TurboGrafx-16 Games That Pushed The Limits of Graphics & Sound

Our resident TG-16 expert, marurun is back at it again (after writing TG-16 101). Much like on the 101 article, he did an awesome job writing just about every word in here. I just rearranged a few things and added some comments. Special thanks to the denizens of the forums at fellow enthusiast site pcenginefx.com. They also acted as a sounding board for our ideas for this article and contributed quite a bit of additional information and ideas.

The TurboGrafx-16 was generally considered weaker than its primary competitors, the Sega Genesis and the Super NES. In Japan, however, the PC Engine, what became the TG-16 here in the US, was originally released to combat the Famicom and be advanced enough to rival whatever would come later. Unlike the NES, Genesis, and SNES, PC Engine/TG-16 games didn’t feature additional co-processors or advanced memory mappers (possibly save SFII’ and the later system cards) and so the games were generally limited to the hardware in the system itself. Here are the games that pushed the hardware inside the little Engine that could (see the TurboGrafx-16 101 article for more) to the limit.

Street Fighter II’ (Street Fighter II Champion Edition)

Release Date: 1992

Key Technical Features:

  • 20 mib Turbochip despite TG16’s 8mib “limit”
  • Surprisingly-accurate arcade port
  • Large sprites, smooth animation, & accurate color
  • Exceeds the quality of Sega Genesis ports

What Makes The Game Special: The maximum size for a Hucard/TurboChip game is supposed to be 8 mib. Street Fighter II, by Capcom, is 20 mib packed into an over-sized Hucard. How did Capcom pack in over twice as much data as the supposed maximum? I have no idea! Maybe there’s a memory mapper hidden in there somewhere. All the home versions of Street Fighter II made sacrifices, with less colorful graphics, missing animation frames, and compromised music. The PC Engine version, however, was the best of the console releases until Super Street Fighter II finally saw home release on the SNES. It could be argued that while Super Street Fighter II is a better game, the PCE port of SFII’ is even better than the Mega Drive/Genesis port of Super SFII. The characters are all large, detailed, and have tight controls (assuming you have one of the later 6-button controllers released for the PC Engine). Sure, even the older SNES versions have better quality music (Perhaps the Hu-Card can’t produce the music as faithfully as cartridges can), but the graphic and animation quality of the PCE version can’t be beat. Capcom made magic.

Some of the backgrounds suffer a bit in the translation, but for the most part this game looks great. The colors are terrific, if not better than the SNES. The Turbo-Grafx 16 color palette is extensive and this is apparent throughout the game. The characters look lifelike and colorful, and the stages look like exact replicas of their arcade sibling, except some things have been cut out (like scrolling clouds or water overflowing in the tub in E. Honda’s stage). Overall this game looks great visually, and really compares favorably to the SNES and Genesis versions.

See The Game In Action: Gameplay Video Clips of Street Fighter II CE

Air Zonk

Release Date: 1992

Key Technical Features:

  • High sprite count with minimal slowdown
  • Vibrant, scrolling backgrounds
  • Detailed soundtrack

What Makes The Game Special: Air Zonk is the side-scrolling shooter “sequel” to the Bonk series. Air Zonk teats gamers to a frenzy of graphical showmanship such as big sprites, tons of vibrant colors, huge explosions, detailed backgrounds and fleets of enemies on screen at once, only slowing down when you drop a bomb (collision detection ahoy!). The music, too, is quite detailed and is some of the best to emerge from the TG-16’s chip sound hardware.

The graphics are vibrant, colorful, and look absolutely amazing. The character design in the game is rather unique. As some of you may know, there was a popular series for the Turbografx, as one of the first games released was a game called Bonk’s Adventure. Picture Bonk with a space suit and a lightning bolt across his head, and you have Zonk, his weird, spacey nephew (I think.)
See The Game In Action: Gameplay Video Clips of Air Zonk

 

Parasol Stars

Release Date: 1991

Key Technical Features:

  • High color count surpassing many SNES titles
  • Large sprites
  • High-quality soundtrack

What Makes The Game Special: If you want a demonstration of the TurboGrafx’s color capabilities, just take a look at Parasol Stars. The vivid sprites and backgrounds create a hue-filled environment that will rival those of some SNES games.

