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Useful Notes / TurboGrafx-16
aka: PC Engine

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Top: The TurboGrafx-16; Bottom: The PC Engine
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The TurboGrafx-16, known as the PC Engine in Japan, was (sort of) a 16-bit console developed by Hudson Soft and sold by NEC that was released first in Japan in 1987 and in North America in 1989. The system is most noteworthy for being the first console to successfully challenge Nintendo's dominance of the video game market (at least in Japan) and being the first to play games off CDs (via an add-on). Its mascot character was Bonk, or PC Genjin in Japanese, a clearly Punny Name on the system's name.

The most unique characteristic of the system was that the non-CD games did not come on bulky cartridges, but rather on thin TurboChips/HuCardsnote . These plastic game cards were about the size of credit cards, but slightly thicker, with connectors clearly visible on the end. Although the Sega Master System also cards in addition to cartridges, it relied much more on the latter due to storage limitations with the former. Furthermore, HuCards are actually descended from "Bee Cards" (as in the bee that appears on the Hudson logo) which Hudson made for the MSX home computer, although a special cartridge was required to use them. The original model of the PC Engine is also notable for its small size (5.5 in × 5.5 in × 1.5 in), being one of the smallest video game consoles ever made.

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The PC Engine was the first true competition the Famicom ever saw when it released in 1987. Not only was the PC Engine a huge upgrade in terms of graphical power, but Hudson Soft was already a respected company with a few years of experience as a developer to supply their console with games. Hudson and NEC were also able to secure a strong continuous slew of third-party games, bolstering the PC Engine's library. The system ended up out-selling the Famicom in its first year, and its continued success heavily contributed to Nintendo creating the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the first place.

The same story cannot be told for TurboGrafx-16, which failed internationally. The first big issue was the that the system's North American launch was awkwardly timed, arriving in the market nearly at the same time as the Sega Genesis and being test marketed in the exact same areas. This led to comparisons between the two 16-bit systems, especially due to the TurboGrafx's misleading marketing campaign that falsely touted it as a 16-bit system despite only having an 8-bit processor. Sega — probably tired of the whole "losing" thing after the Genesis followed in the Master System's footprints as a failure in Japan — also decided to go hard on the North American market and started their war on Nintendo. Additionally, Sega had heard of NEC's plans to launch the console stateside and had taken proactive measures against the TurboGrafx-16 by airing ads criticizing the console in the markets the consoles was going to be tested in, successfully sabotaging the test market and preventing the console from gaining much foothold. This was not helped by some of the minor inconveniences the TurboGrafx had compared to the Genesis: one controller port, slightly higher price, and the need to buy a $30 accessory for composite video/stereo output. The TurboGrafx was also bundled with the fairly unremarkable Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. The Genesis may have not caught on fire in North America at first, but it at least had an impressive conversion of the arcade game Altered Beast as its console bundle to appeal to American players.

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The other major issue holding the TurboGrafx-16 back in America was its library. 80% of its games never left Japan for whatever reason, negating any advantage it otherwise had with third-party support and generally making it a harder sell. Some titles only got released internationally through overhauled ports for the SNES or Genesis, adding more salt into the wound. While a few games that did get imported managed to achieve some critical acclaim, it still missed out on big PC Engine titles like Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Double Dragon II.

As mentioned previously, the TurboGrafx was the first video game system to run games off CDs. Released in 1988 in Japan and 1989 in the US (three months after the launch of the base system over there), the TurboGrafx-CD (PC Engine CD-ROM2 System, pronounced "CD-Rom Rom" and not "CD-Rom 2") expansion opened more possibilities for the game library thanks to the extra storage and improved sound provided by the format, especially when backed by the Super System Card. Like the console itself, the CD attachment was very successful in Japan, where it helped prolonged the lifespan of the system and kept it fighting against the Super Famicom, which in turn led to Nintendo trying and failing to create a CD drive for their own SNES. (And knowing the mess that came out of that, this means you can indirectly thank NEC for the PlayStation). Not so much elsewhere, to the point that only a handful of TurboGrafx-CD games were ever exported. NEC later released the TurboDuo, a TurboGrafx console with a built-in CD-ROM drive along with extra RAM and updated BIOS from the Super System Card. The American release is infamous for being advertised by a comic called Johnny Turbo.

One of the extensions of the PC Engine that was only released in Japan was the SuperGrafx, which added an extra video chip and more RAM to the core hardware. The hardware revision was a complete failure, only having five games exclusively released for it. Slightly more successful was the Arcade Card, released in 1994 in a late attempt to upgrade the capacities of the system; it was mostly noted for its ports of Neo Geo games.

