to the fact that it features mostly unrecognizable enemies, aside from the bosses that are main characters from the TV series. I gave the rewind feature quite a workout on my trip down memory lane! The NES selection also includes some excellent entries like the TMNT 2 Arcade port that was pretty darn good for being squeezed onto an NES cartridge, and TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project, both of which are excellent beat-’em-ups in their own right.
The NES, Genesis, and Super Nintendo sections all feature their unique version of TMNT: Tournament Fighters, and that’s important because these weren’t mere ports with similar moves or designs: each was built from the ground up as a unique project. The Genesis version has a much grittier art style and crunchy sound design, and its story pitts the Turtles against their own creepy evil clones to save their friends; I loved this fighter as a kid, but looking back it doesn’t do much to stand out against the other fighters of its day. The SNES version was more like a Street Fighter 2 clone, which actually includes fighters like Armaggon from the Archie line of comics, and it’s interesting due to the fact that it introduced super moves shortly before Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo came out. Finally, the NES version mixed some basic fighting game mechanics with an orb power-up in a format that I imagine an NES version of Smash Bros would have used – this one is on a very short list of decent fighting games featured on the NES.
The Genesis collection also adds TMNT: Hypersotone Heist, which is mostly similar to the arcade version of Turtles in Time. Another beat-’em-up, you’ll take control of one of the Turtles and fight through time as you take on characters from across the series like the pizza-eating aliens or Super Shredder. It’s quite close to its Super Nintendo and arcade counterpart, but one difference I enjoyed is the dash move that lets you zip across the screen with a dedicated button and slam enemies from side to side a bit easier, as opposed to having to double tap a direction to run like on the SNES. On the other hand, the SNES does allow you to throw enemies at the screen, which is sorely missing from Hypersone Heist – but there are also some unique levels added to this version that did not appear in the arcade, including a Technodrom stage. The SNES’s Turtles in Time will forever be regarded as one of my favorites, due in part to the fact it was available at home so I could sink hours into it without feeding it quarters all day. And because throwing Foot Clan at the screen never gets old.
I was excited for achievements and trophies to unlock hoping they’d direct me to all of the cool features that’ve been packed into the collection, but the “challenges” here are incredibly disappointing. The only achievements added were one for each game in the collection as you complete them. For Digital Eclipse to have put so much work and care into the other components, it’s truly unfortunate that this part would feel so phoned in. Considering the community that’s grown around challenging each other in these games over the past two decades, surely there could’ve been more creative with these.
Another sour note is the online experience. It’s mostly abysmal. What should have been the strongest part of the collection – four-player co-op with rollback netcode which makes your button presses 1:1 for the fighting games – is currently a barely playable mess. Jumping into TMNT Arcade with more than two players will bring it to a screeching halt, or at best five to 10 frames per second. This was found across the Switch, Xbox, PlayStation 5, and PC. And that’s when you’re able to find a game to join at all – it worked a bit better when I was accepting a friend’s request to play, with lower lag and input delay, but even when connecting with people on my friends’ list I’m met with poppy audio issues and stutter. Diving into Tournament Fighters on the SNES with my friend was fun, but at launch, there are no games to be found for any of the fighters. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, acceptable for launch and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Now, let’s talk about input latency a little bit, since it is a criticism that’s been rightfully leveled at past retro collections at launch, like the Disney Afternoon Collection and the Mega Man X Legacy Collection. To test The Cowabunga Collection (which I did in solo mode) I set the Xbox Series X to 1080p 120 frames per second with auto low latency turned on. The camera filmed off-screen and button presses at 1080p 120fps. This was done on my Samsung 8K Q900 Series TV (Model: QN55Q900RBFXZA) with Input Signal Plus, and Game Mode turned on. My calculations put Xbox Series X closest to the actual SNES version captured with the same method on my older Sharp LCD (Model LC-62C42U) via a coax input. The math breaks down as follows: one frame captured at 120fps is about 8.3ms of latency, so by counting the frames from button press until there’s an action on the screen you can get a rough idea of how good/bad the total latency is. It’s not a perfect methodology, but it gives you an idea of where this collection lands. After measuring the time from button press to action on my SNES, I calculated the input latency to be consistently around 58ms. On Xbox Series X I was getting 83ms-91ms of total input latency. The Switch OLED in handheld mode had around 99.6ms of delay, and while using a wired Pro controller with a docked Switch (Pro wired communication on) had 141.1ms of delay consistently (107.9ms – 124.5ms with wired communication off), and the PS5 had around 157.7ms of delay consistently with ALMM (auto low latency mode) and 120Hz output set to automatic.
So I found I was getting around 83 to 157.7 milliseconds of total input delay – it was toward the low end of that range on the Xbox Series X, middle of the road on the Switch OLED, and a little bit on the higher side on the PS5. All of these are notable increases over the 58ms of the SNES over COAX on my older display. If you’ve recently played these games on their original platforms you will most likely notice it’s a lot slower. I did as soon as I started playing, so I was sure to turn on every option I could to eliminate that delay as much as possible – I imagine a CRT would further reduce that gap. For comparison, we also did tests with the modern TMNT: Shredders Revenge on Xbox Series X and it consistently returned a 49.8ms input delay. So it would seem 83 to 157 is not a great result.
I asked Digital Eclipse about the input delay issues. “While playing locally, we did not notice any significant input latency difference between consoles,” a representative said in a statement. “For online play, online speeds can affect game performance, especially when played with four online players. Modern displays can have latency compared to old CRT TVs, but many have settings for gaming.” That of course is all true, and based on my tests on the Xbox Series X, OLED Switch, and PS5, I think Digital Eclipse still has some work to do here. Especially when compared to the recent Shredders Revenge.