There's been a lot of talk lately in the video game community thanks to the Nintendo versus Sega novel Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation, but it's unfair to overlook the third runner in that 1990s console race, the TurboGrafx-16. The TG-16 celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, so to mark the occasion you know you can count on Jeremy Parish at USGamer to recount the console's history, outline why it succeeded in some regions but failed in others, and remember the different variations of the base hardware. It's an interesting read and a great overview of just what happened to keep the console from gaining traction in the United States. Bonk just wasn't enough.
Yet this focus on blazing action and surreal quirkiness proved to be a sort of overspecialization when it came time for the PC Engine to launch in America as the TurboGrafx-16 in the summer of 1989, two years after the system's Japanese debut. American gamers tend to gravitate more toward realism, character-driven action, and sports: Areas that PC Engine developers had been slow to build in. Despite the console boasting a healthy library of releases in its home market, when it came time to focus on the West, NEC America found itself in desperate need of viable releases, and that showed from the very beginning.
"The bundled game we got, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, might be the worst pack-in game in history," says TG16 enthusiast Marshall Martin. "At least, it was the worst until that point. Much too 'Japanese' for a seven-year-old to appreciate. It seems like the best games weren't localized, too. NEC probably gave up on the U.S. after what I'm assuming was a really weak launch."
I never had a TG-16 when I was a kid, nor did I really want one aside from a curiosity about the side-scrolling platformer Bonk franchise which I really wanted to play in the same way that I wanted to play the Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Sega Genesis, but remained a Super Mario fan at heart. The portable TurboExpress also interested me because it could play the exact same game cards as the home console, plus it sported a television tuner accessory. To a cash-strapped kid with an affinity for TV, that was a masterstroke of design. The prices were too steep for all of that gear though and there were not enough games on the console beyond Bonk to justify buying one when Nintendo continued to crank out so many golden titles that demanded my time, so I let the TG-16 go until the Bonk trilogy turned up on the Wii Virtual Console years later. I grew up playing the TurboGrafx library vicariously through Electronic Gaming Monthly. In the end, I made the right decision.
By the way... Keith Courage in Alpha Zones: shouldn't there be a "the" in there somewhere? Keith Courage in the Alpha Zones? That always bugged me.