Nintendo 64 games living a second life on handheld is nothing new, certainly not if you've owned and loved a 3DS at some point in the last eight years. But there's something about that mid-to-late-'90s heyday of shooters – an era that gave us GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and Quake II among so many others – that still exudes a quintessential kind of magic. And so while the original Turok might not be considered the series' pinnacle – that falls to the incredible Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, which is also coming to Switch this year – it's still an FPS landmark filled with charm, character and well, loads of dinosaurs.
Even if you've never heard of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter – never mind played it when it first launched in 1997 – it's important to appreciate just how much this off-the-wall title progressed shooters as a whole. It was the first FPS to appear on N64 (back when its lineup of games was barely into the double digits) and it was massively ahead of its time. Its levels were open, full of twisting corridors, open-plan glades and shortcuts galore. It utilised motion capture to give enemies a realistic sense of movement, and its AI was aggressive and relentless in its quest to vanquish you. Even the way you sway and tilt from side to side as you run is a world away from the rigid movement model of Doom.
To 2019 eyes, Turok might seem a little basic visually – and it is, with its crude textures and sharp polygons – but this was a game built by an 18-strong team back when Nintendo 64 was barely out of its infancy. 3D itself was still a wild frontier of possibility, and developer Iguana Entertainment and publisher Acclaim took a huge risk trying to build a rewarding FPS in three dimensions with what was – at the time – a new IP in the gaming space (it's based on a comic book which began in the 1950s, in case you were wondering). And, somehow, they had to find a way to fit it onto an N64 cart. Even the condensed soundtrack – one of a handful of concessions that were made to get Turok running on 64-bit hardware – still has a nostalgic quality to it.
So here we are, 22 years later, with that very same game running on Nintendo Switch. This remaster first popped its head up on PC at the tail end of 2015 before eventually making its way onto consoles, so while it's not necessarily a new port, it is the first time this trailblazing shooter has gone mobile. Developer Nightdive Studios has done a fine job of transitioning Turok's debut adventure to the world of Joy-Con and handheld adventuring. That infamous fog – one of those aforementioned technical sacrifices – which clouded many of its open areas in order to save memory, has been (mostly) lifted while every character model, lighting effect and weapon has been given a remastered spit shine.
The Nintendo Switch port also benefits from motion controls, so you can sit there and happily wave your console around in handheld mode, shooting dinosaurs and dodging grenades to your heart's content. You move with the analogue stick and shoot with ZR, just like normal. It's a control scheme that suits the messy, spray-and-pray gunplay of Turok, and is often just as fun as using the sticks. Talking of handheld mode, there's barely any change in performance when playing away from the dock. This is a port of 22-year-old game and you wouldn't imagine such a title would put much strain on Switch's processor, but being able to enjoy Turok's old school sense of speed and break-neck action in its full form on-the-go is a huge boon.
So how does it play today? Well, that boils down to whether you played it the first time around, and how indoctrinated you've become to the tropes of modern first-person shooters. Turok comes from the same time that gave us Quake III Arena and Unreal, so it's all about moving at sprinting speed, blowing enemies to bits with shotguns and exploring a labyrinthine set of levels before taking down a bullet-sponge boss. The lack of manual saving (something Nightdive could have added in, but presumably didn't to preserve the game's original intent) feels so odd in 2019, with checkpoints and save points spread very thinly across its large levels.
And while that gunplay lacks the finesse you've come to expect from Rainbow Six: Siege or the current CODs and Battlefields, it never, ever feels boring or rote. While it might not have the ridiculously over-the-top weapons of Turok 2 (Cerebral Bore, anyone?), its arsenal of 14 weapons tick enough classic and creative boxes to make the most of its dramatic death animations. Even now, all these years later, watching those polygonal enemies clutch their throats as blood spurts out feels as exhilarating as it did when that cartridge was first slammed into an N64. If you didn't play the original that might sound like the kind of thing a psychopath would write, but honestly, it's still really cool.
There's no denying that Turok: Dinosaur Hunter has aged a lot in the last two-plus decades, but the fact it also holds up so well is a testament to the work of that small Iguana team and the effort Nightdive Studios has put it bringing this interactive time capsule to life. The lack of a proper story, inability to manually save your progress and sheer open nature of its level design will be something of a shock to players less experienced with the shooters of yore, but with a lick of new paint and some welcome motion controls, this piece of interactive history gets to live again on Nintendo hardware. It's arguably more interesting as a piece of history than it is an FPS shooter in 2019, but Turok is still worth a look if you're a fan of the genre.