The trend of repackaging old games for folks to discover (or re-discover) on modern platforms has been around as long as console hardware iteration has been, and it’s not going away any time soon. It’s an effective, if not always elegant, solution to the problem of game preservation—a way of keeping old classics alive and readily available. Turrican Flashback joins that trend, with an assortment of Factor 5’s beloved run-and-gun shooters, and while it’s a solid collection, it can feel a little barebones at times.
Turrican Flashback collects Turrican, Turrican II: The Final Fight, Mega Turrican, and Super Turrican into one package. Fans will notice one glaring omission there: Super Turrican 2 is nowhere to be seen. I’m not sure if there’s some sort of rights issue, since Super Turrican 2 had a different publisher than the rest of the series, but that didn’t stop it from getting included in Strictly Limited Games’ Turrican Anthology—to which Turrican Flashback is meant to be a digital alternative—so to have almost-but-not-quite the full series here is a little disappointing.
But the games that are included are great. Playing as the eponymous Turrican, a bio-engineered super-soldier created to combat various alien threats, each game has you running around and shooting anything that moves with a variety of different weapons. They’re classic run-and-gun shooters in the vein of Contra and Psycho-Nics Oscar, but with one key difference: each level is a big, sprawling labyrinth, rather than the linear levels typically associated with the genre.
This gives the Turrican games a much bigger focus on exploration than the typical run-and-gun, taking inspiration from Metroid in particular. But rather than the expansive map and upgrade systems of that iconic Nintendo, Turrican takes the same approach to a more arcade-style approach, with each level being a self-contained maze designed to be explored in a single play session rather than over multiple hours. It’s a neat setup, and one that never runs out of steam even over the course of four different games. You also have a range of different weapons beyond the standard rapid-fire shot, with mines, grenades, an aimable laser beam, screen-clearing blast, and the ability to morph into an invincible spiked ball (though stock of the latter, in particular, is limited).
It’s also a setup that can be unforgiving. Time limits, while generous by arcade standards, force a sense of urgency that’s at odds with the exploratory nature of the games. Enemies appear suddenly and hit hard, and while there are regular checkpoints, they’re not so frequent to make a sudden and untimely death any less annoying. These are games from the early ’90s that, for better and worse, play like games from the early ’90s.
Turrican Flashback goes some way in addressing some of those signs of age. Save states mean you can save and load at any time, essentially allowing you to create your own checkpoints wherever you want. Perhaps even more useful is the rewind function, which lets you freely rewind the game at any point to undo mistakes or just take a few steps back. It’s surprisingly generous in how far you back you can rewind, too. Turrican Flashback isn’t the first classic game collection to offer such features and won’t be the last, but it’s a good demonstration of how effective this is as a solution to the whole question of “dated” game design: it preserves every challenge, and every obstacle, but creates a more convenient way of trying and retrying those challenges than repeatedly replaying sections of the game that you’ve already beaten.
Turrican Flashback also comes with a revamped control scheme for today’s controllers, avoiding some of the awkward inputs that hardware limitations forced on the originals. Now, each weapon has its own dedicated button, and so does jump—though you still have the option of a “classic” jump input if you really want to relive the awkwardness of pressing up on a d-pad to jump in a platformer. A cheats menu for each game also gives you quick access to the different ways you can activate various cheats, when you really want to give yourself the upper hand.
Those are handy additions, but Turrican Flashback also lacks some standard things. Most jarringly, there are no manuals or game instructions of any sort, for a collection of games that long pre-date in-game tutorials becoming standard. Sure, the Turrican games are pretty self-explanatory for the most part—pressing a button is usually enough to figure out what that button does—but there are also some little details in the UI that would be handy to have some information about, like what diamonds do.
Though less of a standard addition, the exploratory nature of Turrican Flashback would benefit greatly from having some sort of map included. An interactive one that fills in as you explore would be ideal, like what the Sega AGES release of Phantasy Star managed to add, but even without that, a simple static reference map would be a big help for those who want it.
Turrican Flashback also lacks any sort of museum function. This doesn’t affect the games at all, but feels like a missed opportunity in terms of the collection as a historical archive; it’s always nice to be able to browse concept art and read developer notes to help put the games into context, and bring a little bit of interesting trivia to the table for longtime fans.
Even without those things, Turrican Flashback is still a solid collection. Super Turrican 2 is an odd and stark omission, but it’s nice to have the rest of the series readily available on current platforms, keeping their history and influence alive.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.