The Games that Defined the TurboGrafx-16

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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. I hope you enjoy learning about this somewhat forgotten gaming machine. (Special thanks also to Fastbilly1 for contributing some of the screenshots.)

The TurboGrafx-16 is a system with a split personality and a split reputation. A joint project of Hudson Soft and NEC, it took second place in the console wars in Japan under the name PC-Engine, eroding the popularity of the Famicom, trashing the Sega Mega Drive, and succumbing, eventually, only to the mighty Super Famicom.

In the US it was released with little fanfare and poor marketing, being badly bruised in the open market by Sega’s Genesis. Nintendo’s illegal practices in the US, strong-arming their third-party developers who tried to make games for other systems, had a strong initial impact on the TG-16. Once Nintendo’s death-grip was finally pried loose in the US courts the TG-16 was too oxygen-deprived to ever make up the lost ground. So many great Japanese games made by Konami and other Nintendo and NEC licensees never saw the light of day in the US thanks to this practice except when licensed and translated directly by NEC America.

Despite all these handicaps, the TurboGrafx-16 managed to carve out a small library of US games, some of which stunk, but some of which shone like silver. Only an 8-bit system, the TurboChip games are known for audio that’s only a moderate step up from the Famicom but possess very colorful and clear graphics, thanks to the TG-16’s wonderful graphics chip and video output hardware. The later CD-ROM games rectified the problem with lackluster music and sound quality and set the tone for the medium. The TG-16 is also the platform that launched Working Designs into the console games market. Here’s is a look at some of the most defining and distinct games of the TurboGrafx-16.

Mascots/Pack-Ins

Keith Courage in Alpha Zones
This platformer was the original pack-in game for the TG-16. It’s actually an anime-based game, created for the Mashin Eiyuuden Wataruanime series. NEC essentially renamed it for US release and gave the bad guys a horrible name in the process (They’re B.A.D., an acronym for Beastly Alien Dudes).

At its core, KCAZ is a very straightforward platformer with colorful graphics for the time, but very little in the areas of strategy or story. To its credit, Keith Courage does feature some very basic RPG elements that give the game some personality. Every level has an overworld where you defeat cute, minor enemies to collect money to buy powerups and an underworld where you transform into a powersuit and hack away at larger, meaner looking baddies.

Unfortunately, this game is something of a stinker, even by the standards of the time. Keith Courage remains as the prime example of the various ways in which NEC America undermined their own chances for success.

Keith Courage taught the industry that pack-in games play a significant role in determining a console’s success (Even Wii Sports demonstrates that now). A bad pack-in is worse than none at all. First impressions are important, especially if it costs gamers $250. Granted KCAZ had better graphics than the Sega Genesis pack-in, Altered Beast, but the latter was a popular title in the arcades and was, in many other ways, a better game.

Bonk Series (Bonk’s Adventure, Bonk’s Revenge, Bonk’s Big Adventure)
With such established franchises as Mario and Alex Kidd (and soon to be Sonic) from the Nintendo and Sega camps, the Turbo-Grafx needed it’s own mascot to make a dent in the US market. Bonk was the real mascot for the TG-16 and Bonk’s Adventure (thankfully) eventually replaced Keith Courage as the console’s pack-in title.

Bonk is a caveman with a big head and a thick skull, and throughout his platform games you’ll be smacking baddies with your noggin and dive-bombing your enemies, head first. Bonk’s movement is a bit slippery, but once you adjust the game is quite fun. In addition to dive-bombing and head-butting, you can chew your way up cliffs with your teeth, swim up waterfalls, and spin around in the air to float (indeed, float) slowly down to earth by starting a dive-bomb, pulling back out, starting it again, ad infinitum. The Bonk series demonstrates varied gameplay while retaining traditional platforming elements. No first-person or racing tangents to be found, here.

The enemies and environments change across the various games and the music and graphical quality improve steadily with each installment. The third game in the series, Bonk’s Big Adventure, brought 2 player simultaneous action to the Bonk universe and was released in both TurboChip and Super CD format (with differences between the two being the inclusion of a CD soundtrack and some 4-player vs minigames for the latter format).

Overall, the Bonk series is fun, light hearted, and has timeless game play. It is not only the series that’s most commonly associated with the TG-16, but it also breathed a bit more life into the stale platforming genre two years prior to Sonic’s appearance on the Genesis.

Air Zonk, Super Air Zonk: Rockabilly Paradise
In order to give their mascot more “attitude” (possibly to better rival Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog), Hudson Soft gave Bonk, a futuristic makeover in the form of Zonk. Sporting a mohawk and sunglasses, Zonk took to the air in a fashion his pre-historic compatriot would envy. Not content to star in another series of platformers, the programmers at RED, the company Hudson tapped to develop Bonk, instead cast him as the lead in a side-scrolling shooter. Zonk also usurped the role of mascot from Bonk when TTI (Turbo Technologies Incorporated) took over the TG-16 business from NEC America.

