The TurboGraphx-16‘s full name was the TurboGraphX-16 Entertainment SuperSystem and was released in Japan under the name PC-Engine. This console was developed by Hudson Soft and NEC and released in 1987 in Japan and then released in 1989 in the United States. This was the first console release to be considered a part of the 4th generation of consoles and competed with other consoles of this time period such as the Sega Mega Drive, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Neo Geo AES. The TurboGraphX-16 used an 8 bit CPU and a 16 bit GPU which made it capable of displaying 482 colors simultaneously out of its 512 possible color palette. This console also holds the world record for the smallest game console ever made. Telegames created a slightly modified model of the console which was released in Europe under the name TurboGraphX in 1990 however there were very very produced and are very rare today. Later there were two major console revisions including the SuperGraphx and the TurboDuo which were released in 1989 and 1992. The TurboGraphx-16 was later phased out by the PC-FX in 1994 and was only released in Japan. During 2009 TurboGraphx-16 was ranked as the 13th greatest video game console of all time by IGN although it did not support two controllers and had very little third party developer support.
The PC Engine was created through the collaborative efforts of Hudson Soft and NEC. This console was an incredibly small console which was made possible by a very efficient three chip system and its use of HuCards or TurboChips in North America. These cards were similar in size to a credit card however they were thicker. This console used a HuC6280 processor, a custom built 16 bit graphics processor and a custom video color chip encoder which were all designed by Hudson Soft. This console was also the first console to include an optional CD module allowing for greater storage capacity, lower media costs, and redbook audio capabilities. Due to the consoles efficient design and backing from many Japanese software producers resulted in a massive game library in both HuCards and CDs. After the consoles initial launch it performed well in Japan outselling the Famicom in its first six years. Although the console had early success it tended to lose popularity against the Super Famicom resulting in NEC releasing an Arcade Card expansion bringing the consoles available RAM up to 2048k but this expansion was never released in the U.S. Many games for the Arcade Card included popular Neo Geo games and the final game released for the console was released in 1999.
The TurboGraphx-16 was the first video game console to include a CD-ROM peripheral and this addition was released in 1988 in Japan and then released in 1990 in the United States. This marked the first time in which CD’s were used as a storage device for video games. When the TurboGraphx-CD was released in 1990 it was sold on the market at the retail price of $399.99. The first games that were released along with the console included Monster Lair and Street Fighter. The library of CD games grew steadily however not as quickly as the library of HuCard games.
The HuCards that were released included a limited version of protection due to the difference in the pinout connection layouts. There were two different aftermarket products which were sold to solve this problem in order to support Japanese games on U.S. models. Although the CD games had no regional protection there were several different formats of games including CD, Super CD, Arcade CD, TurboGraphx CD however if the console included the original system card all the games were compatible.
Battling with Sega and Nintendo for Market Share:
The TurboGraphX-16 was released in 1989 in the U.S. for the first time and directly competed with the NES using ads which featured its superior audio and graphics capabilities. The early ads also featured a variety of the console’s launch titles including Blazing Lazers, China Warrior, Vigilante, and Alien Crush. The TG-16 was also competing with Sega’s console the Genesis which was released two weeks earlier than the TurboGraphx which led to Sega taunting the TG for its claims of being the first 16 bit console. One major problem the TG had in comparison to its competitors was the fact that it only supported one controller forcing players that wanted to play multiplayer to purchase the TurboTap multiplayer adapter which supported up to five controllers in addition to requiring the purchase of additional controllers. In addition to lack of multi-controller support the Genesis had a better launch title pack in game. In Japan the PC Engine managed to outsell the Genesis however in Europe in North America it fell behind. Today it is possible to purchase many of the TurboGraphx games through the Nintendo Virtual Console service.
Limitations of the 16 bit Era:
Despite the fact that the TurboGraphx was marketed as a 16 bit console the system was built around an 8 bit microprocessor as its primary CPU. Although the microprocessor was 8 bit the console’s speed was similar to its competitions 16 bit machines. The TG-16 used 16 bit video color encoder chips and 16 bit video display controllers however it used an 8 bit programmable sound generator. This 3 chip combination allowed the console to function at level similar to its competition yet it suffered when trying to support more than a single layer of backscrolling while the other consoles excelled. The TurboGraphx also had far less available RAM for its games than its competitors which also helped lead to failures to compete.
Difficulties in North America:
Although the TG-16 sold quite well in North America the console lacked a large amount of support from third party developers and software publishers. Due to Nintendo’s success many of the third parties chose to release their games on the SNES and lock into exclusivity deals rather than release their games on the newcomer TG-16 console. Overall the TG-16 proved to be far more successful in sales in metropolitan areas while it struggled in less densely populated areas. By 1991 the Sega Genesis had become far more successful and surpassed the TG-16 in sales and the TG-16 fell to 4th place in overall sales behind other competitors including the SNES. Another issue for the TG-16 was the difficulty of finding the CD-ROM peripheral outside of metropolitan areas in North America which hurt overall sales of the console. Many of the games for the CD peripheral were well received by the American public however its high price tag deterred many consumers from purchasing the addition.
Major Console Version Releases:
The SuperGraphx was the standard edition of the console hardware with a few exceptions including a duplicate set of video chips and an addtional chip to coordinate them, four times the amount of available RAM, twice the available video RAM, and a second layer of plane scrolling. Only five games were released that used the systems upgrades and this signed the consoles death certificate.
The TurboDuo was released during 1992 which combined the original system and the CD-ROM attachment into a single device. This unit was capable of playing both HuCards and CDs. The original pack for the TurboDuo included the system, one controller, and AC adapter, RCA cables, Ys Book 1 and 2, Bonk’s Adventure, Bonk’s Revenge, Gate of Thunder, and Bomberman which was available through an easter egg. In addition to all of this the console package also included one random HuCard.
The TurboExpress was a portable version of the TG-16 released in 1990 with a retail price of $249.99 which steadily dropped in price until it was available for $199.99 by 1992. This device was capable of playing all of the TG-16 HuCard cartridges before its competition from Sega was able to play all of the Sega Games. The TurboExpress was also capable of being used as a video monitor and using the TurboLink supported multiplayer.
- Press Start: 5 obscure game consoles you’ve probably never heard of (o.canada.com)
- hucard (compstorehouse.wordpress.com)
- It’s Friday – A love letter to my TG16. (howtojboss.com)
- The Evolution of Gaming Consoles [infographic] (debugdesign.com)
- The Top 7… Innovative game consoles that didn’t deserve to fail (gamesradar.com)
- 7 Video Game Systems You’ve Probably Forgotten About (buzzfeed.com)
- Retro Death | Classic Video Game Death & Game Over Scenes (epicagames.com)