One of the many sequels to Bubble Bobble, this Taito gem, the first console game ever translated and localized by the famous (infamous?) and now defunct Working Designs, is an incredible game. It never saw an arcade release and the few computer ports were all based off the TG-16/PCE version, meaning that Taito created it from the ground up for the TG-16 hardware and it shows.

The soundtrack is probably the best of all the non-CD games and demonstrates, among other things, incredible tempo variations. It’s some of the fastest 8 or 16-bit music around at times. The game also has large, colorful sprites, and excellent gameplay. This action puzzle game could keep you busy for weeks if you give it the chance.
See The Game In Action:
Gameplay Video Clips of Parasol Stars

Magical Chase

Release Date: 1991

Key Technical Features:

  • Multi-plane scrolling
  • Quick and colorful sprites
  • A number of graphical effects

What Makes The Game Special: Magical Chase is the only game Quest Corporation created for the PC Engine. Quest, for those of you who live in a video game devoid hole, was the company responsible for creating the critically acclaimed Ogre Battle series. Magical Chase is a side-scrolling shooter in which you play a witch on a broomstick. (This concept may sound familiar to Cotton fans)

The soundtrack is pretty good, but what’s most impressive are the graphics. Colorful and fast moving, the sprites and animations are great, not to mention lots of other special graphical effects. Even more impressive is the multi-plane scrolling. The TG-16 hardware only supports a single background layer. Many games create parallax scrolling in the background by using layers of sprites or modifying the horizontal sync rate of different portions of the background (the latter technique was used extensively on NES to perform “fake” parallax). Magical Chase is commonly accused of doing the impossible (on the TG-16, anyway), so seamless and perfect is the multi-plane scrolling it exhibits.
See The Game In Action:
Gameplay Video Clips of Magical Chase

Ys I & II, Ys III, Ys IV

Release Date: 1990, 1991, & 1993 respectively

Key Technical Features:

  • Took full advantage of the CD medium’s capabilities
  • Set standards for use of CD audio and cutscenes in RPGs

What Makes The Game Special: This entry could be considered cheating. The Ys games were action RPGs with some of the first animated intermissions, but they didn’t really stretch the system technically. At the time the first Ys game, Ys I & II , likely did stretch the current understanding of what was doable with the CD medium. In retrospect, however, other games have done most of what Ys did, but better.

There is one way in which the games truly stand out, however. The Ys games stretched gaming as a whole stylistically, with excellent CD music. The Ys games proved that CDs really did have a demonstrable advantage over cartridges. You can spin up the games as an audio CD and be almost as impressed as if you were playing the games. The Ys games pushed the medium (rather than the system) with quality.
See The Game In Action:
Gameplay Video Clips of Ys

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo

Release Date: October 29, 1993

Key Technical Features:

  • Large, highly detailed boss sprites
  • Fluid character and environment animations
  • Castlevania’s musical legacy transitioned to CD audio

What Makes The Game Special: As Konami’s PC Engine swan song, Chi no Rondo is every classic Castlevania fan’s wet dream. 8 levels, 6 with secret bosses and exits, 5 with completely alternate paths to explore. 4 women to rescue, one of them a playable second character. That all makes the game great fun, sure, but what makes it stand out technically are the graphics and animation.

For a 16-bit game, the graphics are gorgeous, and they are almost right on par with Playstation’s Symphony of the Night (a 32-bit game). The game controls smoothly and all the enemies are fluidly animated. As you can expect from the best Castlevania games, the bosses are huge and use creative graphical techniques to create menacing foes that are unlike those in other games. Konami really let their art team go to town on this game and it shows. In my opinion it’s the best of the classic Castlevania games and is impressive even by today’s standards.

