TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection Games Ranked from Gnarly to Bodacious

Them Turtle boys are at it again and they still ain’t cutting anyone any slack. That’s right, so soon after their last amazing adventure inspired the resurrection of Turtle Fever, these four fellas are giving us even more. Shredder’s Revenge impressed TMNT and beat ‘em up fans everywhere, so it makes sense that newer players, as well as old shell-heads, are going to be looking for more big green machine action, and the best way to do that is by reaching back into the past. This is where Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection comes in.

The opportunity to play these classics from the 8 and 16-bit era again is fantastic already and they’ve also added a ton of updates and bonuses to make the games more fun. Some of the titles even offer online co-op now, which should keep things interesting. For those who may not be familiar with the 13 games that come in this collection — don’t worry, some of them are simply ports of other titles — here’s a little description of each and a ranking of the order I think you should play them in, least to greatest.


9.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back From The Sewers (Game Boy)

The middle child on the Game Boy is unfortunately the one who should be forgotten. Back From the Sewers isn’t a bad game per se, but its biggest sin is having less responsive controls, which takes away much of the fun. The title is only difficult in the last few levels, where if players don’t experiment and figure out how to exploit the bosses, it may take some time. Once their secrets are discovered, everyone is a pushover. What the game does well is improve on the graphics, showing off large sprites and more detail than some probably thought could be done on the handheld system. This might be where they attempted to expand too much, however, as parts that featured the 2.5D environments simply made movement more troublesome and left hitboxes feeling wrong. This entry also attempted to take some cues from other TMNT games of the time, but those ideas weren’t implemented well. Of every game in this collection, this one has the chance of being the one players put the least overall time into. 


8.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of The Foot Clan (Game Boy)

Fall of the Foot Clan was the first TMNT adventure on Nintendo’s impressive little handheld, offering up an action-packed game featuring the four heroes that could be played on the go. It wasn’t just a snappy title, but a simple and entertaining trial for any true ninja wanting to bash and slash their way to victory. Being on the Game Boy, it didn’t look that impressive and was quite short — consisting of only five levels — but the areas feel unique and still try to fill out the 2D environments when able. It feels like the developers were focused on making something that was fun to play, keeping the controls light but fluid. Fall of the Foot Clan is fairly easy and should only cause frustration in a few small encounters, but the replay value is there for sure.


7.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES/SNES/Genesis)

TMNT is such a huge franchise that it’s no surprise they’d eventually expand outside of their normal genres. With the action-focused premise of the series, a fighting game makes sense. There are three versions of Tournament Fighters, each different enough to make them worth noting. The NES even got its own port of the game. It pales in comparison visually to the other two but it’s impressive what the developers were able to do with a two-button fighter on the 8-bit console. The Genesis version had similar controls but better graphics and a different roster, but wasn’t quite as engaging when the combat started. Overall, the SNES Tournament Fighters is probably the best version to play, with the sharpest presentation and grouping of characters to battle with, but this is a fighter that’s hard to truly love. The computer shows no mercy and punishes mistakes, so it’s easy to get frustrated and put this one down. Although it isn’t an exceptional example of the genre, it’s worth trying.


6.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (Game Boy)

The third title on the Game Boy did something most weren’t expecting from the property or the system: expanding on the standard Turtles outing and turning it into what’s colloquially called a Metroidvania. Now there’s a full map of perils and secrets to explore. The player starts as Michelangelo and has to rescue his three brothers, each with their own unique traversal abilities, meaning that new areas can be accessed by specific characters. Players will spend a lot of time backtracking and staring at the game map, but Radical Rescue, thankfully, makes good use of a password system to keep it from being too frustrating. That said, the bosses can be rather difficult, but at least it’s a set of fresh villains — including the fan-favorite Dirtbag. It’s an interesting and ambitious game, and a solid adventure that offers a break from the beat ‘em ups. It’s certainly worth coming back to for a while.


