Today marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of the legendary NEC PC Engine! Happy birthday little buddy!
Known in the US as the TurboGrafx-16 (where it wasn’t released until almost two years later, in August 1989), the PC Engine came out after Nintendo’s Famicom (NES) but before Sega’s Mega Drive (Genesis), making it at first more of a competitor for Nintendo’s already-four-year-old hardware than for Sega’s 16-bit machine. Possibly for this reason, the PC Engine was more popular in Japan than the TG16 was in the west, where it never really gained a foothold in the mainstream market and appealed mostly to the hardcore gamer.
The PCE also brought us the revolutionary concept of console games on CD, with its CD-ROM add-on. And NEC was not afraid to improve upon its hardware designs and release new revisions, such as the Core Grafx (a PCE with composite video output, where the original PCE only had RF), Core Grafx 2, Shuttle Grafx, PCE LT (a “laptop” PCE with a flip-up LCD screen), PCE GT (a handheld competitor to the Game Boy and Game Gear which used PCE cards) the Duo (PCE+CD in one), Duo R, Duo RX…not to mention upgrades like the System Cards and Arcade Card, which improved the console’s performance. The PC Engine fought tooth and nail to evolve along with the improvements in the gaming scene, and kept up very admirably.
But, brief history lesson aside, my own experience with the Turbo/PCE was pretty limited back in the day. I had only played it a bit on store displays and at a local rental shop that had it. I always liked it, but like most young gamers (I was in high school when it was out), I could only afford one current console, and my system of choice was the Super NES. In the later ’90s, a friend of mine was heavily into PCE collecting, so I got the most profound PCE experiences from that period, and discovered that I really loved the system.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I finally took the plunge and got myself a TurboDuo from a seller on ebay for about $150 (the Duo is definitely a console that’s always held its value; if you’re in the market, don’t expect to find one dirt cheap). Right away, I got to work acquiring HuCards (the credit-card-sized cartridges that the PCE and TG used) and CD games. Turbo Technologies, Inc. (the company formed to market the Turbo after NEC gave up the US market) was still around at this point, and was selling new old stock software, so I managed to score some great titles like Forgotten Worlds and Godzilla in brand new condition!
Still, as much as I loved my TurboDuo, I wasn’t getting the full PCE experience, because the US Turbo consoles are not compatible with Japanese PCE HuCards, or vice-versa. There were adapters available, but they were hard to find, expensive, and fragile. I was about to order one, when it dawned on me — I could pay 100 bucks for this adapter, or I could just get an actual PC Engine console for half that! So it didn’t take too long to find a Core Grafx console (I wanted the A/V output and I liked the design of the Core Grafx better than the Core Grafx 2), and 60 bucks later, I had everything I needed to dive all the way into PC Engine fandom, and never looked back.
So what are my favorite PC Engine games, after all these years? Well, I still haven’t experienced them all, but here are a few:
- Akumajou Dracula X: Yes, the PC Engine gave us possibly the greatest Castlevania game ever, and it never came out in the US (at least, not until the PSP Dracula X Chronicles).
- Alien Crush and Devil’s Crush/Devil Crash: What could be better than pinball with xenomorphs and occult iconography?! NOTHING, that’s what.
- Aero Blasters, Super Star Soldier, Gunhed/Blazing Lazers, Air Zonk/PC Denjin, Coryoon, Download: The PC Engine had so many great shmups! I recently talked about Aero Blasters at length because it’s my favorite, but really you can’t go wrong with almost any shmup on this console (and when I say almost, I’m looking at you, Deep Blue).
- Ys Book I & II: The quintessential CD-based JRPG experience. Everybody remembers the incredible soundtrack, but this game that’s been re-made so many times might be the best when played on PCE and Turbo.
- Snatcher: Hideo Kojima’s graphic adventure masterpiece had a great turn on the PCE, as well as a special pre-release promo item called the Snatcher Pilot Disk, only available on PCE.
- Anime games: There have always been lots of games licensed from anime properties, but the PCE, with its lifespan from 1987-1995, was right in the middle of my favorite period of anime, so it had graphic adventures and RPGs based on some of the best anime ever, such as Ranma 1/2, Patlabor, Tenchi Muyo!, KO Beast, Dragon Half, Urusei Yatsura, Nadia, Bubblegum Crash…really, it was kind of an otaku dream machine.
Anyway, I’m not anywhere near finished exploring the PC Engine, and I kind of hope I never am. It’s always there with some new experiences and adventures. The PC Engine made a huge impact on videogaming, and it deserves to celebrate 30 years of being one of the best consoles of all time!
What are YOUR favorite PC Engine or TurboGrafx games and memories?