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Free Pizza Video Game Review - Turrican (Sega Genesis, 1991)

Boy, I haven’t done one of these in a while…and with the whole COVID thing both 1) seemingly increasing the amount of good stuff out there in the retro game stores as of late and 2) the need to focus on all the new acquisitions because of item 1…it seems like as good a time as any to get back underway on this again.

So, why did I choose this game? Well, first because a ‘flashback edition’ just became available on the PS4 and Switch in the past few days but second was the game’s reputation itself, which is why I bought the thing in the first place. There are three things you need to know about Turrican before going any further: 1) The game actually started life on the Commodore Amiga and as such, was rampantly successful in Europe, 2) Most video game reviewers will describe it as a cross between Contra and Metroid, that is, a run-and-gun with adventure and exploration aspects and 3) Most reviewers will also tell you that the music ranks up there as some of the best you’ll hear on a 16-bit system.

Now here’s what they WON’T tell you. 1) The game is INSANELY FUCKING HARD. 2) If you don’t have the instructions, you either better find them or get a walkthrough or guide or something. And lastly, to tie in with the game’s difficulty, there’s a bit of a split as to whether or not this particular port is any good.

Let’s try to address these points.

The Turrican franchise actually has a pretty interesting history, particularly on the Sega Genesis. Starting off on the Amiga, there wasn’t just one Turrican game, but two, as the popularity of the first gave life to a seemingly universally adored Turrican 2: The Final Battle. This, of course, would be a bit of a misnomer [Aren’t they always? – Ed.] as the series would continue from developers Factor 5 (of the Star Wars Rogue Squadron game fame) in Mega Turrican for the Sega Genesis as well as Super Turrican 1 and 2 on the Super Nintendo. Where things get interesting are the efforts to bring this franchise to the US and make it marketable. As is evidenced here in this first game, Accolade brought Turrican over for the Sega Genesis based not only on the strength of its European response, but the fact that if Turrican was just as successful here as it was there, they had a sequel in their pocket, ready to be ported and shipped out.

Turns out, it didn’t catch on.

Thinking it was a marketing issue (which it likely was, but not in the way they thought) Accolade figured to attach Turrican 2 to the newly released film Universal Soldier and thus, Turrican 2 is mostly available in the US as Universal Soldier for the Sega Genesis (it was not ported to the Super Nintendo, although there were plans). I say “mostly” because there are the obvious sprite swaps to incorporate Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren into the game, but also there were some stages omitted, such as the more shooter-styled levels. That didn’t go over so well either. So Accolade dropped the license and the console war you were on would determine which publisher you got the further instalments from: Data East on the Genesis, Seiko on the SNES. Mega Turrican on the Genesis features a new game feature, a grapple beam, while the SNES games, Super Turrican 1 and 2, feature full 8-way firing. Now, which one is the proper Turrican 3? I think it’s Mega Turrican…but honestly, we need to get back on topic here.

Does this game live up to the hype? Is it a mix of Contra and Metroid, putting it in contention for, like, the most awesomest game ever? I couldn’t tell you…and why that is dovetails into a lot of the other points brought up in the opening. You see, this game REALLY is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING INSANE when it comes to difficulty. Throughout my play time with this game, I not only never made it out of level one, I can’t even tell you if I was even remotely close to getting out of the damn level. So for some of you, I foresee some pretty quick rage quits. Part of why this is isn’t so much the sheer number of enemies the game throws at you, it’s how the damage system works. In most games, when you get hit, there’s almost a bit of a ‘stun cycle’ that occurs: there’s an impact in the form of a visual cue or even a bit of a knock-backward (as Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden were particularly known for) then a brief moment of invincibility so that the player can get their bearings again before continuing onward.

That doesn’t happen here.

The only indication you have that you’ve taken a hit is that your life bar goes down…and if the enemy decides to keep pace with you for a bit…that can result in a pretty much insta-kill. Thus, the player is forced to go through the game completely numb, as US games have always given us that ‘stun cycle’. Now, combine this numbness with, as I alluded to earlier, a veritable horde of enemies coming for you and, as I also said earlier, much rage-quitting there will be.

By now I’m sure you’re asking yourself…or me…’So why the hell did you keep playing?’

