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alienjesus
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Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by alienjesus Sun May 01, 2022 4:49 am

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Hi everyone,

It's May, so it's time for our next console of the month. We've looked at each of the big 4 console manufacturers who probably had the biggest impact on the industry, but now it's time to look at a system by one of the many other smaller players who competed over the years. The PC Engine was a delightful machine that competed with Nintendo and Sega's offerings in the 4th console generation, and was a joint venture by Hudson and NEC.

The PC Engine was pretty successful in it's home region of Japan, but when it was released in North America, redesigned as the Turbografx 16 with a new chunkier look, it fared much less well. It was never officially fully released in Europe although a few PAL Turbografx models exist and the PC Engine enjoyed a solid import scene in some countries. Overall, the system sold around 7 million units.

The system is known for a rather confusing line up of console hardware, with multiple versions of each unit, CD add-ons, expansion cards and even a portable unit - the PC Engine GT / TurboExpress.

Although it wasn't a huge success at the time, the Turbografx has undergone a renaissance over the past 15 years or so thanks to the games being released digitally, most notably on Wii Virtual Console but also on other virtual stores, and thanks to the PC Engine/Turbografx Mini console releases.

Let's discuss Hudson's little box of wonders this month!
Last edited by alienjesus on Sun May 01, 2022 9:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by Ziggy587 Sun May 01, 2022 7:34 am

I love the TurboGrafx! It's actually my newest retro console, and I've really grown to enjoy it.

For years I wanted to get a TG16, but I never came across one that I felt good about the price. I was always planning on getting the North American version of the console, since that was the one I was use to seeing. But then the Super SD System 3 (SSDS3) was released. The SSDS3 plugs into the expansion port of a TG16 or PCE and does several things. It has a Genesis 2 style AV output that does RGB. You can insert a micro SD card and run HuCard games. You can even use the SD card to run CD games. It will store save game data, and also act as a System/Arcade Card. So it's like an RGB mod, flash cart and ODE all in one. With that, I decided to finally get a TG16, but instead of the NA version I would get a PCE. And specifically a black one. Just look at how awesome a black PCE with the SSDS3 looks...

(Random Google image)
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And I love how small it is. I currently have limited space for my 13" PVM setup, and I love how I can turn the PCE sideways and just shove it between two consoles.

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I guess I would be lying if I said Rondo of Blood wasn't a huge reason I became interested in the PCE in the first place. But I guess just having an affinity for retro gaming, I was always curious about an underdog console. In North America, it was the NES, SNES and Genesis that dominated those years. So the Master System and TurboGrafx were like, "Whoa, what are these!?!?!"

I feel like the TurboGrafx library has some solid gems, but only a fraction of the PCE and CD library were released in North America. But although there were a ton more games released for the PCE in Japan, when you dive blindly into the PCE library some of the games can be a tad weird. Still, there's plenty of gems.

I might have to credit the PCE with me finally getting into shmups. I never used to like shmups. Maybe I was finally coming around on them anyway, but it was on the PCE that I really started to enjoy them. Particularly Air Zonk. I know it's more of a cute em up, but I guess that's what drew me in. Being a shmup newb, bullet hell wasn't going to get me into the genre LOL. I'm not even a huge fan on cute em ups (some of them are so cute I wanna puke) but Air Zonk is just so damn charming. I love the sprites, I love the colors, and I love the music. It's the first shmup I ever cared to beat.

After enjoying Air Zonk so much, I naturally tried out other shmups for the console. Luckily, there's quite a few to choose from and many of them are great. I really like the R-Type port. I've made it to level 3, which is much further than I would have got in a shmup prior to owning the PCE. There's a handful of others that I thought were a lot of fun, but I hoped around between games pretty fast so I can't recall their names. Except Blazing Lasers, that one I remember being pretty awesome.

