7 Forgotten NEC TurboGrafx-16 Classics

In 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 felt like a next-gen console, and ostensibly launched the 16-bit era, even though it used an 8-bit CPU. Let’s explore its underrated classics.
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7 Forgotten NEC TurboGrafx-16 Classics

Thirty years ago, on August 29, 1989, during the height of Nintendo mania in the United States, electronics giant NEC launched its own American home video game console called the TurboGrafx-16. With better graphical capabilities and more color depth than the NES, Sega Master System, or Atari 7800, the TurboGrafx-16 felt like a next-generation console, ostensibly launching the “16-bit era”—although it actually used an 8-bit CPU.

Coming on the heels of its Japanese progenitor—the PC Engine, which launched in 1987 in Japan—the TurboGrafx-16 shipped with a fairly impressive library of localized titles. With the addition of games created especially for the North American market, the TG-16 soon played host to a varied and enjoyable library.

Within the first few years of the console’s lifespan, publishers released classic titles such as Bonk’s Adventure, Alien Crush, Blazing Lazers, R-Type, Military Madness, Bomberman, Splatterhouse, Dungeon Explorer, and more. Even though the TG-16 never caught on with anywhere near the same success as the NES or Genesis, many American video game fans may have heard of or played these great games. Enough that Konami announced recently that it will release a mini version of the TurboGrafx-16.

But let’s take a look at some of the underrated gems of the TurboGrafx-16 that many haven’t heard of. For focus, we’ll focus on American cartridge-only games (released on a thin card-like medium called HuCard), and not titles released for the CD-ROM accessory, TurboDuo, or PC Engine. (The Japanese PC Engine library is huge, and it has so many great games unknown to Americans that it deserves its own treatment some day.)

My family owned a TG-16 when I was a kid, and I sunk hundreds of hours into its games, but it felt like a lonely hobby because almost no one else around owned the system. So when you’re done reading, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite TurboGrafx-16 games in the comments.

  • Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu (1990)

    Publisher: Hudson Soft

    Fans of beautiful action platformers will enjoy this fluid and satisfying kung fu fighting experience starring the cartoon doppelganger of legendary film star Jackie Chan. It gets high marks from me for being far more forgiving than many other platformers on the console, and the fantasy scenery and bonus stages make for quite a ride. Action Kung Fu also received an NES version, but the differences between the two games (and improved graphics here) make this port well worth playing.

  • Time Cruise (1992)

    Publisher: NEC

    If you’re a video game pinball connoisseur, you’ve probably already played TG-16’s Alien Crush and Devil Crush—two excellent fantasy pinball titles that many critics count among the best pinball games ever made. But you may not have heard of Time Cruise, an equally inventive pinball sim with great graphics and innovative tables (including some that turn pinball convention completely on its head by scrolling horizontally). It also has a funky story: In the game, you play as a scientist named Eric who invents a spherical metal time machine that he uses to travel between worlds. Help give Eric the bumpy ride he deserves.

  • Neutopia II (1992)

    Publisher: Hudson Soft

    After the success of The Legend of Zelda, competing console makers tried their hands at the overhead fantasy action-adventure genre. The Sega Master System saw Golden Axe Warrior and the TurboGrafx-16 received its own Zelda clone in the form of Neutopia (a forgotten title unto itself). That game’s sequel, Neutopia II, expanded on Neutopia with a new story and some minor technical improvements, but it’s still a fairly blatant Zelda clone (right down to pig-like enemies and octopuses coming out of the water randomly and shooting at you). But if you’re like me and crave more Zelda-like action, imitation is a great thing.

  • Final Lap Twin (1990)

    Publisher: NEC

    Most car racing games released in the era before high-res polygonal 3D artwork felt fairly stiff and limited. Final Lap Twin, based on Namco’s famous arcade racing series, manages to break out of that mold with great animations, good controls, and nice graphics. It also packs two unusual features that make it a can’t-miss title. The first is two-player simultaneous play baked-in from the ground up: the screen splits halfway (in any mode) to accommodate this. The second is an optional deep and enjoyable RPG quest mode reminiscent of Dragon Warrior where you explore a world with an overhead viewpoint and periodically race opponents to earn money and level up your car to complete a storyline.

  • Cratermaze (1990)

    Publisher: NEC

    Cratermaze fell far under the radar of most TurboGrafx-16 owners, but this fun overhead action puzzler deserves more attention. It plays similarly to the seminal Japanese PC title Heiankyo Alien—you dig holes, let monsters fall in, and bury them while collecting treasure to unlock a door to exit the stage. It feels a lot like Bomberman crossed with Lode Runner and channels other Japanese overhead maze games of the late 1980s. (My Heiankyo-loving friend, Jeremy Parish, would love it.)

  • Double Dungeons (1990)

    Publisher: NEC

    If you’re familiar with my writing work, you should know that I absolutely love co-op games, and Double Dungeons doesn’t disappoint in that department: In fact, that is its key selling point (it’s even in the game title!). For some reason, many critics overlook the co-op-centric design and only see a middling first-person dungeon crawler. And sure, Double Dungeons is not that innovative or exciting when you play solo. But invite a friend along, and you’ll have a blast—even when your only shield is a pan lid.

  • Magical Chase (1993)

    Publisher: Turbo Technologies, Inc.

    This gorgeous side-scrolling shooter with gameplay reminiscent of R-Type shows what could have been possible for all TurboGrafx-16 games had the console seen continuous American support into the early 1990s. In it, you play as a cute witch shooting whimsical enemies such as chicken heads with skinny legs. The graphics and sound are top-notch, and it could easily pass for a late-era Super NES game.

    As one of the last titles released on HuCard in the US (and in limited quantities), Magical Chase often fetches a huge multi-thousand dollar price on eBay. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s well-worth the experience. Otherwise, you can seek out the somewhat cheaper (but still expensive) Japanese version to play on an import console. Or you can be like me and play it on an emulator, since our shared cultural heritage is too important to be locked behind a $ 10,000 eBay auction.

    Many other great games graced the TurboGrafx-16’s chalky black console over the years. If you want to go even further than the American console, import a PC Engine console from Japan and buy some cheap HuCards on eBay. You’ll have plenty of fun in no time.

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