Saturday, 19 June 2010

Turbo the Tortoise

While travelling across the far reaches of the internet, I came across this. Turbo the Tortoise, released for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum in 1992. It was developed by a team called Visual Impact under orders from Codemasters, and features yet ANOTHER anthropomorphic character taking a page from Sonic the Hedgehog (and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the looks of things). Don't let the fact it has an empty title screen fool you - this one could still be interesting!

If you hadn't made the link, "1992" and "early-80s computers" don't really mix. The kids were into their Mega Drives and Super Nintendos, the computer enthusiasts were fans of their Amigas, Atari STs and DOS computers. Cassette tape-based machines were considered old tech, and every new release at this point for these systems would have struggled to justify both a high retail price or a reason to be manufactured in their thousands. I'm surprised that Turbo the Tortoise sold, but apparently it did because it's here to play with.

Having said that though, I'm running the Commodore 64 version in this review, but there's some rather important information that needs to be thrown out there if you feel like giving it a whirl. Most computer games of the time had to be "cracked" to get past the piracy prevention adopted by the manufacturers, and often these crackers like to leave their mark.

The short supply of the game in real life means the most common version distributed on the internet is a trained version of the game, and though you can turn off all the stupid god mode settings, you can't turn off the "CRACKED BY MR. FOX" text that shows up when you begin. The game is forever stained by the hackers of yesteryear, and though these guys need some credit for preserving this title, it's not something that's considered morally correct in this day and age.

As you might expect, neither computer can handle a Sonic the Hedgehog game, so don't go expecting Turbo the Tortoise to be a Sonic clone. It's actually a very generic platformer... though I have to be a bit careful when I say that. See a side-scrolling platformer, no matter how basic, was still good news for early 80s machines, because they were very difficult to program and often held back considerably by the hardware. Even though more advanced games had been turning up for years on rival computers, you can't deduct points because of hardware constraints when reviewing software. It's not fair.

But it does lead to a situation where Turbo the Tortoise is always behind the times. If you take a game like Space Invaders you can easily say it was "good for the day", but in this case TtT wasn't "good for the day" because it didn't belong in the day... if that makes sense.

As said though, the game is a platformer. Turbo can run, jump and fire a limited number of projectiles as well as crawl about on the floor. There are various enemies which can be jumped on or shot in the face, and the overall goal is to get to the far right of the screen to fight a boss. Aside from a few moving platforms and collectable fruit, it doesn't get much more interesting than that. Each level is set at a different period of time, starting in the prehistoric era and finishing in "the future", with things getting progressively harder as you move on.

Aside from the dumb C64 rule of having to play the game with the joystick in port 2, things are fairly good. The game works, even if Turbo's jumping height isn't perfect, and it does a nice job pushing the C64's hardware further than it was meant to go. It is the very definition of the word "generic" though - there are no surprises or gimmicks, just a few changes of scenery.

Things aren't quite as nice when you enter the boss areas however, partly because the screen doesn't scroll into place properly, and partly because the bosses themselves are a bit tricky (and collision isn't fantastic either). These sections do look a bit rushed, and are reminiscent of old fangames you may have found at the beginning of this century. But it could have been worse I guess.

One of the more common complaints I've seen are the graphics. For a happy platformer starring a Tortoise, the worlds are a bit murky. I don't quite understand the reasoning behind a brown sky, and it's sometimes a bit difficult to see what the enemies you're attacking actually are. What is impressive for C64 hardware is the parallax backgrounds, but make no mistake about it - you won't be mistaking this for anything other than a Commodore 64 game (or one of the other ports).

Though there is a decent title theme, the rest of the game is silent, bar a few sound effects. I would like to think that maybe this was just down to hardware problems, but if you have a look at Mayhem in Monsterland which coped fine, I can't help but think a decision was made not to include it. But then again, the decision was also made to release this game on tape rather than disk, so perhaps it was just a matter of space restraints. Can't imagine it would have flown off the shelves though.

Overall the game is very good for Commodore 64 hardware, but it can't really contend with other platformers of the day on other consoles/computers. These sorts of games were never expected to be seen running on the computer, so credit has to be given for that. But it is horribly generic as said and even though Commodore 64 platformers of this nature were few and far between, the end user wasn't missing much. Nevertheless, I found it to be pretty cool. Perhaps not worth going back to in 2010, but if you do feel like building up a Commodore 64 collection (or a ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC one), this could be one to watch out for.


  1. Actually, the C64 had no problem running games that could compete technically (if not visually) with the best on the 16-bit platforms - its resolution and color palette may have been primitive, but its excellent sprite and scrolling funcitons let it play host to such fantastic games as Turrican II, X-Out, and The First Samurai, the first two featuring impressive parallax scrolling. On the C64's hardware, a Sonic the Hedgehog-style platformer with high-speed, multidirectional scrolling and large numbers of sprites would be easily doable.

    The reason for Turbo the Tortoise's overwhelming mediocrity is its heritage - it was originally developed for the much, much weaker CPC (which had its hands full scrolling the screen, let alone moving sprites around) and clumsily ported to the C64 by another development team after its original distributors went bankrupt. As a C64 game, it's ugly (others on the platform employed far better color schemes and much smoother-looking graphics), tedious (the aforementioned Turrican II and The First Samurai, along with a host of others such as Exile and Myth: History in the Making, are easily on par with the best of the 16-bit classics, gameplay-wise) mess that does its platform a disservice. On the CPC, it's a mildly impressive technical achievement, mainly due to the fact that it scrolls. Anywhere else, though, it's basically pointless.

  2. P.S.

    I just noticed that you seem to think that it "does a nice job pushing the C64's hardware". I hope that a cursory look at the games that I mentioned can dispel that patronizing idea.