TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine Mini Review

The long wait is finally over!

After being initially offered as a Prime Day exclusive in the middle of 2019 (yes, 2019), overseas manufacturing has finally caught back up with demand to finally release the TurboGrafx 16 Mini to the public after several setbacks. While initially slated to be delivered on March 23, 2020, the virus attacking the world’s populations had other plans, completely shuttering production in China. The TurboGrafx Mini is the first console that has had its debut directly affected by the pandemic, but was it worth the wait?

But first let’s shed a little history on this niche console before we start rating things, shall we? Released late in the game here in North America, the TurboGrafx 16 was initially slated to compete against the 8 bit NES system. With a 16 bit graphics card and an 8 bit CPU, the Turbografx was superior to the NES, but it ended up being compared to the Sega Genesis, which had a superior processor, third party support and a killer sound card. While novel at the time, the Turbografx system utilized unique HuCards (the games were imprinted on a solid-state credit card sized cartridges) and could also be expanded with a CD-ROM system, but the TurboGrafx 16 still sold terribly in the US. I never owned a TurboGrafx as a kid, but I rented one plenty of times from our local record store, Sweet’s LP’s and Cassettes (RIP). My childhood best friend also had a rental account at Sweet’s and we would spend the nights wherever the rented TurboGrafx was, often staying up to 4am drinking root beer while playing Bonk’s Adventure, Legendary Axe, and Devil’s Crush. While I technically never owned a TurboGrafx, I still rented one enough times to outright buy three TurboGrafx systems (weird economic lesson there, Dad!)

That is, until I bought my very own TurboGrafx system along with 30 games sometime in the late 90’s for $60 which was a killer deal at the time. I played it a few times but it was more of a novelty to me as I was focused on the more modern systems and tech. I just wanted a system that reminded me of the good old days of having no responsibilities and listening to nonstop Def Leppard while prices were still cheap. I still have it in storage to this day and I am only telling you all this to establish my fandom bona fides, proving that I’m no poseur.

But that’s my backstory. Let’s talk about the mini version!

I got my Turbo Mini dropped off on my doorstep at 7am on May 22nd, the Friday morning before a long three day weekend. Amazon dropped this package off alongside a box of ZipFizz and a rolled up Fathead sticker of Guy Fieri playing Stratego (I have been using my Amazon account orders to be used as proof of insanity in case I’m ever accused of a crime). The delivery timing couldn’t be better, and I was ecstatic that my long weekend was starting off right. After I opened the bubbly Amazon envelope, I held the system in my hands for a good twenty minutes, basking in the radioactive orange glow of the box. I’ve always been a sucker for the EXTREME TO THE MAX TurboGrafx marketing (even though most everyone else in America hated it).

My system was packaged carefully and cleanly inside the box. It came with a power cord (with no fucking wall adapter??) an HDMI cable, a system and one controller. I don’t know why the little outlet block is so cost preventative that they chose not to include it with a $100 mini console? Rant aside, I ended up using the one that WAS PACKAGED with my $20 Playstation Mini. So the incomplete power cable thing is stupid, but where it plugs in is downright insulting. I get that it’s neat to keep it looking like the real thing (mounted inside the fake expansion shell on the back) but my God it was an absolute bastard to try to line the power cable up correctly inside about a 1/2″ space of clearance. The other cable input (HDMI) is thankfully out in the open. Once these are all plugged in, put some Saigon Kick on your LP player and get ready to rock out like it’s 1990 all over again.

Seriously, why would you intentionally design this???

The initial game menus are warm and nice, although being displayed in 720p makes the menu lack that trademark HD sheen of the NES and SNES Mini. There’s cheery and light menu music as you peruse the software choices. It isn’t as welcoming as the Nintendo Mini consoles, but it’s still worlds above the darkly lit shitshow menu of the Playstation Mini. The tiny icon in the bottom right corner will let you know which game selection menu you have open (TurboGrafx or PC Engine) and there are several video display and wallpaper options and yes, CRT scan lines are a must.

