Monday, 2 June 2014

Chapter XV: Turrican II - The Final Fight

Last November I went to a concert. The band in question was Amorphis, in case you’re wondering. When I arrived at the venue I met an old acquaintance of mine, Mark Landmark. Mark is a guy I knew from college that I usually only meet at concerts, but it’s always a pleasure to talk to him after all this time. We have similar tastes in music and in games, so the conversation usually borders on these two topics. Eventually, but most of all inevitably, we started discussing Amiga games music and the usual suspects were mentioned like Apydia, Shadow of The Beast and Agony. The last game is of particularly interest to us metalheads as Dimmu Borgir ripped off the intro of that game in the 1996 release Stormblast. Needless to say that it was the best song on the entire album. Even if you didn’t knew what was the name of this chapter, it’s kind of obvious what would be the game most discussed on that evening.

That game is evidently Turrican II, known not only by being an excellent run n’ gun on its own right, but also because it has one of the best soundtracks ever. Ever! There’s no “arguably” or “imho” to found there and I can take the hit for such arrogance. It’s that good.

After a while I boasted that I used to finish the game with more than 40 lives remaining. Mark seemed genuinely impressed, as was the friend that accompanied him. But I said to myself ‘No! You’re a 32 old married man, stop bragging about useless things and be honest with yourself, it’s time to come out and tell the whole truth!’. It was time for redemption and finally admit that I was never that good playing videogames. So I said ‘It’s quite easy actually, anyone can do it. Just toggle the autofire or rapid fire on the Joystick, grab the rebound shot power up, keep firing away and watch everything turn to shreds’.

It's like having one yo-yo on each finger
And so it was, one of my biggest gaming feats of all time crumbled to dust right there. I didn’t need to pretend anymore. It wasn’t that much of a feat, anyone could do it really. I felt relieved.

I do remember when I bought Turrican II. It was a Friday night and I went to the store with my parents before returning home after visiting my grandmother. I don’t remember every detail, like why did I chose this particular game. Maybe the store guy recommended it to me, or maybe I liked the cool name. When I arrived home and started playing it, the game didn’t impressed me right away. It was ok, but it was the kind of colourful platformers that the Amiga excelled at and even at the age of 10, I already had my standards (which might not seem so obvious by reading the other entries on this blog). The one thing that impressed me right away was the music. It was pure bliss: epic, ethereal, energetic and otherworldly. It lifted the what it seemed average gameplay to great heights.

I bow myself to Chris Hülsbeck, mighty wizard of sonic alchemy. Many time was passed on the game main menu just listening to all the music in the game. Eventually, I learned how good the game was also, with its vast and intricate levels and huge, menacing bosses. This is the first time in a long time that I’m going to play the game without any kind of autofire. I’ll probably stink, but I don’t care. As long as I have my Turrican II sound menu, I’m totally fine.

After so many years, the build up to the main menu music still makes my heart race and puts me a big smile on my face. It’s one of those games that every single small detail has such a big meaning for me, like the main character moving in the background during the credits in the main menu, or the cool tune while the level is loading.

I wrote enough already about the soundtrack, but I will make room for a little more. The songs still sound amazing after all these years and provide a backbone for the dreamy atmosphere this game has. While Turrican is evidently inspired by Metroid, both in mechanics and some aspects of the visuals, I do prefer the overall feel of this game. It’s pure bliss.

This game is full of waterfalls. It adheres to the principles of Feng Shui
One particular thing that immediately pops out after starting the game is how smooth the experience is. Obviously there are many Amiga games that objectively look better than Turrican II, but truth be told, not many feel as good, in pure visual terms. Every colour is where it should be and no single pixel is wasted. Some of the most impressive moments are related to the many existent boss fights. The one in the middle of the first level is particularly memorable and I’m sure it’s one the most classic Amiga moments of all time.

