Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
For information on the Japanese version of this console, see PC Engine
The TurboGrafx 16 was a video game console released by NEC in 1989, for the North American market. The system also saw a very limited release in the UK in 1990 as "Turbografx" (sans the "16" in the title). TurboGrafx-16 was the North American (European) version of NEC's popular PC Engine video game console.
The TurboGrafx-16 was an eight-bit system with a 16-bit graphics chip, capable of displaying 512 colors at once. The TurboGrafx-16, unusually, used a thin memory card storage medium called a HuCard (also referred to as "TurboChip" in North America), instead of the then-standard cartridge format. "HuCard" (Hudson + Card) was derived from Hudson Soft, who co-developed the system with NEC. The cards were the size of a credit card (but slightly thicker) and thus were somewhat similar to the card format used by the Sega Master System for budget games. Unlike the Sega Master System, however, the TurboGrafx-16 used the cards exclusively.
Mascots Bonk and Zonk
Bonk, a "cave dude with an attitude", was the most visible face for TG-16 and was NEC's answer to Nintendo's Mario and Sega's Sonic. Bonk, of course, starred in a series of video games (including many of TG-16's most popular titles, such as Bonk's Adventure and its sequel, Bonk's Revenge). Later, TTi would adopt Air Zonk (a cyborg-Bonk who starred in a horizontal shooter of the same name) as the mascot for TurboDuo. Despite the recent popularity of "Johnny Turbo vs. FEKA" advertisements, Johnny Turbo was never the mascot for TurboDuo and was not featured in any TurboDuo promotional material (outside of the comic book ads, of course). While the Johnny Turbo ads are quite amusing, their significance has been overstated and is now the stuff of urban legend. Air Zonk, not Johnny Turbo, was featured on the TurboDuo console packaging, countless advertisements, countless brochures and catalogs, trade show appearances (CES, E3, etc.)
Bonk is the localized name for TG-16's mascot. In Japan, Bonk is known as "PC-Genjin" (a play on "PC-Engine"). Similarly, Air Zonk is known as "PC Denjin Punkic Cyborg" in Japan (again, another play on PC-Engine).
TurboGrafx-CD: Pioneering CD-ROM console
The TurboGrafx-16 was the first video game console in North America to have a CD-ROM peripheral (following the pioneering spirit of the PC-Engine CD-ROM add-on in Japan, although the FM Towns Marty was the first console to have a built-in CD-ROM). The TurboGrafx-CD debuted at a prohibitive $399.99 (and did not include a pack-in game). Monster Lair (a.k.a. Wonderboy III: Monster Lair) and Fighting Street (a.k.a. Street Fighter) were the initial TG-CD titles. Ys Book I & II soon followed and was instantly recognized as the "must-have" TG-CD game (and continues to be highly regarded today). The TG-CD catalog grew at a snail's pace compared to the library of HuCard (TurboChip) titles.
The TG-CD came packaged in a very large box, 85% of which was filled with protective styrofoam inserts. By some accounts, no other video game console (or peripheral) has been packaged in such an overkill manner. To be fair, though, the TG-CD did come with a large plastic "carrying case" that could comfortably hold the TG-16 base system, TG-CD, all AC adapters, 2–3 controllers, and a few games. Still, it was a titanic box.
Rivalry with Nintendo's NES and Sega's Genesis
Initially, the TurboGrafx was marketed as a direct competitor with the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and early television ads (i.e. airing on WPIX in autumn of 1989) touted TG-16's superior graphics and sound. These early television ads featured a brief montage of TG-16's launch titles: Blazing Lazers, China Warrior, Vigilante, Alien Crush, etc. Of course, TG-16 was also in direct competition with the Sega Genesis, which launched in North America shortly (?) after TG-16 (Note: the launch dates are debatable; some sources claim that Sega beat NEC to the U.S. market; part of the confusion, perhaps, lies in the fact that TG-16 was test-marketed in major U.S. cities first, then given a national launch). The Genesis launch was accompanied by an ad campaign mocking NEC's claim that the TurboGrafx-16 was the first 16-bit console. The Genesis' Japanese counterpart, the Sega Mega Drive, was less popular than the NEC console, the PC Engine. In North America, however, the situation was reversed, and the Genesis is mainly remembered there for its rivalry with the Super Nintendo, not with the TurboGrafx 16.
Both Sega and NEC released CD peripherals (Sega CD versus Turbo CD), color handhelds (Sega Game Gear versus TurboExpress), and even "TV Tuners" for their respective systems. While Sega outperformed NEC in North America, both companies' peripherals and handhelds were not terribly popular overall.
In 1994, comic book-like ads featuring Johnny Turbo were published by TTi (a company jointly owned by NEC and Hudson). The ads mocked Sega, in particular the Sega CD.