As it turns out, if you just let the game run without pressing start, you get to see the demo mode. Ah…demo mode…remember those? The brief flashes that show you not only the game, but how the programmers intended you to play it? Well, as it turns out, one of the demos is indeed the opening of the game where your character is busting out beams that look like they’re coming from the Ghostbusters’ proton packs and the dude then tucking into a metal ball ala Samus, but this time only with metal spikes on the outside killing any enemy he rolls over!

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Going to the options screen to figure out which button presses on your controller will make this happen reveals NOTHING! All you get is A – Fire, B – Jump, C – W Select. This does not help. At all. This is where the instruction booklet comes in handy. But, like I said, this came out in ’91, thirty years ago, so instruction booklets on something like this are a bit of a premium. Fortunately, a combination of trial and error and YouTube research revealed the following. For the proton beam effect, that lets you angle the beam all around you, just hold down the fire button. You can’t move while this is happening.

Are you taking notes? You should be taking notes. I didn’t go through all this suffering just for you to sit there agape.

If you press down and jump at the same time, you roll up into the ball-of-doom. Now, as I understand it, there are some icons above the number of lives you have left that let you know how many times you can still do this, so it’s not unlimited like Samus. Also, I think just one push of the button will keep you in ball mode…my first time I kept hitting B and as such, I think I used up all three of my icons in the first go.

And you know what? Even with all that new information and the explosive possibilities it unlocks, you’re still doomed. You see, the whole core argument regarding whether or not this is a good port is the fact is that even if you’ve got some grasp of these unobvious skills, you’re still not going to get very far…if my play time proves anything, that would certainly be it.

Oh, did I mention there’s a timer?

So, you know, even if you got the chance to explore, you’re still on the clock. For you weird people that love to speed-run Metroid, this won’t be a problem, but for us newbs? Nothing like an additional aspect of pressure, huh? Back on topic, the entire argument boils down to ‘how can this port be any good when it’s practically too difficult to play?’ And those posing this argument aren’t necessarily wrong…although I reserve the right to weigh in fully on this if and when I should ever play the ‘flashback edition’ that so far seems to be hailed as a much better port of the original Amiga game.

But I need to get back to the actual question at hand: Why did I keep playing?

First, these new tools seem like they require mastery and that’s not going to come on your first, second third or even fourth play…you know, especially since you’ll be dying within the first couple of minutes. Second, for an older Genesis game, it still looks pretty good. You watch the demos and you get the feeling that, yes, this game is going to continue being completely fucking impossible, but the stages and different types of gameplay all seem interesting and, at least for me, provided the motivation to want to get better at the game. Lastly, yeah, the critics are right, the music, or at least the bit of it that I’ve heard, is pretty damn good.

Ultimately, should you play this version of the game? That’s all going to depend on your threshold for pain. Are you a more modern gamer, used to checkpoints and need to be constantly reminded that you’ve achieved something by killing your first enemy? Yeah, this isn’t for you. At all. Are you a Cleveland Browns fan…or otherwise from Ohio…where you’re well aware that life is nothing more than a series of painful and soul-crushing moments chained together, linked only by fleeting moments of false hope?

Oh yeah, Turrican is for you. In fact, it’s what your empty little heart is waiting for.

Hyperbole aside, the ’91 port of Turrican for the Genesis is an unrelenting beast. It forces you to get better…just before crushing you again. It’s definitely not for light gaming (unless you and some drunken friends are getting together once COVID is over to have a ‘who can die quickest and with the least dignity’ contest…which, now that I think of it, sounds fun). You’ve gotta be willing to put the time in and take your licks. Essentially, you’ve gotta be a video game masochist. [What exactly does this say about you? – Ed.] But for whatever reason, I found myself still coming back to it, hoping to push forward just a little bit more. So yeah, in my own sick-little-monkey way, I kinda dug it.

Post-review note: Turns out the ‘Flashback Edition’ is DEFINITELY EASIER! That’s not to say it’s without challenge…oh no, this game still has a serious hate-on for you…but I was able to make it past the first stage without wasting all of my lives. So yeah, this Sega Genesis version really is reserved for the sorts of folks that pick at scabs; sure it’s engrossing, but it’s painful and ultimately doesn’t really accomplish anything.

Total Play time: 47 minutes.

Total research time: 25 minutes.

Congrats Turrican…your pizza is free. But I wouldn’t try this kind of qualifying again.

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