Review: Turrican 2 (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 20)

ST Format got the review bang-on – also props for getting to the later levels

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 449, Pompey Pirates 75, Superior 57, SuperGAU 403/469/769/808/844, Vectronix 566
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

An intro that will be familiar to many of you

So you’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu here as it’s only 3 issues ago that ST Format reviewed Turrican 1, and yet here we are, 3 months later, with Turrican 2 on our hands. Surely a good game can’t be built that quickly?

In truth, while a good game can be built in 3 months, one with the complexity and performance of Turrican probably can’t. It’s fairly obvious then that this game was not built from scratch, but instead built on the bones of its prequel, given it shares a good portion of its sprites and weapon power-ups and even enemies and backdrops. Even the title screen looks basically the same, just with 2 hastily added to it. So is it a lazy cash grab?

This is a sequel that deals in evolution rather than revolution – little touches that make it look better, the stripping away of less successful elements of the first game, and the refinement of what’s already there. For example, you may recall that when you hold down the fire button while stationary the gun fires a lightning bolt laser thing which you can rotate with the joystick. It remained in a straight line and would come from the end of the gun which would not move.

In Turrican 2 it’s a more visually impressive affair, with flames emanating from the gun and Turricans arms manoevreing the gun around in a circle as you rotate, giving it a much more realistic look. The flames themselves also have a physical weight to them where as you move the gun the outer edges of the flame trail tend take a little time to catch up. It’s hard to explain but it looks a lot more impressive. There are loads of these little touches – bridges where the bridge visibly sags under the weight of your warrior, which isn’t to suggest that he needs a diet – he is after all wearing a metal suit which probably weighs a fair bit.

Sensibly the sequel drops the bizarre vertical scrolling shooter sections where you can only fire horizontally – it didn’t really work and difficulty was horrendous. In its place is a more traditional side-scrolling shooter in a spaceship which could easily be mistaken for R-Type. That’s no bad thing of course and showcases the versatility of the game’s engine which is truly impressive in its ability to throw sprites around both in vast numbers and vast size. I really can’t emphasize enough how impressive it is that an Atari ST can be made to cover the screen in bullets and aliens and all manner of nasties while retaining a high and consistent frame rate and smooth scrolling. On a technical level, this game is a masterpiece.

As you’d expect the music is fantastic. Now clearly it doesn’t sound as good as it does on the Amiga or Commodore 64, but even on the ST’s sound chip it’s awesome – Chris Huelsbeck composed gorgeous music and the arrangement on the ST does it justice in its own bleepy way. It has its melancholic moments and its moments of driving you on, I could talk about it all day but you likely already know how good it is and the video below will do it better justice any any description I can offer.

I reckon difficulty has been ramped up a bit – this isn’t uncommon in sequels of course as they tend to assume the player has completed the previous game, but it’s a bit of a challenge for an old fart like me. For me there are a few too many enemies where the only recourse is to use the flamethrower but you don’t get enough time to fire it up – I get that it doesn’t fire immediately for balance and to prevent accidental triggers but this is perhaps a case for a twin-stick control scheme which would have been impossible on the Atari ST. Admittedly things like the 3-direction spread-shot and the bouncing ball of flame can work these cases quite well but they’re better suited to enemies up high than enemies down a slope.

One of the under-appreciated facets of the game would be the way it presents an alien world – it really does feel properly alien, properly weird. It’s huge too. The levels are absolutely bloody enormous and I got lost more than once. It’s really quite impressive stuff, though sometimes this does come from areas being insufficiently distinct – a property more likely to be found of procedurally-generated levels than hand-drawn ones but perhaps suggesting the developers might have been better advised going for a slightly smaller world with a little more difference between areas.

With all that said, there really are huge thematic differences visually between the worlds now – each has its own colour palette setting a mood unique to that space – frankly I find Turrican 2 to be one of the prettiest games on 16-bit due both to its technical merit and its fantastic art design.

If I were to fault any of the design I would say that there are a few too many blind jumps once you get up high, though this is a fault more of the ‘camera’ than anything else. The truth is precision jumps to platforms you can’t see aren’t particularly fun and feel a bit cheap, it’s something the game could do without. Still, overall world design is about as good as you’ll find anywhere in 2D 16-bit gaming.

Video

I made a video to show off this extraordinary game and to show off its extraordinary technical accomplishments, and compare the sequel with its prequel. Sequel coverage kicks off at about 5 minutes if you want to skip the prequel.

Verdict

So the verdict is a tricky thing. In many ways Turrican 2 is a retread of its prequel after three short months and this should be acknowledged, and yet here we are 30 years later, the passing of those 3 months somehow feels less significant so the question is one of whether the game is worth playing. The short answer is yes, you should absolutely get hold of it, be that via the new collection that has come out for modern computers and consoles or via your favourite emulator, FPGA device or original classic hardware. Is it a meaningful improvement over its prequel? Well, yes in that it evolves and improves what went before but no if you’re expecting anything new and revolutionary – this is a refinement of the formula to a perfect point, and I for one am perfectly happy with that.

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