This is a review of Gunlord for the Dreamcast, not of Turrican, even though NGDevTeam have clearly set out to imitate the latter game as closely as possible, to the point where anyone that has played it will be sitting there thinking momentarily “This IS Turrican”. A good choice for flattery by imitation then because Turrican in its various guises on different platform was a captivating 2D run and gun game, full of variety, weapons, secrets, challenge and big bosses.
Gunlord is region-free, so you don’t need a Japanese Dreamcast to play it. There are a couple of modes to choose from. The Original mode has a cut-scene intro showing that the story continues on from where Last Hope left off. This mode provides 4 continues and few extra lives dotted around in hard to reach areas. The Arcade mode is proper double hard, with no continues or extra lives and a stage timer limit that can be topped up by collecting purple gems (the gems appear in the Original mode but only contribute to score). The Arcade mode also skips the intro. So you’ll be choosing the Original mode to start with unless you like self flagellation.
Once into the game world, your fairly substantial green avatar needs to find the exit by navigating platforms in the sky and caverns under the ground. It is mostly obvious where to go next and often an "EXIT" sign will guide progress. However, ignoring these and instead exploring other avenues pays dividends, with power-ups, shields and extra lives being dotted around the harder to reach areas. This can be both exciting and frustrating since some of them are instant death traps, of varying levels of hilarity depending on your state of mind. There is even a horizontal 2D shmup level where Gunlord jumps back in his spaceship and takes the fight to the skies, although this is pure filler and wouldn't make the grade if it was extrapolated to a full game, being too easy, both during the level and in the boss fight.
Along the way, the large and varied arsenal is used to decimate a whole plethora of creepy creatures, all of which are intent on eating you or, in the case of enormous boss fights, dancing around you until you find a way to finish them off. Creatures vary from cannon fodder to hard-to-kill, some of them needing some careful tactics and swift weapon switching to get through unscathed. Use of weapons can also reveal hidden power-up pods which often double up as steps to hidden locations. Shooting the pods will release coloured icons which must be grabbed to select, but shooting the pods too quickly will lead to overlapping icons and no way to select exactly what you want. Thus running into a room with guns blazing might be detrimental, not that you really need to change weapons often since the spreadshot and the “phoenix” blaster are effective against most enemies.
Additionally, the Gunlord has all the standard Turrican pieces of weaponry that are pretty handy. A sonic wave acts as a smart-bomb for smaller enemies, a bomb wheel transformation allows you to rapidly drop through caverns unscathed and attack hanging tunnel enemies with ease (which must be assigned to a button in the options before starting for no good reason) and a rotating aimable laser that can attack through any surface, allowing safe attacks from afar but getting shorter with use and recovering slowly. When viewed holistically, the weapon loadout is satisfyingly destructive and contribute to the play-through with thought required for the best approach to progress.
On first play, you might be forgiven in thinking that the controls are a bit clunky and the graphics a little unpolished or for wondering what all the fuss is about, but even after dying a lot, it’s easy to fall in love with the varied colourful backdrops, plentiful enemies and huge bosses. There are lots of trees and plants mixed in with futuristic biomechanical structures, as well as gothic architecture with statues and gargoyles, presumably built by followers of The Master, the great evil that must be defeated to get the girl and save the day. After a few hours of play everything clicks into place, the controls work most of the time and instead of jumping into the clutches of enemies hidden just off screen, you will be leaping around the levels guns blazing at just the right moments and employing necessary caution at other times. It is certainly a question of trial and error to progress and given the limited number of continue credits and no save points, this is very much old school gameplay, with the only real concession to modern convention being an online single-credit scoreboard.
Gunlord is a vast improvement in all areas over previous NGDevTeam games and whilst by no means perfect, it can hold its head high. It does require perseverance and dedication to get the most out of it, averaging around an hour for a fairly swift complete play-through once you’ve spent a while learning the levels. You’ll know if you have the required patience for this sort of gaming, so if you do, then give it a go. We played Turrican on the C64 countless times in our youth and still enjoyed playing through Gunlord.
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