Turrican Flashback review: classic games tamed for modern tastes

I have fond memories of playing Turrican II on the Amiga with my mate Alex. This classic run-and-gun game looked utterly phenomenal for the time, throwing around huge sprites on enormous levels, with some impressively over the top weapons. But toast my teacakes it was hard. Alex and I would play in turns, passing the joystick when one of us died – and it was usually only a minute or two between passes.

Which is why one of the best features of the newly released Turrican Flashback is the ability to rewind your progress at the touch of a button. Levels that were once an exercise in joystick-hurling frustration suddenly become enjoyable, almost pleasant, since you know that any time you accidentally plunge off a cliff, or get surprised by a particularly vicious robot crab, you can just hold down the button and whizz back a few seconds to a place of relative safety. And now you can save your game at any point, too, rather than having to start the entire game again when you run out of lives. Honestly, I sometimes can’t believe that the young me put up with a world without save games – what a harsh and unforgiving environment us eighties kids grew up in.

The Amiga version of Turrican is included, rather than the Commodore 64 original. But the Amiga version has that killer Chris Huelsbeck soundtrack.

Turrican Flashback contains four Turrican games: Turrican and Turrican II from the Amiga, Mega Turrican from the Mega Drive, and Super Turrican from the Super NES (weirdly, Super Turrican 2 is missing, but more on that later). As well as including the ability to save your game, all of the titles come with various optional adjustments, like adding a CRT filter and adjusting the screen size, and you can also choose to play in original mode, without any of the saving or rewinding. Cleverly, you can only unlock trophies on the PS4 version when playing in original mode, so the emphasis is on learning your way through the game with the stabilisers on, then going back and playing through the whole thing ‘properly’, without instant rewinds. It’s a great balance between accessibility and maintaining the rock-hard challenge of the original.

Turrican II is definitely superior to its prequel, but Mega Turrican is better, I reckon.

I played through all of these games recently for my Retro Gamer feature on the history of Turrican, and I can happily say that Turrican Flashback is by far the best way to play these titles in 2021. They look great, and the added features make a world of difference – not least that fact that the terrible control system of ‘up to jump’ has been eliminated, with leaps now activated by the X button. Although if you’re feeling masochistic, you can go in and change it back – in fact, you can modify the control scheme to your heart’s content.

But do these nearly 30-year-old games still hold up today? Are they actually fun to play? Well, for the most part, yes. Graphically they have more than stood the test of time, with the stunning pixel art perhaps holding even more charm today than it did in the 1990s. And for the most part the gameplay is a frenetic blast, with enjoyable boss fights and screen-filling explosions.

Mega Turrican added a nifty grappling hook, as well as some spiffing level designs.

Then again, there are plenty of design decisions that would never make it into a modern game. For a start, there are no ‘invincibility frames’ after being hit by an enemy, so if you get run into by a group of enemies, you’ll constantly take damage and die within a couple of seconds. There are also far too many ‘leaps of faith’ in the first two games in particular, where you can’t see the ground below a platform and instead have to jump off it blindly – more often than not landing on a cruel carpet of spikes. Then there’s the fact that, again in Turrican I and II, you have to walk almost to the edge of the screen to make it scroll forward, giving you fractions of a second to react to bullets or enemies suddenly appearing from the right of the screen.

Although Turrican II is often held up as the definitive Turrican game, I reckon Mega Turrican and Super Turrican are actually slightly better, since both fix many of the problems I’ve described above. Out of all four games in this compilation, I found I enjoyed my time with Mega Turrican the most, thanks chiefly to its imaginative and beautiful level design. Many fans lamented the way that Mega Turrican stuck to a more linear left-to-right format compared with the greater focus on exploration in Turrican II, but I was never that big a fan of the exploration side anyway, especially since it usually meant getting stuck in a dead end while trying to find the exit with just a slither of health remaining. The Turrican games were partly inspired by Metroid (along with the obscure Data East arcade game Psycho-Nics Oscar), but whereas Metroid made exploration compelling thanks to all of its hidden upgrades and tools, Turrican never really gave you a solid reason to explore, since all it offers in the way of collectibles are essentially useless diamonds and the odd extra life.

Mega Turrican is essentially the same game as Turrican III, which came out on the Amiga about a year before Mega Turrican was released. But weirdly, Mega Turrican was finished first, and got held up in a protracted publishing deal.

That said, these old games are a lot of fun, and if you have fond memories of them from your youth, you’re likely to have a blast revisiting them. However, my big beef with Turrican Flashback is that £30 is quite a lot to pay for decades-old games, especially considering the lack of extras. I can understand that a lot of work must have gone in to reconditioning these games for modern consoles, but at this price you’d expect some extra material like director’s commentaries, old artwork, developer interviews, and so on. SNK showed how this kind of reissue should be done with its sumptuous Anniversary Collection, and I’m afraid this collection falls far short of that game’s fan service.

Super Turrican – it’s a bit tricky to discern the protagonist from the background on the first level.

Then there’s the baffling omission of Super Turrican 2. This game is included in the two-part Turrican Anthology being released by ININ’s sister company Strictly Limited Games, so its absence here is all the stranger. Turrican Flashback is clearly being aimed at more mainstream fans, while the Turrican Anthology is aimed at more hardcore collectors, but that doesn’t explain why one of the main five Turrican games hasn’t been included in the former.

So all in all, we’re left with a rather slight offering considering the price. But the games themselves are the best they’ve ever been.

Turrican Flashback was developed by ININ Games, and it’s available on Switch and PS4. We played the PS4 version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Turrican Flashback was provided by PR Hound. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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