When the topic of retro gaming comes up in conversation, you hear about the usual consoles like the Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Genesis. Most gamers know about the historical “bit wars” that took place between Nintendo and Sega. The NES (1985) put Sega’s Master System (1986) in the ditch when it came to 8-bit systems, but even today there is still a discussion about who had the better 16 -bit game system. Nintendo had the Super Nintendo (1991), and Sega had the Sega Genesis (1989). Today, however, I will not be talking about any of these systems.I will be talking about a system that tried to win these bit wars, but ended up just fading away…
Back in 1986 this little company called Hudson Soft, who had already published Bomberman and later would give us Adventure Island, teamed up with a Japanese computer company called NEC. Together they developed the Turbo Grafx 16. It was originally known as the PC Engine when it was released in late 1987 in Japan, and didn’t hit US soil until mid 1989. The TG-16, as its name states, was a 16-bit home console. Its goal was to beat the competition of the already popular NES and Sega genesis, and it had the potential. There was one problem though. The TG-16 couldn’t get the third party support it needed from other companies to produce more popular games. This inevitably caused the system to fail and was discontinued in 1994, only after 5 years of US exposure. This, however, didn’t stop this console from putting out some great and underrated titles, as well as some interesting peripherals and ad-ons.
Let us talk about the console itself first. It has a very different type of game cartridge. They are called Hu-cards, and are large card like cartridges that slide in front of the console.
The next thing that you will notice is that the TG-16 only has one controller port. That is rather unfortunate for having multiplayer games. They had a way of getting around that, but we will get to that a bit later. Let me get back to the controllers though. The TG-16 controllers look very similar to NES controllers. They do have one thing that the standard Nintendo controllers didn’t, and that is a built in turbo. For those who don’t know what a turbo is allow me to explain. What a turbo does is rather then continuously pressing a button to either shoot or attack, you could just hold down the button and the game would do the command at a much faster rate.
This home console had several add-ons that were said to “improve” its experience. I mentioned before that the Turbo Grafx only has one controller port. Well for that you could get the turbo tap adaptor that would allow you to plug in up to five controllers. Can you imagine what it would have been like back then playing a game like Bomberman with five people?
This next add-on I came across was rather peculiar to me. It’s called the Turbo Booster, and what it claims to do is enhance the audio to stereo sound, rather than mono, and the video to composite hook up rather then and RF concerter. I would love to get my hands on one of these to try it out but they are not very easy to come across and the price tag on them is quite high at around $200.
CDs were new to the scene still at the time the TG-16 came around, but they thought it would be a fun thing to experiment with. In 1990 the Turbo Grafx CD hit American stores in 1990 as the first CD based video game system add-on. Even though the American game selection was rather small there was not a region protection on the discs, so Japanese released CD games were playable on the US system. There was actually another version released called the Turbo Duo, which was a system that was a TG-16 and a TG-CD in one
The first game that I knew that I had to have for this console was this little game called Splattehouse. Splatterhouse was ported from the arcade to the TG-16 in 1990 and was a rather violent game. With the SNES port of the bloody and violent Mortal Kombat not coming out for a couple more years this game was rather risqué in video game history with the blood and the guts. Even though the Turbo port was censored a little from what the arcade version had, it still was quite a topic.
Other games that should be mentioned are the several shoot ‘em ups or “shmups” titles the TG-16 had to offer. Games like R-Type, Dead Moon, and Galaga 90’s were all very action packed and usually rather intense game play that required lots of skill. Even though the game lay styles were very similar each of these games had different aspects of the game that made it original. I also would like to mention there is a game that was released for the CD expansion called Fighting Street. This game is actually the first street fighter game.
NEC and Hudson didn’t stop with just trying to compete with the home consoles. They also tried their hand at the portable market as well.
The Turbo Express was a handheld system, but did not have its own game library like the Nintendo Gameboy. It used all of the TG-16 Hu-cards, so you didn’t have to re-buy your games. The one big down side to the Turbo Express was that it was made with rather cheap internals so there were problems with the audio cutting out and dead pixels, even in brand new units.
After being defeated by the competition in America, NEC released a couple more systems in Japan only. In 1989 NEC released the Supergrafx, which was an upgraded version of the previous system. There were only seven games released for the Supergrafx. Although it was backwards compatible with all the TG-16 games, it was an ultimate failure. Now with that failure you would think that would be it for NEC, but in 1994 they released the PC-FX. This was a 32-bit CD based system that only sold around 100,000 units in the 4 years it was produced. It just couldn’t compete with the other home consoles like the Playstation and Nintendo 64
It seems that NEC was sometimes too ahead of its time. They just couldn’t get a break and pull ahead of the console races. I just recently received my TG-16, and I love it so far. I would highly recommend this console if you are an old school collector. It is one of the higher priced retro systems at around $100 in a complete and good working condition. Most games are around the same prices as current games today depending on quality and if it comes in its original case with manual.