Turrican Flashback

The 16-bit Turrican series was so revered that speculation around a new iteration lasted not just throughout the N64’s lifecycle but that of the GameCube too. Of course, there’s no smoke without fire – a new Turrican was rumoured throughout both system’s lifes. Thornado, as it was known, sadly vanished into thin air. In fact, the whole Turrican series has remained dormant since 1995 (save for Wii Virtual Console re-releases) due to rights being tangled in a web that has taken years to untangle.

The run and gun franchise has been gone for so long that a recap is in order. The original Turrican launched on Commodore 64 in 1990 before receiving an enhanced release on Amiga, Atari ST and numerous other systems – even the TurboGrafx-16 and humble Game Boy received a conversion. It was arguably the Amiga version that put the franchise on the map – a technical marvel with slick visuals, huge sprawling levels, delightfully overpowered weaponry, and a fantastic soundtrack. Excellent music is something of a Turrican staple, all thanks to composer Chris Huelsbeck.

That was followed up a year later by Turrican II – the cover star of many gaming magazines. It was the typically ‘90s bigger and better sequel, to the point where its refinements make it hard to go back to the original. That’s unfortunately still true today – where this collection is concerned, the original is the weakest link. It’s still worthy of your time, laying out the blueprint for what’s to come, but it’s also the most unforgiving entry due to irksome enemy placement and cheap deaths, such as spike pits that zap away health in a blink. A good comparison here is the original Streets of Rage. It’s perfectly playable, but the vastly improved sequel makes the original’s existence irrelevant.  

By 1993 the console market had rapidly grown, and so it was time for Turrican to make the jump with a few exclusives. This led to Mega Turrican on Mega Drive/Genesis, along with Super Turrican and its sequel – absent in this collection – on SNES. Not wanting to leave Amiga owners out (Turrican II was a huge seller), Mega Turrican was reworked as Turrican 3: Payment Day. All the while, belated conversions continued to be released. The NES went on to receive an amalgam of Turrican I and II in 1993, confusingly also titled Super Turrican. Accolade put out a Universal Soldier reskin of Turrican II for Mega Drive and Game Boy too. A genuinely good movie tie-in, if by default.

Anyway, we start to digress.

Turrican is a franchise with a rich history; a series that didn’t fizzle out due to being over exposed, but rather one that become stuck in limbo with no obvious means of returning. This collection cherry picks four entries – the Amiga versions of Turrican and Turrican II: The Final Fight, the Mega Drive’s Mega Turrican and the SNES’ Super Turrican. Super Turrican 2’s absence is a pity. Saved for an alternative Strictly Limited physical release, its inclusion would have made the £24.99 asking price easier to swallow.

Modern touches are the order of the day, such as save states and a rewind feature. More importantly, the controls have been remapped (pressing ‘up’ no longer jumps – hurrah!) meaning weapons are now assigned to unique buttons. From the main menu screen sizes, wallpapers, colour settings and CRT filters can be tinkered with. Each game has a list of cheats too, which must be entered manually. It’s a shame these couldn’t be activated at a push of a button.

Incidentally, only ‘trophy hunter’ mode – without save states and rewind – bestows trophies. If you were expecting to jump in and cheat your way to an easy Platinum, then think again. These games were designed to test gamer’s mettle and take weeks of play to complete, requiring level maps to be consigned to memory, secret areas discovered, and boss attack patterns memorised.

We came to this collection expecting Turrican II to be the pinnacle, but it was Mega Turrican that ultimately captured our attention. As the third entry in the series, it corrects the (minor) faults of the first two instalments while introducing a new grappling hook gimmick to keep things fresh. Boss battles are genuinely exciting, showcasing some smart effects, and the action rarely falters. Of the three games, this is the most manageable due to being more linear than the rest.

Super Turrican isn’t without merit either, even if it’s a retread of past ideas. Seeing older bosses return with Mode-7 spins is oddly cool, and while the new freeze ray weapon isn’t quite as ground-breaking as the grappling hook, it’s still a fun inclusion. Also of note is how Mega Turrican and Super Turrican differ visually, with the former having a grungy look and the latter favouring a brighter palette.

For those who grew up with Turrican this collection is an easy enough recommendation, bolstered significantly by the quality-of-life improvements. While the OG Turrican is too unforgiving to be wholly enjoyable, it’s still easy to appreciate how heavily it pushed the genre forward. Those with merely a passing fancy for the franchise may want to mull over dropping £25, however. There are modern experiences out there offering the same kind of thrills while being far more forgiving, easily found for the fraction of the price. Sure, they won’t fill you with gooey nostalgia, but if you’re an outsider looking in it’s likely you won’t have much of an affinity with the series to begin with.

Turrican Flashback is out now on PS4 and Switch, both digitally and at retail.