The result of this strategic move was a couple of high-quality shooters. Air Zonk was a TurboChip game but the sequel was on Super CD. Both take a very unconventional approach to shooting games (similar to Konami’s Paradius series). You can power up your main gun, but most of your weapons involve pairing with various cartoon companions and, in extreme cases, merging with them to enhance your firepower. The enemies and bosses are all highly stylized and incredibly bizarre. This is certainly not the most surreal of the shooters on the TG-16, but it’s one of the more accessible shmups and the music kicks to boot.

The original Air Zonk is usually regarded as the favorite of the two as the Super CD follow-up, mostly due to its inferior graphics (it did not feature parallax scrolling). Regardless of which one you prefer, the Air Zonk series is one of the more enjoyable and stylish games on the TG-16 and should not be missed by shmup fans and TG-16 collectors.

Hudson’s Established Powerhouses

Bomberman, Bomberman ’93
Bomberman is always a classic. It can be a thrilling challenge in single-player mode or a all-out party game with multi-player. It is no surprise that a classic gaming staple like Bomberman has appeared on virtually every major console known to man. Because of this, it isn’t often that I feature a Bomberman game in a “Games That Defined” article. However, the Turbo-Grafx is where Bomberman was truly a star.

The PC-Engine was Hudson Soft’s baby, so until the Sega Saturn (with it’s support for up to 10 players) came along no Bomberman game could match the TG-16’s Bomberman. The original Bomberman was first released to the Famicom/NES, but soon after, the TG-16 version stole the show. The Turbo Grafx’s Bomberman had the one-two punch of high-quality graphics and more enjoyable sound while maintaining that same great gameplay style.

The sequel, Bomberman ’93, was also a blast, with improved graphics, more powerups, and more interactive levels. Not only that, but the TG-16 Bomberman games all supported 5 players for lucky individuals with a Turbo Tap and 4 extra controllers. Bomberman demonstrated the value of multiple controllers, and at the time the Turbo’s 5 controller capability was tops.

The TG-16 was the first system with multi-tap (4+ players) capabilities so it’s natural that it had the best Bomberman of its generation. 5 player Bomberman likely set the standard for all console party games to come.

Military Madness
Tactical combat games were not unheard of on consoles; the Famicom in Japan had Daisenryaku. Military Madness, however, gave war games an interesting twist. Military Madness takes place in the future, with Allied forces battling Axis forces (interesting WWII reference) for the moon and its resources. Your forces, the Allies, and the enemy Axis forces maneuver on a new hex map each level, but the game switches to a side view when your forces engage in battle, letting you admire your success or lament your failure.

Graphically the game is fairly straightforward, and the few music tracks are nothing particularly impressive. Don’t let that fool you, however, as you will become addicted. I won’t go into too much detail because describing tactical war games can sometimes get messy, but Military Madness really isn’t difficult to learn to play and yet it retains a modicum of complexity.

It’s also ass hard and will kick you around quite a bit once you make it past the first few levels. But boy is it nice when you get your HMB-2 Giant unit up to max experience and it becomes nearly indestructible. Mind you, I said NEARLY indestructible. Just remember not to break your TV from hurled game controllers. The sad part is you’ll be running back for more.

TurboChip Shooting Action

Blazing Lazers
In the early days of the TG-16, home console gamers were used to mediocre and flickery graphics when playing shooters on the NES. When Blazing Lazers showed up as the new kid on the block, shmup fans were treated to graphics that blew away the competition. In addition to sharp and colorful graphics, Blazing Lazers had a pretty good soundtrack, too.

Of couse, Blazing Lazers isn’t all show. The game features solid gameplay and some challenging bosses and levels with no slowdown or flicker. While this vertical scrolling shooter is one of the system’s earlier games, it continues to be one of the best. Programmed by Compile and known in Japan as Gunhed, this game is very much in the style of Compile’s Aleste series, just with a different name. Blazing Lazers is considered by many to be part of Hudson’s Caravan Shooting series but there is some contention in other circles due to the stylistic differences and the fact that it wasn’t programmed by Hudson. Blazing Lazers appeared quite often in early advertisements and was a showpiece in attempts to sell the system.

In Blazing Lazers, there are 4 different main weapons and 4 auxiliary weapons, and they all seem to work a little differently in different combinations. For example, If you’re using weapon 1, the typical spread cannon, and you get homing missiles, you’ll actually fire 8 missiles instead of the 4 most other weapons do. This means you have a lot of firepower at your disposal if you take the time to explore. Other than the firing options, Blazing Lazers doesn’t do anything over-the-top gameplay-wise to set itself apart. When it was released it was far better than any other console shooter. In retrospect, it didn’t particularly tax the TG-16’s hardware, but it did cover all the basics exceptionally well resulting in a top-notch shmup experience.

In the end, Blazing Lazers set the tone for the system, in terms of both genre and style. The game helped establish the PC-Engine as a haven for excellent shooters. The console is ranked with the Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, and Sony Playstation as one of the primary destinations for shmup fans.

