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Looking for a way to stay entertained feels like a full-time job right now, compared to a few months ago. The Nintendo Switch is still the hot console to buy, but it's hard to find one in stock. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are easier to get hold of, but both are threatened with near-term obsolescence, with new models promised by the end of 2020.
What about a microconsole to bide the time -- something like a $100 games-included retro box? We've already seen the NES Classic and SNES Classic, the PlayStation Classic and the Sega Genesis Mini. Now there's the more obscure Turbografx-16 Mini.
Nestled between the 8-bit years of the NES and Sega Master System and the 16-bit glory of SNES and Sega Genesis, the Turbografx-16 was always weird. It arrived before the Sega Mega Drive in Japan, in 1987, when it was the "PC Engine." It arrived after the Genesis in the US (Aug. 29, 1989, while the Genesis launched Aug. 14). It had 8-bit processing with 16-bit graphics. It was made by NEC. It played games on little cards. It had a pinball game with demons called Devil's Crush.
I was in love from afar. I was even curious about the launch game, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones.
Considering the recent retro-reboot console wars of mini game systems, it was probably only a matter of time before the Turbografx-16 would arrive. It's here, in the form of an HDMI-connected self-contained system with 57 games. I've been playing it with my kids to see if my childhood obsession was warranted.
The Turbografx-16 Mini is made by Konami, and comes in several shapes depending on the region (PC Engine in Europe and Asia, or Turbografx-16 in North America.) The US version has that long shape I remember. It's a simulacrum: The card slot doesn't work and there's only one power switch. The back part is just a basic plastic cover to protect the cords.
The mini-console's plastic case is bigger than the SNES Classic or Genesis Classic. The US model is even bigger than the European and Japanese PC Engine case. I would have loved if it were a little smaller -- half the appeal of retro mini consoles is the collector's-item look of the thing.
It comes with one USB controller, but the system has two USB ports. It also comes with an HDMI cable (nice) and Micro-USB cable for charging, but no AC adapter (not nice, and a weird omission), so you'll need to use one of your own. I used the AC adapter from the NES Classic.
The one controller looks and feels like an NES controller, sort of. It's got two action buttons, a "run" and "select" button, and a directional pad that's good enough. The two action buttons come with turbo switches for rapid fire, which ends up being handy in the unbelievable number of shooters on this console. The controller cable is extra long, far longer than the short NES and SNES Classic controller cords. You could stretch it across a room just fine.
At $99 for the Turbografx-16, it's more expensive than the $80 Genesis Mini. The games on this aren't at all as iconic, or easily recognized. But some are hard to find anywhere else. I remember them in a vague end-of-'80s haze: Military Madness. JJ and Jeff. Neutopia. Alien Crush. But there are missing games too. There's no Devil's Crush or Keith Courage.
Some are classics, like R-Type (one of my favorite shooters ever), Bomberman 93, Splatterhouse. There are even some Sega games (Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone) and Japanese versions of hidden gems (Ghouls n Ghosts, Ninja Gaiden). There are a lot of Konami games in here, too: Gradius, Gradius 2, Salamander (Lifeforce), several Bomberman games, Snatcher. Other games feel like special rarities, too: Super Darius, Galaga 88. It feels like a magic garage sale find.
And there are a lot of shooters. I mean, a lot of shooters. Like, maybe, too many shooters? By my count there are 18 shooters of 57 games. If you're into shooters (meaning side scrolling space games, or shmups), this is a little treasure trove. If you're not into that genre, you might want to rethink this collection.
But all of the games play perfectly, with the same excellent port quality of the NES, SNES and Genesis microconsoles. If you're into collecting unusual 8- and 16-bit game rarities, this'll be a must-buy. My kids played with me for hours. They loved Bonk, and got into some of the shooters. They even liked the action-RPG stuff.
There are 25 games in the Turbografx-16 menu, but go down to the bottom and pick "PC Engine, and there are 32 more. They're the Japanese games, and some don't have English text. Some do. Some are repeats: There's a PC Engine and Turbografx-16 version of Ys Book 1 & 2, Dungeon Explorer and Neutopia 1 and 2.
The Japanese games are mostly playable even if you don't know Japanese, but some (RPGs, and a few text-based games) end up feeling incomprehensible. A lot of them are worth diving into.
You can have up to five players at once, apparently, if you had a separately-sold multitap and extra controllers for some games. I'm not going to do that. Some definitely will.
I feel like all my Turbografx-curious FOMO has been satisfied with the Turbograx-16 Mini. I don't think it beats the SNES Classic or Genesis Mini for mainstream retro appeal, but its larger library and deeper trove of rarities would make this a killer gift for a classic gamer.
You could also get some of these games in other ways (in compilations for PC or consoles). But I don't think there's a better way to revisit the Turbografx glory days than this system.
Should you buy one? Well, it depends on whether anything I just said appeals to you. Konami has basically made a Criterion box set of a lost game platform and bundled it in a cool display-friendly model. Sounds pretty good to me.
Correction, 10:36 a.m.: This review originally incorrectly overestimated the number of shooters available on the console. Updated to show the total number of shooters, which is 18 out of 57.