Turrican - In-depth Written Amiga Review With Pics
Factor 5/Rainbow Arts(Europe)/Innerprise(America)
In contrast to the row of neatly stacked Genesis games, one box lay face down. The collection was in its infancy, a bit more than a handful of games for the latest hit console. All would get played religiously at this early stage, even if you liked some more than others. I might not have gotten far in a game like Taz Mania or Fantasia, but they were loved just as much as Sonic when there wasn't much to choose from. This "fallen" game was the exception, no love would be shown for it.
Things started out promising, I recognized the title as a game I had been excited about seeing at the Amiga store. If my dad didn't want to get it for the computer, I'd be fine having it mostly to myself on this console release. Despite being a relatively new title, it was on sale for a mere $11.99, when used 8-bit NES games could still fetch $30. A game I want and it's cheap? No objections raised. Perhaps it had gained a bad reputation, necessitating the low price. Maybe they were just trying to get rid of an unlicensed game, one unable to be sold at legitimate retailers due to objections from Sega.
It now lay face down, a premeditated act of vengeance against what was at the time the last in my alphabetized lineup. I could no longer stand the thought of walking into my parent's bedroom and seeing the taunting gaze from the disturbed looking robotic man gracing this game's cover. The decision was not made lightly, many hours slipped past despite the frustrating gameplay. In the end it was just too much, and the name Turrican would go down as one of the few hated games of my childhood. Imagine my surprise in finding out it was a cherished title for many on the system I had originally wanted it for, the Commodore Amiga. It would become a tale of two ports...
^Powerups, caves, waterfalls
I refused to take other's at their word in claiming Turrican as a great Amiga game, for I knew it to be terrible on the Genesis. I mean they looked similar enough, could the gameplay really be that different? Was this just an example of the younger European computer audience wanting the types of games the consoles had, and thus one consoles trash turned into another's treasure? I had to know for myself, and set up to tackle the game I had long ago abandoned. It wouldn't come easy.
I must have sat down in an attempt to get somewhere in this game over a half dozen times in the last few years. Every version I had gotten a hold of for the Amiga wouldn't allow me to get past the third level, the last of the first world. I would later learn that a block which had to be destroyed at the end of that level was not showing up for me, perhaps I had been playing the demo unknowingly. This caused me to go all around this level multiple times while thinking a lot deeper than I really needed to, was it all this elaborate puzzle I couldn't figure out? No, just keep trying different versions while playing three long levels and perhaps you'll find the right one. All of this had me fooling around inside of the first world about as much as I had while first playing it as a kid.
Unfortunately, I view the first world as one of the weaker areas of the game. So things certainly did not start off well in this homecoming for me. Despite "up to three-way parallax scrolling" being proclaimed on the box, there's certainly none of it to be seen when starting this game. In fact you'll find one of the blandest blue fill skies to have ever graced a 16-bit screen, 8-bits could have done better. Not even a single cloud dots the background. The sky will quickly cycle through a couple of darker blues when going deeper into the level, but many other games would do this better (including the 2nd in this franchise). The first world is largely made up of mountainous terrain with some shades of brown, and a few cactus type plants in the background. While there are brief impressive moments including lightning effects, waterfalls, and some falling boulders, overall this first world is not pleasant on your eyes.
^1st world bosses, finding some extra lives
It also happens to be one of the few worlds with three levels, where as some others have two. So we have an extra level to extend the already graphically sub-par starting world, which is your greetings to Turrican. All three of those levels are amongst the longest in the game and feature a quasi non-linear layout, meaning you might find yourself going back and forth while trying to locate the exit. You need to explore, and yet you'll find purposeful design traps which shall punish you for that exploration. If you go down this one particular pit you'll find there's no way that you can get out of it. You can jump into the water to kill yourself, but you'll respawn back in that same pit. Game over man. There might be some unintentional design flaws in there as well; In one location a spike pulled me into a cramped area which could not be gotten out of, it then killed me and I re-spawned in that exact spot again. Another game over as I watched fourteen of my lives go down the drain.
