In part two of our series on Sheffield’s Hi-Tec Software, we break away from the cartoon licenses to enjoy their platform original. Turbo The Tortoise was a fine, colourful, collectable packed game only undone by the cheeky title. Missed part one? It’s here.

Simon Forrester, Commodore Format‘s last editor and ever-present on the mag in its last few years, remembers the readers well.

“Our audience around 1992ish was made up of a lot of kids that were on the C64 because they couldn’t afford to upgrade. The consoles they couldn’t afford, and the games that ran on them, just felt different – they had a weighting to the physics and a frenetic energy that you just didn’t see in 8-bit games – a Japanese design sensibility. They were more fun.”

It’s true. Games were coming of age. The “consoles = lack of playability” trope peddled out around the time by 8-bit magazines was more about keeping readers onside than any lack of fun to be had from Asia’s consoles. Indeed, the opposite was true: the SNES and Megadrive had some of the most beautifully designed games ever seen to that point, with an emphasis on having a laugh – not just a series of slogging goals. Sonic‘s a fine example: you don’t need to whizz about at full pelt to finish that first game but it is insanely enjoyable to try, and unlike anything we’d ever seen before. The feeling of hammering through level one at top speed is incredible. It’s understandable that kids on other systems looked on enviously.

Just as the best bits of the 8-bits had found a home on the new era of machines, little bits of console influence were trickling back down on to the Commodore. This’d reach its impressive climax with Mayhem, ‘course, but from the late ’80s onwards you could bop a baddie by jumping on his head Mario style in stuff like Terry’s Big Adventure and The Addams Family, as well as in 16-bit hand-me-downs like Robocod. They were lapped up because the console-esque mechanics were great.

Early screens of Turbo The Tortoise promised colourful platform action, big console style bosses, Mario-esque warp tunnels and bonus screens full of collectables. There was an exciting story about a mad doctor creating our hero and sending him in a time machine to collect pieces of history. But it was the cheeky name and preview artwork showing our hero with a supercharged engine on his shell that sent imaginations running riot. The PR from the time litters the text with phrases like “fuel injected”, “charged”, “twin sparked” and “zoom”. So was this four quid cassette the C64’s Sonic?

Er, no. But the title of the game and the accompanying PR is about the only thing that’s wrong with this software. Turbo does move faster than CJ or Clyde Radcliffe, to be sure, but it’s not the notable thing about the game. And the thing is, you need to potter about to enjoy everything on offer here. It positively rains collectables and “packs absolutely everything onto a few metres of tape” (Trenton Webb, issue 23 – 85%). It’s one of Hi-Tec’s greatest adventures.

On the surface, it’s standard platform stuff. You start on the left and make your way right avoiding the obstacles and then see off the boss. But the six levels are so full. Your time machine drops you at the prehistoric era, the ice age, ancient Egypt, medieval England, the 20th Century (present day at the time!) and an unspecific “future”. Every stage has themed baddies, from the pterodactyls of the opening moments to the giant mummy boss of Egypt and the skateboarders of a glum, industrial ’90s city. The hazards are thoughtful as well, like the falling icicles in the, er, ice age and the automatic doors of the nuclear waste themed future level.

You can kill your enemies with the tried and trusted leap on the head or by using Mario style fire balls you’ll have to seek out by searching every level. Each stage also has a hidden bonus screen accessed by warp tunnel or hidden door. Hunt them down for points and power.

The dirty streets of the 20th century zone, the Mummy boss in Egypt, the whites and blues of the ice age….you can tell they had fun making Turbo The Tortoise

The difficulty slowly ramps up and you’ll soon be searching for blocks of concrete or pieces of wood to use as a leg up or to throw in a pit as a sort of makeshift bridge. There are moveable springboards, too.

So what’s it like to play in modern times?

For starters, the thing looks gorgeous. Even if it isn’t the 100mph sort of thing the marketing peeps wanted it to be, the parallax scrolling is especially effective in Turbo The Tortoise. There’s a real sense of momentum as you bomb along every stage, and although the opening screens have that familiar Commodore dirge of browns and greens the game soon opens up in to much more interesting whites and blues for the ice age and moody, grey skies over dirty streets as you reach the present day.

Each boss is just excellent. You can tell that the coders had fun with that mummy in Egypt and the Elvis-a-like in the future zone, and that is what hoists Turbo above other budget fare of the time and alongside some of the console stuff we started this piece talking about. It’s just fun. The CF review says it’s too easy, but bumping off enemies to then go off and find the bonus screens by searching every bit of the map is just a laugh. Why does everything have to be rock hard to be worthy (answer? It totally doesn’t – Ed)? TTT lives its console aspirations brilliantly and only really stops being fun with the bosses which are a bit too tough.

There’s one lingering question, and that’s the strange bottom third of the screen. Alongside the score and lives, there are large and unused parts of the status display. This empty area is repeated in the Spectrum and Amstrad conversions. Like so much else around this time, we wonder if more was meant for this game. It’s great regardless of whatever isn’t here, and as we said up there the only thing wrong with it is the expectation that the marketing set up for Turbo. Super charged? Nah? Super fun? Yes. If it was called Terry the Tortoise, f’rinstance, we wouldn’t have any gripes at all. It’s worth (don’t say it – Ed) shelling out for (this feature is over – Ed). CF

  • Although this was a Hi-Tec original, only a few hundred copies made it into the shops before the business was closed. The game was released again later in 1992 by Codemasters. If you’ve got a Hi-Tec version, hold it tight!
  • Like this game? Try Potsworth and Company and Crystal Kingdom Dizzy. They’re by the same team.
  • Next time, we’ll look at four more Hi-Tec originals. Keep an eye on the socials!