Review: Turrican Flashback

It may be hard to remember now, but there was a time when a video game franchise was based as much upon where the game was released as whether or not it did anything particularly novel.

This may be alien to some of our younger readers, but the reality is that there was a time when most games released on a single platform, maybe two if you were lucky, and there was a much broader spread of platforms available than there are today. As a result, a lot of franchises wound up with multiple installments even if the games themselves were lackluster in some way, simply because they were the closest you could get to a given experience on one platform or another. If you owned a Sega Genesis, there were franchises exclusive to that one console, even if they were objectively just slight riffs on series that performed better on another console and franchise.

Case in point, I’m pretty sure Bubsy managed to become a brief hit just because he was the closest you could get to Sonic the Hedgehog on a Super Nintendo.

All of this is a long-winded way to introduce the Turrican franchise, which kind of occupies exactly this space. The original Turrican games were well-loved 16-bit shooters on the Commodore Amiga, but it’s really easy to look at the franchise and conclude that these games were well-loved not because they were amazing games but because they were scratching a specific itch that other Amiga games simply couldn’t. Turrican Flashback is a collection of a quartet of Turrican games – the first two Amiga titles, the Sega Genesis Mega Turrican, and the SNES Super Turrican. So do these games still hold up as classics now that they’re no longer limited by platform?

Turrican Flashback releases on January 29th for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. The PS4 version was played for this review.

Shoot All The Guns

While these games do have stories, they’re… not really games you play for the stories. They are, in many ways, early 16-bit games through and through. You’re wearing the Turrican armor, a mechanical power armor, while fighting back against the forces of The Machine. The plot varies a bit from game to game – for example, in Super Turrican there’s an entire legion of soldiers wearing Turrican armor and you’re just playing as one of them liberating another planet – but this is not a game you play for continuity or character interplay or deep inner lives.

The plot, then, is giving you some reason why your little silver-and-red guy is moving across the map and blowing up robots. Further details are superfluous.

To know that the Turrican games are side-scrolling platform shooters is to give you a general sense of what sorts of games they are from the beginning. Indeed, you could probably get a broad sense of the titles just from the rundowns of genre conventions.

Do you die in one hit? No. Can you aim in multiple directions? Generally not. Can you jump up through small platforms? No, platforms are solid. How fast do enemies die? In a few shots. The rest is sort of all expected. There is a lot of incoming danger at all times, you shoot stuff looking for the exit, occasionally you have to slow down to fight a boss.

Of note is that you usually do have quite an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. The first game gives you access to Turrican’s bombs and mines as well as “Line” (a screen-sweeping attack), “Wheel” (rolling into a ball form and dropping bombs like Samus Aran gone berserk), and several different special firing modes for your main gun.

More notable also is that while the levels do broadly work as “move left to right,” most of the levels are a lot more open and sprawling than you might see in other side-scrolling outings from the same era. It’d be a bit much to call the maps particularly laden with secrets, since most of what’s hidden in various corners are just power-ups to improve your gun, add more special weapon uses to your arsenal, or otherwise recover resources you might have spent just getting there, but it’s still the sort of thing that allows for different routes and experiences as you go.

The collection also benefits from having a rewind button, allowing you to move time backwards as long as you like… but it also has a little stinger whereby you only get trophies for playing without the rewind button. I like this approach. It means that you can just enjoy some low-impact shooty bang-bang if you want, but you have to get good at the game if you want to be acknowledged by the game as a whole.

Hear All The Music

One of the big call-outs for the collection is that the soundtrack is done by Chris Huelsbeck, and while it’d be easy to marginalize that… yeah, Huelsbeck’s music is really good. (He’s got a rather eclectic history, but the soundtrack for these games is some good stuff.) Most of the sound effects sound more or less like you’d expect, with satisfying bangs and bursts, although some of the effects are a bit tinny.

Graphically, well, these are chunky and detailed sprite games from the Amiga originally, which means astonishingly detailed and lavish art that looks absolutely gorgeous being the order of the day. Everything animates smoothly and looks good in action. The one downside is that Turrican doesn’t seem to have much of a hit-stun animation, so you can sometimes wade into damage without really being aware of it, but that’s not exactly a graphical error with the reproduction.

And the reproduction gives you a lot of options for smoothing, filters, scanlines, and aspect ratio right away. These options are front and center when you start up the game, along with a brief story summary and rundown of the game’s reception at launch.

If I have any complaints here, it’s that I actually would have liked to see more of the ephemera like manuals and the like – but what you get is perfectly suitable and a nice way to get yourself into the game. The interface for save states is also robust and well-developed, much to the collection’s credit.

Classically Games, But Maybe Not Classics

To a certain extent, I feel like the Turrican games do suffer a little from being what they are. There’s a reason these titles really lived and died on the Amiga, a platform that was otherwise bereft of what they offered. While they’re not bad games by any stretch of the imagination, it’s easy to play them and not see why they’d be considered classics of the era.

That’s because in many ways they aren’t; they’re classics of a specific platform, and I suspect old-school Amiga fans would be over the moon about this particular collection. Everything is reproduced faithfully and clearly, and it’s hard not to appreciate how much care has gone into every aspect of the presentation so that you can enjoy the entire franchise in one collection.

All right, almost the whole collection, but missing the NES version of Super Turrican and the SNES sequel is probably not going to upset anyone.

On a whole, though, this is a pretty solid collection of little games that are in many ways frozen in amber from a specific time in gaming history. This isn’t going to make a huge fan out of anyone, but if you’re in the mood for some classic 16-bit shooter fun, this’ll deliver.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by ININ Games for PS4. All screenshots courtesy ININ Games.