Turrican is primarily a side scrolling platformer, with a few mechanics from the shooter genre as well. We play as a human inside of a robotic suit, who uses his various weapons to defeat the enemies he encounters. Our primary weapon starts on par with a peashooter, but can be upgraded to either a laser or a multi shot gun, which can in turn be upgraded to more powerful versions of itself. An upgraded multi shot gun spreads bullets in all frontward directions, and will destroy most of the smaller enemies quickly. I found little use for the laser myself as it only covers a narrow line in front of you, though it can take out more powerful enemies quicker. While I normally only grabbed it accidentally, I did manage to find a few areas which felt best tackled with the laser.
You have a secondary weapon which takes the form of lightning. It's extraordinarily powerful but the catch with using it is time. You'll have to stand still, hold the fire button, and then aim, necessitating an understanding of when it's best used. Unlike your primary weapons, the lightning packs a wallop from the start, but can also be powered up and extended to cover nearly 75% of the screen. Both your primary and secondary weapons will see considerable use for different purposes. Mash the fire button to be rid of the smaller enemies as soon as they enter the screen, and aim around a corner with your lightning to stay out of a canon's way. The situations and enemies are balanced well to make these main attacks a wonderful component to the game, and the infusion of the shooter powerup system into a platforming mold I found to be a highlight for Turrican.
^Good graphics finally grace us, challenging platforming
While my description of the graphics have been unkind to this point, my eyes opened wide upon entering the second world. Enter some nice background graphics instead of solid fills, welcome to a 16-bit color palette, and say goodbye to the questionable level design choices which forced us into game overs. That doesn't mean things have gotten easy, but that the challenge has become fair. Turrican is a difficult game, and you'll be needing all the extra lives you can find. They're hidden, as are most of the powerups. Where the extra lives will appear as soon as you get into their general area, most powerups are contained inside of invisible blocks which won't appear until shot. Not only will you be wanting to shoot at a near constant rate because of the enemies coming your way, you'll be honing those reflexes to discover these hidden caches.
Even as a kid I enjoyed these exploration elements. When playing Turrican for the first time you're bound to accidentally run into an extra life or a hidden powerup box at some point in the first world. If you somehow make it to the second world while alluding them, the boxes become larger while being placed down tight corridors, so there's no missing them there. You're taught through the gameplay what's expected from you, and I was pleased to find out as an adult that the young me managed to find a majority of the hidden power ups and extra lives on the first world. Not that it helped me get much further back in the day. Part of the difficulty lies in just how fast your health meter depletes. As long as any enemy is touching you, even the smallest of them can drain your health completely in about a second or two.
There's entire rows of retracting spikes which must be run through quickly in order to escape severe damage or death. With no way to pan the screen downward to gain a better view, leaps of faith become common which could land you straight into those spikes. Prolonged touch is your kryptonite, and it's the reason why I only made it as far as the fish boss in the second world as a kid. You'll inch your way forward before you die, you'll get better while finding more secrets, and again you'll proceeded further where the cycle repeats. I do feel as if it things would have been better off had we started the game with the second world. The graphics here are a marked improvement. There's no pits of death, and while there's much to explore it's not as wide open, so there's less wandering. I enjoyed the second world. It's two well crafted levels that will leave you wanting more before it shifts you into another good looking direction, where the first world just drags on.
Unique for a platforming game of this era were the sheer number of bosses. While not all levels have one, quite a few do. In a typical game you'd expect to find a boss at the end of a level, where in Turrican they might come at the beginning, middle, or end. In terms of art style they look quite menacing while filling up a good quarter of the screen. How difficult they are depends on how powered up you happen to be when facing them. Their patterns are among the simplest I've seen in a video game, with almost straight left-side to right-side movements, then ups to downs. Be it the first or last boss you face, you'll find that while they might move faster while taking more damage, their patterns are nearly always the same. Still there's often no place to hide, and quick reflexes might get you into more trouble than if you had just stood still.
So pick a corner, charge your lightning up, and in combination with that start spamming your additional weapons. These include mines, grenades, and a flash of lightning. While they're all about equal in terms of what they do, therein lies a problem. It's redundant to have these three screen killer weapons on a system where the default joystick setup has one button. With a two button joystick you can use one of those buttons for the lightning flash weapon (or by pressing space), and the mines are used by pressing down while holding the fire button. The grenades perplexingly use F7, an awful holdover from the Commodore 64 original, where the F7 key and spacebar were near each other. In practice I never used the grenades, and would only accidentally use the mines, so it was just the lightning flash for me. They're quite powerful though limited, wiping a screen instantly of many enemies while gouging deep into the bosses.
