Review: Turrican 1 (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 17)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 448, Flame Of Finalnd 41, Medway Boys 90, Pompey Pirates 53, SuperGAU 791, Vectronix 757
  • Speedlink USB Joystick


– MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62
– Any of Automation 448, Flame Of Finalnd 41, Medway Boys 90, Pompey Pirates 53, SuperGAU 791, Vectronix 757
– Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So we continue through the rich seam of beloved 16-bit classics in ST Format Issue 17, moving on from Shadow Of The Beast to Turrican. Where Beast offers a slower pace but cheap deaths in service to fantastic visuals, Turrican offers slightly less visually on a technical level (no parallax) but the art is fantastic. Just like Beast, you probably already know about Turrican, it was wildly popular on the Amiga and had a decent following on the ST too. My own experience of the series, until this review, consisted of playing the demo of Turrican 2 on the cover disk of ST Format Issue 20. I had a blast with it, but sadly I didn’t have enough money to buy all the games I wanted. I was time-rich and cash-poor, as is the way of youth, but that meant that cover disk demos got plenty of time and attention.

Turrican is a game which clearly draws inspiration from the Metroid games, featuring large levels with a lot of vertical space and a wide range of enemies to fight, and even the well-animated main sprite wouldn’t look totally out of place in that world. It’s a run and gun but that exploration elevates it against so many side-scrollers because let’s face it, moving on a single plane gets dull fast. Movement is crisp and controllable despite using up-to-jump, helped by a lack of input lag.

With many flying enemies to contend with, you might expect to be overwhelmed as so often those are the most irritating enemies, but Turrican has a clever response to that. Holding the fire button down while not moving charges a weapon which can be rotated in a full 360 degrees, but on the understanding that you cannot move. Its devastating power is impressive but the delay and the inability to move provides balance so that you must carefully consider its use. Without this careful balancing it’s likely that nobody would use the other weapons.

Thankfully the other weapons are pretty decent too, and well-balanced. Your standard blaster is perhaps a little underpowered but power-ups can transform it to fire in up to 5 directions at once in an arc ahead of you, or swap it to a far more powerful laser. Additionally, when you’re in a tight spot, holding the joystick down and holding fire will place a mine on the ground which will explode and deal with nearby walking enemies. For emergencies (and you get very few of these so it really should be an emergency) hitting space activates an energy line – effectively a device to kill everything on screen, while alt fires a grenade (clearly they ran into the limitations of a single-button joystick).

This careful weapon balance forms part of the smart design which makes Turrican feel hard but fair. None of the spikes erupting from the ground of Shadow Of The Beast, very very few areas that are designed to elicit cheap deaths, Turrican is for the most part scrupulously fair and you are a master of your own destiny.

The only place where perhaps there is some question mark is a section where you have to jump up through a set of vertical platforms. Now most platform games regard a platform as solid only on the way down – this allows you to navigate more easily. In Turrican you bump your head on the platform above you. This is also a legitimate choice as it can be the foundation of some good navigational puzzling. In this case there’s a mechanic which correctly gets trailed earlier in a low-risk setting, a technique we’ll all be familiar with from the Mario games. With a stack of platforms vertically aligned and no other way to reach the top, you jump out from the current platform then manoevre back to where you start horizontally. With up-to-jump this can be quite tricky. Certainly I struggled a few times but that was fine as the consequence was manageable. Less fine was encountering the same approach with a load of spikes below. It ramped up the tension no doubt, but it felt a little less honest than the rest of the game’s design.

Who thought a vertical scroller was a good idea?

The other misstep for me is the vertically-scrolling shooter sections. They sound ok on paper, and they might have worked, but the 360-degree firing weapon is taken away and you can only fire horizontally. While one could design a horizontal shooter in such a way for that to work, they haven’t done that. It’s a shame as one should always encourage experimentation, but on this occasion perhaps it needed a little longer in the oven, some tweaks to enemy design and to the layout of the environments to make it work.

Returning to the technical for a moment, the graphics are fantastic. Technically perhaps they might not impress as Shadow Of The Beast, with no backgrounds as such, no parallax, just floor/wall tiles on a blank background, but the art style is excellent, and the speed and smoothness achieved is remarkable for an Atari ST (even if not quite at Amiga levels). The game throws around some massive sprites at times and doesn’t show signs of slowing down (though it’s notable that when the really huge sprites appear the scrolling stops – in part an artistic choice to frame the battle but likely also a technical one). Additionally, the music is fantastic, even in the ST’s chip variant, and while the Amiga version is no doubt the definitive edition the ST retains a charm of its own in its take on some fantastic music (and in the intro we do actually get samples of comparable quality to the Amiga).

Verdict

Turrican is a genuine classic, one of the best of its type, though perhaps bettered by its sequel. There really is so much right and so little wrong, and the music driving you on through waves of carefully-balanced battles without slowdown, without excessive disk-accessing, where enemies are clear and readable, that’s worth its weight in gold. I commend this game to you all, on ST or Amiga.

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