The Games Are The Least Interesting Thing About TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection
A new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle collection is coming out soon that includes 13 classic games from the arcade, NES, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy. The size of the collection raised a lot of eyebrows when it was announced, as we rarely see publishers put this kind of effort into retro collections. I got to go hands-on with the game at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, and I assure you, the games themselves aren’t even close to the most impressive thing about this collection.
The Cowabunga Collection is a labor of love between Digital Eclipse, a studio known for its incredible work in emulation, and Konami senior producer Charles Murakami, who is largely responsible for the incomprehensible scope of the collection. Murakami, who has spent most of his career on Yu-Gi-Oh games, jumped at the opportunity to produce a Ninja Turtles collection. He was first asked to choose six games for rerelease, but he knew right away that would mean leaving behind important parts of Ninja Turtle history. He wrote a new pitch for Konami that would include not just all 13 games, but a completely collated and annotated record of history behind the games too.
Here’s just some of the archival material you can find in the Cowabunga collection: it has complete game manuals for every game, concept art and sketches never before seen, remasters of every music track, design documents from the Konami archive from the making of every game, original strategy guides created to match the style of similar guides of the era, and all of it cataloged in a searchable database that will allow you to filter all the way down to specific characters and enemies. Murakami personally translated hundreds of hand-written design docs from Japanese to create notations. The amount of work that went into the supplemental material here is absurd. There is a three-inch encyclopedia’s worth of turtle history on the codex of this game.
Of course, Digital Eclipse put just as much work into the games themselves. The list of new features is almost as long as the list of extras. You can toggle back and forth between the US and Japanese versions of every game (except for the NES version of Tournament Fighters, which was never released in Japan). You can rewind and create save states in every game, and perhaps more impressively, you can watch a real-time playthrough of every game and take over at any point. If there’s a particularly difficult section, which was not uncommon in these older games, you can fast forward the part where you’re stuck and take control right after it. There’s also online multiplayer and couch co-op support for four of the games, custom button mapping, and, I’m sure, several more new features I’m forgetting because there’s just so many.
We’ve really been conditioned to accept shitty ports and half-assed collections over the years, but The Cowabunga Collection sets an extraordinarily high bar for what a re-release can be. This is what it looks like when a team that truly loves and respects the history of the games puts their hearts into a project, and I only wish other classic collections could get this much attention.
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