Super Star Soldier, Soldier Blade
The Star Soldier series is commonly associated with Blazing Lazers and Hudson Soft’s Caravan Shooting series, but unlike Blazing Lazers the Star Soldier series games were all developed directly by Hudson Soft. In Japan the PC Engine Soldier series of shooters had 3 games, but only 2 made it to the US (the other being Final Soldier). Thankfully, we received the best two out of the three. Both Soldier releases are fun, vertical scrolling, challenging shooters that should appeal greatly to people who long for a time when shooters weren’t just tedious exercises in dodging patterned bullet spreads.

Super Star Soldier is something of a sequel to Star Soldier (which you may remember from the NES) and is a colorful, high-quality shooter with some really cool firepower, like flamethrowers that constantly oscillate back and forth in front of your ship, spread guns, and heat-seeking missiles.

Soldier Blade changed the weapon system completely and upped the ante with equally impressive graphics and better music. The bosses are probably the high point of Soldier Blade. They have various destructible components, and one of the later bosses will pick up and utilize many of the weapons systems of the previous bosses. If you like a challenge, Soldier Blade should give you a run for your money. It even includes the 2 and 5 minute tournament scoring modes where the goal is to rack up as many points as possible.

It’s rather a tossup as to which one of the two looks better as they’re both gorgeous. They collectively have probably the best graphics of any TurboChip shooters released. Needless to say, the Soldier series continued the fine shooter tradition of the TG-16 with solid, TurboChip shooting action.

Solid Arcade Ports

Ninja Spirit
Originally an Irem arcade game, this platformer and ninja-love fest gives Shinobi a run for its money. The TG-16 keeps the graphics looking pretty close to the arcade original. In fact, even the music was a good port job. Back in the day, it amazed the gaming world with its precision graphics and quality game play.

In Ninja Spirit, you take role as the ninja Moonlight and engage in a fierce battle to avenge his father’s death and unlock the secrets of his birth.

Four weapons (katana, shuriken, bombs and chain and sickles), lots of enemy ninja, creepy, droning background music, and shadow ninja who mirror your every move. You’ll also need to consider the enemy attacks and your weapon’s abilities in order to deftly make it through all seven stages. Use your skills and attacks to get through the game’s boundless enemies and traps. That’s what ninja action is all about.

What’s not to like? Ninja Spirit demonstrated that the TG-16 was capable of solid arcade ports, and they picked a great game to prove the point. Ninja fans around the world rejoiced, for the ninja action was good.

R-Type
R-Type can’t officially be considered part of the TG-16’s original shooter pantheon as it started as an arcade shooter. It is, however, the best of the console ports of R-Type. Irem once again proved that the TG-16 was up to the challenge of arcade replication, and boy, did they do it in style. The Turbografx-16 port is almost identical to the arcade version, with only some minor loss in graphic detail, and a slightly scrolling playfield to compensate for the difference in resolutions.

R-Type is the king of shooters and the TG-16 does it justice. R-Type was an early release and doesn’t demonstrate as much graphical pizazz as some later shooters on the system do, but the arcade version was also, in some ways, graphically plain. It’s a good thing it’s insane fun, because the Turbo also replicates the intensity and pacing of the game quite well.

In Japan the game was split into 2 Hucards but the US got the whole game in one TurboChip.
Later on in Japan, Irem released the R-Type Complete CD for the Super CD-ROM, which included the entire game on one CD. Additionally, there are plenty of fully narrated cutscenes, although none of them are that great, and some weird CD audio remixes of the music.

Splatterhouse
This Namco arcade port features a masked, hunched man with a penchant for punching out zombies. Like Ninja Spirit, the graphics and music aren’t too far from the arcade. This game, however, is a lot slower paced, and a lot gorier, and another TG-16 arcade wonder-port.

The gameplay isn’t quite as innovative as some brawlers of the time like Streets of Rage, but Splatterhouse wasn’t all about gameplay. The atmosphere is established was unmatched at the time.

Splatterhouse broke all sorts of console barriers by being unabashedly bloody, fleshy, and violent, in a way not completely unheard of among arcade games but definitely taboo on home consoles. Namco just couldn’t stand by and let Irem get all the credit for making the TG-16 an arcade lover’s option.

Unforgettable Exclusives

Alien Crush & Devil’s Crush
Pinball was never as surreal as this. These two games feature a creepy theme and set the standard for video pinball games. These classics have been inspirations for newer pinball games such as Pinball of the Dead and Odama while maintaining their status as solid games in their own right ever after a decade has passed.

Alien Crush in an alien-themed pinball game where success is as much about destroying the Giger-inspired elements of the pinball table as getting a high score. There are only two background music options but both are creepy and ethereal and really contribute to the mood. Furthermore, in addition to two screens of pinball table, there are numerous bonus games available as well.