Several variations on the TurboGrafx were released throughout the 1990s.
In 1992 TTi (Turbo Technologies Inc.) released the TurboDuo, the North American version of the Japanese Duo. The system combined the TurboGrafx-16 and an enhanced version of the CD-ROM drive (the "Super CD-ROM²") into a single unit. The system could play audio CDs, CD+Gs, CD-ROM2 and Super CD games as well as standard HuCards. The Super System Card required for some games when using the original CD add-on as well as some of the Japanese variants of the TurboGrafx was built in to the Duo rather than requiring the card to be inserted at all times when playing CD games. The original pack-in for the Turbo Duo included the system, one control pad, an AC adapter, RCA cables, Ys book I & II a CD-ROM2 title, a Super CD disc including Bonks Adventure, Bonk's Revenge, Gates of Thunder and a secret version of Bomberman accessible via an easter egg. The system was also packaged with one random HuCard game which varied from system to system (note: Actually, Dungeon Explorer was the original HuCard pack-in for TurboDuo, although many titles were eventually used, such as IREM's Ninja Spirit and NAMCO's Final Lap Twin and then eventually a random pick).
The TurboExpress was a portable version of the TurboGrafx, released in 1990 for $299.99 (the price would soon drop to $249.99, and by 1992 it was $199.99). It was the most advanced handheld of its time and could play all the TG-16's HuCard games. Its Japanese equivalent was the PC Engine GT. It had a 2.6-inch screen, the same as the original Game Boy, and could display 64 sprites at once, 16 per scanline, in 482 colors. It had eight kilobytes of RAM. The Turbo ran its two 6502 CPUs at 7.2 megahertz. The optional "TurboVision" TV tuner included RCA audio/video input, allowing you to use TurboExpress as a video monitor. The "TurboLink" allowed two-player play. Falcon, a flight simulator, included a "head-to-head" dogfight mode that could only be accessed via TurboLink. However, very few TG-16 games offered co-op play modes especially designed with the TurboExpress in mind.
Struggles in North America
Initially, the TurboGrafx-16 sold well. However, the console suffered from a lack of third-party support from software developers and publishers in North America. In Japan the PC Engine platform received a lot of support from companies such as Konami who also produced a lot of games for the Nintendo's systems, however due to Nintendo's contracts with developers stipulating that if a game was released on the NES, it couldn't appear on any other console and Nintendo did not look positively at all on publishers who released games for other platforms by punishing them with "chip shortages" and other issues around the holiday seasons. This practice was later judged illegal, but while it was in effect, it caused many developers to pick the immensely popular NES over the upstart NEC console. As a result a catch-22 situation arose. Many publishers would only risk taking a chance on the Turbo if the system were more popular, and the system had difficulty becoming more popular since it had only a small handful of North American publishers with most of the system's publishing efforts being conducted by NEC, TTI, and Hudson Soft.
The TurboGrafx-16 was originally marketed by NEC Home Electronics based in Wood Dale, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. As the system gradually underperformed the duties of managing the platform were handed over to a new company formed of former NEC Home Electronics employees and former Hudson Soft employees called Turbo Technologies Incorporated (TTI), based in Los Angeles.
Both NEC Home Electronics and TTI had marketing issues and disputes with NEC of Japan over marketing dollars and how focus their promotions. NEC of Japan had great success within Japan by concentrating their promotion and marketing focus on only the largest cities in the country. However, in North America the population is far more spread out and diverse and when the same philosophy was used by buying up advertisements in and having representatives to help with retail and promotion only in the largest metro areas of North America it resulted in lack of stock, and public awareness of the platform outside of major metropolitan areas. As a result the system was far more competitive and inordinately popular in certain local markets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles while in smaller metropolitan areas the platform failed miserably.
By 1991 Sega Genesis had surpassed the TurboGrafx-16, putting NEC's console in a distant third place in the 16-bit battle (Nintendo dominated the market with the NES and the newly released SNES at the time). It became rather difficult for the relatively untested NEC to convince consumers who already owned a Sega or Nintendo system to give the TG-16 a chance. The biggest problem was that the best titles and the vast majority of the software that made the system such a phenominal success in Japan were almost entirely produced for the CD add-on. The TurboGrafx CD ROM peripheral was widely considered overpriced (debuting at nearly $399.00 as an add-on, eventually dropping to $149.99 when TurboDuo was launched), and the system was hard to find outside of large cities. As a result, few consumers bought the add-on CD system and the standalone TurboGrafx lacked the quality titles that made the system so popular in Japan.
TTI tried to address this issue by releasing a combination system called the TurboDuo, unfortunately at $299.99 the cost of the system was still too steep for most American consumers. To try to offset this NEC included seven pack-in titles and a coupon book but it still wasn't enough to lure in much of a mainstream audience.