Lightning with a few flashes, mines, or grenades should get rid of most bosses relatively easily. They should still hurt you since there's nowhere to hide and pointless to dodge, but you might get through a boss or two on one life. Others might kill you a couple times, but since your powerups only lose one level with every death, you should remain rather powerful. If you're not powered up or have been killed enough to deplete yourself, the bosses become rather difficult. You might see five to ten lives exhausted, with your lightning only reaching the boss while it's smashing into you. Thankfully with your extra attacks (such as the mines) replenishing themselves upon each death, you should eventually emerge victorious. While not particularly challenging overall, I did feel the bosses were a nice addition to the game.
^Did someone order a shooter?
Turrican is self labeled as "the definitive science-fiction shoot 'em up". Bold claim, especially since there's only two levels which could be described as fitting that genre. It's a side scrolling platformer with a couple characteristics from the shooter meld, such as the power-up system. The simple fact that the main character wields a gun doesn't make a game a shooter. Nevertheless the two actual shot 'em up levels are superb. Having only gotten a certain way through the second world as a kid, I was legitimately surprised upon encountering the third world and seeing this shift in gameplay. Finally the parallax scrolling described on the box shows up! A level worthy of the Amiga's 16-bit graphics, though the box claiming 3-way parallax is incorrect as there's actually only two. But it still looks amazing!
While the graphics and gameplay of the second world is what caused me pause to thinking perhaps Turrican might be better than I remembered it, it was the surprise in store with the third world which had me proclaiming "Hey, this is actually pretty good!" It's implemented so well I think the game would have been great without any of its platforming. It's fast and hectic with bullets flying all over your screen, and while it can slow down in places, it does this smoothly. It was only upon re-watching my footage that I noticed any slowdown, while playing I was blissfully unaware. There was a joy in grabbing an invincibility power-up while steamrolling through the enemies on the screen. There were gasps for air as my health ran low, navigating carefully to the other side of the screen, just in time to grab some regeneration.
Technically the third world has three levels, but the first and third are shooters with the second being a platformer. So for me it didn't drag on like the first world did, and the shooter level ended up enhancing the platforming level which came after it. It was the height of the platforming levels for me, and if the whole game had been of its quality in platforming I'd consider Turrican a masterpiece. Although the parallax was abandoned for the platforming section, the background and foreground look great with excellent choices in color. But really it's the enemies and platforming which shine in this level. It was hard in all of the right ways.
^So hard, but so fun
This is what an adult should want in their platformers, a fair yet difficult challenge. Where in the first world we had five platforms directly on top of each other while dealing with up as the jump button (frustrating and unfair), here we have a single platform on top of another with cannons shooting off to the sides, and an enemy waiting in the corner. At this point in the game we can't rely on our weapons to instantly kill many foes, so reflexes come into play while dodging and reaching well positioned platforms. I'd even be willing to call this game a shooter if all of the platforming levels had been designed like this, because it's a bullet hell of joy.
The music might be the highlight of the entire game, or it's at least the most consistently great feature. Even while the first world delivered upon me its frustrations, the music had me humming along. It just seemed to get better as the game rolled onward, continually impressive. While many look at the Amiga's music as having a dance connotation, it was always straight rock and roll with me, and this game rocks it! Well, except for the fourth world, that is. Three levels of eerie sound effects and wind blowing grinds the game to a halt.
If somehow you had been accepting of the game calling itself a shooter to this point, well the music isn't the only element which stands still in this world. It's a long and boring maze highlighting the worst of the graphics. Some browns and yellows combine to make up this uninspired 8-bit H.R. Giger recreation. Frustrating platform placements return, where we make our way up multiple platforms directly on top of us, while knocking our heads on the floor to fall down several more. Another three levels of the worst design and graphics in the game. Were the first and fourth worlds the easiest to make? Or were they genuinely believed to be the best the game could bring us, so why not shove as many levels in there as you can! While I didn't like the first world, there were at least a few things I enjoyed there. Beyond that it will always hold some nostalgia for me since I played it as a kid, but there's nothing good I can say about the fourth world, other than it eventually ends.