Devil’s Crush takes everything good from Alien Crush and improves on it. This time the table is demon themed, three screens tall, and the center of the table graced with a woman’s face that appears to be set into a metal enclosure. As you pound the face with pinballs it slowly degenerates into a lizard-like demon’s face. The soundtrack is not selectable but it doesn’t really need to be. It’s creepy and crazy, just like the game. The graphics on Devil’s Crush are quite impressive and the game is a blast to play.

The TG-16 featured, in total, three excellent pinball games, but the two Crush games were the pinnacle of that generation across all platforms. I don’t know if these games started the trend of pinball as a vehicle for destruction as well as high scores, but they certainly are some of the best at it.

Legendary Axe
Legendary Axe is a side-scroller that features what looks like a dirty, ragged caveman with hand axe seeking to rescue his girlfriend. The action is a bit on the slow side but can be very challenging. Thankfully, the control is spot on. There’s a meter at the top of the screen that slowly charges, automatically, and how charged the meter is determines the power of your attack. The meter resets after each swing of the axe.

There are power-ups that increase your maximum attack power, but they don’t increase the speed at which the meter charges. Rather, there is a separate power-up for that. When you lose a life you also love one level of speed and of power. When your weapon is at its puniest you deal very little damage and must be very careful. When you have lots of power but low charge speed you have to fight strategically to get the best results. You don’t want to waste that power hit on killing a bat or a projectile when you know a bigger, badder enemy is going to jump right in after it. When your weapon is at full speed you can be much more aggressive, if carefully so, and deal more damage in a smaller span. The pacing of the game makes you a lot more likely to take your time and think your way ahead to the next fight.

Legendary Axe was one of the earliest TurboGrafx-16 games, but was relatively impressive for the time. The graphics haven’t aged well, but they certainly do the job. The music is quite interesting, however, with lots of rhythmic beats. Legendary Axe and Blazing Lazers were the early dream team for the TG-16. They looked good, sounded good, and played well, and they had no need for save capabilities or an extra controller, meaning you could get full enjoyment out of them without buying any additional peripherals.

TV Sports Football, Basketball, and Hockey
The TurboGrafx-16 was the only console to get any of the TV Sport games, though a couple of them showed up on the Amiga and one on the early PC as well. They didn’t feature any voice commentary, but they played well and the graphics, while not spectacular, certainly weren’t disappointing.

As soon as talking sports games and Madden came out they disappeared from the public mind, which is too bad because they did multi-player better than most other games of the time (especially teamed with the TurboGrafx-16’s ahead-of-its-time multitap).

There was a certain joy to 5-player sports matches and it really took a long time for any of the competition to step up to the plate in the multi-player department. TV Sports Hockey was considered the gem of the series while Basketball is largely considered the series pariah. The TV Sports games are certainly the most definitive sports games of the TurboGrafx-16.

Mind-Bending Puzzle Action

Chew Man Fu
If you happen to be in the market for a quirky puzzle-based action game with embarrassingly heavy doses of Chinese stereotyping, Chew Man Fu is the game you have been waiting for. The premise of this wonderful game is to rid the world of egg rolls, fried rice and other Chinese foods. Fortunately, the gameplay of Chew Man Fu is far more entertaining.

In Chew Man Fu, you roll giant, colored balls around maze-like levels. The goal is to roll the balls onto matching colored tiles. The balls can be kicked to crush enemies and walls, something you’ll be doing a lot of if you intend to survive long. The game has an enormous number of levels, so many that it may actually be nearly impossible to play all the way through the game. The graphics are quite colorful, the music is pleasant and unobtrusive, and the mechanics of pushing and pulling, and if necessary kicking, these enormous, marble-looking balls around the board is definitely entertaining. This was one of the first puzzle games on the TG-16 and even today remains one of the best.

Puzzle fans who like a little action with their “thought-provokery” will absolutely love this game. The ball system is a lot of fun and lends to some genuinely hectic and hilarious moments. 550 levels is a lot of content, too, despite the fact that they start feeling too similar too soon.

Parasol Stars
Parasol Stars is a sequel to Rainbow Islands, which is itself something of a sequel to Bubble Bobble. Rainbow Islands takes place after your formerly dinosaur friends, Bubby and Bobby, have regained their human form. Thus, in Parasol Stars they are also human.

In Parasol Stars you carry an umbrella and by holding it over your head can collect water drops (or later on, fire, electricity, and star drops) to hurl at enemies. Drops all behave the same, regardless of their element, until you’ve collected 5 drops atop your parasol and they merge to become one huge drop. Then they behave according to their element. Release the huge water drop and water floods down the level ahead of you. Release a huge fire drop and a ball of fire drops to the floor and ignites a section of floor for a set period of time. Enemies hit with drops become stunned, though the larger, elemental attacks will kill them outright. Smaller enemies can be stunned simply by running into them with your umbrella. You can then pick them up with your umbrella and use them to stun other enemies, or simply throw them aside to eliminate them. Stunned enemies are also removed when other objects are hurled at them. Smaller enemies can be stunned with a single drop, but larger ones will take either multiple hits from single drop shots or a single hit from a multiple drop shot. If you pick up one of the larger enemies on your umbrella you can carry him around for a while, stunning all the other enemies on the screen, assuming you are quick enough. Enemies do eventually become un-stunned if not eliminated. You can also hold your umbrella in front of you as a shield or over your head to slow your fall after a jump.

