The recently announced TurboGrafx-16 Mini has many of us looking back at NEC’s failed yet pretty darn cool console. You might remember it as the also-ran of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis era, or you might even recall some of its more popular titles like Bonk and Cadash. Whether or not you had a chance to play it, you are probably familiar with other series like Adventure Island that made their way to other consoles. In short, the TurboGrafx-16 was no joke and, indeed, had a library of amazing games.
Of course, there is a whole Japanese counterpart with a different name called the PC Engine. I will cover that in another list. In the meanwhile, here are what I think are by far the 5 best TurboGrafx-16 games. This should help get you pumped for the release next year of the mini console, which will have many of these titles on offer.
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5. The Legendary Axe (developed by Victor Musical Industries, published by NEC 1989)
One of the TurboGrafx-16’s launch titles, The Legendary Axe puts you in the role of Gogan the barbarian, who has to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend named Flare. It is pretty basic stuff, but the gameplay is anything but that. It is a mixture of action platforming and a little bit of RPG elements.
This game was so compelling that many people wondered why it was not the pack-in title with the system. The game is a little basic by today’s standards, but it is nonetheless a really fun retro game. Tough without being maddening, The Legendary Axe is a great introduction to the TurboGrafx-16 system and remains so even today.
4. Devil’s Crush (developed by Compile, published by NEC 1990)
You probably would not consider a pinball game to be the perfect console experience but Devil’s Crush is an amazingly great game with a rocking soundtrack and weird, Geiger-esque visuals that firmly place in the 1980s hair-metal era. Beyond all of that, though, the game is just bonkers good and really, really does justice to the console format.
You will be more concerned with points and advancement than anything else once you get the hang of this title. A true study in just how different the games on the TurboGrafx-16 could be, Devil’s Crush deserves to be praised and it is a shame stuff like this really did not make an appearance on the other systems to this degree of quality.
This and The Legendary Axe are probably the best games to get started with if you are an older gamer from the day that never got to experience the TGX-16’s technology.
3. Ys: Book I & II (developed by Alfa System, published by Hudson Soft 1990)
The beginnings of the saga, Ys: Book I & and II is a remake of the original games compiled into one game. The quest is basic – you need to retrieve the 6 books of Ys – but what makes this game a standout for both its time and now is the unique gameplay that underpins it all.
Story is front and center in Ys and the interface clues you into that really quick. Beautiful, large drawings accompany some scenes and everything has a manga-inspired feel to it when it comes to the artwork. But the gameplay is really strange by some standards and, while utilizing all of the stats and accouterments associated with RPGs, might not be for everyone.
Basically you run into enemies to defeat them and that is the basic gist of it. An amazingly classic game that is unique on multiple levels, (again) it might not be for everyone, but it is certainly one of the best titles on the entire system.
2. Parasol Stars (developed by Ocean, published by Working Designs 1991)
Also known as Bubble Bobble III, Parasol Stars has eight main worlds and seven rounds per world with only your parasol – or umbrella – as your weapon. You can open it to block, deflect, glide down, and throw things. The central conceit here is an action game mixed with a platformer and puzzle game.
It takes a lot of the same skills that make you good at each genre and blends them in such a way, that you never really notice the influences. Naturally, starting from the Bubble Bobble series as a premise helps Parasol Stars tremendously, but it is also a game that could easily stand on its own.
Bubby and Bobby in their human forms do not disappoint, they keep providing lots of fun!
TV Sports Hockey (developed by Victor Interactive Software, published by NEC Home Electronics 1991)
A really cool hockey sim game for TurboGrafx-16 that combines arcade style gameplay with a pretty detailed hockey game. There are cutscenes to introduce changes in gameplay, as well as a pretty basic but easy to understand interface.
Hockey was not really the biggest title on consoles, but TV Sports Hockey made it a big deal on the TGX-16. A good game for fans of older sports titles, but gamers that have never really enjoyed that genre will not have their mind changed by this title.
Bonk’s Adventure (developed by Red Company/Atlus, published by NEC Home Electronics 1990)
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, every console that was serious about its effort had to have a mascot as the public face of the system. Nintendo pioneered this in many ways with Mario and Sega continued this trend with the marketing study that still is Sonic the Hedgehog. So what was NEC to do to make sure that their console, the TurboGrafx-16, also had a face that people could instantly associate with the system and the brand.
The company tried this initially with a game called Keith Courage, but it did not exactly stick, despite being a pretty great game by all accounts. That is when Bonk entered the stage. A cave man with an oversized head and that distinct Hudson Soft art style, his conceit was using his head to dispatch with enemies and by using meat-based power ups to give him a boost in levels. He could also spin jump to extend his jump’s glide time.
A totally charming, if somewhat basic, action platformer, Bonk’s Adventure would spawn two sequels and a spinoff series, thus solidifying his position as the console’s mascot.
Alright, number one is next, just one scroll down away… 😉
1. Cratermaze (developed and published by Hudson Soft; JP 1989, NA 1990)
Literally bury your enemies alive in kawaii-manga glory with Cratermaze. Like most legendary titles that fly under the radar, this game goes by many different names depending on the localization you are playing. All of them are based on the Japanese original Doraemon: Meikyuu Daisakusen, a title released by Hudson Soft.
Fun fact: The game also saw a release on the NES under the unfortunate title Booby Kids. Apparently, this was a riff on the word “booby trap” but, still, one cannot help but wonder what kind of “jug” heads came up with this title. Changes to the NES version include replacing the crucifix that appears above enemies buried alive and other aesthetic changes (putting religious imagery in an NES release was a big no-no back in the day).
Upon first glance, it has elements of Bomberman mixed in with the maze madness you would normally associate with classic arcade titles from the Atari era. That is probably not a shock since Hudson Soft also happens to own the Bomberman IP as well.
Released as Cratermaze when it made its way West (dropping the iconic Doraemon along the way), the game involves running around a maze-like world filled with enemies that you have to literally bury alive. You can get different powerups to make your job easier and, as levels progress, things get increasingly complex in what can only be described as an action-puzzle game with some serious strategy overtones.
Given how much this game delivers on every level (combined with its shamefully underappreciated status at release), there is little denying that this is one of the most underrated games of its era and the best title on the system.
So retro folks, another retro journey is over, but what about you? Did you own a TurboGrafx-16? What did you think of the system? Let me know your favorite memories – and games – in the comments below.
Till next retro list!