Sometimes, dear reader, dreams do come true. Earlier this week, Konami shocked everyone in the whole world (read: me) by announcing the Turbografx-16 mini, a microconsole version of Hudson Soft and NEC’s 16-bit underdog. If this sounds somewhat familiar, you may remember when I said this exact thing should happen last November. Is someone at Konami reading my work, thereby making me ultimately responsible for this boon to humanit? There was definitely enough time between last November and now to get the wheels moving on this thing. Or, perhaps more likely, am I simply channeling the future through my lists? Folks, I’m far to humble to presume to know.
We don’t know when the Turbografx-16 mini is going to come out, or how much it’ll cost when it does, but we do know that it’s but one of three microconsoles that Konami is producing. Japan will get the PC Engine mini and European territories will receive the PC Engine Core Grafx mini. (The Turbografx-16 was actually three different consoles, marketed under a different name and housed in a different shell depending on the region, hence the different microconsoles.) Each console will have its own unique list of games, which seems to imply that PC Engine titles like Dracula X: Rondo of Blood may not appear on the Turbografx-16 mini.
Here are the games that have been announced for the Turbografx-16 mini so far:
- Alien Crush
- Dungeon Explorer
- New Adventure Island
- Ninja Spirit
- Ys Book I & II
And for comparison, the PC Engine mini:
- Bonk’s Adventure
- China Warrior
- Dracula X
- Dungeon Explorer
- Super Star Soldier
- Ys Book I & II
If we extrapolate these lists out to the 30 or more games that usually come on a microconsole, it seems pretty clear that Konami will issue vastly different catalogues for each version. This is a point of concern, no doubt; while the Turbografx-16 library is strong, the console’s true classics were exclusive to the PC Engine. This means that someone who wants Dracula X or, hypothetically, Bomberman ’94 would have to import the Japanese version, rather than opt for the Turbografx-16 mini.
So how does Konami put together a Turbografx-16 worth owning? It can start by making sure that these 10 games, which I consider vital to any collection of North America-only collection, are on that dang thing’s internal storage.
Alright, I’m gonna show you three screenshots from Air Zonk, and you’re gonna try and tell me that it’s a bad game. Okay? Here we go:
See? You can’t do it. Air Zonk is a game where you can choose a flying cow balloon named Moo Moo from a screen that says “choose friend,” and then kickass sunglasses fly down from the top of the screen and land on Moo Moo, and then you go on adventures. It’s a perfect game.
Blazing Lazers’ title screen is pretty boring, but beneath that pseudo-vaporwave exterior lies one of the very best vertical shooters of the 16-bit era. The main weapon of your “Gunhed” ship can be changed to a wide variety of alternatives by collecting special roman numerals during a level, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. Each weapon type can be enhanced by collecting purple orbs, and further secondary ship augmentations (missiles, a shield, etc) can also be equipped through — you guessed it! — collecting more power-ups. It sounds pretty boilerplate by today’s standards, but Blazing Lazers was ahead of its time by 1989 standards. It’s a tight, challenging game that has some really dope boss designs, and it needs to be on the Turbografx-16 mini.
Look, I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that Alien Crush, which has already been announced for the Turbografx-16 mini, isn’t totally rad. It is. Alien Crush rules. But it ain’t no Devil’s Crush. Devil’s Crush has better animations, a bigger and more interesting playfield (three screens tall vs. Alien Crush‘s two screens), and way cooler effects that pop off when you complete the various playfield objectives. One could argue that, as the first game in the Crush pinball series, Alien Crush is of higher historical significance, and is therefore a more vital artifact to preserve than Devil’s Crush. This point has merit, but consider this: ¿Por que no los dos?
Folk who know ’bout them there Turbografx games might balk at Double Dungeons‘s inclusion on this list, but of the (surprisingly copious) first-person dungeon crawler games available on the platform, Double Dungeons is easily the best. So called because it supports simultaneous split-screen co-op — an unheard of accomplishment for this type of game in 1989 — Double Dungeons‘s 1990 North American localization was just janky enough to make it enormously charming. Players traverse their choice of 22 different dungeons, battling monsters and gaining gold to upgrade their armor and weapons as they go. The little screen under the view window updates the player with important information, such as “This is a good opportunity!” when getting the jump on a slime, or “it’s dangerous here” when there’s a large bee nearby.