When considering the story we play as a human inside of a robotic suit, this is the best I can tell from translating the bad English featured in the manual into something comprehensible. Little is actually said about us. It's possible we're known as "Devolon", but that name could easily be read as referring to someone else. The box, manual, and even the magazines reviewing the game would primarily focus the story around the main bad guy, whom I deem to be so insignificant to the actual game that unlike those sources (who mentioned the name countless times), I won't bother to acknowledge it here. Basically the story is that the bad dude is causing mankind to have nightmares, you're the only one with the courage to defeat him, and you've been armed with the latest weapons to accomplish this task. All told within a few short paragraphs in the game's manual and on the back of the box.
The magazines doubled down on the story, manufacturing chunks straight out of their ass. In one publication we're a robot built by the people to battle for them, in another the source of evil is a "security conscience" demon, proclaiming that we are actually "Turrican", and disgustingly foul thoughts from this demon are seeping into humans minds and causing unease. The name Turrican is never used in the actual story, however, though I know with later installments it would become the name of the suit. The Sega Genesis version is even nuttier, and Turrican becomes a mutant who was bio engineered for planetary reclamation.
In other words it makes little sense, and what is there is quite laughable. The creators of Turrican are German, so the lack of sense in the story is understandable given the language barrier. It's kept short and nonspecific enough to mostly fulfill its purpose in a platforming game devoid of in-game story, except for the fact that they kept mentioning the name of the evil. In the end it's just the final boss and it speaks no lines, so there's no reason to hype it up to that degree. There are a few short paragraphs at the end of the game, and they're sure to put a smile on your face on account of the translation. It manages to add charm through your smiles, and it's better than a simple "The End" as featured in the Genesis.
^Amiga and Genesis versions
Turrican originally came out early in 1990 (possibly March or April) in Europe. It may have seen a simultaneous release for both the Commodore 64 and Commodore Amiga, though the Commodore 64 was where the game was first designed. The original 64 version was primarily the work of one man, Manfred Trenz, while the Amiga version was developed by Factor 5. Both were published by Rainbow Arts in Europe, while Innerprise handled the publishing in America, coming out in the fall of 1990 here. Ports would make it to a variety of systems, including the Sega Genesis where I had it as a kid. In addition to playing and completing the Amiga version, I took it upon myself to do the same with the Commodore 64 original as well as the Genesis to get a feel for their differences.
The Genesis version was noteworthy in being an unlicensed game published without the approval of Sega. During play it became obvious rather quickly just why I had hated it so much growing up. Turrican is a bad game on the Genesis. While the graphics are similar to the Amiga (though not as polished), gameplay has been altered in crippling ways. A game which was already hard was effectively made harder. Die within a second or two of being touched by any enemy on the Amiga? Let's make it half a second on the Genesis! Your secondary lightning weapon? The one which can be upgraded to cover nearly 75% of the screen? Maybe it stretches to about a third of the screen on the Genesis. Cannons aim directly at you instead of covering a few general areas which they expect you to cross on the Amiga.
Bosses require the unloading of as many of your special extra weapons as possible, because the lightning doesn't seem to help much. Music, a highlight on the Amiga can hardly be heard on the Genesis, overpowered by obnoxious sound effects, and the tunes that you're able to hear sound terrible. Though many platforms were altered to be easier in this version, overall the game is harder for all of the wrong reasons. I deem it to not just be lesser than the Amiga, but a bad game on the Genesis, and this is the primary reason why I've long not appreciated the game. On the Commodore 64 it was spectacular, in the sense of the technicals for the 8-bit system. I find it to be a little harder than the Amiga version, but a worthy kind of hard which I didn't mind. Like the Genesis the lightning does not extend as far, but you're not blowing up at a constant rate like on the Sega console. An area like the first world would not be criticized for its solid blue sky on the 64, though frustrating gameplay mechanics remain.
^Final world looking good
The Amiga certainly features a graphical and musical upgrade to the Commodore 64, and would be the reasonable choice as the best overall version. I do feel certain areas are let down on the Amiga due to the design being on an 8-bit system, but it's easy to see why fans of the game flock to this particular version. It's a good game here, and while flaws are evident even on the Amiga, many of them can be forgiven due to the experience as a whole. I chose to play the game in NTSC mode, though it was designed in a PAL territory. Graphically I believe it uses NTSC overscan, and I stretched my screen so it would look as it does on a PAL machine in this instance. There's a marked speed improvement on NTSC, though I wouldn't say it's slow in PAL. Even on the Genesis I'm used to it running at that faster speed, so that's where I put it. It would probably be an interesting challenge for those used to the game in PAL to try running it faster at 60hz.
