Go TURBO! The Cult Following of the TurboGrafx-16
Something unusual I’ve discovered is that people either love the TurboGrafx-16…or they’ve never heard of it. Serious collectors have told me the TurboGrafx-16 is their absolute favorite gaming system, and casual gamers give me a puzzled stare if I mention it. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Do people just fall in love with the TG-16 as soon as they pick up the controller?
I was pretty skeptical when I heard about the TurboGrafx-16, NEC and Hudson Soft’s contender in the console wars, and the first 16-bit system. The graphics are, at best, on par with the Super Nintendo and the SEGA Genesis. It only has one controller port—you can’t even play 2-player games without the TurboTap accessory. And instead of cartridges, the games are on weird, fragile-looking chips (HuCards or TurboChips) that look like business cards. Why would anyone be so passionate about this strange, forgotten system?
Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up a TG-16 with several games, including Splatterhouse, Pac-Land, and Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. I plugged in Splatterhouse—a bloody arcade side-scroller—and started splattering monsters, impressed by all the detailed gore. When I got to the sewers, though, I nearly gave up; no matter how I timed my jumps, I couldn’t get past the spiky creatures floating towards me. It turns out there’s a reason it’s called the TurboGrafx—there are two turbo toggles on the controller and my jump button was in Turbo mode. After fixing that, the sewers were a piece of cake. A soggy, gross piece of cake. Soon, I was inviting my friends over to play the TurboGrafx-16 with me, and they loved it too. We took turns bouncing through the colorful MS-Paint world of Pac-Land and slashing through the ghouls and ghosts of Splatterhouse, feeling like kids again. It was a blast.
Exploring further, I learned about other hidden gems on the TurboGrafx. The Neutopia games, for example, are fun Zelda clones that evoke A Link to the Past (without quite rivaling it, of course). Military Madness is a tactical game that plays like Famicom Wars or Advance Wars. And then there’s World Court Tennis…a tennis RPG. Yeah, you read that right. It’s like Dragon Warrior had a baby with Mario Tennis. Instead of random encounters leading to monster battles, they lead to tennis matches, and also there is a Tennis King. I don’t think I’ve ever been excited about a sports game before, except maybe Rocket League. There are plenty of weird and fun titles for the TurboGrafx—I haven’t even gotten to the shooters or the satanic pinball games! After failing to capture the 16-bit market from SEGA and Nintendo, NEC and Hudson Soft launched a prohibitively expensive ($400) CD-ROM add-on for the TG-16 that added a mere 21 games to the catalog, and that might have been the final nail in the coffin. By the time they released the TurboDuo system ($300), which could play everything released so far plus 23 new Super CD games, it was too late.
Despite its commercial failure, the TurboGrafx-16 is a great console that’s fun to play. It has definitely earned its revered place in the annals of retro gaming, and it’s worth your time to give it a shot!
Turbo Grafx Photo - Evan-Amos