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Review: Turrican Flashback (Switch)

Back in the day when I was moonlighting at a retro gaming store, we had a complete-in-box copy of Super Turrican 2 for the Super Nintendo. All of my fellow employees chanted in repetition just how great this game was – as if it was some sort of holy grail of action-platformers. I was legitimately curious but wasn’t will to pay the $200 price tag.

That was seven years ago. A lot of time has passed since then, pushing the idea of trying the Turrican series to the wayside. Plus, regardless of what my colleagues told me, Turrican didn’t seem to leave much of a lasting impression on the minds of most retro enthusiasts. This could be due to co-developer Factor 5 running into issues with publisher THQ in the late ’90s, and eventually falling into bankruptcy. But as fate would have it, ININ Games just released a select number of the classic side-scrolling shooters with Turrican Flashback.

Visual Option Select

Turrican Flashback is a four piece consisting of Turrican and Turrican II: The Final Fight for the Commodore Amiga, Mega Turrican for the SEGA Genesis and Super Turrican for the Super Nintendo. To accommodate players, all four games share a universal control scheme – meaning you won’t have to adjust your playstyle jumping between titles.

The collection also offers an impressive array of options in how to visually enjoy the game, such as CRT shader options, scanlines, dynamic HUD displays, pixel scaling and much, much more. To be completely candid, Turrican Flashback has one of the most robust display menus for any retro release. The idea of being able to control the curvature of the scanlines is a luxury, and it incorporates the newer “CRT-Lottes” shader: a popular shader that utilizes a horizontal shadow mask pattern.

Turrican Flashback’s expansive video options

“Welcome to Turrican”

Where else to start but at the beginning? Turrican throws you right into the world of Alterra, a planet once championed as a harmonious utopia. A natural disaster finds the denizens of Alterra at the mercy of the tyrannical artificial intelligence known as MORGUL. It falls on bionic mecha-soldier Turrican, who must jump into action and put down the sentient super computer, thus restoring peace to the planet.

Typical ’90s action drivel, I know. But for a game over 30 years old, Turrican does a good job of holding up. Our main character comes stock with plenty of ways to engage the enemy: an arsenal of energy weapons like lasers and spread-shot, earthshattering mines, flashy grenades, screen clearing “line” attacks and a devastating lightning whip. Like in other shoot ’em ups, energy weapon power ups stack on top of each other depending on the type. So collecting two or more spread-shot power ups enables you to shoot up to five rounds at a time, proving to be a deadly weapon in narrow corridors. Untimely deaths will result in your powerups being reduced by one stage, so don’t die too much.

Kneeling provides a more accurate shot.

Players also have access to the “gyroscope,” an ability very reminiscent of the morph ball from Metroid. When in this mode, Turrican self propels itself quickly, giving the player invulnerability from the majority of threats and obstacles like spike traps. Keep in mind, there is a limited number of gyroscopes available to the player, so spend them wisely.

Turrican’s strongest asset is the sense of exploration in the world. While other character action shooters provide a linear path, Turrican prefers wide-open spaces. It’s easy to get lost in the world, finding small alcoves with hidden treasure troves filled with power ups. Some pathways are littered with booby traps and perilous platform formations for the player to navigate across. And there’s secret optional bosses that you can just stumble upon that may be in the complete opposite direction of the exit. It’s this formula that probably left an impression on Factor 5’s successors like id Software in creating expansive 3D worlds found in Quake and similar first-person shooters that dominated the mid-’90s.

I’ve also got to comment on the score as a whole. The soundtrack is just so atmospheric when it needs to be. The open grasslands of the early stages are soft and lighthearted, only for the score to hit harder when scenes transition from natural to artificial. Turrican’s composition was written by the renowned Christopher Hülsbeck, a German composer specializing in electronica music for the Amiga. He’s had plenty of his work transposed for the Symphonic Game Music Concert, with specific recognition for his contributions to the Turrican series.

Flashback Woes

My first venture into the world of Turrican was mostly positive. My biggest pet peeve being the inability to orient your aim into the air without having to use the lightning whip. But that’s a me problem, not being able to adapt to the control schemes of yesterday. That said, moving to Turrican II: The Final Fight and the other titles may give the player some fatigue.

Turrican: The Final Fight feels largely like the same game. Sure, different setting, different badguys, but still largely the same game with minimal updates. Even Mega and Super Turrican feel more like ports than proper sequels. And that’s fine if you’re a hardcore Turrican fan. I almost don’t care that I’m essentially playing the same game with new coats of paint. Some of the games change up abilities to make it feel different, like how Mega Turrican modifies the lightning whip into a grapple beam, opening up new paths to navigate through the stage.

In that same breath, I also feel a bit cheated. Turrican Flashback is missing a major entry – one considered to be the best in the series. Remember when I mentioned my unwillingness to drop $200 on Super Turrican II? Well Turrican Flashback doesn’t have it packed in. Which is unfortunate, because complete-in-box options for Super Turrican II have more than doubled in price since 2014, and a loose cart goes for considerably more than what my store was selling it for.

How would you like to fight the same boss in three games?

Final Warning

There is one persistent issue that keeps popping up every time I boot this game up. Turrican Flashback consistently crashes. No matter how long or how short I play, I was greeted by this screen. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was as I attempted to make my way through the final areas of Super Turrican, only to get hit with a crash that also deleted my save states. There’s not even an option to send an error report to the developers.

Never fails to crash.

It’s here that I’m presented with a dilemma. Turrican Flashback has the makings of a great retro collection. Unlike ININ Games previous partnership with Taito, Turrican Flashback sits on the cusp of greatness with a revamped control scheme, outstanding composition and expansive worlds that calls out to you. But as it stands now, I cannot in good faith recommend a product that could fail and interrupt your gameplay experience.

Unable to satisfactorily play; score pending

We discussed these issues with our media contact about this issue and have been told it’s an isolated issue and there have been no similar issues reported to them. Additionally, they also confirmed the game will have a release-day patch that will address some minor bugs but nothing specific to the issue we experienced in our review copy.

Once we can play the game without these crashes, Turrican Flashback will then get the score that it deserves.

Christopher Wenzel

One half of The ScrubVerse Podcast. Lover of Shining Force and Guilty Gear. Owner of the most basic Sol Badguy. Will do morally ambiguous things for a remake of Phantasy Star IV. Send Jameson for morale.
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