Just like Bubble Bobble the enemies are colorful and the bosses completely silly. This game is a graphic smörgåsbord, with colorful sprites moving around all over the place. Parasol Stars also features an incredible soundtrack that really pushes the sound chip inside the TG-16. This is truly one of the shining stars of the TG-16’s library and really shows off what the hardware can do.

Not only is Parasol Stars a great puzzle platformer, it is the first game Working Designs brought to the US. Parasol Stars and, shortly after, Cadash, are the only two non-CD/DVD games Working Designs ever released and they heralded many good things to come both for the TG-16 and for Working Designs.

World, Meet the CD-ROM

Ys I & II
The Ys series was the poster child for the TG-16’s CD-ROM attachment. Ys I and Ys II were originally released on the Japanese PC 88 computer (a product of NEC, conveniently enough) with low quality, yet impressively composed music by none other than Yuzo Koshiro. When they moved to CD they were put together as 2 chapters of the same game. They acquired some full-screen cinema stills and an incredible arranged soundtrack by Ryo Yonemitsu. It’s not a traditional RPG, but rather a top-down action RPG in which you skillfully ram into your enemies (no hitting a button to swing a sword for you!). And while the gameplay was a bit bizarre, the story elements were involving, the music was beautiful, and speech helped move the story along. For an early CD game the English voice acting wasn’t half bad, either. This game really got people excited about the possibilities for the CD attachment.

Ys III
Ys III changed the gameplay mode established by Ys I & II by being a side-scrolling action RPG in which you actually had to push the button to swing your sword. The graphics were decent but it was the music, once again, that really made the package. In true RPG form you could buy or find better swords and armor throughout the world as you made your way to the end of the game. The Super NES and Genesis both received versions of this game but the TG-16 version is generally regarded as the best and served as an example of how the TG-16 CD-ROM attachment could allow games to be better than their cart-bound breathen.

The Super CD-ROM Debuts

The TurboGrafx-16 CD attachment was a great device, but it was really low on memory, meaning that games had great soundtracks but their graphics and gameplay were sometimes lacking compared to TurboChip games, a factor that made the CD attachment hard to swallow. So NEC and Hudson went back to the drawing board and created the Super System Card 3.0 to supplant the older System Card 2.0 that shipped with the CD attachment. The Super System Card boosted the available memory, bringing the system to 256kb total, 4 times more than the original 64kb. The new Super CD games finally had graphics and gameplay to match their incredible CD soundtracks.

Gates of Thunder
Gates of Thunder was the opening salvo for the TG-16 CD in the US. Released as part of a 4-in-1 CD with the first 2 Bonk Games and a hidden Bomberman game, Gates of Thunder was packed in with both the Super System 3.0 card and the new TurboDuo (TG-16, CD attachment, and Super System Card 3.0, all in one slim form factor). The Super System Card enabled a lot more than shooters, but shooters, graphically and musically, are where the system, as usual, shone most brightly.

Gates of Thunder was another jewel in the TG-16’s powerful shmup library. The graphics are great, on par with anything on the SNES or Genesis. The gameplay is smooth as silk, with three weapons you can switch between on the fly, variable movement speed, and a couple add-ons like reversible options and shields. To top it off, the rock soundtrack is one of the best ever heard in a shooter.

This game was a splash of cold water for fans of the console. US control and management of the TG-16 had already been passed to TTI from NEC America and TTI delivered the Duo and Gates of Thunder like an electrical shock to a heart attack patient. Unfortunately, the heart attack, in this case, had already done fatal damage, but this jolt gave the system another couple years to live. Gates of Thunder is a work of art, but it was only the opening shot. For a real joy check out levels 3 and 5. To quote Malc, the creator of shmups.com (great place for shooter reviews), “Gate of Thunder is living proof that there’s such a thing as a perfect shmup.”

For spoilers like no other, here’s a video that shows somebody playing the game from start to finish. Only go this route if you’re sure you’ll never bother to play the game or you’ve already played it.

Lords of Thunder
Sequel in name only to Gates of Thunder, Lords of Thunder, like its predecessor, blew even the most skeptical reviewers out of the water. Unlike the game that came before, this shooter features a fantasy theme. You control a flying warrior in elemental-themed armor. You first select the level you want to play, then pick your armor, choosing from wind, water, fire, or earth. When you get up close to enemies you swing your sword instead of shooting.

You collect crystalline currency from defeated enemies and spend them between levels at a store reminiscent of the one in Capcom’s Forgotten Worlds. Fly up close to an enemy and you’ll start swinging your sword instead of shooting. While the gameplay isn’t, in my opinion, quite on par with Gates (which is like saying $900,000 is not quite as nice as $1,000,000), Lords is a graphical tour de force with a raw, raunchy heavy metal thrash track in the background of every level. I don’t think any shooter from the 8 or 16-bit generations could claim to be as beautiful as Lords of Thunder. The final boss’s head alone takes up half the screen. This game is not to be missed. In fact, Masamune Shirow, of Ghost in the Shell fame, was contracted to do the art for the cover.

