NEC released the TurboGrafx 16 in the United States in 1988 in order to try and grab their piece of the growing home video gaming market, which was then dominated by Nintendo. Starting out with a fairly generic platform game called "Keith Courage in Alpha Zones", the TurboGrafx captured a niche audience in the US with some high-quality software including the Bonk series, the Star Soldier series, the Ys series, and more; NEC also introduced the first home video gaming CD-ROM add-on in the United States, which unfortunately was a bit ahead of its time. In the end, a general lack of software support and poor marketing doomed the console to finish well behind Nintendo and Sega in the video gaming marketplace.
Saying that the TurboGrafx-16 is a 16-bit system is not entirely true. Although the system contained a custom 16-bit processor, the actual CPU of the console was 8-bit all the way. With the 16-bit tag, however, NEC tried to capitalize on the allure of newer technology. The system did not operate on cartridges; instead, players inserted HuCards, which were about the size of credit cards with copper contacts at one end. The controllers looked very similar to Nintendo's NES controllers with two fire buttons, a directional pad (D-Pad), and Select and Run (Start) buttons. As an added bonus, the controllers were equipped with turbo-fire capability right off. The controllers were quite responsive and were also quite durable. With the addition of an optional Turbo-Tap peripheral, the TurboGrafx-16 was the first system to allow for more than two players to play at once.
While Nintendo had a pretty solid grasp on many of the top third-party game publishers, NEC managed to rein in a couple of higher-profile publishers on their own, including Konami and Capcom; however, they didn't produce many games at all for the console. NEC biggest ally was little-known Hudson Soft (who release Adventure Island for the NES). Hudson Soft was responsible for more than a few of the system's best titles. Hudson Soft brought us the adventures of everyone's favorite prehistoric cave-boy, Bonk. With many similarities to Nintendo's Mario games, Bonk quickly gained icon status for the TurboGrafx-16 and become the system's mascot. Hudson also brought Bomberman as well as other great titles. Other big games for the system included Alien Crush and Devil's Crush, two excellent pinball games with scary atmospheres; Bloody Wolf, a Contra-like shooter; Splatterhouse, a conversion of Namco's arcade gore-fest; and the Legendary Axe games, which won many accolades from video gaming publications in the late 80s.
After Sega released their Genesis console and NEC had some real 16-bit competition stateside, NEC decided to raise the stakes and release a CD-ROM add-on for their TurboGrafx-16 console. They boasted better graphics, deeper games, and CD-quality sound for games using this relatively new (for the time) technology. Titles like Last Alert, Sherlock Holmes, and Magical Dinosaur Tour made fine use of the technology, allowing for longer games, movie-quality animations, and loads of digitized speech. Falcom's Ys (pronounced "ees") series captured a lot of attention, as it was not only a role-playing game (a genre that was growing in popularity) but also contained some of the best music in a video game ever composed. Some argue that the music still stands as some of the best ever, even 10 years later.
Even with this new technology and a fairly strong software lineup, NEC was losing the battle at retail stores. Sega was rapidly gaining popularity with gamers with their Genesis console and Nintendo was simply not to be stopped as their reign of dominance continued with gamers and game publishers alike. NEC tried to up the ante with even better technology, releasing their CD/system combo called the Duo (or Turbo Duo) and also released a HuCard as an add-on to the TurboGrafx-16 to allow for Super CDs to be played. Working Designs and Hudson Soft led the way with this newer technology; Working Designs translated some great RPGs including Cosmic Fantasy 2, while Hudson Soft released a two-part shooter series, Gate of Thunder and Lords of Thunder, which many shooter fans still swear by to this day as being two of the best shooters ever. Lords of Thunder also had an incredible guitar rock soundtrack that had to be heard to be believed. Still, this was not enough, and NEC eventually gave up on their systems in the US and left the console market altogether.
Even with the system's retail demise due to several factors, the system remains somewhat visible today due to the Internet. If you scan eBay or other auction sites, you'll see more than a few TurboGrafx items for sale, and a lucky few may score a Turbo Duo, or even NEC's portable unit, the Turbo Express, which with the right equipment can also double as a portable TV. There are newsgroups and message boards that talk about the unit, and some sites even sell some of the software still. It was a great system which might have done better with more creative marketing and if it didn't have to go up against a juggernaut like the Nintendo Entertainment System. While Hudson Soft is still around and making new games, NEC has slipped into the gaming shadows, and that's truly a shame. If you have some extra cash and are interested in this system, I would recommend looking into getting one through sites like eBay and the like; however, be aware that the games aren't easily accessible without Internet access. While the TurboGrafx-16 wasn't as visible as the NES or the Genesis, it had strong points of its own and was quite underrated; even so, it has taken its place in home video gaming history as an underachiever.
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