The TurboGrafx also had its own companion handheld, the TurboExpress (PC Engine GT in Japan). The TurboExpress was able to play the exact same games as the main console due to the small size of TurboChips/HuCards, essentially making it a small, portable TG16 with a screen attached. However, it suffered from very poor battery life due to its power and backlight, manufacturing defects were common, and it came with a very high price tag ($249.99 at launch). It ended up behind all the competition in the handheld space, selling about 1.5 million units.

Having its fans, Konami, which wound up with the rights to the console following their takeover of Hudson Soft in 2012, jumped into the classic mini Plug 'n' Play Game consoles craze in Spring 2020 with the TurboGrafx Mini (called the PC Engine Mini in Japan and the PC Engine CoreGrafx Mini in Europe) which was released in Japan March 19, 2020. After the COVID-19 Pandemic delayed worldwide shipments, it released in North America on May 22, 2020 and Europe on June 5, 2020. List (exclusives in bold) 


Specs:

Processors:

  • 8-bit Hudson Soft HuC6280 CPU that is based on the MOS Technology 6502. It runs at a maximum 7.16Mhz, although games could switch it down to 3.58Mhz or 1.79Mhz; most HuCard games run at 3.58Mhz to avoid overheating the system (as the Japanese PC Engine was quite small), though it runs at full speed for CD games.
  • The actual graphics are generated by two interlocked 16-bit GPUs. These GPUs lacked special effects like multiple backgrounds and translucency that competing 16-bit console GPUs were able to do, but they could easily fill the screen with loads of sprites and one background. One of the GPUs is a video display controller, while the other is a video color encoder.
Memory:
  • 8 KB of upgradable main Random Access Memory in the base model
  • 64 KB of main Random Access Memory in the TurboGrafx-CD add-on
  • 64 KB of Video RAM
  • Games on HuCards could be up to 2.5 MB.
  • SuperGrafx has 32 KB of main, and 128 KB of Video.
  • The Super System Card beefs up the 64KB of main memory included in the TurboGrafx-CD to 256KB (included by default on the TurboDuo).
  • The Arcade Card, required for Arcade CD-ROM2 discs, was released in two versions:
    • The Arcade Card Duo, for the Super CD-ROM2 and Duo consoles, adds 2MB.
    • The Arcade Card Pro, for the original CD-ROM2 System, adds 2MB from the Arcade Card Duo and the 256KB from the Super System Card.

Sprites:

  • 64 sprites on screen (128 for the SuperGrafx), with 16 single-width sprites per scanline.
  • Sprite size is a minimum of 16x16 and a maximum of 32x64.

Display:

  • Resolution is variable, but most games ran at 256x240.
  • One background layer (two on the SuperGrafx) composed of 8x8 tiles.
  • 512 total colors, but the sprite layer and the background layer each could have up to 241 at once (the two background layers on the SuperGrafx shared those).
  • Connects to monitors using an RF modulator; the CoreGrafx and Turbo Duo models dropped this in favor of composite video.
  • In the U.S., it isn't necessary to get a separate system. An accessory called the TurboBooster was released that attaches to the system itself, allowing it to be hooked up with AV cables. An upgraded version called the TurboBooster Plus was later released which also adds backup RAM for saving game data on games that have a save feature. All of these were incorporated into the later CD accessory in both regions.

Peripherals:

  • The console only had one controller port as standard, but could support up to five controllers via the Multi Tap/TurboTap (which launched alongside the console). While one controller port might seem like a step back from the likes of the NES and Master System (which both had two controller ports), it is worth noting that controller ports were still a novelty among early Japanese consoles, as the Famicom and the SG1000 (Sega's first console), both launched in 1983, featured hardwired controllers instead and only had ports for additional peripherals (although Sega consoles did start having two controller ports as standard from the SG-1000 II and onward).
    • The TG16 has a Din-8 controller port instead of the mini Din-8 used by the PC Engine, rendering controllers and peripherals between both versions incompatible without an adapter cord. The Turbo Duo would later revert back to the same mini Din-8 port used by the Japanese consoles, resulting in many of the same peripherals being re-released under the Duo branding.
    • It was notably the first and only game console (aside from its successor, the PC-FX) to feature turbo switches on its stock controllers. The system has a large number of Shoot 'em Up games, so having the switches was very useful for them. The Turbo Pad resembles a standard NES control pad in its shape and has the same number of buttons: a d-pad (although circular instead of cross-shaped), two auxiliary buttons (Select and Run), two fire buttons (I and II) and a turbo switch for each fire button for up to three settings (normal, turbo and auto).
    • The control pad that came bundled with the Japanese launch model of the PC Engine did not originally have turbo switches. The Turbo Pad was released separately as an option, but because the price difference between the standard Pad and the Turbo Pad was pretty minimal, the Turbo Pad became the preferred option for additional controllers and NEC gradually phased out the standard controller. Succeeding models from the CoreGrafx and onward came bundled with the Turbo Pad and the U.S. version of the console followed suit.
  • Once fighting games started becoming more prevalent thanks to the success of Street Fighter II, six-button controllers were released for the console in Japan such as the Avenue Pad 6 and the Arcade Pad 6. The latter ended up replacing the Turbo Pad as the bundled controller with the PC Engine Duo-RX (the last model of the console produced).
  • The Turbo Stick is essentially this system's answer to the NES Advantage; a joystick peripheral for playing games with "the arcade feel".note 