Lords of Thunder, like Gates of Thunder, demonstrated that in skilled hands the TG-16 hardware could compete graphically, nose to nose, with the more powerful Super Nintendo, and even out pace the more powerful Sega CD hardware combo. Lords of Thunder was later ported to the Sega CD, you see, but the graphics were muted due to the Genesis’s inferior color capabilities and the music was re-done with the same tunes but less virtuoso from the performers. Even the challenge level was taken down a notch. Where the Turbo version is a wild animal of a shooter the Sega CD version is a lapdog by comparison.

To get some idea of the soundtrack, here’s a video of Chris, aka VertexGuy, a computer artist and musician who performed with the Video Games Live tours, performing one of the notable tracks from Lords of Thunder. His version sounds remarkably like the original and very well represents the game.

Unforgetable Import

I’ve avoided talking about Japanese PC-Engine games. Because the TurboGrafx-16 and the PC Engine had such dramatically different reception in their respective locales there is clearly a vast difference in the size and scope of the games library. Still, there’s no way to talk about the TurboGrafx-16 without talking about the best game nobody has played.

Akumajou Dracula X, Chi no Rondo (Demon Castle Dracula X, Rondo of Blood)
How many of you played and enjoyed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? *hands go up* Do you remember the opening battle between Richter and Dracula? It’s clear SotN was picking up where something left off. Dracula X is what left off.

Dracula X was probably one of the most impressive games released for the PC Engine in Japan. Richter and Maria are introduced, as well as the new graphical style and fluid animations Castlevania games would employ for years to come. Many of the enemy graphics in SoTN came directly from Dracula X with little modification. This is because the PC Engine game went all out with great graphics and an incredible level of animation. Dracula X also inaugurated the music-related subtitle trend and the item crash special attacks.

This Super CD game tells the story of Richter Belmont doing battle against Dracula, the villain who captured his girlfriend. As expected you’ll power up your whip, find a good sub-weapon, and collect hearts to power that sub-weapon. But this time picking up a sub-weapon causes you to drop your current one, meaning you can change your mind. You can also do a special backflip jump to reach difficult places and dodge large hazards. Richter also can perform item crashes, basically special attacks that burn hearts like mad and vary in power and style depending on your sub-weapon. In order to get the best ending you have to save your girlfriend, but doing so is quite difficult. There are also 3 other captured women you can rescue, and one of them is Maria. There is a special sub-weapon throughout the game in the form of a key. It can hurt enemies but is largely useless, but it’s necessary to rescue some of the captives, such as Maria.

In Dracula X Maria is a little girl, and also a playable character once rescued. Maria takes more damage when hurt and thus dies more quickly, but she also has a more aggressive complement of animal themed sub-weapons. She can also double-jump, slide, and, with an almost Street Fighter-like gamepad movement, perform a phantom double attack. Almost every level has a secret exit that takes you to an alternate version of the next level. If you leave level 1 through the secret exit you’ll play level 2′ instead of level 2. If you don’t find the secret exit from level 2′ you’ll end up moving on to level 3 instead of continuing on to level 3′. That means up until level 6, which has no alternate stages and you have to fight 3 bosses in a row, every level 1 has 2 bosses and 2 exits. So instead of 7 stages, the game actually has 11, but you only play 7 stages on each pass.

This game is incredible. The music isn’t creepy enough but is of incredible quality. It trends to be a little more rock-ish, stylistically. The animation and colorful graphics are all incredible. The level design is the best of any of the traditional side-scrolling Castlevania games prior to the introduction of SotN’s Metroid-style gameplay. Dracula X is quite challenging, but not so much so as to piss off most players, and the multiple paths, secret exits, and hidden captives all conspire to make a game that demands replay after replay. I certainly played it to death back in the day. If this game had been translated and released in the US it could have brought more fans and revenue to the tail end of the TG-16’s life.

44 Comments

  1. jd says:

    Nice article Racketboy~

    While I had the TG16, Express, and Duo, I don’t think I had more than 30 games total. With the 2 exceptions of ChewManFu and Military Madness, I have all the games on your list and can’t think of any other real gems that are missing. Good show~

    To mention a few more though; Final Lap Twin (RPG mode was cool), and Y’s 4 (can’t get enough Y’s music and action).

  2. Marurun says:

    Link missing from the Lords of Thunder music reference at the end of that bit. Here’s the “missing link”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpsNOQPJsok

  3. Marurun says:

    Gate of Thunder gameplay link also missing.
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=_9xobNpBJVU

  4. kinn says:

    What about Street Fighter 2, Wonderboy, Vigilante, Shinobi, Ninja Warriors?!

  5. Zed says:

    Whaaaat? Where’s the Cho Aniki love?

