The NEC Turbografx-16 (known as PC Engine outside North America) is an extremely underrated video game console that deserves a lot more attention than it gets. This little guy was released back in the 16-bit days and is one of the first 4th generation consoles. However, its hardware isn’t “true” 16-bit since the Turbografx-16 is powered by an 8-bit central processor mated to a 16-bit GPU.
One of the most notable things about the PC Engine is its form factor and media format. Even the NES (an 8-bit console) is larger than the Turbografx-16 which measures just 14cm x 14cm x 3.8cm. It’s the smallest mainstream home video game console ever made (not counting handhelds).
And even more interesting is the fact that games for the PC Engine/ Turbografx-16 were released on cards rather than cartridges. Later, NEC designed a CD version of the Turbografx-16 that could accept larger video games with fancy FMV cutscenes and bigger levels. However, most games never took advantage of the added storage capacity and the console was discontinued in 1994.
What really sold Turbograx-16 units was the games you could play on this thing. It delivered a truly diverse gaming experience with titles from both the Nintendo roster as well as PC, spanning many genres- platformer, RPG, shooter, etc.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Every Castlevania game has been about the Belmont family and their fight against Dracula- an immortal, blood-sucking demon who’s the leader of all vampires. He has a magical teleporting castle that can be taken anywhere he wishes. The game is about going into this castle, fighting level after level of increasingly difficult enemies, gaining new weapons, and eventually confronting the Dark Lord himself.
Splatterhouse is one of the earliest beat ‘em ups ever and is also unique in the fact that it was released across pretty much every major platform (including the Turbografx-16). The gameplay is very much like a typical 2D side-scrolling platformer in which you use your fists and kicks to dispatch enemies. Unlike beat ‘em ups from the 90s, Splatterhouse is entirely set within a mansion from which you’re trying to escape.
Newer beat ‘em up games usually have a lot of street levels, but not Splatterhouse. It also has a slight horror element, inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Every single boss fight is unique in how it plays and what you’re required to do.
An old-school platformer with tons of really cool levels and boss fights. Ninja Spirit is a gateway into the old arcade era when you just popped in a coin and didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes, you’re fighting giant demons in a swamp.
Other times, you’re going up against magical warriors in an abandoned mansion within a hidden forest. Your player character is armed with his trusty katana and smoke bombs. He can also throw shurikens, a staple of any true ninja.
One of the most popular side-scrolling space shooters of its era, R-Type sold many a console and arcade cabinet. There’s an alien race trying to wipe out all of humankind, and its leader looks suspiciously similar to the Xenomorph Queen from Aliens. You pilot a super advanced fighter armed with lasers, taking out wave after wave of enemy ships until you reach the boss of each stage.
I have a feeling the developers for Bonk’s Adventure really liked the Turbografx-16 because they literally named their game after it. It was called PC Kid in Europe and PC Genjin in Japan (Turbografx-16 is known as PC Engine outside North America). And the game features quite an interesting protagonist, who’s this really weird-looking bald kid with superhuman strength and red skin.
I guess the American localization department called him Bonk because he literally smashes his head into enemies to defeat them. Along the way, you get stronger by eating pieces of meat that are laying on the ground. And the more you eat, the stronger you become- there are 3 different power states for Bonk.
Bonk, meet your Japanese counterpart Zonk. Air Zonk is sort of a remake for Bonk’s Adventures. But this time, you’re playing a shooter in which you’re a superhero with blond hair, shooting down enemies as they come at you.
Zonk is basically a reskinned version of Bonk, and he looks way cooler. Before each level, you can pick a partner who’ll boost your powers and assist you with defeating enemies. You can fire normal shots, charge shots, or drop bombs (power-ups give you special attacks).
I never knew you could transform the simple game of Pinball into something so dynamic and unique. Devil’s Crush somehow manages to incorporate shooting mechanics, as you can take out enemy units walking in the center of each table with your bouncing balls.
There are 3 different levels to the table and you get 3 different flipper pairs for each one. If you use the tilt function too much, your flippers stop working (standard pinball rules).