So even though the SSDS3 was what finally drove me to get a PCE, I didn't get one for a while after getting the PCE (they're expensive). So for about a year I owned the PCE with only a handful of games to get me by. For some reason, I decided to get Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. I told myself that I should because it was the NA pack in game, and it would be like experience the console if I got it back in the day. Well, Keith Courage is just an really bland game. A lot of people saying this choice for a pack in really hurt the console, and although we all know there's other reasons, I really agree. It should have been packaged with The Legendary Axe or Bonk's Adventure.

The Legendary Axe is a great example of the PCE. It has wonderful sprites, really nice colors, and great chip tunes. A lot of people like to compare it to Castlevania, and I think that's fair. You move at a slower walking speed, so I can see how people make the comparison. I think the sequel is even better. The level design and enemy attack patterns are definitely an improvement over the first game.

I love the controllers. It's basically an NES controller, but with turbo buttons! Some games use run or select as a third button, which can be a tad annoying. That's why I picked up the Avenue Pad 3 (gives you a third face button that you can set to run, select or off) but I'm usually too lazy to switch to it LOL. If I owned the console back in the day, I probably would have been pissed off that a multi tap is required for even 2-players, when the competitor consoles all had 2 controller ports. But it's not a big deal today, I picked up a multi tap along with the console.

Rondo of Blood... It's one of those games that has become so popular and talked about that people start to roll their eyes when it's brought up. But it really is a well made game. In terms of graphics, it's leaps and bounds from earlier games on the console. And Konami made good use of the CD format with a killer soundtrack. It's not my favorite Castlevania game, but there's no denying what a great game it is. It's definitely one of the best, if not THE best platformer on the console.

Hmm... Maybe I'll play a little Air Zonk or Legendary Axe this morning. :D
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by o.pwuaioc Sun May 01, 2022 3:44 pm

I think Bonk would have been the better pack-in game. These companies didn't realize that games sell consoles. Super Mario World is amazing and still a pack-in game. Sega finally realized it when they bundled Sonic with the system. Bonk isn't my favorite game (I don't love it, actually), but it definitely would have been better than Keith Courage.

The shooters are definitely where it's at with the system, but it still boasts a decent library. Plus, it has some of the most definitive home ports for the time, like Gradius, R-Type, Dragon Spirit, Ys I-III, Splatterhouse (which was otherwise only released on FM Towns Marty and the PC), and Gate of Thunder.

Ziggy587 wrote:And I love how small it is. I currently have limited space for my 13" PVM setup, and I love how I can turn the PCE sideways and just shove it between two consoles.

Things get trickier with the PCE CD. I decided to skip all the shenanigans and get a modded Duo. It's not small, but it does look cool. Too bad they didn't find a way to put one on top of the other like the Sega CD, rather than side by side.
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by Ziggy587 Sun May 01, 2022 5:35 pm

o.pwuaioc wrote:Things get trickier with the PCE CD. I decided to skip all the shenanigans and get a modded Duo. It's not small, but it does look cool. Too bad they didn't find a way to put one on top of the other like the Sega CD, rather than side by side.


Exactly! That's why the SSDS3 finally pushed me over the edge to get a PCE. I always kind of wanted the TurboGrafix (by that I mean the North American variant) but then it gets complicated with the CD attachment. Being BEHIND the damn console is super inconvenient. But then also, needing the System/Arcade card which is expensive. Which pretty much means you're better off getting a Duo. But then you pretty much need to recap a Duo (they're one of the consoles known for having bad caps) and still worry about the optical drive crapping out. And they've always been too expensive for me personally. So I'd go back and forth in my head, thinking maybe I'd just get a TG16 and forget about the CD. But then no, it'd be stupid to have a TG16 and miss out on the CD games. So the SSDS3 solved a lot of problems for me. They're not cheap, but you can justify it as a first time PCE buyer considering the cost of the original hardware plus repairs and mods.
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by marurun Sun May 01, 2022 5:38 pm

The problem with the SSDS3, of course, is that the guy behind Terra Onion is… let’s just say a problematic dude at times. I wish Krikzz had a competing product, frankly.
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by JoeAwesome Sun May 01, 2022 9:07 pm

I got in with a Duo back in 2010, and got out in 2017 to find my wedding.

