Review: Turtle Tale (3DS eShop)

Turtle Recall

Do you love retro platformers but wish they featured more squirt guns? Not to be confused with the children's animated film A Turtle's Tale from a few years ago, Saturnine Games' Turtle Tale brings Super Soakin' platforming action to the eShop at a budget price, but don't let its colourful graphics fool you: Turtle Tale is a strict NES-style 2D platformer through and through, with all the idiosyncrasies of an 1980s action game — for better and for worse.

Turtle Tale's setup is fairly predictable; protagonist Shelldon must save his homeland from an evil pirate, and to do so he must conquer a short collection of linear levels armed only with his trusty water gun. There are no power-ups, no puzzles, and no boss battles aside from the final fight against the aforementioned evil pirate; Turtle Tale is pure platforming action. There's no time limit, so it feels more relaxed than many of the NES titles that inspired it; the only scoring system is the entirely optional objective to snag all 100 fruits scattered throughout each level to unlock a bonus quest at the end of the game — the slightly-animated 3D fruits are littered throughout the adventure, and none of them are hidden or particularly difficult to grab.

It's immediately apparent that Turtle Tale was created by a tiny development team, as low production values permeate every aspect of the game, from the barely-animated opening cutscene to the brain-dead enemies you'll face. The character sprites are rather basic and the cliché tropical music plays at a strangely low volume, but Saturnine Games has made the most of its small budget with bright, inviting parallax-scrolling background graphics that look great with the 3D slider all the way up. Turtle Tale also excels in its simple, tight controls, with D-pad/Circle Pad movement, B to jump, and Y to fire your squirt gun – the B/Y tandem is a strange departure from the traditional A/B controls of most retro platformers, but it gives your worn-out A button a welcome respite from the constant mashing it usually gets in other games.

Turtle Tale's greatest accomplishment that sets it apart from the legion of similar 2D platformers on 3DS is its lifelike water gun physics. Shelldon squirts his gun at a realistic trajectory that doesn't travel in a straight line, but rather arcs downward after a few feet as the concentrated liquid blast breaks apart into a scattered shower. Sadly, Shelldon can only shoot straight ahead; the squirt gun is full of untapped gameplay potential, as there's no ability to aim up or down at different angles. This gets increasingly frustrating in the later levels full of airborne enemies, as Shelldon can't jump high enough to hit them until they swoop down low; a simple button added to aim upwards would've solved this problem entirely.

Turtle Tale is a cakewalk for the majority of the game, but the difficulty curve skyrockets upwards about two-thirds of the way through. It's not a fair challenge, either; it's difficult in the same way that many old NES platformers like Castlevania are difficult, as levels are full of small platforms floating precariously above water, lava, or bottomless pits that instantly kill you, while every single hit from an enemy knocks Shelldon back to tumble to his doom. Like Castlevania, jumping in Turtle Tale is rigid and stale, and often enemies will pop onscreen as Shelldon is in mid-air to knock him to his death without a chance to recover. The incredible challenge in later sequences of Turtle Tale relies entirely on this cheap mechanic to make you play the levels over and over again; luckily Shelldon has infinite lives, but the unfair difficulty stops being fun and starts getting tedious very quickly.

All this could be forgiven if the level designs were clever or unique, but virtually every stage merely consists of platforms at slightly different heights and gaps Shelldon must jump over. Occasionally there's your requisite falling platform, constantly-scrolling level, or lava raft, but there's no sense of progression; the end of a level doesn't feel any different from the beginning, and the finish line seems arbitrarily placed at a fixed distance from the starting line. For the most part, enemies simply bound back and forth on platforms waiting for you to shoot them, and each of the game's five worlds only introduces one or two entirely new bad guys. The rest are just new sprites over old enemies, as the crabs in the Beach world become lizards in the Forest world and the seagulls become toucans; there's also a monkey in a Devo hat that inexplicably appears in every single level of the game.

Conclusion

At its low price point, Turtle Tale is an entirely functional platforming adventure from a small indie studio that you can breeze through in a day or two. In strict accordance to its retro roots, however, most of the challenge to be found revolves entirely around repetitive, unfair platforming mechanics and a lack of multi-directional aiming. 3DS owners are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to great 2D platformers on the eShop, so if you've got a hankering for old-school action platforming, your dollars (or pounds, or euros, or kroner...) are perhaps better spent elsewhere.