NEC PC Engine/Turbografx |OT| – No friends to bring controllers? No problem!


#1

Many remember the great SNES vs Mega Drive/Genesis wars as the greatest console battle of our time. Names were taken, lies were told. There were heroes on both sides. Bubsy was everywhere.

But that’s not how it played out in Japan. Sega took third place behind a tiny white box.

The PC Engine was a collaboration between software developer Hudson Soft and computer manufacturer NEC. Released in 1987, the timing of the PC Engine’s release fit perfectly in a lull in the market, between the dominant but ageing Famicom, and the long awaited release of the Super Famicom. I believe was the highest selling console in either 1988 or 1989.

Keen Japanese gamers jumped at the opportunity to own a more powerful gaming box, and partly due to a smart hardware design that could draw lots of sprites with no hiccups, right from the start the PC Engine thrived on ‘hardcore’ arcade genres like shooters and other action games.





Partly because of this arcade focus, the PC Engine was also able to maintain a market position even after the release and eventual domination of the Super Famicom. As co-creator, Hudson produced many of the key titles, including mascot titles like PC Genjin, and shooters like the Star Soldier series. But the console had relatively wide third party support, and many of the defining titles were high quality arcade ports from third parties.

A notable feature of the PC Engine is how tiny the pre-CD console is. The original release is dwarfed in size by the contemporary consoles. It’s a really nice piece of engineering. One of the reasons the console can be so small is that the games came on credit-card sized ‘Hu-Cards’ and fit in a front-loading slot.

The PC Engine was also the first ever system to have a CD attachment released, which attracted PC developers and ambitious multi-media projects from console developers.

This was yet another point of differentiation from Nintendo’s machine. CD players were expensive at the time, and so the price required to join the CD party locked the platform into its already established hardcore niche.

Why is it called PC Engine?

Why is the Japanese NES called the Nintendo Family Computer?

The semi-confusing name makes a bit more sense in Japan. At that time, Consoles were seen as the basically same thing as computers. In the pre-Famicom era, 8-bit home computing platforms were semi-interchangeable with consoles, and you could convert your consoles to PCs with the addition of keyboards and other peripherals. The MSX had basically the exact same hardware as the Sega SG1000 and played cartridge games.

NEC had the leading Japanese personal computing platform the PC-88/PC-98 line. They kept the PC Branding for their new console, it had the ‘engine’ (CPU) of a modern(ish) PC, and they thought it would sound cool.

Turbografx 16

NEC wanted in on that sweet US market, and their local team thought it needed a redesign because Americans would only accept SUPER SIZE.

The console was redesigned to be larger for no good reason, and made into a formless grey box mostly full of air.

It was also renamed to sound ‘extreme’ to emphasise the better graphics it could produce, and there was a smaller fanboy war about the fact it really had an 8-bit CPU.

They of course also ruined all the box art.




It failed hard in the US because Sega got in first with their redesigned Mega Drive and even extremer ads. There was a small to the point of irrelevant european release, and some pockets of grey market imports of US/JP consoles, but ultimately all but the Japanese release are territorial footnotes for a primarily Japanese-market machine.

Console models and peripherals

This is where PCE gets complicated. There were several versions of the original console released (one each from NEC and Hudson adding native composite output). A couple of different CD interface units to add a CD drive to these consoles, along with several generations of ‘system cards’ which contained software and RAM upgrades for the CD system’s use. There was also a weird semi-upgrade called the SuperGrafix, and finally several units combining the PCE, CD unit, and system cards. Oh and the portable versions, the LT and GT.

There’s a good breakdown of all models here:

Really, all you’ll be needing is a Duo/Duo R/Duo RX, or GT. Like Game Gears, these consoles were all made in Taiwan and other dodgy places that used crappy capacitors and most consoles have died and need major service to work nowdays.

One short controller

PC Engine, being an 80s Japanese console, also has very short controller cords. But luckily the controller used a standard 8-pin mini-din plug (commonly used to connect Apple Macintosh computers in the 80s and 90s) so you can grab an extension cable much more easily and cheaply than for other consoles. It did however only have one controller port, meaning a multi-tap is required even for two player games.

Some of my collection:


RGB OT's Mega Thead
#2

Oh yeah best console evar , yes the us covers were just awful , and this is the best tennis game ever made :

A_s


#3

I got into PC Engine only pretty recently and I think it’s great. To me it’s like a 16-bit system from an alternate reality from the one I grew up in. Really enjoyed 5-player Bomberman '94, The Legendary Axe, Ninja Spirit, Star Parodier, Super Star Soldier and a bunch more. I even got around to playing through Ys I (not II yet!) and Dungeon Explorer.

