“ Turrican is a shoot-em-up for one player. „
If you haven't heard of the name Manfred Trenz then you're knowledge of gaming history is pretty piss poor. No doubt this also means you've never heard of The Great Giana Sisters (better than Mario, so much so Nintendo had the game quashed out of existence) or Katakis (better than R-Type) which were both single-handedly programmed on the Commodore 64 by this German game-making genius. So it may also be a stretch for your tiny and constantly confused little brains to recall his most well-regarded title. Turrican (and its superlative sequel) was a mesh of Metroid and R-Type that redefined the platform shoot em' up. Long story made short - Turrican was freaking ace!
The plot, of course, is simple retro-gaming bobbins. A once-impressive society on the planet Alterra has just been destroyed by Morgul, a rogue AI gone mental. All organic matter has been turned into tinned dog food. Morgul's mechanical minions now patrol the planet's surface happily setting upon anyone daft enough to land on Alterra. However, the Turrican has been sent to reclaim the planet from the hordes of robotic gits that currently pollute it and he's got a couple of big fecking guns to help him do it...
Now, do not let the silliness of the above put you off as there truly is much to be admired about Turrican. Firstly, the expanse of the game is vast. Five distinct worlds comprising 13 levels of blasting is not to be sneezed at and that's before divulging the simply mesmerising size of each stage. Like the canyons of Lara Croft's boobage, they are absolutely mahoosive! Importantly, this is where Turrican added a real dynamic to the more lazy horizontal-scrolling shooters around at the time.
For instance, the exit for each level is not necessarily at the standard far left of the map. Instead the multi-directional and nonlinear platforming (reminiscent in style to Metroid) through carefully constructed labyrinth levels encourages exploration. Descending the bowels of the planets surface or carefully scaling Morgul's tower in search of the elusive exit offer necessary alternatives to otherwise bland, repetitive side-ways scrolling (see Super Probotector or Castlevania IV). In addition, two fantastic vertical scrolling stages, where the Turrican straps on a jet-pack to tear a new one out of the minions of Morgul, adds further diversity to the package.
Unlike Metroid, though, Turrican is no plodding puzzler with infrequent sorties of action. Bar the very tough Giger-esque section which is mostly devoid of action, the pace is frantic and constant as waves of enemies look to hinder your progress. Luckily, there are an assortment of power-ups available, the kind more commonly found in pure shoot 'em ups like R-Type, but these work equally well in Turrican's platform jumping environment. The standard multi-shot or lazer blast are complimented by limited use of grenades, mines and power lines; yet further variety is added by the inclusion of more original firepower.
The lightning arc remains a fairly unique piece of weaponry in gaming history. A beam of lightning that the Turrican can arc around his body, it cleaves through enemies like a hot knife through butter and is particularly useful when things are getting a little too chaotic. Then there's the gyroscope - less original as it's not really all that different to Metroid's morph-ball - that allows the Turrican to transform into a spinning wheel of death. Handy for squeezing through small gaps to secret areas and avoiding enemies that are tougher than vindalooed mutton (when in this form the Turrican takes no damage), the gyroscope provides a further dynamic that enhances Turrican's gameplay.
Such a formidable arsenal is well required though, especially when encountering boss styled enemies. Here, Trenz once again tells conformity to do one and rather than boss battles occurring as uniform 'guardians of the exit' encounters, the behemoths of Morgul's army frequently pop-up in the middle of a stage. The first level has no boss encounters for instance; however, a huge metallic fist that looks to crush the Turrican into the ground like a pestle and mortar appears almost immediately at the beginning of stage two. The unexpected nature in the occurrence of such boss battles pretty much fine-tunes the games balance. Whilst on the surface it looks like a simple platform shooter, there is much more depth and a unique freshness on show in Turrican.
Most importantly, though, the challenge is commendable. Whilst jumping around and blasting away was what the phrase 'piece of piss' was invented for (and makes Turrican instantly engaging), just the three lives and three 'continues' ensure that it will not be completed at the first attempt. Equally, a strict time limit means wrong turns on the vast maps are harshly punished. Yet this is balanced by the numerous extra life tokens and well hidden power-up blocks located within each level. Once again, finding them encourages exploration and ensures slow progression can be made with each crack at the game. The balance between the number of lives available and the games toughness, for instance, is pretty much spot on. They become less frequent as the game progresses and will quickly deplete in the more bastard hard maps of later levels, but given time to develop knowledge of each stage the player can gradually edge a little further into Morgul's domain, alleviating any sense of building frustration.
Complementing the superior game design are the well-oiled basics. Collision detection is right on the money and the graphics are as smooth as a Cadbury's Caramel. In particular the huge bosses are well defined and move incredibly swiftly - the battle with a giant mechanical piranha is pretty much amazing - and the parallax scrolling on the vertical jetpack levels is a joy to behold. Chris Hulsbeck's music throughout is also ace. From some pumping tracks for the early levels, to a curious Big Trouble in Little China themed ditty as the Turrican descends into the underground labyrinths of Alterra, each matches the level scenario perfectly. None more so than the lack of music for the Giger themed levels. Replaced by heavy breathing and teeth chattering throughout, it makes for an unsettlingly atmosphere that fits wonderfully with the evocative horror themes of the environment.
If there are any criticisms, the odd graphical glitch does make an appearance and some platform jumps that require pixel-perfect precision are painfully annoying. The final confrontation with Morgul is also a little bit pish! But this really is small fry when compared to the quality that exudes from every other pore of Turrican's essence. Put it this way, the release of Turrican virtually sounded the death knell for the C64 at the beginning of the nineties. Trenz, who programmed the game single-handedly pushed the capabilities of the machine to the limit with total success that everyone else thought "well, we may as well give up now - nothing we programme is ever going to better that." Nothing ever did (well, perhaps Turrican 2, but that's another story). And whilst Manfred needed a small team of monkeys from Factor 5 to assist with the Amiga conversion, it is also instilled with the same approach to perfection. Everything is just as it should be. Little could be improved.
If anything, Turrican highlighted that console-based gaming could be brought to the home computer market. Not only that, it showed the home computer could trounce anything developed for the new super consoles. Playing like an arcade quality title - no, kicking seven shades of shit out of arcade quality titles - Turrican was more than just a handy little shooter. Its sheer vastness and scale, coupled with the originality of its platform shooter ethos, proper awesome boss encounters, varied level design (the Giger level is wonderful) and a well-balanced difficulty level has ensured that it is as fondly remembered today as it was back in the day by righteous Commodore owners. I've just had a great blast replaying it on WinUAE (high score of 1,308,750 - beat that you monkeys), which simply confirms Turrican remains an amazing game!