16-bit home computer retro games are welcome on the PlayStation 4, especially as there has not been an abundance of Commodore Amiga games available, with a few exceptions being versions of Another World, Flashback, GODS Remastered, and Shadow of the Beast. Therefore, it's particularly pleasing to have the first two classic Amiga Turrican titles presented in their original 16-bit sprite splendidness in the Turrican Flashback Collection's four game pack.
The four European-style run-and-gun games included in Turrican Flashback are early examples of Factor 5's games developed in Germany, so alongside the two aforementioned Amiga titles are two games released on 16-bit consoles — with the 1993 release of Super Turrican on the SNES, and the 1994 Mega Drive/Genesis game, Mega Turrican. While these console games have previously been available on the Wii's Virtual Console, the first two Amiga Turrican games have not been ported to modern consoles before.
The origins of Turrican as a series, and the first two games in particular, are fascinating as part of the history of the programming skills of Manfred Trenz. In hindsight, they've aged more gracefully than many Amiga games and the template for the European-style run-and-gun genre has still been influential. For example, in the way that Contra III: The Alien Wars influenced the retro modern release of Blazing Chrome, similarly the Turrican games inspired the 2019 PS4 release of Gunlord X. From the outset, it's also worth underscoring that the illustrious composer, Chris Huelsbeck, provided the outstanding soundtracks that set the tone for the series.
The first game released in 1990 and created the single-player Turrican template of run-and-gun action, plentiful power-ups, platforming, eight-way scrolling exploration, secret areas, and hidden optional bosses. The use of a manoeuvrable flash laser beam, line screen-wipes, as well as rolling into an indestructible wheel nicely complements these gameplay mechanics. The first Turrican also established the series as challenging platform games, with difficult progression through floaty jumps, blind leaps of faith, falling into instant death pits, hazardous spikes, and cheap hits, although careful players can scour the large levels for 1-ups. There's variety throughout, too, for example level 3-1 of the first game has a vertically scrolling shmup section, complete with Huelsbeck's pulsing, jaunty melody to push the player upwards.
To illustrate the impact of the original game, Issue 105 of Computer and Video Games magazine in August 1990 awarded the first Turrican a whopping 94% in their Amiga review, stating that: "The massive amount of firepower at your disposal makes this a terrifically satisfying blast, and what makes it even better are the game's great graphics and music – the sample-packed title track is particularly impressive." C&VG concluded that it was, "A treat of blasting mayhem from the makers of Denaris."
After Turrican II: The Final Fight released in 1991, the far-flung future sci-fi setting has been consistent across the series in depicting the adventures of Bren McGuire. Bren is suited and booted in a powerful armour named Turrican, and is a hero of the Freedom Forces who fights to stop a malevolent cybernetic oppressor called The Machine from reconstructing the peaceful worlds of the United Planets.
Just one year after the original's release, it's impressive to see the strides Turrican II took in improving the series’ graphical and audio presentation, while using the same Amiga hardware. Typically, visual elements like the stark bands of colour depicting sunset skies from orange through to red and pink seem quintessential to the graphics in Amiga action platformers, and it's an art style that creates instant nostalgia for anyone who owned a 16-bit computer. This is well presented in Turrican Flashback with the excellent display options of scanlines and CRT shaders, as well as optional wallpapers and the recreated curved edges of a 4:3 TV screen.
The 1993 SNES game, Super Turrican, feels the most flamboyant in the collection, as the brightly coloured visuals suit its energetic gameplay, which has extra console-fuelled scaling effects. It also has a stupendous Stage 1-3 tune, which includes a section that sounds like an awesome Huelsbeck chiptune version of the chorus from Cheap Trick's song Surrender. Following their 80% scoring review of Super Turrican, a Super Play Issue 11 interview in September 1993 detailed the eight month development cycle of Super Turrican, with Julian Eggebrecht of Factor 5 explaining that, "The big thing is that you're under much more pressure to turn in an excellent game with Nintendo – when you're working for a good Japanese company, you can't get away with the average European standard of game."
1994's Mega Turrican is the natural culmination of the home computer games, as it's a Mega Drive game with links to the Amiga's third title. In this respect it feels like a hybrid of the original computer game design alongside the 16-bit console razzmatazz, including some unique features like swinging between distant platforms using a Plasma Rope.
Admittedly, gameplay across the four titles can feel repetitive when flitting from one game to another, but this is to be expected when a retro compilation focuses upon one specific genre, as repetitiveness was also experienced across the brawlers in the Capcom Beat 'Em Up Bundle. We could generalise and say that each of the four games takes on average one and a half hours to complete, but it's disingenuous to specify a game length, since it depends upon how much you explore and how many times you continue after losing all of your lives.
The use of save states and the ability to rewind mistakes is handy during difficult platforming sections and epic boss battles. Yet, perhaps surprisingly considering that Turrican Flashback was co-developed by Ratalaika Games – a company that has released run-and-gun games like Gun Crazy, which is known for its easy Platinum – this collection takes a novel approach where "Cheaters don't win trophies." This encourages you to play in its Trophy Challenge mode for a tough Platinum instead. Trophy Challenge mode necessitates that you carefully progress through each of the four games by searching for hidden areas and extra 1-ups, and it also encourages you to aim for personal high scores, since using the rewind feature, save states, or cheats won't unlock any of the collection's 19 trophies.
Overall, Turrican Flashback would have benefitted from having more than four games available, as its nearest retro run-and-gun competition is the Contra Anniversary Collection, which has ten games in its line-up. Therefore, it would have been preferable if Turrican Flashback also included the C64 versions of the first two games — or perhaps even Trenz's less well known 1992 NES Super Turrican game — in a similar way to how the Contra Anniversary Collection included two regional Probotector variants. The SNES' Super Turrican 2 is especially notable for being absent in this collection.
Turrican Flashback is also limited in chronicling the diverse history of the Turrican series, and this is exacerbated by the lack of bonus features – beyond some simple game story text and cheats. This is mainly evident after more recent retro compilations have offered extras like developer interviews, as well as art museums and development histories. The lack of a separate menu to access Chris Huelsbeck's music is an especially glaring omission.
It's also confusing for retro gamers to have two extra Anthology volumes available from Strictly Limited Games as physical PS4 releases, which are separate to a purchase of Turrican Flashback, as this spreads a greater variety of Turrican games on PS4 over different collections. Ultimately, each of the four games in PS4 Turrican Flashback Collection are classics, and excellent games in their own right, but as a compilation the way this represents the scope of the series is lacking.
With four games as a showcase of the exploratory level design of early 1990s European-style run-and-gun titles, Turrican Flashback's ex-Factor 5 games had an undeniable x-factor, and the first two Amiga Turrican releases are noteworthy as some of the best 16-bit computer games. Alongside the console bedazzlement of Super Turrican and Mega Turrican, there's plenty of platforming fun to be found, and the 2D visuals are well presented through varied display options. Yet, the gameplay becomes repetitive when bouncing between four titles, and Turrican Flashback feels incomplete as a collection representing the scope of the series. Still, retro gamers might not dwell on the modest number of games included, as soon as they hear Chris Huelsbeck's sublime soundtracks booming once again.