The TurboGrafx-16 was the American version of the popular Japanese "PC Engine" console. Although billed as the first 16-bit console, in fact it was powered by an 8-bit CPU. It did house a pair of 16-bit graphics chips however, capable of displaying an impressive 512 colors simultaneously. The system was also the first console to support a CD-ROM attachment, but NEC did a poor job of maximizing the potential of this feature.
Failing miserably due to poor marketing decisions and tough competition from the Sega Genesis, NEC turned over the system to Turbo Technologies Inc (formerly Hudson Soft) in 1992. TTI released the Turbo Duo, a streamlined version of the T-16 with built-in CD and game-save capabilities. Unfortunately, the system became lost in the shuffle as the Genesis and Super Nintendo battled for market dominance.
Despite its commercial failure in the US, the Turbografx amassed a library of terrific games, including the prehistoric-era platform jumping of Bonk, the multiplayer mayhem of Bomberman, and a series of critically-acclaimed shooters.
Console design: C. The Turbografx is a compact system, made possible by its game card media and single controller port. That's right, single controller port. If you wanted to play against a friend, you were forced to buy the five-port multi-tap! The Turbo Duo sported a similar compact design, with a flip-top for loading CDs. The design of both systems is rather plain, and the construction feels lightweight.
Console durability: T16: B / Duo: D. The Turbografx-16 has few moving parts, so it's not prone to breakage. The Turbo-Duo on the other hand is somewhat fragile. The CD door is flimsy and I've had issues with my video input port. I cherish my Duo (bought new) but I've had it repaired more than once.
Graphics: B. The graphics and sound capabilities were clearly a step up over the NES, but not quite to the level of the Genesis or SNES. Although colorful and clean, the visuals lacked the detail and flashy effects of comparable Genesis games.
Audio: T-16: B / Duo: A. At least as good as the Genesis audio, the T16 was capable of generating clear digitized sounds and catchy harmonized music. With a "Turbo Booster" add-on, the T16 could generate stereo sound. The audio was further enhanced by the CD capability which allowed for crystal-clear voices and orchestrated soundtracks.
Controllers: B. Although the controllers for both systems are practically identical, they are completely incompatible without adaptors! Though slightly larger than an NES conrol pad, they sport the same basic button configuration. There are four buttons: Select, Run, and two "action" buttons labeled "I" and "II" with their own turbo settings. Although the turbo switches may seem like a cheap gimmick, they actually come in handy in a number of games. In general the controllers are very comfortable and responsive, but an extra button or two would have been nice.
Media: B. Although somewhat plain in appearance, the game cards for the Turbografx-16 are compact and durable. The CD games feature high-quality music and surprisingly brief load times.
Packaging: T-16: D+ / Duo: B. If there's one area where NEC clearly faltered, it was the packaging department. Although the idea of storing cards in CD cases is reasonable, the orange sticker along the spines of the cases looks ugly, and many games feature cheesy "artwork". At least they're easy to store. The CD titles were an improvement, packaged like modern CDs.
Pack-In Game: D. Keith Courage was no Mario killer, that's for certain.
Launch Titles: A. The nine games available at launch were very original and arcade-like. Highlights included R-Type, Alien Crush and The Legendary Axe.
Library: B. The Turbografx mascot was Bonk, a comical bald caveman who starred in a series of fun platform games. The system was also famous for its great shooters including Gates of Thunder, Galaga '90, R-Type, and Lords of Thunder. Another popular genre was multiplayer games (supporting up to five players) like Bomberman and the "TV Sports" line. Although somewhat light on RPGs, Neutopia and Y's 3 were high-quality adventures.
Collectability: B-. For fans on the 16-bit era, the T-16 is a magical system to collect for. The games have an appealing arcade quality, and most were not released on other consoles. A Turbografx-16 console is easy to acquire but the Turbo Duo can be an expensive proposition.
Innovations: 16-bit graphics processor, CD capability, five-player multi-tap, turbo switches
Pros and Cons:
+ Games you won't find elsewhere
+ Terrific shooters
+ Nice controllers with turbo switches
- Single controller port
- Uninspired packaging
Find Turbografx-16 on eBay, Amazon
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Turbografx-16/Turbo Duo Game Reviews