Magical Chase deserves inclusion/preservation for a few reasons, not least of which being the mind-melting price this game tends to go for on eBay. We may not know what the Turbografx-16 mini will cost, but I feel pretty safe wagering that it’ll be less than five hundred actual dollars.
Beyond being a wildly rare collector’s item, Magical Chase is also one of the first “cute ’em up” shooters ever released, mixing Gradius-style gameplay with visuals straight out of a shoujo manga. The game is also a technical marvel, due to its use of parallax background scrolling. Because of the way the Turbografx handles sprite layering, true parallax backgrounds were through to be impossible on the system. Of course, in 2019 we know that magical girls can accomplish anything, even circumventing hardware-level programming limitations.
Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III is the kind of pure arcade action game that folk just don’t seem to make anymore. (I’m sure there’s some obscure modern exception, you know what I’m getting at here. Please don’t @ me.) If you’re wondering why the below screenshot doesn’t feature Bub and Bob, the cute little dinosaur/dragon babies from Bubble Bobble, it’s because they appear as the human children Bubby and Bobby in Parasol Stars. I don’t know either! One can only assume that some rich Bubble Bobble lore was included in the manuals for Parasol Stars. Players control Bubby/Bobby and use their parasol to pick up and throw enemies and/or water droplets. Only a single enemy can be held at once, but multiple droplets can be collected to form a super droplet, which has different special properties depending on which level you’re on. Hurling an enemy/droplet at another enemy causes them to fly off the screen and leave delicious treats behind, which increase the player’s score once collected. It’s simple, cute, colorful, and still a ton of fun.
When you say “classic shooters,” Raiden is one of the first games that comes to mind. The seminal 1990 arcade phenomenon was ported to basically every system under the sun, including the Turbografx-16 in 1991. While not an arcade-perfect port by any means, this version of Raiden maintains the feel (and brutal difficulty) of the original. Players pilot the Raiden Supersonic Attack Fighter, which was reverse engineered from stolen alien technology after the Cranassian invasion of 2090. I’m assuming “Cranassian” is a portmanteau of Cranberry Assassins? Anyway, if you’re going to include a military-focused shooter on the Turbografx-16 mini, Raiden is the one to pick. It’s a little clunkier than some of the far-future shooters that called the PC Engine home, but its historical importance cannot be overstated.
Silent Debuggers is a game that never really got its due, at least in my opinion, and a lot of that has to do with it being kinda shitty. But! It’s an extremely weird, ambitious kind of shitty that I think deserves respect. It’s also one of the first examples of a console-exclusive first person shooter, so stick that in your history book Prof. Nerdo. (Sorry, I don’t know where that came from.) Anyway, let’s allow Silent Debuggers to explain its own greatness, as we did Air Zonk:
Even if it’s not very good, how could a game that produced these screenshots be bad? The player explores a derelict space station overrun with horrors, in an attempt to find some nebulous treasure that buddy Leon assumes is on-board. No one that has ever entered the station has come back out, but y’all will be fine, right? The station map is pretty huge by 1991 standards, and even if the combat isn’t great, the game is successful in maintaining a legitimately spooky atmosphere, thanks in no small part to the proximity sensor that warns of nearby creatures.
Speaking of spooky games with not-so-great combat, y’all remember Splatterhouse? I wasn’t allowed to play games as violent as Splatterhouse when it arrived on the Turbografx-16 in 1990, mainly because I was only three years old at the time, but also because Splatterhouse was the gold standard for horror in early 90s video games. The Turbografx port may not look quite as good as the arcade original, but Splatterhouse still produced some genuinely upsetting scenes of terror and mystery. It’s a game that feels like it’s probably haunted actually; like it won’t stop playing when you turn the console off. It trades heavily on 80s slasher aesthetics and Lovecraftian ideas (not the ones about race, thank God), and by reducing these gruesome sights down to 16 bits, it somehow makes them even more off-putting. Splatterhouse doesn’t really play all that well, but it’s absolutely worth experiencing.
Super Star Soldier
Yes, we do already have a far-future vertical shooter on this list (Blazing Lazers), but Super Star Soldier is just as deserving of inclusion. Konami agrees, seeing as the PC Engine version was already announced for Japan’s microconsole, so why not slap that ish onto the Turbo-mini as well? This game has a bangin’ soundtrack and one of the weapons is a flamethrower — in space — and when you first start it up it says “Normal game!” on the title screen. What further convincing could anyone need?