Once you have set up your video display preferences, all you have to do is scroll through the games until you find the one you want to play. There are 26 TurboGrafx games and 32 PC Engine games to pick from. The high amount of import games might sound daunting, but most of the PC Engine games are shooters or the original ports of American games like Bonk’s Adventure which don’t really need a lot of Japanese reading aptitude anyways. There’s even a Castlevania game in the PC Engine library: Dracula X Chi no Rondo, which is fucking sublime.

It’s incredibly difficult, too.

It’s a killer app for this mini console. Most of my review time was spent between playing Dracula X and Splatterhouse. Trust me, Splatterhouse is still just as fucking boss as it was 30 years ago.

There’s a lot to love here, and a lot of games to choose from. The savestate controls are finally done right, and every game has 4 save slots you can access whenever you want to back up your progress. While I’m bummed that some software choices were not included (no LEGENDARY AXE?), I look forward to spending hundreds of hours ripping through Alien Crush, Blazing Lazers, and J.J. and Jeff. While paying $100 bucks for a console is equivalent to the value of 5 Playstation Minis, I think the value to an average vintage gamer would be more realistically priced at $80 since there are not nearly as many long form RPG’s on the system as the SNES Mini. But if you are a fan of fast paced shooter or bullet hell games, the TurboGrafx 16 Mini system is your Huckleberry.

…and it’s not exactly “mini”, either. It’s practically full sized!

PROS:

  • There’s a B+ selection of games here. if you are annoyed that something is missing, be sure to go through the PC Engine Library too (i.e. China Warrior is The Kung Fu, Daimakaimura is Ghosts and Goblins)
  • The controller length is a goddamn thing of beauty. I can keep the Turbo Mini firmly planted on my entertainment stand and enjoy games from more than 3 feet away, which is a huge improvement in comparison to both of the Nintendo mini consoles.
  • Savestate controls are accessed by pressing the Select and Run buttons together (and not mentioned in the manual, either??). No need to be pressing flimsy buttons on the consoles at all, which is far and away superior to every mini console that came before. Why the fuck did it take so long for someone to figure this out?
  • Cadash! This was my tipping point when it came to getting me to fork over $100 for some 30 year old games. I fucking love Cadash, as long as I can play as the ninja.
  • The polished nostalgia power of the Turbo Mini is strong. I was pleasantly surprised by games like Ninja Spirit, Parasol Stars, and the bizarre homoerotic shooter Cho Aniki.

CONS:

  • The price point is a little steep against the other mini consoles on the market, but if the TurboGrafx was ever your jam, money really is no object when it comes to playing these classics on your 4K HDTV. I think a more realistic price (especially with no wall outlet attachment included) should be around the $80 mark.
  • Only one controller comes with each console, but the option to buy another controller and a TurboTap (more controller ports) are a la carte priced separately (and currently unavailable at the moment). Make your friends watch your eyes gloss over with nostalgia, I guess.
  • Some of the game controls feel “off” or “wrong” sometimes. That might be a system limitation or emulation issue but there’s a lot of cheap hits to be had here. Bonk can’t hit a damn thing with that prehistoric melon of his and I can admit that does get a little old.
  • Some of the PC Engine game choices make no sense. Big sprawling text based Japanese text based RPG games aren’t going to appeal to 99% of Turbo owners. For some reason they decided to include a Japanese text filled SimCity clone in there too, if you’ve ever wanted to run an entire town in a language you don’t understand.
No idea what the fuck is going on here
  • This is clearly a niche rebranding of a niche product made for niche gamers. Based on how little interaction I’m having with folks online about the Turbo Mini, I have yet to see another soul who’s into this thing. If you thought the NES Mini consoles were rare, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
  • No. Fucking. Magical Chase. They refused to pony up the licencing cash for the Turbo game I wanted to play the most. Still hoping that the ROM is still hidden somewhere inside the system after unlocking a certain requirement or something since the real deal is one of the rarest (and expensivest) of Turbo games.

TurboGrafx/PC Engine Mini, by Konami. $99.99, sold exclusively by Amazon.com

Teh Ben is a musical historian that specializes in transcribing Def Leppard basslines and carving beautiful tributes to Robocop using potatoes and toothpicks. Subscribe to his terrible YouTube channel, read his online rants here, or look at all his pretty pictures here.

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