As for it’s production values, the sound is fantastic. While the sound effects are decent, the game really shines in it’s music and recorded dialog. Chi no Rondo also uses anime cutscenes to progress the story also (not the cheesy Saturday morning anime that is used in the series’ latest debuts).
See The Game In Action:
Gameplay Video Clips of Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo

Gate of Thunder & Lords/Winds of Thunder

Release Date: February 21, 1992 & April 23, 1993 Respectively

Key Technical Features:

  • Heavy use of parallax scrolling for pseudo-3D effects
  • Creative programming techniques to work around technical limitations
  • A rockin’ pair of soundtracks
  • High color count

What Makes The Game Special: These two games are both Hudson shooter standouts. They both excel in terms of graphics and music in order to complement the well-rounded gameplay. These landmark shmups boast vivid colors and a solid frame rate throughout. The sheer amount of enemies and bullets onscreen, quite an achievement for what is essentially an 8-bit machine at heart.

Overall, the graphics are superbly designed with heaping spoonfuls of amazingly ingenious parallax scrolling. The enemy sprites range from multitudes of tiny ships to huge, screen-filling machines. The folks at Hudson even throw in some fancy graphical tricks to make the most of the system. And as TG16 expert, malducci states, “[The games] use dynamic tiles for cuts outs in areas were the Duo can’t do multi-scrolling planes (hardware wise), but it also decompresses the tilemap *and* tiles/sprites in realtime while the game action is happening on screen..” These creative hacks are what really make the most of the Turbografx’s capabilities and work around its limitations.

It is also worth mentioning that the Turbo version of Lords of Thunder has a significantly higher color count than the Sega CD version, which, once again, shows of the TG16’s capabilities.
See The Games In Action: Gameplay Video Clips of Gates of Thunder, Gameplay Clip of Lords of Thunder

3×3 Eyes: Sanjiyan Hensei

Release Date: August 7, 1994Key Technical Features:

  • Some of the most impressive animation of the 16-bit era
  • Relatively short load times

What Makes The Game Special: 3X3 Eyes: Sanjiyan Hensei isn’t your typical PC Engine games, but is instead a digital comic, based on the manga and anime of the same name. Much like the classic Dragon’s Lair game, 3X3 Eyes may not be very interactive, but if you have an Arcade Card in your system the animations are incredible.

This Super CD game utilizes the extra memory on the Arcade Card to reduce loading breaks and improve the animated FMV experience. Even though the game isn’t very memorable in terms of gameplay, it gives its FMV competition on the Sega CD a run for its money.
See The Game In Action: Intro Video Clip of 3×3 Eyes

 

Ginga Fukei Densetsu: Sapphire

Release Date: November 24, 1995

Key Technical Features:

  • Pre-rendered 3D-like sprites
  • Fluid animations with high frame rate
  • Background layers to give 3D effects

What Makes The Game Special: Hudson’s shooters are always well-received, whether developed by Hudson themselves or gifted contractors. This legendarily-expensive Turbo Duo game isn’t overly challenging, but it will impress you with its technical prowess. As a late-era Turbo-Duo import that makes the most a massive RAM expansion to provide plenty of frames of animation for the game’s colorful sprites and lots of background tiles.

Sapphire uses just about every trick you’ve heard of for the system, and it throws in an idea or two of its own. The backgrounds change layers dynamically, and in a couple of places, there are some cool pseudo 3D distortion effects and other tile animation effects. In the background of the first level, for example, are holographic-looking billboards that animate quite fluidly. When you approach some tall buildings in the background the game uses warping effects to make it look like the building is in 3D. The best one is probably in the middle section of stage four, where you fly through a dark hallway, and the floor tiles in front of your ship illuminate in a way similar to 3D light-shading.

The sheer number of sprites in this game also gets fairly high in several places, and it looks like there is a lot of complicated game logic behind them all. The bosses consist of massive, Donkey Kong Country-style pre-rendered 3D sprites, but are animated so fluidly that some people claim the system is doing 3D in real-time (which is flattering but not true.) Even more impressive is that the two-player simultaneous gameplay remains flicker-free with all of these effects going on.
See The Game In Action:
Gameplay Video Clips of Sapphire

Strider

Release Date: 1994

Key Technical Features:

  • Impressive arcade-authentic port
  • Used the Arcade Card’s extra memory for top-notch sprite animation
  • New cutscene artwork

What Makes The Game Special: What’s this? Another Capcom arcade port? And this one is an Arcade CD game? Well, sounds like we’re in for a ride. This side-scrolling platform action game was a blast in the arcades and even in its early Genesis appearance, but with the extra memory of the Arcade Card Capcom decided to go nuts. This conversion is probably the best of any of the home consoles and certainly seems darn similar to the arcade original.