Notable Games/Series:

    open/close all folders 

    TurboChip/HuCard #-D 

    TurboChip/HuCard E-H 

    TurboChip/HuCard I-L 

    TurboChip/HuCard M-P 

    TurboChip/HuCard Q-T 

    TurboChip/HuCard U-Z 

    TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD A-D 

    TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD E-H 

    TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD I-L 

    TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD M-P 

    TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD Q-T 

    TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD U-Z 

Tropes:

  • Americans Hate Tingle: The TG16 failed to get a foothold in North America, especially after its claims of being a 16-bit console were questioned. Advertising campaigns showing that the Turbo Duo as a stand-alone console was less expensive than a Genesis and Sega CD combined, while true, failed to convince most of the American consumers to support this console. However, it could also be likely because Sega did in fact took proactive action and aired ads showing why the Genesis was superior to the TG16 in the limited markets where the TG16 was to be tested in.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The TurboExpress. It was a handheld version of the TurboGrafx-16 in full color, capable of playing virtually all the HuCards, and it even supported multiplayer. Unfortunately, its ambitious novelty was quickly negated by very obvious hardware problems; the early LCD screens were highly prone to pixel failure, and sound failure was very common due to cheap capacitors. The tiny screen made it very hard to read game text (a deal breaker for RPG fans), and it needed a whopping six AA batteries for three hours of play time. And the aforementioned multiplayer was usually restricted to one screen, with very few games designed to take advantage of the co-op possibilities allowed by the Turbo Link cable.
  • Name's the Same: The PC Engine shares its name with the OS of the NEC PC-88VA, a model of their PC-8800 range of PCs also launched in 1987. The two platforms are otherwise unrelated.
  • No Export for You: Most of the system's later titles (as well as the Arcade Card upgrade) were not released outside Japan due to the TG16's failure in the United States. A few games, such as Bomberman '94 and Snatcher, ended up being ported to the Genesis/Sega CD for their western releases.
    • The Arcade Card and its games. This is especially egregious since TTI, the American company that licensed the PC Duo in the United States, actually invented the Arcade Card and made the agreements with SNK to port their games over. The SNK games were released in Japan, but never in the United States.
  • Product Facelift
    • The Turbo Duo, essentially a TurboGrafx-16 with built-in CD-ROM drive and the upgraded RAM and BIOS required to run Super CD-ROM2 discs, was a last ditch attempt to revitalize interest in the system in North America with little success.
    • The PC Engine had even more hardware variations and configurations in addition to the original white console. Enough to rival the Mega Drive's. These include:
    • The CoreGrafx - A black recolor which also replaced the original model's RF output with composite A/V.
    • The CoreGrafx II - Functionally identical to the original CoreGrafx, but has a different color scheme that matches the updated Super CD-ROM2 disc drive released at the same time.
    • The Shuttle - A less-expensive alternative to the CoreGrafx without the CD-ROM expansion slot aimed at kids.
    • The SuperGrafx - An enhanced model with an extra CPU and video RAM that only had five exclusive games.
    • The PC Engine GT - The Japanese counterpart to the TurboExpress.
    • The PC Engine LT - Which has a flip style similar to the later-released Game Boy Advance SP and could support the CD-ROM add-ons.
    • The PC Engine Duo - The Japanese version of the Turbo Duo. It has three variants of its own: the original, the Duo-R and the Duo-RX.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": The official name for the CD-ROM2 format/add-on is not "cee dee rom two" or "cee dee rom squared", but rather "cee dee rom rom". Most people tend to omit the extra "rom" though.

Alternative Title(s): PC Engine, Turbo CD, Turbo Express, Supergrafx, Turbo Duo, Turbo Grafx CD

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