Imagine Mario combined with Might and Magic, that’s Cadash in a nutshell. It’s one of the earliest 2D side-scrolling platformers to feature roleplaying elements such as upgradeable abilities and stats. You can choose from 4 different character types- mage, priestess, ninja, and fighter (each one of these has access to unique stats and abilities).
Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
Street Fighter 2 is possibly the single most influential fighting game of the early 90s since it introduced so many unique mechanics to the genre. One of the main features of Street Fighter II was its 1 v 1 mode, which has been improved in the Champion Edition. Other upgrades in the Champion Edition include new fighters, and a slightly tweaked color palette to make backgrounds pop out better.
Galaxian was extremely popular when it was released back in 1979, and influenced shooter games well into the 1980s. The basic concept of maneuvering a fighter aircraft to shoot down waves of enemies has been carried over into Galaga. And Galaga ’88 is a further evolution of that idea with improved graphics and new enemy types.
Set in the near future, Blazing Lazers is a vertically-scrolling shooter in which you control an advanced fighter. There are a total of 9 zones, each with one proper boss and multiple mini bosses. Saves are based on checkpoints so if you collide with an enemy unit/ get hit by their projectiles, you’ll return to the last checkpoint marker.
Parasol Stars is a sequel to Rainbow Island which itself is a part of the Bubble Bobble platformer series. In Parasol stars, the two dragons are in their human forms- known as Bubby and Bobby, respectively. They are armed with parasols that open up to act as shields against enemy attacks.
You can also hit enemies with these parasols to stun them. If you are dropping from a platform, opening the parasol will slow your fall and let you glide to the next surface. Every stage has droplets that fall from the roof, which can be collected in your parasol and hurled at enemy units.
Your hero is in a faraway land that has been taken over by alien invaders, and their kind can be killed only if you have a special magical stone called the Ora. In Dungeon Explorer, you spend most of your time moving through 2D dungeon cells that are shown from a top-down view. You slay enemies, gain XP, collect items, and grow stronger over time (there are 7 classes, each with unique abilities).
A game in which White Bomberman is trying to collect 7 chips stolen from a galactic supercomputer by Black Bomberman. It looks colorful, with levels and tiles that wouldn’t look out of place in Candy Crush. Overall gameplay is not very different from previous Bomberman titles- you plant bombs that explode after a while and destroy enemies in a nearby radius.
If you like pinball games with some added flair, check out Alien Crush which is the first game of the Crush series (its sequel is Devil’s Crush). In Alien Crush, your pinball table has an alien head at the center which looks like a Xenomorph. There are 2 screens in a vertical configuration, as opposed to Devil’s Crush which stacks 3 screens on top of each other.
You start out as a pilot for one of the newest prototype tank models, participating in a VR simulation. Your tank can move in any direction and rotate its turret freely. It can also walk along a fixed axis if you lock the turret rotation.
While you’re progressing through levels, beating what you think are virtual enemies, something just doesn’t feel right. Gradually, you find out that you were in an actual combat situation this entire time.
There are plenty of shooters and RPGs in the Turbografx-16 catalog, so how about something entirely new that stresses both your reaction speed as well as tactical skills? Gomola Speed is basically a mix of Snake and a 16-bit dungeon crawler. In this game, you start out with a snake head, eventually adding sections and getting longer while trying to collect all the food in each level.
A war tactics game that’s set in a fictional near future scenario with the Allied-Union going up against the Axis-Xenon. Fighting is mostly about taking a predetermined army that you’re given and positioning units against the enemy in a strategic fashion. You can’t make new units, but you can capture enemy units and facilities (if you send a damaged enemy unit for repair to one of your factories, it becomes yours).
A game in which your hero is a small kid cursed to forever be a lizard by a mighty dragon. However, this curse can be removed by using the Salamander Cross which is hidden somewhere in the Monster Land.
The game is a platforming action-adventure with non-linear levels and plenty of treasures to collect. Accumulating gold lets you buy items and better gear in the shops.
