This post is attempt to explain the ‘passionate intensity’ of the Turbo fans. (Kayne West, a rapper, named his album for the ‘Turbografx 16’. )Since the system was only popular in Japan, and didn’t perform well in America, I don’t think Europe or most of the rest of the world knows about this console. We ‘know’ it in its historical terms, of course. But it is one thing to know about a console and to play it often.
I am reviewing Turbo games because I want to puncture the ‘cult like’ mentality these Turbo players have. The problem is that so many of these games are actually really, really good. It is not nostalgia as I have never played these games. Some of them surpass classics of the past.
If Turbografx 16 shipped with R-type, I would have bought it when it launched. But I didn’t. And I knew no one around me who had it. It seemed the Turbografx 16 sold best in the cities. Since I was living in the country in the 1980s and early 1990s (literally half an hour to go to the grocery store, had to put ice cream in coolers), there were no Turbos around me. It is very easy to look at past gameplay footage and dismiss the system. What changed for me was the Virtual Console on the Wii. I bought Turbo games like Super Star Soldier, Soldier Blade, Devil’s Crush, Battle Lode Runner… and I found that I was playing these games more than I was playing anything else.
It was only a freak encounter with my local retro supplier where I heard, through the grapevine, that he had one to sell. I came in the next day and found it was already sold! Guess I was out of luck. But there was another one hidden in the back which I was able to get (it was actually found, no retail store trickery here). Those systems are flying fast. When I order parts for it, they call to talk to me. Not for payment questions, but to find out about me. Why am I buying this rare part? I think they were wondering if I was a re-seller. Yesterday, I got another piece of hardware for the TG16, and it was like a secret drug deal but in a geek way (see 2:22 in the White and Nerdy video to see what I mean).
First of all, video game quality varies depending on the generation. By generation, I mean human generation. Those who found the Atari games ‘quality’ were put off by the NES games. Were they wrong? No. They both are quality. In the same way, someone today who thinks GTA V is awesome may not understand why Dragon Quest 1 is a quality game and vice versa. And each console has a different vibe. Genesis games have a vibe that is different from the SNES games.
The Turbografx 16 is very much the spirit of the NES in 16-bit clothing. TG16 is the true 16-bit NES. As someone who bought SNES at launch, it started out really good, but then it got ‘weird’. While I loved games like Chrono trigger, Final Fantasies, and other RPGs, the games were getting longer. The games were also getting less intense. Super Metroid is a great game, but it lacks that intensity that original Metroid had. Super Metroid was so easy, I could beat it as a rental!
First thing to know is that the Turbografx 16 games are all arcade hard and arcade intense. There are no real easy games on this system. TG 16 games have that ‘NES magic’ of having value in being challenging.
Second thing to know is that Turbografx 16 games have strange Japanese sense of madness about them. These games haven’t gone fully to anime, but there are influences. The games are deceptive because while they are very challenging, they are also very cute. This is clearly the Japanese influence here which is good or bad. At the time, it would be considered bad because America doesn’t like Japanese cuteness. Europe, however, may like the sense of humor more. The TG 16 games are aging the best out of all 16-bit consoles because of this Japanese sense of humor.
The best example of the Turbografx 16 game is Bomberman. Bomberman is a very different type of game. When you look at it the first time, you think it looks stupid and archaic. Bomberman looks cute but retarded. Only after playing it intensely for a while do you realize the tremendous value that Bomberman is and what a great type of game it is. Bomberman has perfect arcade gameplay and Japanese cuteness as well. This is the Turbografx 16 in a nutshell. If you love Bomberman, you will love the games on the TG16.
“But Malstrom,” the reader says, “I do not like shmups. The TG 16 is full of shmups.”
You know, I wasn’t a shmup fan either until the TG 16. I really did enjoy game series like Gradius or R-type. I could never understand the shmup community. Why are they paying $400 for Aero Fighters for the SNES? At least I could understand why RPG fans were paying through the nose for Earthbound.
The reason why I hated shmups is because it was frustrating to die, lose everything, and that would pretty much be it. But I LOVED Life Force for the NES. Life Force was an easier shmup and extremely adventurous one too.
Above: Tyrian 2000 is a PC game that is freeware (you can get it from gog.com too). Tyrian 2000 was made as a love letter to TG 16 shmups.
I do not know why I fell in love with the TG 16 shmups, even in this day in age, but it happened. Perhaps it is because of the sheer diversity of the titles? The TG 16 shmups are not like Gradius and R-type in that they are more for home console use. You do not die after a single hit. There are also shops where you can upgrade (like a RPG).
My favorite game of all time is Star Control 2… which is shmup-like. TG 16 games tend to share that spirit.
Right now, I am playing Final Soldier, a Japanese only game shmup. I think the game is as good as Axelay for the SNES… and we consider Axelay a classic, yes? But Final Soldier, despite its quality, is certainly not the top shmup on the TG 16. Blazing Lazers, Super Star Soldier, Soldier Blade, Magical Chase, Raiden, and there are so many more that i cannot think of them. It’s as if you enjoy platformers from the Wii or Wii U and then you play the NES or SNES for the first time and discover a goldmine of platformers. How do you process it?
TG 16 is the hardcore console. I do not mean hardcore as it means in marketing terms today. The games are substantial in their rich, rich gameplay. They do not get old. They are addictive. And you keep playing them over and over and over.
And this comes to that word, gameplay. Nintendo has redefined gameplay in that gameplay must be ‘new’ or ‘change’. This is what I think is repelling me from them. To me, the most perfect gameplay is the arcade gameplay which is the soul of the 8-bit and 16-bit classics.
When I play the NES, while some games are heavenly, most have a thorn of primitiveness in them. SNES games, especially later ones, tend to lose much of their arcade intensity but look and sound beautiful. TG 16 is the in-between solution.
Buying that TG 16 was the best gaming purchase I’ve ever made. Hudson needs to be elevated and seen at the same level as Sega, Nintendo, and Atari for the output they did. Sega may have had Sonic and Nintendo had Mario, but Hudson had Bonk. Whether or not you saw Bonk at that level, know that Hudson made the Bomberman series which is perhaps the best multiplayer game ever made (and a great single player game too). Hudson made a fantastic shmup series called ‘Star Soldier’ which Sega and Nintendo had no answer.
Above: Bonk, Master Higgins, Bomberman, Zonk, and Soldier Blade: Hudson’s IP characters.
An interesting note is during those times, Sega would publish their games on TG 16 and Hudson did the same for Sega and Nintendo. But Nintendo never published their games on either Sega or Hudson system.
Does the TG 16 meet the hype the ‘cultists’ give it? Yes. I’m surprised to say it myself, as I am extremely cynical. The TG 16 library is smaller, but the quality is as rich or even richer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a console hit my ‘arcade nerves’ as much as this one… well… maybe the Neo Geo but the Neo Geo is a world unto itself.
The Virtual Console releases are good. You can emulate TG 16 games too. But the best way to play it is through original hardware. I can’t stand the personality-less consoles of the Microsoft and Sony systems. Nintendo personality has lately become bizarro. It’s a joy to play a TG 16 and feel like how a console should be.
Get a TG 16 fast before they all disappear. And they are rapidly becoming rare at this moment.
Above: A fantastic montage of PC-Engine games. Love how it shows the box, says a few things, but lets the gameplay speak for the game.