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Turrican Flashback is one of the most wonderfully compiled, lovingly crafted retro-game collections I've had the pleasure of sliding onto my Switch since Nintendo's smash-hit hybrid console released four years ago. Collecting four significant entries in the run-and-gun series - which debuted 30 years ago on the Commodore Amiga and 64 - this ININ Games-published set is a sumptuous sizzler of incessant action that serves both as a delectable diversion down memory lane for older gamers, and as a considerable challenge for younger players eager to show off how they've, ahem, 'got gud'.
For those who know their Turrican history, I can keep this short and sweet. Flashback features four games - the original Amiga version of Turrican; its 1991 sequel Turrican II: The Final Fight for the same computer; the Mega Drive/Genesis game Mega Turrican; and the Super Nintendo's Super Turrican. (Not to be confused with the NES release of the same name - which is a mash-up of the first two games rather than an all-new title.) A fine foursome of furious firepower, indeed.
All play as they did back in the day - which is to say they're fast, hard, loud and pristinely pixel-perfect of looks - but they now come with a rewind feature to save on lost lives, a revised control scheme that doesn't automatically map 'up' to jump (sweet relief), and several save slots per title. There's your usual wallpaper to pick from, to make the sides of the 4:3 screen pretty, and if you really want to you can apply a retro filter to give the games a scanline-crossed CRT look. (Personally, I prefer it without.)
Everything's excellently presented, from perfunctory-looking but effortless-to-navigate menus, to the save slots and even a cheats list - which will come as a blessing to anyone who wants to enjoy the raw thrills of these games without worrying about tip-toeing through particularly punishing sections, where your character's life bar can be stripped down to nothing in a second.
Using these cheats is a cracking throwback to playing these games at the time of their release, as rather than being modes that you activate with the tick of a box, as you might modern titles' accessibility options, you still have to go through the motions of old, such as entering a certain name on the high score leaderboard to gain 99 lives on your next game, or inputting a specific button sequence while the game's paused. Love it. (And don't worry, none are so fiddly that they're any challenge at all to get running.)
Sounds good, right? And it is - so if you played and loved these games back in the day, you know what to do. And speaking of things sounding good, Chris Huelsbeck's immortal soundtracks are present and correct. The melodies on these games are earworms in the extreme, and since my first session with Turrican Flashback I've not been able to take a shower without humming a handful of these chiptune bangers. The striking, cartoon-style intro sequence to Turrican II is intact, too, representing another of several hooks here that tug sharply on the nostalgia glands.
But if the name Turrican means nothing to you - and/or existed in a gaming era before you were even born - what are you getting for your money here, exactly? In short - as the story of Turrican's development is actually a long and fairly tumultuous one, which interest-piqued parties are encouraged to check out (the Turrican series was recently the cover star of Retro Gamer magazine, which really digs into its roots) - the original sci-fi-themed game borrows heavily from Nintendo's Metroid (our protagonist can even roll into a ball) and the rather lesser-known (but very stylistically similar) Psycho-Nics Oscar, an arcade-exclusive game produced by Data East in 1987.
These run-and-gun foundations inspired studios Rainbow Arts (Commodore 64 duties) and Factor 5 (16-bit home computer versions) to create a smooth, multi-direction-scrolling shooter that chewed players up and spat them out with merciless abandon, but was so damn cool looking (and sounding), and so compelling of gameplay with a constant turnover of power-ups and fresh enemy varieties, that players and critics alike fell in love. Turrican II improved on the formula set by its predecessor - bigger, faster, harder, and with added side-scrolling spaceship shooter stages - and everything that followed generally maintained an exceptionally high quality. Mega Turrican takes a more linear approach to its levels' progression, which the easily-lost will prefer; while Super returns to larger maps and adds some visual flair that only the SNES could provide.
But Turrican was also a franchise that suffered from a kind of identity crisis. As great as the first two Amiga games were, they couldn't wholly escape the shadow of their influences - and when Super Metroid came out in 1994, it made Turrican feel rather old-hat (despite the huge levels of Turrican II setting something of a precedent for Nintendo to follow). And it wasn't just the Metroid games that made Turrican feel somewhat... overly familiar, sometimes.
On the Commodore 64, Huelsbeck's iconic menu music for Turrican was replaced with a tune called 'Subsong 2' - which is just 'Escape' from 1986's The Transformers: The Movie given an 8-bit makeover. Like, note for note. The C64 versions of Turrican and Turrican II were apparently meant to be included on Flashback, before licensing issues made the additions impossible. Deep into Turrican II, the game's steel corridors and rocky labyrinths give way to environments straight out of the Alien series, right down to monstrous faces with double jaws trying to grab you and egg sacks opening to reveal face-hugging nasties. (In a surprising twist on the movie licenses feeding into Turrican's design, Turrican II actually got reskinned for its Mega Drive and Game Boy release, becoming a tie-in with the movie Universal Soldier.) While this kind of... flattering imitation, I guess, wasn't such a legal headache in the early 1990s, seeing it again in 2021 is quite the copyright-infringing shock.
Nevertheless, the Turrican games have stood the gameplay test of time as elegantly as any of their contemporaries - the likes of Super Metroid, Gunstar Heroes and Metal Slug. These are uncomplicated, elemental experiences - run, roll, jump, blast lasers at robots until robots explode, repeat (unless the time runs out on a level - there are some sprawling ones!) - but such was their purity at the source that no amount of time passed can significantly dull them. They are tough as nails, mind, very much designed with the arcade mentality of having players blast through their pocket change to make progress (even though Turrican was only ever a home-gaming concern), so consider that before taking the plunge. Or, alternatively, cheat. I'll allow it.
Pros: the games are just like you remember them, save slots and the rewind feature are all welcome (nay, essential!) additions, the RRP of £24.99 is just about alright for four great games in one
Cons: these are difficult games even for players who remember where the cheap shots are coming from (thankfully, those same players also remember where the 1-ups are hidden), a few extra bells and whistles and the inclusion of the 8-bit games would have made this the complete Turrican story
For fans of: Super Metroid, Gunstar Heroes, Contra
Turrican Flashback is released on January 29th for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. Nintendo Switch review code was provided by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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