So here we are celebrating another console’s 28th birthday. Recently, we had the Sega Genesis anniversary and now we have the NEC TurboGrafx-16 to add to this list. The TurboGrafx-16 is the North America version of the NEC PC Engine and for some reason is a lot larger than the original little white box. Apparently, this was because they believed the American market would not buy a small machine, so they made it a much larger unit supposed to be “futuristic”.
However, both units use the same HUC6280A core which is an 8-bit processor capable of running between 1.79 MHz and 7.16 MHz. The machine also has a 16-bit video colour encoder and 16-bit video controller (hence the 16 in the name TurboGrafx-16). It has 8kB of work RAM and 64kB of Video RAM. It was able to display 482 colours on screen from a palette of 512 on two layers (one background, one foreground layer) at a resolution of 256 x 239 but could also display at up to 565 x 242. The machine also could play 6 channels of Wave Synthesis audio through the CPU which was more than most other consoles at the time.
Most games came on HuCards which were about the size of an average credit card but slightly thicker. Strangely enough TurboGrafx-16 games and Japanese PC Engine HuCards have a different pin configuration (pins were swapped) so import games would not work without an adapter.
Most notable on the TurboGrafx-16 was a plastic cover piece which covered the connector for the additional CDROM2 drive (sold separately). The CDROM2 was a Double Speed SCSI CDROM drive which could be connected to the back of the machine. It gave a slight increase in memory the TG16 could use and allowed the machine to play CD Audio.
Later System cards would include support for various formats and the more memory for the system to use. System Card 3.0 gave the system an addition 192kB of RAM together with the 64 from the CD unit making it have 256kB for the machine to use.
Then came the Arcade Card Pro System card which gave a the system an additional 2Mb of memory making the system have 2240kB of RAM to play with but this was mostly used as Video RAM as opposed to work RAM. Only a small handful of these games were made.
As previously mentioned, the games available on the release date were Alien Crush, China Warrior, Dungeon Explorer, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, Power Golf, R-Type, The Legendary Axe, Victory Run, and Vigilante. These were all HuCards, I believe. I will leave the reviews to my colleagues (should they want to) who are probably much better game players than I am. Out of that list, I have tried Alien Crush which is a very good pinball game, but like all pinball computer games, the ball physics are a bit wonky. R-Type in Japan came in two parts on two separate cartridges (part 1 had first three levels, Part two the last three) but luckily the Turbografx-16 version had both parts on one cartridge.
With the CDROM2 games having more memory and better music they were definitely the way to go. Such amazing games such as Castlevania X Rondo of Blood and much more. Many involved full soundtracks and Anime/Manga style cutscenes due to having more media space. A lot of the CDROM2 games however were Japanese with only a few gaining American translations.
So is a Turbografx-16 worth investing in? Well, I would love to say yes, as it’s a nice machine, but there are a few problems.
One, the Hucards and CD-ROMs due to its not amazing success in America means the price of them now has gone quite high making it a very costly machine to get games for. Also trying to find an actual CDROM2 drive is extremely difficult. They normally go for extortionately silly prices and the lasers normally need replacing immediately as the originals were not the best.
Also, certain CDROM2 games are being sold at ridiculous prices such as Snatcher which is a point and click game written for the PC Engine by Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill fame) can reach over $500 or more a copy. Also, replacement TurboGrafx-16 joypads are in limited numbers, so if you want one of these you may find it hard to find. However, if you are lucky enough to find a few bargains, which do occasionally happen on eBay, then you will have yourself a very nice machine.
The TurboGrafx-16 was not a raging success in the US, but it was very successful in Japan and was followed up a few machines. Such as the SuperGrafx, The PC Engine GT (Handheld PC Engine), The PC Engine Shuttle (cheaper model without CD port shaped like a spaceship was aimed at kids) and the PC Engine LT (A laptop style cased PC Engine with a screen built in). Its final link was to the NEC PC-FX which was a desktop machine with mainly Manga games.
However, we can examine those another day… So here is to the TurboGrafx-16; its 28 today and people still continue to play it.