Graphically true to the original, and playing every bit as well as its arcade parent, Strider was a convincing argument for PC Engine owners to shell out for the CD add-on if they had not already done so. The Sega Genesis port apparently featured higher resolution, but the PC Engine version was still rock-solid and had CD-based music to round out the package.

Some extra little bonuses for the PC Engine: Every level has a cutscene with different art and voices than the arcade version, plus boss characters give short speeches, complete with portraits, before you fight them. However, the most significant addition is an entirely new level exclusive to the PC Engine.
See The Game In Action: Cinema Video Clips of Strider

Arcade CD Neo Geo ports (Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury 2, Fatal Fury Special, World Heroes 2)

Release Date: All released in late 1994

Key Technical Features:

  • Reproducing the Neo-Geo’s large and detailed sprites reasonably well
  • The “Zoom” effect that other home ports couldn’t pull off.

What Makes These Games Special: I know, I’ve lumped as many games in here as I did for the Ys entry. You have my apologies. But these all belong on the list and they all belong together. These are the best home conversions of the Neo Geo originals until the Playstation and Saturn hit the scene.

While the Arcade CD is not a replacement for the mighty Neo-Geo, I can’t help but look at these quality ports as interesting technical demos for the console. The animations are intact throughout the game, the soundtracks are identical to the Neo Geo CD soundtracks, and the gameplay is spot on (if you have a 6 button controller, anyway). In fact, some of them even do the scaling trick the Neo Geo did. In Art of Fighting, when you jump in close to your opponent, the screen zooms in close and your characters become huge!  It isn’t exactly as flawless of a movement as the SNK original since Art of Fighting actually does a resolution change in order to simulate the zoom in and out, but it does it is pretty convincing.

These Neo Geo ports are the crowning jewel in the PC Engine’s game collection, filling in the gaps by making the last few years of the PC Engine fighter-filled. The PC Engine isn’t just for shooters and platformers any more.
See The Games In Action: Gameplay Video Clips of the Neo Geo Ports

Honorable Mentions

  • Champions Forever Boxing – While most of the games on this list are discussed because of visual excellence, Champions Forever Boxing is worthy of praise because of its excellent audio quality. The music and sound use, exclusively it seems, digitized samples. And the voices are of relatively good quality. The title screen music actually has a few lyrics here and there. Definitely a demonstration of the TG-16’s handling capabilities for digitized audio.
  • Forgotten Worlds – The overlooked Capcom arcade port absolutely blows away the Sega Genesis port.
  • Dungeon Explorer – This fan favorite features some of the best HuCard audio.
  • Soldier Blade – Yet another one of the gorgeous shmups on the TG16. It doesn’t do any one thing especially spectacular, but it’s just so pretty!
  • Gulliver Boy– because the custom huVideo routine manages to squeeze a lot out of a single speed CDROM unit without a co-processor. The game also uses the arcade card(if present) as a buffer to removed redundant loading from the CD unit.
  • Faceball – This cool little game is like a First Person Shooter meets Giant Smiley Faces. This multiplatform title served as a neat techincal
  • Falcon and Gunboat – both feature realtime polygon 3D graphics. They’re not very good 3D graphics, but its still polygons on a TG-16.
  • Seirei Senshi Spriggan – This game manages to squeeze alot out the small 64k that the original CD system card used. Even better than some Super CDROM games that use 256k.
  • Vasteel – This gem does a lot with cool background effects during the one-on-one fights.

 

13 Comments

  1. Josef Axner says:

    Nice article, but two things I couldn’t help pick up on: first, Super Street Fighter II is considered by virtually all SF players to be vastly inferior to not only SSF2Turbo that followed it, but also SF2T, the version that preceded it. Super added 4 new characters, new animation and improved music , but removed what made Turbo such an improvement over the versions before it – the higher speed. While the PC Engine game was based on Champion Edition and not Turbo, I think it’s unfair (or rather inaccurate) to say that it was made obsolete by the Megadrive and SFC ports of Super SF2; if anything it would’ve been by the SFC version of SF2T.