For some reason, this robot has risen from the soil
Still, there are some idiosyncrasies with the game that are a bit hard to get used to at first. Probably the most glaring one is how collision detection works. There isn’t any kind of knockback effect when our character is hit by enemies, and it’s almost like if our foes are made of hot lava that makes the energy bar deplete in a second. This is also one of those games, like many others on the Amiga, which would have benefited from extra buttons. Reaching for spacebar to release the smart bombs or having to press fire continuously to unleash the flamethrower is annoying and can be reason enough to lose one life.

The game, like many other of its time, uses the unfortunate leftover from arcade gaming that is time limits. It makes no sense in a game which such huge sprawling levels that demand exploration. I lost a life just because I was taking a stroll and admiring the scenery (while being stung by bees I must add).

This feels as good as popping bubble wrap
In the end, my endeavour of playing this game like a grown up was an amusing trip down memory lane. I didn’t get past the second level, or to be more precise, level 1-2. It was a lesson in humility that I was desperately in need of, and I don’t think I will brag about anymore of my “legendary” exploits in this game. I’m reaching mid-thirties. I should buy a new car and having conversations about things like mortgages or sushi when I meet long lost friends.

This game sits among the best that were produced during in its time, but it’s hard to measure it against contemporary platformers, but that wouldn’t be fair anyway.

Turrican II lives!

I downloaded this image from the internet. Like if I could reach this level without autofire


  1. I can definitely relate to that. Having an autofire feature on a joystick always felt like a double-edged sword in a way. Some shooters (bullet hells most particularly) are idiotically difficult and bothersome to play without one, but at the same time, it feels like cheating no matter which game you're playing. Still, I reckon some games are really MEANT to be played with autofire. Try Catalypse on the C64, for one. =)

    1. I know what you're saying. There are many shmups that i also abuse the hell out of autofire. Sometimes i just can't be bothered by smashing the buttons idefinitely.

      The thing is, autofire in some games just completely change the experience. This game is one of those cases. The flamethrower which is a big thing becomes worthless, and the rebound weapon just means raining death.

      Autofire with my old quickjoy Megaster with this game made the rate of fire so ridiculously high that the game didn't seemed to have enough frames to keep it up:)

    2. "The flamethrower which is a big thing becomes worthless, and the rebound weapon just means raining death"

      I think the former is a deliberate game mechanic - there are areas in some levels which you cannot pass without using the flamethrower to take bits of scenery out. If you're using the bounce weapon with autofire you have to first turn it off, then hold the button down - doesn't sound like much, but it can definitely cost you a life if you're being hassled by respawning flying nasties!

      I don't know for certain, but this aspect and others suggests to me that MT and Factor 5 probably frowned on use of autofire in this game... :)

  2. As you can probably tell by the handle, I'm a big aficionado of the series - and this second one remains my favourite by miles.

    Couple of additional points I hope you find interesting:

    - There's a clever bit of technical trickery going on with the intro music. The Amiga famously had 4 channels of sampled audio, and the ingame music uses these to the max. However, Jochen Hippel worked with Chris Hülsbeck on a 7-channel version of TFMX - Hippel's engine left just enough DMA cycles to run the attract mode. As you say, "the build up to the main menu music still makes my heart race and puts me a big smile on my face" - but it's also doing a little bit of showing off. Note that the opening chord is built up note by note, and if you count each one as it comes in, you'll realise there are more than the normal for channels playing. :)

    - The intro sequence which plays if you let the attract mode play through a few times is actually synced to the music - matching the mood of the story told in the intro perfectly. I think it was one of the first Amiga games to do this.

    1. Thanks for the info. I don't know much about sound technical details but it doesn't surprise me that there is a proper explanation for it so sound so good.

  3. Turrican - what a game! It still plays well today too.

  4. Many people say the Turrican games are too easy because of all the extra lives, but you have to explore to find those extra lives, and the time limit discourages exploration. It also doesn't help that stuff is literally dropping on your head every step of the way and half the scenery hurts you. Some pits have bonus items and some pits instantly kill you, but the only way to know which is which is to drop into each pit and see what happens. Not to mention the ship level in the second game which gets insanely fast and if you have less than superhuman reflexes, you're going to be crashing into the background every other second.