5.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

For many, this will be the most infamous game on the collection and certainly the one that will benefit most from a rewind function and save states. It was the first mainstream console entry for the Turtles and was highly anticipated, until people realized how far it was from the popular cartoon. This NES game was also incredibly difficult and had overworld sections where the players could simply be run over, but at least it featured the Turtle Van. It was bold, ambitious, and there’s a good chance that it probably started out as something else completely and was re-skinned for the TMNT property considering the random enemies and gameplay. There’s no co-op here and a ton of brutality — even if players know some of the tricks. Combine that with the bad reputation the game has received over the years and most players won’t give this one much time, but there is merit for those who want a unique experience and challenge.


4.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES)

Shredder is up to his old tricks again, but he’s upgraded from stealing the Statue of Liberty to taking all of Manhattan. The Manhattan Project is an original game that’s packed with a lot of entertainment on the NES. This entry takes a good bit of inspiration from the arcade games, cartoon, and action figures, creating a great mix of TMNT action in a beat ’em-up many people skipped the first time around. The developers tweaked the controls and improved on combat to try and make it more engaging for players, while giving us a solid visual presentation — minus the usual limitations with sprite flickering — and some interesting stages. The music is decent and players can swap Turtles between stages. Fighting is fun overall but the bosses can be annoying even when trying to be strategic, but hey, at least they included Groundchuck in this one. Like him, The Manhattan Project is easy to overlook in TMNT discussions, but it’s a fun and solid beat ‘em up. 


3.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (Genesis)

Most of these games have come from Nintendo consoles, but the Sega Genesis needed some Turtle Power as well. The Hyperstone Heist is sometimes considered an altered port or re-skinned version of Turtles in Time, but that shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying it. Not only does the game come with an original stage that isn’t featured in the other title or simply repurposed, but it also has Shredder’s trusted commander Tatsu as a boss. The game had the foresight to give running its own dedicated button, which is helpful for people who couldn’t master double tapping. The music isn’t bad at all and the visuals do a couple of interesting things, like allowing the player to change the art design of the Turtles so they are different shades of green. Still, Hyperstone Heist has a couple of frustrating quirks and comes complete with a boss rush near the end, which is where many people stop playing. It shouldn’t be a surprise that those who grew up with the Genesis and this game might hold it in greater regard, but we stand by its position on the list.


2.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES/Arcade)

This one is the OG for popular TMNT games — the granddaddy arcade title that swallowed so many quarters. It was a genuine hit and probably part of the reason we received so many other titles featuring the characters in the years that followed. The arcade version of this one was the experience that showed us how much fun co-op brawler experiences could be, even when they had basic control schemes. The home console port of it on the NES was given a number 2 so parents wouldn’t get confused, plus it came with a Pizza Hut coupon — sick! It also added extra levels as well as boss fights with the newly introduced Tora and Shogun. The NES couldn’t handle as many sprites on screen and wasn’t nearly as impressive visually, but that didn’t stop this game from selling out in stores. Both versions are worth checking out. They’re simple, fun, and just challenging enough, but it may come down to nostalgia on this one. For players who have never tried either, let the arcade’s visual spectacle win out and then head to the NES for more Turtles action.


1.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES/Arcade)

This is the one. If somebody can’t have at least a little fun with Turtles in Time, then the Cowabunga Collection isn’t for them. This is the game that so many think of first when they talk about this era of TMNT games and it’s just a fantastic example of a great beat ‘em up using an established IP. The arcade version is super smooth and the game has excellent music. There is some amazing scenery that makes solid use of the time travel element while the animations are colorful and detailed. With that said, I have to give a slight advantage to the SNES version. This was one of the best arcade-to-console ports at the time. It has everything that was previously mentioned, just downgraded slightly for consoles. As with many other conversions, they added more content, replaced a boring boss to give us Slash, and that memorable encounter of throwing Foot soldiers at the screen to hit Shredder. For many players, the SNES version simply has better controls and combat feels more fluid. Again, both are great, but the SNES Turtles in Time is probably going to get played the most out of everything.


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