    The other thing was your – to me – suprisingly positive attitude towards the PCE version of Strider Hiryu. Granted, I haven’t played this, but from all I’ve heard, the general consensus seems to be that the new animated sequences are cool, but the actual game is trash, and compares terribly to the Megadrive version (which is a great port). Having said that though, after your glowing review, I’m more curious than ever to check it out.

  2. Brimble Brimble Man says:

    “and compares terribly to the Megadrive version (which is a great port)”

    I had to laugh here, my apologies. This port for the pc engine is considered one of the BEST looking compared to the megadrive’s inferior port. Set them up sometime and view them on both the mega drive and the pc engine. You’ll be cleverly surprised. In the end though- the arcade versions of any game will always be the most accurate.

  3. Alan says:

    I have to agree with this article on it’s stance regarding the Street Fighter 2 ports. Having owned all the ports over the years I personally don’t understand why the SNES port of Turbo is thought to be the best of the series. I guess it would have to be for the speed and the vs. mode. I think it’s a great game and has none of the Genesis laryngitis but I feel like I’m the only person in the world that seems to notice that it starts in India every time I turn it on. When I was a kid this really bothered me for the previous game seemed more random. When you were a kid and only have so many titles to play over and over this can get on your nerves; hitting reset or not bothering to continue just so I could start some place besides India. Imagine my horror when the elephants made more noise in Super Street Fighter 2. Super was my personal favorite, I found this game fast enough at three stars and the new backgrounds were very welcome.

  4. Alex says:

    The best home version of Street Fighter Champion edition is on the Sharp x68000 Because those are the same computers used to develop the games in the first place by Capcom.

    The home version was 95% Identical to the arcade.

  5. Alex says:

    Of course I’m talking BEFORE Playstation 1 and Sega Saturn. Those consoles could obviously
    run arcade perfect versions.

  6. Shrapnoid says:

    Anyone who wants proof of the TG-16’s capabilities vs other consoles/computers, need only look up videos, screen shots and listen to sound rips but, if that still isn’t good enough, you can always download the games and do your own comparison.

    Nice reviews, by the way. I learned a few things about the hardware that I hadn’t heard about before.

    The HuC6820 processor truly was ahead of it’s time.

  7. Sapphire Densetsu says:

    Also, Coryoon. Beautiful colour pallete, large sprites, and parallax scrolling galore.

  8. johney says:

    Streetfighter2 on the pce looks & sounds absolutely great.
    But saying that it is better then the genesis version,is xxagerating,
    Because this version lacks the nice intro,lacks scrolling backgrounds,some front grounds like the chain & border hack in the zangief stage is gone,also the bonus stage where you have to break stones,is gone wich is a huge dissappointment,etc,,,
    Note: the genesis version has all bonus stages.
    But one thing is clear, that it has better soundeffects and much higher voice quality samples then the snes version,and will the music in this version is well composed,especialy the zangief stage,but i do prefer the music in the snes version much more.
    But i ‘m happy to own this game for the tg16 to play it portibly.

  9. Meeeh says:

    I thought TGx-16 has some isometric 3d games…
    And it have only 94 games :)))))))
    Is a good console anyway 🙂

  10. sdelfin says:

    Backgrounds can’t be exact replicas and missing stuff at the same time. Maybe the PCE version’s graphics and animation can’t be beat, but the sound is another matter. Sound effects are fine, and the voice samples are excellent, but the music takes a noticeable hit. Some stages sound okay, while others can be pretty bad, in my opinion. None compare favorably to their Genesis or SNES counterparts(SCE and Turbo) to me. It’s not a HuCard vs. cartridge issue. It’s mostly the limited sound channels available. The PCE only has six channels available. It’s a big hardware limitation that can’t be overcome, just like the Genesis and its limited color palette.

    I like the PC Engine a lot and I think Street Fighter 2 on both the PC Engine and the Genesis are big accomplishments, but to declare the PC Engine version as the best is a bit much. Seems to me it is more a matter of what a player finds important. Music is pretty important to me and the PCE version’s music doesn’t live up to the rest of the game. In that case, the PCE port doesn’t exceed the quality of Special Champion Edition on Genesis and that should not be one of the key technical features.