Here we are, the start of a legend. The nameless hero in his Turrican assault suit must find his way through five worlds, each consisting of two to three stages. The suit can sustain a certain amount of damage, but be aware that this is not your regular energy bar: since there's no invincibility time upon getting hit, energy is sucked up constantly for the duration of direct enemy contact. That said, the arsenal given should provide sufficient means to keep cyborgs and aliens away from the suit: It comes packed with weaponry. Since joysticks for home computers used to feature only a single button, many weapon systems had to be outsourced to the keyboard.
Turrican's main weapon is a rifle than can shoot both a spread gun and a straightforward laserbeam, which can be switched and increased in firepower by picking up power-ups scattered throughout the stages. Besides action game regulars like health packs and a temporary force shield, there are lots of secondary weapons too: The Power Line, a vertical flash that departs from the hero to the left and right, grenades that do massive damage to everything on screen when they hit walls or enemies, and mines that can be released while ducking. By holding down the fire button, Turrican can unleash a lightning whip, a very powerful beam that can be turned 360 degrees. It starts out fairly short, but can be extended with upgrades as well.
But the suit's most exciting feature certainly is the Metroid-inspired ability to morph into a buzzsaw, the Energy Wheel (or Gyroscope, both names were used), that just keeps running at an exhilarating speed, damaging everything in its way. Imagine a spiked, Sonic-fast and really angry Marumaru and you're close. Its usage, however, is limited to three times per life, so it's important to use it wisely: since most stages do incorporate a lot of verticality (once again similar to Metroid, or Kid Icarus), a single wheel could either mean a very useful shortcut or get stuck right at the next rock.
Despite the Metroid influence, the world of Turrican is broken up into separate stages, but these are huge, and designed to give the illusion of being part of a greater whole, and each of them is structured like a maze. The time to explore is limited, though, and it's easy to get lost and die by time limit. With experience however, players could remember very rewarding paths leading to hidden bonus rooms, often loaded with extra lives. But lives are lost at least as easily as they're found, as the stages are riddled with pits and spikes and enemies. Thankfully though, the hero always respawns right where he died until he runs out of extra lives.
The first world is a futuristic city-like structure built on a barren land, the second a creepy underwater dungeon. Then follow two vertical forced scrolling stages, where Turrican flies with his jetpack. The fourth world marks another recurrence in the series: the Alien-like environment inspired by H.R. Giger art. The final world is a giant tower that leads to the boss, the three-headed MORGUL (Multiple ORGanism Unit Link). Except MORGUL itself, who's just a boring old square rock with a face, fought three times throughout the game, the bosses are equally impressive: There's a huge iron fist called the Gauntlet that flies above the hero's head to stomp him, a giant piranha, and an almost screen-filling alien abomination with teeth-baring mouths everywhere.
Turrican in its time was a splendid example of programming prowess by Manfred Trenz, the first program on the C64 that supported fluid 8-way and parallax scrolling superior to those supported by 8-bit consoles like the NES or Sega Master System, and a ton of other visual effects and programming tricks. When entering caves, the background gradually fades to black, water splashes when jumping into and out of it, and the animations are just splendid for an 8-bit computer.
People who casually heard about Turrican's achievements and boot up the C64 game in an Emulator full of anticipation are in for a surprise, though: There is no music at all during gameplay. Apparently Trenz had used up all of the Commodore 64's power for the fluid controls, the huge stages and the graphic presentation. Some of the later stages do feature music, namely the auto-scrolling jetpack scenes, but the sound effects are all that is heard for the majority of the game. So although much of the game's fame is rooted in it's excellent soundtrack, the soundtrack most are familiar with isn't even featured in its original version, and yet it remains one of the most impressive games for Commodore's 8-bitter.
Already while Trenz was putting the finishing touches to his C64 masterpiece, a group of former Rainbow Arts programmers that should soon become world-famous as Factor 5 started working to bring the game to the Amiga and Atari ST platforms. Those versions introduced completely new graphics (the back of the European box still shows a screenshot with a sprite more similar to the C64 Turrican), even more responsive controls, and of course the grand soundtrack by Chris Huelsbeck. The Amiga port, programmed chiefly by Holger Schmidt, was the superior one, while Thomas Engel's Atari ST version had to compromise with slightly muffled-sounding music and omitted animations (like the waterfalls). The visible area on the screen was also smaller, which factored significantly into enemy spawning and the frequency of requiring leaps of faith (which unfortunately all versions do).
Both the 8- and 16-bit versions of Turrican were terrific hits. Turrican was praised by critics ("Turrican has won more international design awards than any other video game" according to an Accolade advertising) and quickly ported to many other systems. The only other one by Factor 5 was for the Amiga-based CDTV, bundled with Turrican II. Both games are identical to their "regular" Amiga counterparts, though, not even CD audio was added. All other ports were made in the UK: The Britains (represented by Probe) first provided for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum, as one would have expected. While neither port can brag with the technological brilliancy of the C64 original, the Amstrad version is still one of the more impressive games on the system, and certainly one of its most fluent action games. The Spectrum port is as Spectrum games are, but still playable.
A team called The Code Monkeys then handled console ports to the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, GameBoy and PC-Engine, released by Accolade under its Ballistic label. All these three ports share a cover illustration by Julie Bell (for some reason it bears her husband Boris Vallejo's signature on the covers, but the couple's homepage attributes it to Julie).
The Genesis one is the only complete port, but SEGA hardware couldn't do justice to Huelsbeck's awesome soundtrack... at least in Code Monkeys' hands. It seems that they were aware of this, and purposely raised sound effects volume to cover a poor music translation. Also, they opted for a strange port of controls: Turrican didn't need a jump button on Amiga (you just had to push joystick up), but they added one for the console ports. The catch: Pressing up still makes the protagonist jump, which doesn't work as well with a gamepad, the result being many accidental jumps. An option to exclude one or the other certainly would have been appropriate. The extra weapons are also accessed in a really unintuitive way: The "C" button cycles between them, and the standard fire button ("A") is used to fire them. Thus it's almost impossible to use them effectively in urgent moments.
The PC-Engine port is hurt by the limited size of Hucards. The few music tracks in this version do sound noticeably better than on the Genesis, but there's only a music track for each world, whereas the other 16-bit versions had one for each stage, and even worse, an entire world (the third one, with the jetpack stages) is missing. As many have noticed, however, this Turrican is the best handheld version ever; provided you have a PC-Engine GT/TurboExpress, that is. Both of these console ports have also very off timing and as a result are much more difficult.
The Game Boy port is actually the most decent among The Code Monkey's versions, at least considering the hardware limitations. The game is incomplete just like the PC-Engine version, yet it's amazing that they left the rest of those huge levels intact. Yet playing them on a tiny, badly contrasted screen as the original Game Boy had doesn't work quite as it should. The controls also respond rather slowly.