Many of the CD games for the Turbo platform were fantastic and innovative but the cost of the add-on system was a deterrent to buyers. Some of the best Japanese games, such as Dracula X, Ys 4, Far East of Eden 2 and Snatcher, never made it to North American shelves.
Meanwhile, the TurboExpress suffered from short battery life and a hefty price tag. Furthermore, it was fairly common for TurboExpress systems to have missing pixels in their displays, due to the fact that TFT LCD manufacturing technology was still in its infancy.
TurboGrafx-16 and TurboDuo Magazines
L.F.P. (Larry Flynt Publications) published 14 bi-monthly issues of TurboPlay Magazine (June/July 1990 – August/September 1992) dedicated to covering TG-16 and TG-CD hardware and software. It was a spin-off publication of VG&CE (Video Games & Computer Entertainment), a popular multi-platform gaming magazine of the late 1980s / early 1990s. Every issue of TurboPlay was 32 pages in length and a yearly subscription cost $9.95. An advertisement for TurboPlay was included with every TG-16 console.
Sendai published four quarterly issues of TURBOFORCE magazine (September 1992 – Spring 1993). TTi had editorial control over TURBOFORCE and used it to promote the launch of the new TurboDuo console. Unlike TurboPlay and DuoWorld, TURBOFORCE was devoid of critical game reviews.
L.F.P. published three bi-monthly issues of DUOWORLD magazine (July/August 1993 – November/December 1993) before it was cancelled. DuoWorld was very similar in format to TurboPlay, but with a focus on the newly released TurboDuo console (i.e. TurboMail and TurboNews became DuoMail and DuoNews, respectively).
NEC also published a handful of newsletters (TurboEdge) and sent them to folks who sent in their TG-16 warranty cards / subscribed to TurboPlay. These newsletters were black and white, mostly text, and 4–8 pages in length.
TG-16 on TV
During TG-16's summer-autumn 1989 launch, short TV ads started to appear. This advertising campaign would expand and become more extensive in 1990 with NEC promoting Bonk as the next big thing in video games.
In addition to advertising in 1990, TG-16, TG-CD, and TurboExpress were briefly covered on PBS' Computer Chronicles (two episodes, including "Battle of the Consoles"). Later, when TurboDuo was launched, it was featured in an episode on "CD-ROM and multimedia software".
Also, Video Power, a corny video game show (live action gameshow + cartoon) syndicated throughout the country in the early 1990s, featured footage from video games at the end of many episodes. Blazing Lazers, Legendary Axe (and perhaps other titles) made it into two episodes. Video Power rarely featured TG-16 games (focusing on NES and Genesis, instead).
Today, the system is mainly known for its much-vaunted shooting games, its competition with the Sega Genesis, and advertising flop Johnny Turbo. After the TurboGrafx died, NEC decided to concentrate on the Japanese market, where it had had much more success. In 1994, the 32-bit PC-FX was released, exclusively for Japan.
There is a niche collector's market for TurboGrafx games and Japanese imports, mainly centered around the system's many arcade ports of shooters. Spurring this interest is the fact that Turbo ports from the arcade tended to be closer to the original than Sega Genesis/Sega Mega Drive or NES versions, in terms of graphics and sound. Hudson Soft also released some shooters which were exclusive to the Turbo, such as Air Zonk, Gate of Thunder, Soldier Blade, Super Star Soldier, Star Parodia (Japan). The most famous North American shooter is probably Blazing Lazers (Gunhead in Japan) and was featured in all of the early television ads.
After the demise of TTi, Turbo Zone Direct (TZD), mail-order company, became the de facto source for new TG-16 / DUO hardware, accessories and software.
The brief "Johnny Turbo" series of advertisements have become part of gaming's pop culture. Many folks without direct experience with TG-16 consoles or its games have heard of the infamous "Johnny Turbo".
- CPU: 8-bit HuC6280 @ 3.58 or 7.16 MHz (switchable by software) - Hudson Soft's improved clone of the 65C02 . Features integrated bankswitching hardware (driving a 21-bit external address bus from a 6502-compatible 16-bit address bus), an integrated general-purpose I/O port, a timer, block transfer instructions, and dedicated move instructions for communicating with the HuC6260 VDC.
- Work RAM: 8 KB
- VDC: 16-bit (source of their misleading "16 bit graphics" slogan, comparing to 16-bit CPU systems) HuC6260. Port-based I/O similar to the TMS99xx VDP family
VRAM: 64 KB
- Resolution: Programmable, 8×1 to 512×242. Most games used 256×224 and 320×240 sized displays.
- Sprites: 64 entries in sprite table; maximum 16 sprites per scanline.
- Background planes: 1
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