TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection Developers Talk Beat 'Em Ups and Nostalgia


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is primed to make childhood dreams come true for 80s and 90s gamers who grew up with heroes on a half-shell. The ambitious compilation from Digital Eclipse and Konami collects 13 classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles, outfitting them with extra content, online play, and other tweaks.

Game Rant recently sat down with Charles Murakami, a senior developer at Konami, and Chris Kohler, Digital Eclipse’s Editorial Director, to discuss the ambitious project. Murakami and Kohler—both dedicated TMNT fans with fond memories of the arcade games—detailed the wealth of extra TMNT content and features loaded in the compilation and dove into the unique appeal of beat ’em ups, TMNT, and nostalgia.


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Beat ‘Em Ups Bounce Back

Indie game development is enjoying an ongoing renaissance that has favored a number of specific genres including Metroidvania titles, roguelikes, and more recently, side-scrolling beat ’em ups. ’90s nostalgia may seem like the simplest explanation for the genres’ comeback, but Murakami believes their resurgence is the result of a confluence of many factors:

“The simplicity of a beat ‘em up is—I don’t want to say timeless—but they are easy to pick up and play. Now that we have online play, friends can get together more easily. Cooperative Twitch streams are also taking off as well. So I think all these things are coming together in a kind of perfect storm.”

When Konami’s turtles’ titles were originally released, gamers’ only options for multiplayer were to hit the arcade with several rolls of quarters, or to invite friends over for a game with couch co-op. Beat ’em titles are often better with company, as each extra player presents more opportunities for combo attacks, mayhem, and the occasional opportunity to prank a friend by stealing their pizza. Online play has made it easier for friends to link up for a gaming session, however, and streamers bring an entirely new way to appreciate games via online spectatorship.

The genre’s simple premise and pick-up and play controls also make for ideal party games. Even people who are unfamiliar with video games can have a blast beating up Foot Clan flunkies, especially when accompanied by veteran gamers. In light of these factors, beat ’em ups making a comeback through compilations (and spiritual successors like Shredder’s Revenge) is a no-brainer.

Nostalgia to Taste

It goes without saying that nostalgia plays an important role in The Cowabunga Collection‘s appeal. However, Murakami was quick to point out that early TMNT fans are by no means monolithic.

“The interesting thing about nostalgia is—I actually did a little did a poll around the office with different age groups—and some people remember the arcade games, others started with the NES or tournament fighters, and people slightly younger than me only started playing the Gameboy titles. We want to make sure we put in as many of the titles as we can. Because nostalgia for a game is different depending on who you ask.”

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One gamer’s nostalgia trip may be a brand-new experience for other players, even if they grew up in roughly the same time period. Children of the late 80s and early 90s are often lumped together as a single millennial mass, but a two-year difference in one’s formative years could mean the difference between preferred platform, or experiencing the TMNT fandom through the cartoon and movies rather playing video games. By covering all of Konami’s bases, The Cowabunga Collection is sure to speak to fans from that entire age range, while also introducing old guard players to some new titles.

Timeless Appeal

As a franchise, TMNT has had major staying power, but the turtles 80s and 90s gamers grew up on aren’t necessarily the same characters today’s fans may know. There have been a multiverse’s worth of TMNT cartoons in the interim between the current day and the 90s Cartoon. For example, Nickelodeon’s 2012 CGI reboot put greater emphasis on the ‘teenage’ aspect of the TMNT, de-aging April to a high schooler to match ages with Splinter’s disciples. But Murakami and Kohler believe that new fans will have no trouble resonating with the classic games based on the 80s comics and 90s TV series.

Just as beat ’em ups have an intrinsic appeal through simple mechanics, the TMNT franchise has had a consistent mood throughout all of its incarnations. Even the darker and grittier comic book stories often tell straightforward stories of good versus evil, and the more kid-friendly adaptations of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael’s adventures have a light-hearted simplicity to them. These classic titles tap into that core mood, which will transcend aesthetic and narrative changes that fans might find jarring in other series. Regardless of when gamers first encountered the turtles, now is an excellent time to be a TMNT fan, especially where gaming is concerned.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection releases on August 30, 2022, for PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

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