Really need to dive into Dracula X and play through it all. I keep forgetting to return to it.


#4

I’m ashamed to admit this… but I’ve still to this day have never played this system before. I really need to change that.


#5

Me too.
I played several times on systems I don’t own - SNES, 3DO, even the Jaguar… - but I never had the chance to even touch a PCE.


#6

PCE is legit!

I challenge all to beat my Devils Crush score!

Also, a nice shot of my CoreGrafx II. Although I’m using a Turbo Duo these days.


#7

A card only PCE is pretty cheap to get hold of, it powers from a Sega power supply, and almost all models can do composite and RGB pretty easily with an adapter.

The issues nowdays are that working CD hardware is very expensive as it generally has to have been completely refurbished, and lots of good software has gone off the charts in prices.

I have a pretty good collection, but am basically cost-prohibited from going further these days.


#8

Awesome OT to one of the best systems of all time. Most people seem to either love it or they haven’t played it.

I was excited when the TG16 landed in stores having followed it in magazines. It was disappointing that they redesigned the look of the hardware but ultimately it was the games that mattered. The first year was incredible for releases. I ended buying a Genesis first in 1990 but at that time I would borrow my neighbour’s TG16. In 1992, I bought the system for $50! CAD at Radio Shack. I later got a Duo for CD games.

I think it’s worth noting some things about the TurboGrafx in Canada since it’s often forgotten we’re part of the same market and the system is often thought of as a US-only NTSC thing. Like other consoles, we had the same hardware and software as the US. The difference is that Canadian TG16 games also had a French manual thrown in. And (now extinct) retailer Compucentre had a marketing deal with NEC. They had Devil’s Crush competitions set up in malls. A friend of mine won a gift certificate at one of those. That store also had Turbo Express systems to play. I couldn’t afford to buy one, though.

I was thinking about porting an old tribute thread of mine here as an OT but decided it wasn’t a good fit. It’s too long but I will link to it if anyone wants a bunch of screenshots with opinions. Some of my opinions have changed since 2006. I wasn’t a fan of Ys gameplay then (or in the '80s) but I am now. http://www.the-nextlevel.com/tnl/threads/42064-TurboGrafx-16


#9

nicely done


#10

I started getting into PCE since about 3 years now and it’s quickly grown into one of my favorite consoles. I’ve always been intrigues by Turbografx, reading about it in EGM and such, but living in the Netherlands pretty much meant no Turbografx for me. But the feeling of wanting to play those games never went away, so I went and bought an RGB and region modded Duo 3 years ago and start collecting. Too late of course to get any games on the cheap (though there are still a few quality titles for a couple of bucks), but them’s the breaks.

I’m going to a retro fair tomorrow, so hopefullt I can manage to score a few games then. I’ll post if I get them of course.


#11

Mario isn’t calling me as much for some reason, so I might bah through some PCE and Saturn games this weekend.

Renny Blaster? Rennie Blaster.


#12

I’m in the same boat as Peltz. I’ve never played one. The TG16 was the same as the Neo Geo for me - I saw it in video game stores, and never knew anything about it, or anyone that had one.

I just watched Greg Sewart’s Extra Life stream, where he played TG16 games for 24 hours. There really were some games I was interested in.

I’m not sure I need to own one, but I’d really like to rent one for awhile and play some games, lol.


#13

PC Engine with scanlines is so beautiful!

I do have a CoreGRAFX 2 to this day, but a couple of years ago I was using a Wii as an all-purpose VC machine, and I spent hours hacking (with poor documentation) a bunch of erroneous 480i PCE games back into 240p.

If you have a five player Bomberman setup for parties, I feel the second best five player game is MotoRoader II. Excellent!


#14

I’ve got a refurbished PC Engine Duo w/ a Turbo Everdrive, I love it. The system is kinda its own thing next to what kind of stuff there are on the NES and Megadrive, same era consoles. Some of the CD games are one of the best there are for this age, starting with Rondo of Blood.


#15

I just got a damn near mint copy of Exile for very very little money, and I’m excited to dig into it. I’ve heard lots of good things about it. Though I will probably be playing the un-working designs patched version.


#16

A few of my pce controllers. There’s a couple more gone hiding around the place…


#17

I’m jealous of that arcade stick! Hori makes such awesome stuff. I have their fighting pad for it and it has become my go to controller for the system. That stick would be amazing for all the shooters though.


#18

I need to buy another PCE controller next year. The one that came with my DUO is in sad shape. Any suggestions?


#19

I usually play with the regular pad but for joysticks I like the XE-1 Pro.
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#20

I’ve wanted an XE-1 for my NES set up for a long time.