The final world was yet another turn on this roller-coaster for me, as the music and graphics returned for the last hurray! It might be the best looking world, while it returns to some uniquely challenging enemies, platforms, and corridors which remain hard, but are not frustrating like the previous world. I almost feel like the first world should have looked like this one. The second world would have still been the best introduction to the game, but the final world features the sky, as the first world did. The difference here is that while still a solid blue, there's plenty of other areas to the level which do have backgrounds, and the platforms in the sky often have objects like chains to support them, meaning it looks good for a sky based level, and the lack of clouds or parallax can be forgiven here.
It's especially a shame since there's only one true level to the final world. The second level is you making your way to the final boss with no other enemies present. While it's done to a wonderfully suspenseful tune, it leaves you wanting more in terms of the platforming, wondering if those assets might have been better used earlier in the game. Honestly I think even my complaints about the first and fourth worlds would have been subdued had they just been two levels instead of three, or if they had remained three but the second level had been a shooter. I was beaming while playing those two shooter levels, and I wish there had been at least one in every world. Why can't my favorite levels keep going on? At least that's something wonderful to say about the areas I enjoy, that I wished they kept going!
Magazines of the era were overwhelming in their praise. While platforming games were often ignored in the American computer magazines, a couple did cover Turrican. Amiga World said it had everything fans of arcade adventures could want, calling it "the Pentagon of platform games". I found that a perplexing statement since the reviewer admitted he couldn't get past the first world. While hard, he said it was also one of the year's essential arcade games and that it should be picked up. Years later when covering Turrican 3, Amiga World would comment that the first two games helped establish the Amiga as "the platform for platformers."
Amazing Computing got the name of the game wrong, calling it "World of Turrican". Amiga Plus also called it this, though I saw no evidence which would suggest an actual name change in America, they simply screwed up. Amazing Computing said it was "the best example of its own particular sub-genre of platform games for the Amiga." Further saying the animation was smooth and seamless, and could be used to show what the Amiga is capable of doing. Other American magazines like Amiga Plus and Info mentioned Turrican as having come out, though they never reviewed it.
In Europe Computer and Video Games said it rather simply, "Get this." with a score of 94% while mentioning the great graphics and music. CU Amiga called it reminiscent of the Japanese shooters, calling the graphics "arcade quality." while saying it was the best shoot 'em up of the year. The Games Machine wrote that it offered shoot 'em up action in a platform game mold, which was "not to be missed". They noted the Amiga version as not being a significant upgrade to the Commodore 64, but that it was still the best pure arcade blast released for it in 1990. The Australian Commodore and Amiga review called the graphics top notch, the sound and music excellent, and the gameplay addictive. I found a number of charts in Europe placing Turrican high in terms of sales and readers input.
My opinion is obviously of a more nuanced variety. It's a lot to change one's mind and go from hating a game to liking it. I've done that while coming to the Amiga version, but my previous experiences on the Genesis also has me willing to admit the various faults I see. The first and fourth worlds are not the highlights of this game. They're too long, they don't look good, and are hard for all of the wrong reasons. The other half of the game is a joy that was hard, but had me enjoying the challenge. Many areas showed how good the graphics could look, and none had me wowed more than seeing a shooter come out of nowhere five levels into the game! The music was simply incredible. It was a bit of a chore coming back to this after all these years, but I'm glad I got to see a glimpse of what so many others see in Turrican, even if it's not all roses on my end. But hey, every rose has its thorn.
I hope you'll check out my video review, where the magazines mentioned here will be read from and thought further upon. It also features looks at the box and manual, and features comparisons with the Genesis and Commodore 64 versions. Readers of this article may also enjoy my looks at Turrican 3 (Amiga), Castlevania (NES), Sword of Sodan (Amiga), or Persian Gulf Inferno (Amiga). And a special thanks to Ms. Mad Lemon for requesting I cover this.