Game Review: “Turrican Anthology Vols. 1 & 2” (PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch)
ININ Games has once again set out to deliver the glories of gaming past to the huddled masses of modern gamers, this time choosing to do so with Turrican Anthology Volume 1 and Volume 2.* Stemming from the early 90s and consoles such as the Amiga, the SEGA Genesis and the Super Nintendo, the Turrican series hasn’t been as readily remembered as many other retro game series.
Thanks to ININ, now you have no excuse but to try them out. Between both volumes, there are ten games. Sort of. Before getting into the quality of games themselves (all of which were originally developed by Factor 5), let’s look at the titles that come with the two volumes:
- Turrican II
- Super Turrican
- SuperTurrican: Director’s Cut
- Mega Turrican: Score Attack
- Turrican 3 (aka Turrican III: Payment Day)
- Mega Turrican
- Mega Turrican Director’s Cut
- Super Turrican 2
- Super Turrican: Score Attack
It should immediately stand out that this isn’t exactly “10 different games”, but also that different versions of the same games (the Score Attack versions) exist across both volumes. To make things a bit more bizarre, Mega Turrican is essentially the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive port of Turrican 3, and “Director’s Cut” versions aren’t remarkably different (some different enemy placements and additional stages/areas). That really makes a total of five distinct games:
- Turrican II
- Turrican 3
- Super Turrican
- Super Turrican 2
Why ININ divided up the games up across two volumes in this way is anyone’s guess, but that’s how it goes. In addition to the games, there are a number of different bonuses and features. There is an unlockable image gallery, sound tests, cheat codes, rewind and save states, and of course trophy/achievement support for platforms that feature them. There are also multiple audio and video options, including scan line filters and multiple versions of the in-game soundtrack. I preferred the original “emulated” soundtracks over the CD-quality remasters, but all are welcome to disagree.
All of the bells and whistles in the world won’t matter much if the core package is trash, so now let’s turn to the main attractions, the games themselves.
Welcome to Turrican!
My personal history with the Turrican series is very thin. I know that I briefly played one of the games as a kid, probably either Super Turrican on SNES or the SEGA Genesis port of the original game. I don’t recall. I certainly never played an Amiga, Turrican or otherwise, so I’m going into these games pretty fresh.
Upon booting up the games, I was emotionally struck. It wasn’t nostalgia, as I barely remember the series from the 90s, and it’s not the same feeling I get when I play a game that’s “a breath of fresh air”, so to speak. It was a strange, almost sad feeling, as though I was opening up a lost door to my childhood and visiting a series that I was always meant to play.
With little exception, these games are stellar, and there aren’t enough kicks on earth to adequately kick myself for passing on them until today.
The story of the series isn’t terribly important. It is some time in the future, and humanity is threatened by an ancient, three-headed evil being known as Morgul and his acolytes, “The Machine.” In the first game, at least. In the later games, The Machine is headed by a supervillain type in a purple suit.
It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you are an elite member of the USS Freedom Forces equipped with the advanced Turrican assault suit. This brings a small arsenal of weapons along with it, including your gun, a grenade launcher, landmines, a 360-degree lightning attack, a screen-clearing wave weapon, and the ability to turn into a Metroid-esque gyroid ball which allows you to drop bombs. Your standard weapon can also be upgraded with a spread and laser weapon in the first Turrican, and additional weapons in later games.
That’s a lot of ways to deal death. However, in the Turrican series, death has plenty of ways to deal with you, too. In the first Turrican, your power meter drains so long as you are still in contact with an enemy. In other words, there is no invincibility/recovery time when you take a hit. If you land on an enemy or hazard, no matter how insignificant, your life drains pretty quickly. Not much of an advanced assault suit if it completely breaks down from being touched by a bug, eh?
Other than bugs, there are a number of enemies in Turrican, many of which will recur in later installments. There are several types of robots – some crawl, some fly, and some jump, and most all of seem to shoot bullets, too. There are also a number of other creatures, too, including tiny spiders that take far too many hits to kill.
There’s quite a bit of variety in the boss fights. Sure, some are visually more impressive than others, but most of them are pretty big, and they are tough. Many of them have “safe zones” though, which allow you to make careful use of your grenade launcher and then pummel away at their soft spots using the lightning weapon without much risk to your own life and limb.
Otherwise. It’s all hard. All of it. Not just the boss fights, not just the first game, but the entire Turrican series is a tough one, even for the most seasoned of retro gamers. In addition to the enemies and bosses that are always trying to take you out, there is a time limit that will cost you a life when it expires. This isn’t typically an issue in most action games, but the stages in Turrican are quite large, with many branching paths to explore. In short, it’s easy to get lost, and it’s not always clear which barriers in the background act as barriers, and which ones you can pass through.
Fortunately, the game hands out free lives like candy, temporary force fields are readily available, and there is also a map to see where you have and haven’t been. Most of the platforming challenges won’t kill you either, as your Turrican suit can get some serious air when it jumps. There’s also a jetpack stage, which always nets a few bonus points from me.
Visually, the first Turrican looks great for a game released in 1990. The main character’s animation is smooth, the weapon effects are impressive, and as mentioned above, the bosses are massive. The sound, particularly the music, is stellar. Composed by Chris Hülsbeck, the game’s tunes are a fantastic blend of driving beats and catchy melodies, while the tinny synthesized instrumentation is a perfect match for the futuristic sci-fi setting.
When Turrican II landed on the Amiga, it brought with it a number of improvements over the original. There are a few new weapons and abilities added to the Turrican suit’s arsenal, including the bounding/ricochet weapon (which I didn’t use much) and a powerful “nuke” super attack.
