Pocket Power: Turok: Evolution

Handheld gaming is more than a compromise of power and portability. Whether it’s the ability to play anywhere, multitask or hold an entire console in your hands, it’s a special experience consoles have never replicated. In a world where high resolutions and teraflops reign supreme, we take a look at a portable relic every month and reflect on what makes it memorable. Be warned, spoilers may occasionally populate these articles.

Anachronisms can be endless sources of irritation for fact checkers and sticklers to reality, but they can lead to so many exciting scenarios in fantasy worlds. Everyone knows that dinosaurs once ruled the earth, though ruling might be using the term loosely since no one knows what kind of administration and leadership skills the had in their walnut-sized brains. Sadly, they all died millions of years before any humans appeared, so those dinosaurs we see in Jurassic Park movies aren’t actually real. Nevertheless, pairing humans up with dinosaurs is a mismatch in media that never seems to get old. Video games are an easy medium to pair up the hairless apes and thunder lizards, and since we have dinosaurs on the brain, the old handheld game we’re going to play this month is Turok: Evolution on the Game Boy Advance.

The story of Turok: Evolved begins in 1886. Captain Bruckner is leading his calvary in an attack against the Saquin people. As the lone survivor of the slaughter of Saquin, Tal’Set engages Bruckner in a duel. Tal’Set gains the upper hand by severing one of Bruckner’s, but before he can deal the killing blow a mystical door opens up, sucking them into the Lost Lands. Tal’Set wanders about until he finds the River People and meets their most powerful warrior Djunn and his glorious mustache. Djunn informs Tal’Set that the Lost Lands are in danger due to unknown weapons, foul monsters and mechanical beasts that have appeared from other lands. Tal’Set realizes this must mean Bruckner and his army are here as well, so the two team up to rid the Lost Lands of the likes of him.

The player has to make the choice of choosing between Tal’Set or Djunn to play. There isn’t much of a difference between the two aside from their default weapon. Tal’Set has a tomahawk and Djunn wields a strong grappler. These basic weapons are nice and all but they won’t be used too often since there’s an arsenal of firepower for them to get. This includes shotguns, flamethrowers, machine guns, handguns and homing missiles to name a few. To go back to the topic of anachronisms, the flamethrower was first invented in 1901 but wasn’t used in combat until 1915. Heat-seeking missiles were researched in the early 20th century, but didn’t have what was considered a successful model until the AIM-9 entered combat in 1956, which wasn’t available in a portable handheld launcher. Also, dinosaurs went extinct a few years before 1886.

But it’s a game so historical accuracy probably isn’t a major concern. Historically-accurate weapons probably wouldn’t do the trick anyway since in the first level Tal’Set and Djunn have to deal with soldiers armed with powerful weapons, dinosaurs, land mines, airstrikes, barbed wire and tanks. There’s also the threat of other strange creatures. Some of them look like sloth monsters and humanoid dinosaur hybrids. The exact identity of some of the threats isn’t entirely known, but it can be said with confidence that limiting oneself to weapons of the 19th century wouldn’t be sufficient protection against the denizens of the Lost Lands.

In general Turok games are first-person shooters, but for the transition to handheld the developers decided to go for the side scrolling run and gun approach. For variety sake there are a few instances where the 2D perspective remains, but Tal’Set’s perspective changes to where he’s shooting into the screen. The 2D run-and-gun approach makes it easy to draw comparisons to the original Contra, especially since there were a couple levels in that game where the perspective switches to a behind-the-back view. This is a deviation from the standard Turok approach, but it’s a welcome one. When most developers were taking advantage of 3D gaming the GBA was a treasure trove of new 2D games that blended the classic style of gaming with more modern gameplay and quality-of-life updates.

Sticking true to its retro-inspired roots, Turok: Evolution is punishingly difficult. At least it is if you blindly run in guns blazing. It is one of those were the challenge is derived from needing to memorize battle patterns and level layouts, and with a little patience and experience the difficulty becomes much less intimidating. That doesn’t mean it ever becomes easy since enemies seem to be able to teleport in whenever they want in limitless supply, but the challenge is not insurmountable. Turok: Evolution shines in embracing what it is, an over-the-top run-and-gun adventure where the protagonist has a ridiculous amount of guns. It’s difficult not to enjoy a gun when you can carry around an absurd amount of powerful weapons that can take town tanks and T. Rexes.

Turok: Evolution is one of the must-play gems of the GBA library. The switch from the first-person shooter to a retro run and gun approach works extremely well. Well enough where it would be nice to see a modern take on 2D Turok, but cloning dinosaurs for tourism revenue is more likely to occur before that ever happens. For now to my knowledge GBA is the only way to experience 2D Turok, and doing so is highly recommended.

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