Turrican Flashback

After famously crashing and burning with Lair on Playstation 3 and having a bunch of promising games cancelled, Factor 5 is finally back, or at least sort of. They’re releasing a set of ports of their classic Turrican games, but in a complicated way. Two physical limited editions are collecting all five main games (Turrican, Turrican 2, Turrican 3/Mega Turrican, Super Turrican and Super Turrican 2) plus variations, but the downloadable Turrican Flashback collection only features the first four. Even though I’m a big fan, I was a bit annoyed by this setup, but eventually bought it to show my support if nothing else. While I dislike the ”release old game to see if there’s any interest” thing, I do want a new Turrican. But hey, why not do a Kickstarter like everyone else?

Anyway, out of the four games on offer here, there’s a very clear divide between Turrican 2 and the others, and I don’t think it’s just nostalgia speaking. I’ve also played it by far the most, so let me just get the other games out of the way.

Turrican was originally a Commodore 64 game, and it shows in the overall design. It has many similarities with Turrican 2, but is just a lesser game in every way. Turrican is a fairly complex character for the time, and on top of the different weapons, he also has the famous rotating laser, screen clearing power blasts and the ability to roll into a ball. Yes, Factor 5 has admitted being obviously inspired by Metroid. Already in the first game there’s some pretty big environments to explore, but the enemy variety is much poorer and it just feels quite plain. The music is already excellent, but the sounds are much weaker than in Turrican 2.

Jumping forward to Mega Turrican, which was developed simultaneously and released as Turrican 3 on the Amiga, it’s a completely different game. At least in the early stages, it’s much more linear. The new grappling beam adds more exploration in theory, but it’s also unwieldy and not very fun to use. As a result, Turrican feels clumsy. There’s still a lot to enjoy here, it’s just not as good as the second game.

Super Turrican is sort of a remake of the first two games, with ideas and concepts taken from those but given a new, even more linear layout. I’m not a fan of the bigger sprites which makes the action even more cramped, but it’s a decent enough game. And by this point it’s also Super Expensive, so getting it here is a good option. Although, not having Super Turrican 2 in this collection means you’re still missing one.

Anyway, back to Turrican 2. I’ve been playing this game regularly since the early 90’s, but I used to cheat my way through it as a lousy kid. This makes it hard to appreciate the balance that does exist, even if the game has a lot of that special euro jank. Turrican 2 can be hard a lot of the time, with enemies appearing from off screen or some leaps of faith that you need to make.

Specifically, there’s no invincibility after being hit and Turrican takes a ton of damage from touching an enemy, so individual shots are nowhere near as dangerous as simply falling into an enemy. There’s also the annoying way the screen doesn’t scroll until you’re about a third of the way to the edge, which gives you even less time to react. However, the game compensates for this by giving you a ton of lives, continues (through collecting diamonds) and energy refills around every corner. It really rewards exploration, and the sprawling levels have tons of secrets to uncover. It may be a tired comparison, but there’s a little of that Souls feeling of desperately looking for a refill when your energy is low and any enemy can kill you. On the other hand, you always restart at the same place so as long as you keep collecting those 1-ups, you’re fine.

Turrican 2 is also a very varied game. The first two stages have huge outdoor areas, before going into cramped, moist caverns for the next two, including a submerged swimming section with the classical ”The Great Bath” theme playing. You are suddenly thrust into three sidescrolling shooter stages, flying a ship similar in look to Vic Viper from Gradius. These are also quite different, with the second one having multi-directional scrolling, culminating in your engines being damaged and the last flight stage being a reckless hyperspeed rush through deadly corridors. This was the only area where I felt that the game wasn’t quite keeping up with its own speed, and having played the game all these times certainly helped me knowing where to go.

After that there’s a deadly factory labyrinth filled with annoying turrets, before finally heading into the gleefully Alien-like penultimate stage, where literal facehuggers and Alien heads harass poor Turrican while he fends off other cosmic horror monstrosities before finally meeting The Machine, the big baddie.

What I discovered is that the challenge is actually quite fair. Turrican is armed to the teeth, and his three main weapons are all effective in different scenarios. The rotating laser, with its new sweet animation, is extremely useful in directing tons of power towards strong enemies or reaching ones in awkward directions. The power blasts are also a limited but powerful attack. Then there’s always the options of simply rolling into an indestructible ball, with the potential to careening off a cliff, obviously. The ball form also releases bombs (because Metroid) but these are fairly useless strategically. Finally, there’s a mega attack achieved by activating everything at once. With all these and some careful playing, Turrican 2 is actually fairly manageable for a retro game.

All this is wrapped in neat, futuristic pixel art and probably the best Amiga soundtrack ever created. Chris Hülsbeck is a genius, not only because he composed the music but also for literally writing his own music engine to push more channels than the Amiga could actually play at a given time. The result is an amazing soundtrack, starting with the long theme track ”The Final Fight”, heading into the first levels with ”The Desert Rocks” and ”Traps” and then basically every stage is a banger. ”Exploring Secret Dungeons” segues into ”The Great Bath” and back, and ”Metal Stars” finished off the first levels. Then the sidescrolling flight stages open with ”Concerto For Lasers And Enemies”, which is completely epic and is followed by the foreboding ”Unidirectional Fight” before going insane with ”Powerslide Into Hypercycle Drive”. The heavy beats of ”The Wall” and ”Mr. Walker And His Factory” accompany the next stages, with the Alien stage having a mix of silence with creepy noises and a slow track. It all caps off with ”The Final Challenge”, climbing an elevator shaft to the last boss, and then ”The Hero” and ”Freedom”. With the exception of some more generic boss themes, this is the entire soundtrack and it’s literally all amazing.

As if that wasn’t enough, Factor 5 also apparently were huge Macross fans, because while you listen to the seven epic minutes of ”The Final Fight” you get an illustrated intro with cheesy but charming manga-esque characters explaining a scenario stolen merrily from Star Wars before the main character, Bren McGuire, finally dons the Turrican armour to exact vengeance.

All the games in the collection have useful options, including save states and a rewind feature (that disable trophies), some cheat codes (remember those?) and screen filters. It’s all well and good, although I would have appreciated some more artwork and maybe a music player (although the games tend to have internal music players already). Having the option to play with the arranged soundtrack from Chris’ later albums would have been a huge bonus, but I’m assuming it’s not that easy to just insert it in a 30 years old game, as all these games run on some type of emulation. Having the ability to map the special attacks to different buttons (instead of having to use the Space key on the Amiga) and having the rotational beam on a separate input making it possible to just hold the fire button, not to mention having a jump button, it all adds up to a more playable game than the Amiga original. I also find that the inputs are very responsive. The game has a lot of those pixel perfect jumps where you need to jump on an exact frame to not hit the ceiling, and I had lots of problems with those in, for example, the Mega Man Legacy Collection. But Turrican is fine in that regard.

The burning question is whether it’s worth the fairly steep price for the collection. I think Turrican fans should definitely be interested, but a lower price could possibly have captured a few new ones. In any case, getting a definitive digital copy of Turrican 2 is worth it for me so I can stop worrying about my original disk deteriorating.

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