In its short time in the video game spotlight, Acclaim’s Turok franchise was a lot of things: A series of traditional first-person shooters, a multi-player focuses arena shooter, several side-scrollers and overhead action games mixed with beat-em-up and vehicular gameplay. That all being said, I didn’t expect what I got when I slotted the Game Boy Advance version of Turok: Evolution into my GBA SP. The console version of Turok: Evolution was meant as a return to form for the waning in popularity series, but it had the exact opposite effect. Turok: Evolution on consoles was a low mark in the series and its poor reception along with many other failed projects led to the closure of Acclaim, as well as another Turok game not being released fox another six years from a new developer and publisher. As the console version didn’t help people remember why they liked Turok in the first place, its doubtful that many people even looked twice at the portable version, which is a shame. Turok: Evolution is a buried treasure that’s wouldn’t be out of place in a conversation about games like Contra, Metal Slug or the cult-classic Wild Guns. However while it makes a very good first impression, it has a few frustrating problems that keep it from being an absolute must-play title.
Turok: Evolution on the GBA has the same plot more or less as the console game, but whereas that version played things more seriously and failed because of it, the handheld version takes things much more tounge-in-cheek which is to its benefit. Turok, for example, is still Tal’Set, but looks much more like the second Turok from Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Joshua Fireseed and is rocking an open denim vest showing off his muscles with what appear to be blue track pants with a red stripe up the side. In the late 1800’s. It’s these touches that make this version much more enjoyable than the console game, as you can almost tell that the developers at RFX Interactive were trying to turn the plot of the main title into a lost 90’s action movie homage.
After a series of disappointing experiments in the Game Boy Color version of Turok: Rage Wars and Turoke 3: Shadow of Oblivion, Turok: Evolution returns to the side-scrolling roots of the first two Game Boy Turok titles. However while those had an emphasis on plat-forming and exploration, Evolution is a pure run-and-gun action game that could be at times mistaken for a game in SNK’s Metal Slug series. The game looks terrific with some very nice sprite and background design. Enemies will emerge from the ground as goo before fully forming and explode into red after being shot by one of your main, many instruments of destruction. Should you have a second copy of the game, a link cable, and of course another GBA, you can even play cooperatively with a friend, just like the heydays of the NES/SNES only a tad more cumbersome and costly. The second player takes on the role of Djunn who can also be used in place of Turok when you’re playing alone. The only difference between the two is their choice of melee weapons: Turok carries a tomahawk, while Djunn has a spiked yo-yo like something out of Rygar.
Much like the game’s this takes inspiration from, it’s very satisfying to let loose a fury of bullets into a seemingly endless army of grunts. That is, however, until later on in the game when those enemies are replaced with enemies that take forever to kill that are much less fun to fight and slow the pace of the game down significantly. It doesn’t help that these larger foes surround themselves with canon fodder, hang out by ledges that you can’t see until you’ve made a leap of faith, and can kill you in about two to three hits.
It’s not just the enemy types that kill and otherwise an enjoyable experience, but later levels as well that have an increased vertical orientation that require plat-forming. The jumping controls are not an issue, and there’s very few immediate pitfall deaths, but enemies are placed in such a way that they’ll either appear right where you land and shoot you before you can react, or arrive off-screen out of your line of sight and fire bullets from you off-screen. There’s unlimited continues and a password after nearly every level so you can retry as many times as you want and comeback to the game should you get frustrated, but these quirks still slow down what should be a more fast-paced experience, and come off as unfair as opposed to being organically challenging.
To break the pace of the traditional side-scrolling action levels, the game periodically transforms into a on-rails shooter where you navigate your character on-screen while still controlling a reticule to shoot enemies. Things can get a little chaotic in these stages as you’re trying to dodge bullets, shoot at enemies in the background and tackle enemies that jump into the foreground as well. The challenge and change of pace is quite welcome however, and these levels never last too long. The game’s few bosses appear in these stages, and while they’re all unique and visually interesting, they can be a chore to fight, due to the game’s poor collision communication. The first boss you encounter has clearly defined indicators telling you where to hit, but even when you target these areas, it never feels like your doing much damage. Later bosses have small hit boxes and it’s difficult to him them while avoiding their attacks and random enemies they throw at you. Bosses at the conclusion of the game are repeats of fights you past a mere few levels back, and the challenge comes not in fighting them, but in the patience it takes to whittle their invisible life meter down.
The Turok series has been forever defined by its crazy arsenal, and that translates to this game as well. You’ll get weapons ranging from pistols, machine guns, as well as rocket launchers, each coming with their own secondary alien mode that can be toggled back and forth by hitting the select button. Your arsenal and ammunition carries over between levels and you can freely swap back and forth through your weapons via a weapon wheel by hitting the left and right triggers. This works well enough in areas where your fighting grunts that go down in a bullet or two, but the set-up is less than ideal when fighting bosses, especially those that have multiple forms. You want to save your most powerful weapons for the second fight, causing you to stick to your pistol which has unlimited ammunition but also does little damage. When trying to precisely get to the weapon you need in the heat of battle, it’s often hard to get to what you need, doubly so when you get to the point where guns have two separate firing modes. It’s nice that you keep your arsenal that you build up, which is not the case in the console game, but I would’ve liked Evolution more had it went completely like Contra and had weapon drops with only one or two weapons to manage in a level.
There’s a lot to like in Turok: Evolution for the Game Boy Advance, in particular if you like run-and-gun shooters like Contra and Metal Slug. The design of the game as well as the story make it feel like a long-lost SNES or Sega Genesis game in the best possible way. The game’s problems with enemy and level design, as well as boss damage feedback drag down the experience a little, but not enough to make the game unplayable, just artificially difficult. For those who can look past those issues though, there’s a really fun game here that many may have overlooked because of the poorly received console game.