  6. RoushiMSX says:

    Oh man, Soldier Blade and Super Star Soldier were the first two PCE games to really suck me in. My friend and I used to dump hours into each of them.

    YS3 is a bit of an iffy game, for me. The PCECD version has the best music, the SNES version has the best graphics (to include the intro and ending!), and the Genesis version has the nicest compromise between the two (decent music, decent graphics, plays great). Aside from the music (which was the reason I bought the game :P ), the only other real notable thing about the PCECD version is the lower difficulty level compared to the Genesis and SNES versions. Either way, the game is still a lot of fat around a small frame. Aside from grinding (a lot), the core game is between one and two hours long (with a good chunk of that time spent trying to not jump too high on the final boss).

    I know Ys I was short, but at least they tied it together with Ys II. Even then, Ys I had a lot more variety and adventure :\ That bridge between the two games (the intro to Ys II, I guess) was pretty damn hot.

    Oh, and Military Madness! Haven’t played that in a good 4 years…last time I got about midway through and just proceeded to get my ass handed to me. I never saw it coming :( One of these days I’ll have to go back in and really shoot for completing it.

  7. kevinski says:

    Oh, I love Ninja Spirit! :)

  8. racketboy says:

    Fixed the links, Marurun, thanks!

  9. jd says:

    “What about Street Fighter 2, Wonderboy, Vigilante, Shinobi, Ninja Warriors?!”

    I think they’re absent from the list because when I think about the Duo, those games never stood out compared to the better versions on other systems (SNES and GENESIS).

  10. Marurun says:

    I would argue that the PCE version of Street Fighter 2′ was actually the best version, better than the initial SNES version even, until the SNES got Super Street Fighter 2. That aside, when you have a system like the TG-16, because of the smaller selection of good games, they almost ALL define the system, so certain choices had to be made. And except for Dracula X I tried to stick to US releases. I think Bomberman is the only title that wasn’t exclusive, at least at first, to the system as well.

  11. Almadi says:

    How can you forget Legendary Axe 2? A whole lot better and graphics that DID age well.

    And Lords of Thunder, yeah…I’d pay a 1000 Wii points for that. I even have it on my top 5 shooters list at my website.

  12. AC says:

    After reading this article, I went out and purchased both Dracula X and Ys I&II.

  13. Alex (PresidentLeever) says:

    Good article, but why’d you put the CD games in there? Might as well do the same for the genny then, and throw in the 32X while you’re at it.

  14. AngrySquirrel says:

    Including CD games with the chip games makes sense here because, frankly, there are far fewer defining games for the turbografx because of its shorter lifespan and, generally, less legendary status compared to the genesis. Including the 32x would make sense, but my sense is that the segacd had enough defining games to merit its own section.

  15. Master_OrHan says:

    What about Neutopia I&II? Solid Zelda clones IMO. A lot of people that played TurboGrafx-16 back in the day liked those games. Great article

  16. bobby says:

    To me I felt the Turbografx 16 was the best 16 bit system if you think of the import games and the supercd games. Street Fighter 2 and other games showed us why the PC Engine was number one in japan. I don’t care if it had a 8 bit cpu, the turbografx had two 16 bit graphics chips and it could display 482 colors at once. This system could do things that the Genesis and the Snes could not. Also personally I loved the arcades back then and the Turbografx 16 was the closest to that to me. Even there Sega arcade ports were better than the genesis, only golden axe was better on the genesis.

  17. Nick says:

    I still have a fully functional tg-16. I wanted to ask you if it was possible to still purchase games for the console? If yes, about how much should I spend on games so i dont get ripped off? I would appreciate to hear back from you as well as any game recommendations? I am looking forward to hear back from you as soon as possible. thank you

  18. racketboy says:

    Have you checked out the rest of the TG16 posts here?
    http://www.racketboy.com/category/retro/turbografx-16

  19. Alex says:

    I like how this list focuses on games that are actually good and not just the ones with historical impact or nostalgic favourites. There are probably more than one ‘unforgetable’ import though ;) That Legend of Xanadu game for example is just stunning.

  20. Franco Chan says:

    Thank God for Virtual Console giving the US Rondo of Blood, eh? Life is fair after all… 16 years later.

  21. Daniel says:

    It’s a complete and total lie saying Dracula X doesn’t piss players off. LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING: I’ve never been so infuriated with the difficultly level in a traditional, side-scrolling Castlevania game. This game does nothing but prove just how good Super Castlevania IV was.

    Your life meter stretches vertically across the screen, but that gives you a false sense of fair damage distribution. EVERYTHING that hits you takes a HUGE chunk off that meter, and at average, you’re not going to last more than five hits without biting it. Also, the number of things that can kill you is RIDICULOUS!

    Just play the game, and you’ll see what I mean! This is the kind of difficulty that’s unfair and unrewarding. Not like the superb Super Castlevania IV, where actual skill can help you overcome.

    Also, another lie is the level design. Has nothing on Super Castlevania IV, and is another aggravating factor.

