You know how the video game industry works: if one of something is good, then twenty of something is twenty times as good, right? This fuzzy math isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since subgenres arise as a result of this neverending game of follow-the-leader. If you enjoy the odd FPS, for instance, chances are that you can thank DOOM or Wolfenstein 3D for helping get everyone excited at some point in the past.
It’s not just software, either. After the NES Classic Edition did well a few years back, we saw a tide of mini consoles including Nintendo’s own SNES Classic, Sony’s PlayStation Classic and Sega’s Genesis Mini. And speaking of minis, we’ve now got a TurboGrafx-16 Mini micro-console from Konami to talk about, so let’s do so while we hope that one day we’ll see a Saturn or Nintendo 64 mini. One can dream, right?
If you’re a gamer of a certain vintage (*ahem*) then chances are you’ve seen one of these before. The TurboGrafx-16 Mini is a half-sized version of the original and bigger TurboGrafx-16, NEC’s attempt to repackage Hudson Soft’s smaller Japanese PC Engine for Western gamers and was released around the same time as Sega’s 16-bit Genesis console. 1989 was a very good year for launching new hardware, it seems.
Bite-Sized Turbo Action
Included in the box is a stunning, albeit smaller, recreation of the original TurboGraphx-16 console that now runs on a Micro-B USB connection that plugs into a standard USB adapter (not included, oddly). In this case, you’re going to have to fight with a goofy plastic back cover, which is accurate to the original console but still a pain in the butt regardless. Of course, we can’t forget the single included controller, also recreated in all its turbo-enhanced glory, which is also now a USB powered device. The Turbo Mini only supports two controllers, which could be an issue on a platform that supports up to 5 simultaneous players – more of this below.
Once you’ve got everything hooked up, including an HDMI connection, you’re ready to hit the switch and travel back in time’s to experience a slice of gaming heaven you probably missed the first time around. As they like to say, better late than never. Let’s take a look at what’s included in a library approaching 60 “different” titles.
The Games: East Meets West
The PC Engine was definitely more of a thing in Japan than the West. The upside is that the Mini includes nearly all of the relevant games from the TurboGrafx-16. You’ve got your Bonk, your Zonk, your Lords of Thunder, your Blazing Lazers and so on; this was a pretty shooter-heavy console, so a lot of the entries that are worth trying are from that genre. Classic arcade fans are the target audience here; there are fantastic ports of R-Type and Space Harrier, for instance, and it would take a cold heart indeed to not fall for shooters like Lords of Thunder and Soldier Blade.
More esoteric choices include the original Ys Book 1 and 2, which are a fairly big chunk of rudimentary Zelda-style adventure and amazing soundtracks, and the Neutopia games, which are a somewhat more modern take on the Zelda concept. If you can get a few controllers – or a TurboTap accessory – together, the Mini also pays homage to the TurboGrafx-16’s love of multiplayer, including winners like Dungeon Explorer and two different flavors of Bomberman.
There are some obvious omissions, of course, such as the curious lack of Gate of Thunder, Legendary Axe, Devil’s Crush and not all of Bonk’s “adventures” made the cut, but as is often the case with these easily modded micro-consoles that should be easy enough to rectify when the Internet has some time to crack this baby open.
Remember when I said two? Let’s explain that a little bit. See, the Western games on this machine are roughly half of what the library promises. The other half is a bunch of untranslated Japanese fare. That’s actually not as terrible an idea as you might think; the PC Engine’s heavy focus on arcade action means you hardly ever have to worry about not being able to read Japanese characters to get the most out of these games. Cho Aniki and Spriggan are beautiful shooters, Fantasy Zone and Gradius are classics without peer, as is Akumajo Dracula X Chi no Rondo (Castlevania: Rondo of Blood), easily one of the highlights of the pre-Metroidvania entries in the Belmont franchise.
Of course, there are other obscure but equally impressive titles such as Valkyrie no Densetsu, Bomberman: Panic Bomber, and highly coveted Arcade CD-ROM² shoot-em-up import Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire; the latter of which is considered one of the rarest games ever made.
Some games work better than others, though, as sidescrolling brawler The Genji and the Heike Clans is a great time…if you play it with a guide, since it’s loaded with secrets. Bizarrely, there’s also untranslated versions of Jaseiken Necromancer, an RPG, and Snatcher, an adventure game from Hideo Kojima, both of which are virtually unplayable if you can’t read Japanese. Snatcher’s inclusion is odd given there’s a perfectly serviceable translation of the game that exists from its 1994 release on the Sega CD platform.
You win some, you lose some, I suppose, but the inclusion of these games does a lot for the Mini’s library and you’re bound to find some winners that you weren’t familiar with if you take the time to poke around and sample what’s available.
Playing all of this stuff on the Mini’s included USB controller feels relatively authentic thanks to its great D-pad, responsive buttons and built-in turbofire switches; one nice touch is that, unlike many of these Mini consoles, the controller’s 10-foot cable length is generous and you won’t have to futz about with where you place the console to avoid yanking it off the entertainment center. You’ve also got your usual array of aspect ratio options and backgrounds that you can mess around with to suit your needs, as well as built-in save states that might come in handy when dealing with tougher sections.
In terms of expansions, accessory maker Hori intended to have a bevvy of peripherals ready to turbo-charge your Mini, including the necessary 5-player multi-tap that were intended to be released at launch, but have been delayed under further notice. We don’t blame them but it would’ve been nice to gather some friends for some intense Bomberman fun.
We won’t talk about the elephant in the room with Mini consoles in general, which is that game emulation is a more effective and complete solution to the “problem” of playing retro games, because, well…legal issues and all that. In order to properly talk about the viability of this or any micro-console we have to pretend that emulation doesn’t exist. Of course, supporters also argue that Mini consoles honor the original platforms, in both look and style, as well as provide less, ahem, adventurous gamers a chance to more easily play a nice chunk of their respective libraries without much fuss and a lot more game time.
In Conclusion: TurboTastic
Let’s go that route and say the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is one of the best examples of this concept so far; it’s got a great library, the associated hardware is well-made and pleasant to use and, back cover aside, it’s simple to set up and play. This makes sense when you realize that M2, the same company that developed the Sega Genesis Mini, also had their hands in this system as well, right down to the motherboard itself. Those with fond memories of the underrated original or missed out the first time around, the TurboGraphx-16 Mini is both a solid choice for quality retro goodness and history lesson in one package.