I would get back in with a SSDS3, TO opinions aside (yeesh). Seems to be the best non emulator option, including the now expensive mini in resellers hands.
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by alienjesus Mon May 02, 2022 4:10 am

I actually had never even heard of the Turbografx for the longest time, until the Wii came out. My first knowledge of the console was when it appeared on the Virtual Console library. The system was obscure in America, but it was really obscure over here in Europe as it was never officially released, and I'm just a little too young to have followed game magazines at the time when they would have shown a bit about it.

My first experience with the system then was on Virtual Console, with Bonk's Adventure. I thought it was alright, but I got it at the same time as I was discovering games like Gunstar Heroes and Super Metroid, so unfortunately it took a bit of a back seat. I actually only ended up picking up a few more titles on VC for the system, although they were some good ones - Air Zonk, Lords of Thunder, Bomberman 93 and Neutopia.

I picked up a Turbografx console years back when I was just starting to get into retro collecting and was picking up loads of consoles. It was a PAL system, and I'm not exactly sure how much a wide release this got back in the day. It's distinct to the American version (it's grey instead of black, and is just called 'Turbografx' not 'Turbografx 16') but is basically just the system modified for a European power supply and 50hz output. It uses the US cartridges. Again, I never really got to into the system back then either, as games were pricier than other consoles, often needed imported and didn't justify themselves over what else I was buying at the time. I had a few games - Blazing Lazers, Fantasy Zone and Somer Assault, but that's it.

I finally got into the console proper a few years back now when I picked up a PC Engine Duo R - the Japanese library is much bigger and much cheaper, so you only really miss out on a handful of US games this way (the ones where being able to read the text is helpful!) I've since built up a fairly sizable library of games for it, although it is a bit frustrating having those few US cartridges that won't work on it. I'll share a picture of my collection in the thread at some point too.
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by ZRofel Mon May 02, 2022 9:33 am

Though my collection is relatively small compared to what I have for other consoles, I'm a big, big fan of the Turbo.

When I was a kid, I almost bought one instead of a Super Nintendo. At the time, Toys 'R Us was running some kind of promotion where you got a ton of games with it, and it was cheap enough that I could buy it with my own money instead of splitting it with my brother. I ended up waiting and just buying an SNES with my brother, which I think was probably the right move. But I do always wonder what my gaming experience would have been like if I'd grabbed the Turbo instead.

I ended up buying a TurboDuo after I'd been out of college for a few years and was really getting into retro collecting. It was expensive for the time, but definitely still cheaper than what they're going for now. Like other folks have said, Rondo of Blood was definitely a big motivating factor for getting the console, but I was also a big Bonk fan and starting to get into shmups (I'd owned a copy of Air Zonk for several years before I had a console to play it on). Like the Saturn, I feel like for me the Turbo always had a bit of a mystique to it, since it had gotten so much less exposure at the time of its release and so many of its best games stayed in Japan. And also like the Saturn, I feel like its library is also very visually distinct. Most of the time I feel like you can look at a screenshot and tell that you're looking at a Turbo game.

Like I said above, my Turbo collection is definitely on the smaller side compared to a lot of other consoles I own, but I definitely have much deeper affection for most of my Turbo games than I do for a lot of others. Lords of Thunder is one of those games that's just an experience to play. It's certainly not the greatest shmup of all time, but the design of everything from its graphics, to its gameplay, to its music, is just so finely tuned and laser focused on providing the player a very, very specific, heavy metal experience, that it made a real impression on me. And of course, Rondo is fantastic. One of the few games that genuinely lives up to its massive hype. For some reason, though, if I had to pick, I think I'd go with Soldier Blade as my favorite game on the console. I know its generally regarded as a good-but-not-revelatory shmup, but for some reason it really clicks with me. The music, the pacing, and the graphics are exactly what I want out of my vertical shooters.

The Legend of Xanadu games are a duo that I desperately want to see a fan translation for. They look absolutely fantastic, and everything I've heard about them makes them sound like they'd be right up my alley. I know there was some massive translation project that seemed like it was almost finished, but then it kind of disappeared. Anyone know what's going on with that?

