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In TurnAndBurn players fly a Tomcat fighter-jet under "the presidents orders" to maintain a no-fly zone. They are equipped with 3 types of missiles, machine guns, and access to one aerial refuel every level. A typical mission consists of taking off from a carrier, shooting several airplanes or land installations, and returning to the carrier. The shooting gameplay is fairly typical for the era, with the player able to perform simple aerial maeuvers over a uniform blue ocean, and primarily locating enemies using a radar. Objects in the sky and ocean are rendered using sprites which change in size based on their distance from the player. There are only a few sizes of sprites for each object, but the game runs at a higher frame rate than many similar games of the time.
The cockpit view is notable for being very detailed and providing the player with a wealth of information. It also includes some light graphical touches, such as a flight yolk that moves as though it was being controlled by the player. However, the cockpit takes up approximately two thirds of the screen, leaving little room for the player to actually see enemies. Pressing the triggers pulls up left and right over the shoulder views respectively, which also include a detailed portrait of the pilot and part of the plane.
The difficulty of landing necessitated that the developers include a separate mode accessible from the main menu that allows players to practice it.