Keith Courage in Alpha Zones
Keith Courage is a sci-fi platformer and was sold as a pack-in game alongside each Turbografx-16 purchase in the North American region. The plot is quite basic and even has a few really funny abbreviations. For example, you’re part of N.I.C.E. (Nations of International Citizens for Earth) and fighting B.A.D. (Beastly Alien Dudes) who landed on Earth in a meteor.
In this game, you control a super-advanced space fighter called the Soldier Blade and go through 7 different vertically scrolling stages, each containing an alien boss. Soldier Blade places a heavy emphasis on speed and is also one of the most impressive shooters of its era from a graphical standpoint. It also fires the Vulcan cannon which can take out enemies with just one hit.
Drool III, a mastermind of chaos, has stolen half of the moon and our favorite caveman kid Bonk is on a mission to get it back. Bonk is equipped with an invincible, impenetrable head that he can use for various moves. For example, you can just hit enemies directly to drop them or you can jump and slam your head into the ground with creates a devastating shockwave.
Long before Hideo Kojima entered the realm of legends with his work on the Metal Gear Solid franchise, he designed an obscure little cyberpunk adventure called Snatcher. It’s a visual novel, following the story of an investigator who’s looking into cases of disappearing people. It turns out that a group of humanoid robots is kidnapping people and replacing them in society.
The Saturn version of this game is possibly the best way to play it since the Genesis version has limited multiplayer options and worse music. The Genesis port was also the only way to play this game in English until 2006 when it was released on Virtual Console for Wii. There are a total of 6 zones in Bomberman ’94, ranging from jungles to volcanoes.
The Legendary Axe
A barbarian’s daughter has been kidnapped by some weird cult that wants to sacrifice her to their deity. Before they do so, he must infiltrate their mountainous base and rescue his daughter.
Along the way, this barbarian will encounter not just cult members but also giant spiders and other mystical creatures. But his powers have been significantly increased by a blessing from the village elders who also gave him an enchanted ax.
Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams
Harry Potter who? Meet Cotton- a young redhead who’s also a powerful user of witchcraft. She rides her trusty broom and is accompanied by a mystical fairy who will assist Cotton in defeating all types of monsters and demons.
Your goal is to get your hands on some Willow candy, hidden deep in the lair of monsters. Cotton will fight enemies in various levels made up of jungles and castles, armed with ranged attacks that she can unleash while sitting on her broom. Power-ups increase your firepower, and there are bombs in case you need that extra damage for larger enemies.
A demon called Dirth has kidnapped Princess Aurora and taken 8 ancient medallions that have the power to completely destroy everything in the world. To rescue your princess and save the land, you must get these medallions back. When Neutopia was released, many people rightfully noted that its premise and gameplay were similar to that of the first Zelda game.
Lords of Thunder
Lords of Thunder is a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up based in a fantasy setting with wizards and knights. Before the start of each run, you’re asked to select a difficulty level that adjusts environmental hazards and enemy configurations. You can also choose from one of 4 different elemental suits that give you unique powers, changing the nature of your attacks and bombs.
Ys Book I & II
When NEC released their TurboDuo console (a combination of the Turbografx-16 and its CD-ROM drive with some additional RAM), this was a pack-in game provided alongside each unit. Ys Book I & II is a remake of the first two Ys games with updated visuals and animated cutscenes. There is also dubbed audio for the English version and CD-quality soundtracks.
Clearly, this game is heavily inspired by Contra. It features two macho men with headbands, sleeveless shirts, and glorious hairstyles who wield comically large machine guns.
They are sent to infiltrate an enemy base and wipe out a small army of men and tanks all by themselves. While demolishing the enemy, you’re also to look for allied prisoners and the President who has been captured by these terrorists.
Despite being the earliest 4th generation video game console to the market, the Turbografx-16 just couldn’t capture the market share of Nintendo’s SNES or Sega’s Genesis. Part of this had to do with the fact that both of those companies spent way more money on marketing (simply because they could afford to).
Nintendo and Sega also had extremely popular 1st party titles such as Mario and Sonic that you couldn’t play on any other platform. On top of inferior brand recognition and lack of big-name exclusives, the Turbografx-16 also required accessories and add-ons for basic tasks like multiplayer. You had to purchase an adapter to connect more controllers or support composite video output.