Also, do any other Duo owners get a bit of anxiety when using their systems? I had mine recapped a number of years ago, and it's generally worked well since then. But every once in a while, particularly if I haven't used it for some time, it seems to struggle a bit to boot CDs. I don't think I could financially justify buying a replacement if it ever died, and repair options are becoming an increasing struggle to find. I tend to feel the same way about some of my other pricier bits of retro tech. I love retro hardware, but this stuff can be fragile, and things don't last forever...
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by marurun Mon May 02, 2022 1:49 pm

ZRofel wrote:Lords of Thunder is one of those games that's just an experience to play. It's certainly not the greatest shmup of all time, but the design of everything from its graphics, to its gameplay, to its music, is just so finely tuned and laser focused on providing the player a very, very specific, heavy metal experience, that it made a real impression on me.


Lords of Thunder is indeed just that. I think that's probably one of the best go-to titles to show off the system.

I do have a couple complaints, though: the dynamic compression on parts of tracks is just too obvious and ham-handed. What should be these hard hits just suddenly get REAL quiet. The soundtrack needs a mastering pass. The Sega CD soundtrack has better dynamic compression but was also completely re-performed and sounds much more sterile and clean-room, not messy and metal the way the PCE CD release does. There's also a little input lag on character movement that sometimes makes the game feel a little harder than it should to me.

ZRofel wrote:For some reason, though, if I had to pick, I think I'd go with Soldier Blade as my favorite game on the console. I know its generally regarded as a good-but-not-revelatory shmup, but for some reason it really clicks with me. The music, the pacing, and the graphics are exactly what I want out of my vertical shooters.


Soldier Blade is just about the perfect home console shooter. It's polished for the at-home experience (vs the arcade experience). It's also the only Soldier series title Hudson did in-house rather than through contractors. Blazing Lazers (honorary Soldier title) was Compile, Super Star Soldier was Kaneko, and Final Soldier seems to have been done by Now Productions.

ZRofel wrote:The Legend of Xanadu games are a duo that I desperately want to see a fan translation for. They look absolutely fantastic, and everything I've heard about them makes them sound like they'd be right up my alley. I know there was some massive translation project that seemed like it was almost finished, but then it kind of disappeared. Anyone know what's going on with that?


SamIAm is still technically working on them, but he has a couple kids now and that has REALLY slowed him down. All the text and graphics have been translated, but because there's not enough memory available to subtitle the cut scenes they have to be dubbed, and that's what's dragging it out.
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Re: Console of the Month (May 2022) - Turbografx/PC Engine

by alienjesus Mon May 02, 2022 4:17 pm

Here's a picture of my PC Engine an Turbo library, I'm pretty happy with it so far!:

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Obviously with the games being in Japanese and some of the titles being small, it's a bit hard to see, so here's what's on each row. They're all PC Engine versions unless otherwise listed:

Row 1 in cases: Blazing Lazers (TG16), Don Doko Don, Fantasy Zone (TG16), Gate of Thunder (TG16)

Row 2 in cases: Momotarou Katsugeki, Puyo Puyo CD, Side Arms Special, Star Parodier

Row 3 in cases: Super Star Soldier, Travel Epule, Valis: The Legend of a Phantasm Soldier, Valis II

Row 4 in cases: Valis III, Valis IV, Winds of Thunder (AKA Lords of Thunder), Wonder Boy: Monster Lair

Row 5 loose hucards: Alien Crush, Bomberman 94, Cadash, Fire Pro Wrestling, Genpei Toma Den (AKA Samurai Ghost, Legendary Axe, Mizubaku Daibouken (AKA Liquid Kids), New Adventure Island, Parasol Stars

Row 6 loose hucards: PC Denjin (aka Air Zonk), PC Genjin (AKA Bonk's Adventure), PC Genjin 2 (AKA Bonk's Revenge), PC Genjin 3 (AKA Bonk 3), R-Type (TG16), Soldier Blade, Somer Assault (TG16), Valkyrie No Densetsu, Turbo Everdrive
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