There are a few updates to the first game’s aesthetics. The graphics are a little bit prettier and more colorful, and there are voices added for whenever you pick up a new weapon. Some of the weapon effects were changed, some for the better, but others- not so much (the bigger laser doesn’t really look like a laser anymore, but the lightning attack looks dumb now). The soundtrack- once again- is top-notch.
Otherwise, Turrican II provides a lot more of what the first game delivered – a smooth and inspired sci-fi action game with large stages, impressive boss fights, and a few surprises along the way (does the Turrican suit float or sink?). I really have very little to complain about with this sequel.
After a lackluster port of the first Turrican was released on the SEGA Genesis, the Super Nintendo outing, Super Turrican was tailor made for the SNES player and hardware.
One of the immediately noticeable differences is that you now get a brief invincibility/recovery time when you take damage. Your Turrican suit also can’t jump as high as before, and the animation is a little bit choppier than the predecessors on the Amiga.
To make up for these shortfalls, the overall visual design takes advantage of the Super Nintendo’s expansive color palette, and the character designs have a bit more detail in them. There is also a healthy helping of Mooooode 7, too, which is used to great effect in both the gameplay and the story sequences.
Otherwise, there is a lot in Super Turrican that is recycled from the previous two games. Not only are there similar enemies and remixed music, but several of the boss fights are pretty much a cut and paste from Turrican and Turrican II. Not a bad thing if you were a Super Nintendo owner who had never played another Turrican game, but it becomes slightly irking in this collection. The most important thing, though, is that Super Turrican remains a very fun game.
Turrican 3 (Turrican III: Payment Day)/Mega Turrican
Yes, Payment Day it’s a very strange subtitle. While some people might disagree with grouping Turrican 3 (Amiga) and Mega Turrican (Genesis/Mega Drive) together, they’re pretty much the same game despite a few differences in the audio and video presentation.
Turrican 3 adds a few new abilities to the mix, including homing missiles and a grappling ability. The latter takes some finesse to get used to, but it works, and the game doesn’t typically ask you to use it in a pinch.
The graphic design borrows from Super Turrican on the Super NES, though with slightly better animation and more muted colors.
On the sound side, I personally preferred the sharper sounds of Mega Turrican on the Genesis to Turrican 3 on the Amiga, but that’s all a matter of taste. It’s still a solid soundtrack, either way.
By this time, the basic Turrican formula is nearly perfected, and my sense is that most people find Turrican 3/Mega Turrican to the the high point in the series.
Super Turrican 2
The second SNES outing, Super Turrican 2, is really the odd duck of the series. Not only was it a very limited release and demands quite a price on the secondary market, it is also the most unlike the other Turrican games that came before it.
The basics are all there – single player, sci-fi run & gun with a ton of weapons. However, this time around the levels are more linear, and the aesthetics of the game have completely rebuilt from the ground up, and not for the better. The weapons themselves all look different, and among the changes, I have to say that the new laser looks really cool. However, the Turrican suit itself is barely recognizable. The biggest letdown in Super Turrican 2, however, is that the soundtrack does not hold up to the games that came before it. The tunes are standard, muffled SNES fare, but the compositions are immediately forgettable.
It’s not all bad, though. Much like its Super Nintendo predecessor, Super Turrican 2 makes good use of the console’s Mode 7 effects in some interesting ways (Including HUGE rotating bosses). It refines the grappling hook ability, though it is still a bit clunky to release from it. There’s a lot of new ideas in the game, too, such as continually scrolling stages, and a segment where you have to use the grappling hook to dangle from a flying ship (don’t accidentally reach this area with the flame thrower weapon!).
Honestly, Super Turrican 2 felt more like a single player Contra game with a heavier sci-fi edge, less interesting music, and of course the grapple ability that doesn’t always work well. It’s still a very solid game (I’m still comparing it to Contra, after all), and I very much appreciate the points where the game attempts to do something new, but as a sequel in the Turrican series, I found it to be a bit of a letdown.
That brings us to the end of the games, themselves. Once you beat them all (which may take a while considering how tough they are), there are also “Score Attack” versions of Mega Turrican and Super Turrican, which throw you into a massive arena type stage where you collect as many gems and blast as many enemies as you can either before time runs out, you lose all of your lives, or you find the exit. These modes are really nice if you just need a quick Turrican fix but don’t want to immerse yourself in one of the full versions of the games.
Alas, poor me…
My final thoughts on these two Turrican Anthologies are bittersweet. Why? Because I have but one short life to live, and I’ve already spent more than forty years of it not playing Turrican games. I’m not lying when I say that playing them really did feel like discovering a missing piece of my childhood gaming soul, as corny as it sounds.
Each game in the series has its own merits, and even at their worst, they’re all still very good. I’m sure fans of the series have their own favorite, though for me, I think I may prefer the first game, oddly enough.
As far as the anthology volumes themselves are concerned, they have all of the necessary options and features to be a solid, but not retro game collections. My only complaint is that it is still incredibly baffling why the games are divided between the two volumes. It’s very strange that they weren’t all included in the same collection so that they’re all accessible in the same interface. If anything, I think it may have made more sense to do an “Amiga” volume and a SEGA/Nintendo volume, if you had to split it up.
My recommendation? If you are a retro game aficionado of nearly any sort, I highly recommend picking up Turrican Anthology Volumes I and II. I recognize that at $34.99 a pop, you may feel more comfortable just throwing down for one or the other if you are looking to test the waters. However, if they ever get much of a discount, I don’t think that you will be disappointed if you just get them both. It’s the only way to be sure, after all.
*Disclosure: A copy of Turrican Anthology Volumes 1 and 2 were provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.
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