Turok for the Nintendo Switch is interesting for many reasons. But its road to resuscitation over 20 years is the most intriguing of all.
The most fascinating thing is to see where it initially came from: a set of stories from the 1950s and 1960s that starred a young Native American man and his brother as they try to escape a valley lost in time. Turok and his sibling Andar journeyed through a realm filled with dinosaurs, from pterodactyls to tyrannosaurs, hoping to escape the Lost Lands. Fast forward 30 years, and the character gets revived by Valiant Comics, now with the requisite 90s edginess, replete with an egregious amount of muscle and semi-automatic weapons. The Lost Lands are now stuck in a literal time loop, with our hero fighting not just thunder lizards, but aliens, mercenaries and demons. Just to take the layer of abstraction for this niche character one step further, publisher Acclaim bought up the property and launched a series of very successful first-person shooters with the help of lauded studio Iguana Entertainment.
Now here we sit, 20 years later, with a long-lost game based on a long-forgotten property made by a long-defunct developer and a long-ignored publisher, magically revived by Nightdive Studios. I’ll get to the game proper in a minute, but it’s worth mentioning that replaying Turok was a delight not just because it’s still a solid game all these years later, but because someone saw fit to find the rights to it and bring it back verbatim. There are a few new amenities like achievements, gyro controls and a higher resolution, but for the most part this is the same game we all tried to wrangle on those goofy Nintendo 64 controllers. In fact, this game is a better rendition merely due to the presence of a true dual analog stick set-up along with decades’ worth of practice at 3D spatial recognition on my part, which has turned the platforming that people hated so much at the time and made it, well, kind of fun.
Turok is a throwback to a time after the likes of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D defined first-person shooters but before more open experiences like Halo and Half-Life. Which is to say that it makes it a weird amalgamation of the two design philosophies. Although many gamers fault the game for it’s thick, load-hiding fog, in all honesty it provides the somewhat sparsely jungle themed stages with a little ambience. For the first few stages (and a few later on), the game mostly works as a series of narrow pathways that punctuate larger areas, usually filled with obstacles or ruins and the like. They feel freeform even though in practice they’re actually cleverly designed corridors; but the illusion is good enough to keep things interesting. The game falters a bit on the fourth stage and last stage as the game attempts to make things much more open by giving you big constructs to explore – but with a spotty map and not a lot of landmarks to navigate by, these tend to be tedious and reminiscent of those early 90s FPSes I mentioned.
There’s something oddly satisfying about the menagerie of foes, a mix of humanoids (who start as your average camouflaged mercenary and finish with alien-like beings… with the same move set), flittering bugs and bionic dinosaurs. Even though you could probably count the polygons it took to make them, there’s still something terrifying about coming face-to-face with a dimetrodon with machine guns strapped to its sides. Even though I don’t have any real knowledge of the source material, your enemies are a fun assortment of goofy villains – even the handful of broken boss battles that try to add tension, but end up feeling cheap.
One has to question whether or not something like Turok (a) holds up by today’s standards and (b) is worthwhile to those who don’t have nostalgia for it. The technical issues that seemed to plague the game upon release are alleviated by the fact that gamers now have a base knowledge of how games in first person work, so analog aiming and knowing the “feel” of jumps don’t end up as infuriating as they once were. As for the second part of the question, the frenetic pace, tight controls and gnarly dinosaurs make it playable; my kids enjoyed it immensely, seeing the low-poly design not as a sign of its age, but as a visual design choice.
I love that such a weird, niche title like Turok not only managed to claw its way back from the dead, but also managed to be worth playing beyond the rose-tinted memories of the majority of players who will pick it up. In short, it’s still inherently good. So kudos to Nightdive for recognizing the potential of bringing back long lost fare for all to enjoy. I can’t wait to see what they dig up next!
Turok was developed by Nightdive Studios and is available on Switch, Xbox One, Mac and PC. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Turok was provided by Nightdive Studios. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.