Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Why not miss Turrican Flashback

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Turrican Flashback is coming to PlayStation 4 (also playable on PS5) and Switch today, and it’s a project worth checking out. The new collection includes four full games: Turrican, Turrican II, Mega Turrican and Super Turrican. It includes updated visuals with plenty of options to tweak things to a more nostalgic look, as well as record states and a rewind feature. It’s a perfect way to play these games, whether you are excited about a return to an old favorite, or if you never had the chance to play these awesome games back in the day.

Developer Factor 5 would later be strongly identified with his work on Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, but the studio’s early work on Turrican (and its many sequels) is a big part of how he rose to fame.

As a side-scrolling action game, the Turrican series is less well known than many of its contemporaries, but even a few minutes playing one of these games amply proves that quality wasn’t the issue. These are stellar games that were (and are) a lot of fun.

Matt Miller: Jeff, I am delighted to discuss these games with you. We both spent time looking at the new collection. I was surprised at how much I forgot about these games and how smart they are. What was your first impression?

Jeff Cork: It had been a long time since I had thought of Turrican, honestly, and I had also forgotten a lot about them. The boxes were a familiar sight when I was wondering what to rent from the video library. They were very cool back then, and the art certainly helped bridge the gap between what the developers might have had in mind and what was actually on screen. I’ve rented a few of them over the years and replaying some has definitely brought me back – for better or for worse. I’m not going to spoil your enthusiasm yet. What is your history with the franchise?

Mast: Oh, totally. I remember seeing these games at the video store at the time. I owned Super Turrican on SNES, but I remember playing the original Amiga games on a friend’s system, and spending hours trying to find secret paths and go deeper.

I heard you say they weren’t all perfect, but there were a lot of things that these games did well. The music is some of the best of the period, with a ton of variation in melodies, long loops and catchy rhythms. The action was smooth and the side-to-side scrolling was top notch – which certainly wasn’t a guarantee in games of this period. And I also really liked the mix of Contra-esque shooting action with all of the constantly evolving weapons, alongside a more exploratory vibe that was reminiscent of aspects of games like Metroid.

Jeff: Ah! The music is really great. I found myself hanging out at the end of an area listening to it repeatedly on repeat. I think you and I go our separate ways when it comes to the exploratory vibe, though. Its level design is quite open, with a lot of backtracking and dead ends. It’s a style from that era of platform games that never really stood out to me. This is one of the reasons I never really liked Sonic games – which I would cite as an example of a series that does these more open scenes pretty well. Turrican games make me feel lost and frustrated, not like an armored explorer who’s excited to see what’s on this next chain of platforms. I will say it’s really interesting to be able to jump between entries in the series and see how that has changed over time.

Mast: Yeah, I have this frustration around the potential for goal scoring. In fact, it’s really interesting to me how we see that side of things evolve over those four games. The former (especially Turrican II, my favorite) have a lot of branching paths, but you’re right that they end in weird ways sometimes. Some of the latest games in this collection are more linear, but lose their sense of discovery a bit. Anyway, there is one quality that rewards repeated play, as you learn the different levels and their shapes, which I think I really liked as a kid.

What did you think of this Flashback collection, as a reissue and remaster?

Jeff: If you want to play these games, this is an easy way to do it. It’s a fairly simple presentation; If you’re looking for some additional historical context for the series, concept art, or developer info, you better go Google. You can lean on save states if you find the games too difficult, and you can also access context menus with hints, but that’s about it.

Mast: Yeah, it’s a very down to earth and utilitarian setup. They have talked a lot about the games and the way you want them to be. But in that regard, I feel like it really excels.

In addition to the save states you mentioned, I love the rewind mechanism they put in, which allows you to hold a button down and pull the action out as far as you want. It’s a fun feature in any game, but it’s especially useful in one of those old-fashioned action / platform games, where there are a lot of frustrating dead falls and situations where you lose all your health bar because of a bad jump. Not to mention the times when you fall off a ledge that doesn’t kill you, but requires you to reshape the last 2 minute section. Rewinding takes out all that nonsense (if you don’t want it), and lets you get back to exploring levels and progressing.

Jeff: You’re right, it’s an extremely useful feature. I might have had more positive memories of the series if this feature had existed at the time. I don’t want to stress this point, but it’s disappointing that there isn’t much here outside of games. This kind of dull presentation is not enough Also overwhelming when working with a more well-known franchise (looking at you, Super Mario 3D All-Stars), but something like Turrican would have benefited from additional materials. On the plus side, the emphasis on games keeps the file size surprisingly small by today’s standards: I had to check when he said the download was 48MB. Talk about a blast the past!

Mast: Yes, in many ways, a release like this should do more to highlight why these games should be remembered better than they are. Nonlinear designs, music, backgrounds, and monster designs – a lot of these things were ahead of their time, although they still weren’t perfect by our now modern standards. I would have liked to see a little more exactly what you are talking about.

On the other hand, as a perfect way to play four of these games, it hits a lot of good grades.

Jeff Cork: Superb notes of chiptune, too!

Turrican Flashback is now available on PS4 and Switch. Watch the trailer below to see what you can expect to find in the new collection.


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