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  23. John cooper says:

    As a kid I owned the tg16 turbo express and the turbo duo. I loved them all. I wish I still had them. Those Are my best memories as a child. Exile 1 and 2, y’s series, bonk and zonk, thunder series, I could go on and on. Considering that the American library was so limited, we were able to have many of the best games available on any system. To many people didn’t know about turbo. To bad about that. I like knowing how good it was. Sorta makes me feel pretty lucky to have those experiences.

  24. Tim Ayers says:

    I thought this article was good. The space ship shooter section was a little short, because that is what the TG 16 is really known for by it’s hard core fans. He did leave out Side Arms Hyper Dyne, Galaga ’90, and Radien, At least they got Blazing Lazers.

  25. Patrick BBE says:

    Sharp colors! wow.

  26. Knyte says:

    You mention “TurboGrafx-16′s ahead-of-its-time multitap” (Turbo Tap). I can’t speak for Japan, but here in North America, it wasn’t really “ahead of its time.”

    The TG-16 was released in NA in August of 1989. The same year that Nintendo released the “NES Satellite”, which if you recall, was a 4-player multi-tap for the NES. Not only did it allow 4 players, but it was also wireless as well! (It used IR technology.) And, not long after the Satellite, they released the wired “NES Four Score” multi-tap.

    Just wanted to point that out.

  27. Aaron says:

    I have 2x TG-16 boxes (one is modded) and they by far are the best consoles I’ve enjoyed next to 8 bit Nintendo. I too was a arcade gamer so this system was by far the closet to that and is why I loved it. I thought it was the first game to use a CDRom but I could be wrong. Also, SF was a sick game back then it TG-16 rocked it!

  28. John says:

    Hi all. We are hosting an event in which a Turbografx 16 will be played as one of many consoles in the overall competition. Problem is, most of our attendees have never even heard of this system. Which makes it kind of cool and novel also. Heck, I remember seeing the display for them in the toy store and jamming out on some Bonk. Anyway, we really only have space to schedule one turbografx game into the competition. With that single game representing the system as a whole to a new audience, what game would you go with? We also have to make sure that it’s not an RPG or any other non-competition friendly game. So far we are considering R-type, Splatter house, and even Bonk. We may consider Soldier Blade but the price tag on that thing seems outrageous these days. Thanks! -John

  29. Nick says:

    Really? No mention of Hit the Ice? That game let up to four people beat the hell out of each other in some badass hardcore hockey. As for Keith Courage being bad…. No way. It’s extremely addicting and requires skill to beat. And as for Devils Crush/Alien Crush… Everyone should play them. They make pinball awesome!

  30. Nick says:

    …not to mention Final Lap Twin. Awesome mix of adventure and racing.

  31. Nick says:

    Anyone remember the name of the side scrolling space game where you fly to the right shooting different enemies, acquiring powerups along the way? Touching the ceiling or floor was death. Anyone remember the name so i can find it and buy it again?

  32. Knyte says:

    @Nick.

    Sounds like maybe R-Type, but hard to say. There were over 100 shoot-em-ups released on the PC Engine/TG-16.

  33. Nick says:

    @Knyte
    Thanks but i found it after scouring a list of games this morning. It was Sinistron.

  34. Aaron says:

    Nice @Nick + @Knyte!

    John how is/was the event? Also, how is everyone forgetting Drakken. That game was addictive. I still think Legendary Axe would an excellent arcade game TODAY!

    :-)

    Aaron

  35. John says:

    Excellent article! My Dad bought me a TurboGrafx-16 when I was 5 (in 1990) and that was my primary system until i got my PS2 in time for Christmas 2000. I love the TG-16 and put more hours and love into that little system than any other. It may have died an early death and lacked the sheer number of games but my friends all loved playing Dungeon Explorer (4 at once!), Dragon Spirit, Final Lap Twin and Galaga. The games it DID have were quality and anyone who played the system loved it.

  36. barryfallsjr says:

    Your thoroughness on the subject is always impressive. I’ve been in the market for a TG 16 for a while now, and I finally found a friend who just upgraded his TG + CD for a Duo and was willing to trade it to me. And I’m really excited to dive into the console!

    This article helped a lot.

  37. Kike says:

    There’s a bit of every genre for this fantastic system. I agree it is the most underated system of all time.

  38. j says:

    this is the best treatment of a retro system and its games that i’ve seen in a long time.

  39. Hollow says:

    Woa! Just for this article, Now I follow you racketboy.

    Respect.

  40. Flight Of The Felines says:

    Rondo isn’t that hard, just stop getting hit. It plays just as precisely & straightforward as the NES Castlevanias with a visual style closer to IV. I will admit that it is overrated here in the states due solely to it’s rarity & that IV /is/ the better game but I don’t think that the difficulty was any more punishing than previous entries in the series.

    I can’t speak for the SNES Dracula X as it’s a different variation on the Rondo formula & I’ve never played past the first stage. Saving it for a rainy day I guess.