TurboGrafx-16 Mini review – better late than never

The retro gaming landscape has grown exponentially over the last decade.

Part of what is driving that are these nostalgia trips that come in the form of mini gaming consoles from days long past.

Pretty much every name to ever attempt the industry has come out with a machine and now NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 Mini is the latest to join the fray. You know what that means: A TurboGrafx-16 Mini review.

Er… I have never heard of it before – is it more like the Commodore 64 Mini or the Sega Genesis Mini?

Well, for one, the TurboGrafx-16 really has its work cut out for it in the West when it comes to competing with the best retro mini consoles out there.

Much of this is due to the machine’s failure to compete with the NES and, later, the Genesis in those markets.

While it thrived in Japan as the PC Engine, the TurboGrafx-16 is often considered an also-ran in the States and Europe. That said, the games for the system were absolute classics thus making a mini-console a great idea but definitely not anything anyone expected. Thanks to Amazon, it happened, and it is selling like hotcakes.

Why is this?

As I have just explained, the TurboGrafx-16 did not exactly succeed in North America and Europe.

But this mini console effort is one of the best out there.

I have never seen so much value in a tiny machine as well as so much attention paid to what matters to fans as well as people who have never heard of NEC’s console effort.

Nostalgia does not play a factor – it is good because it is good

Reviewing it became hard because so many of these consoles rely upon nostalgia but the TurboGrafx-16 Mini does not have this to help carry it in certain spots.

For example, the inclusion of Snatcher (all in Japanese, sadly) is both a masterstroke and an example of what makes this console hard to judge.

I do not speak Japanese, but I know this game is a big deal. The inclusion here not only helps make the library more robust but also shows that the makers of this console were reaching beyond the known best-of games and more into the deep cuts and b-sides to borrow music terminology. All of that is to say that, maybe, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini does not need your nostalgia to be one of the best retro mini machines out there. And I have to say I am impressed.

Few of these machines are perfect for fans, those who missed out, and newcomers entirely, but this one is great for all three.

You do not need to know anything about Bonk to enjoy it nor do you need to know anything about Alien Crush to enjoy those games for hours. To review this machine, I am going to start with the general packaging and aesthetic as well as the user interface.

You know, how I usually do.

But I am really going to focus on the library of games on offer here which is easily one of the largest in a mini retro console.

Onto the real deal – well beyond my expectations

TurboGrafx-16 Mini's interface

All great but… Where is Cratermaze? This is my one and only complaint

Here is what I think of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini:

From the start, the console’s design is true not only in terms of the product design but the packaging itself. This is becoming par for the course in the retro console market and I am not shocked to see that here. What is surprising is how large the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is particularly when you consider it calls itself a “mini.”

Maybe you could call it presence? The console definitely takes up real estate even though, like other machines, it is relatively sparse in terms of actual hardware inside the plastic shell. If the packaging is your thing and a detailed reproduction gets you going then they have done their job in that area.

Everything has a nice build quality to it, controllers included. It is amazing how much of the 1980s console era it evokes in its packaging and overall design and build. Just such a great job on every front here. Nintendo may have set the standards in this device category, but others are catching up, matching them, and, in this case, maybe even surpassing them on some fronts.

The user interface is clean, simple to use, and fittingly retro enough. That is a good thing because there are 57 games included on this machine.

You read that right. And not all of them are in English, as I touched upon very briefly in the introduction. The collection is comprehensive thus a simplified menu management system makes sense from multiple standpoints.

The game library includes versions of titles from the TurboGrafx-16 North American console release as well as its rare CD-ROM add-on.

Outside of North America, we get ports of games from the Japanese PC Engine, PC Engine CD, the PC Engine CD Arcade add-on, and the SuperGrafx. In many ways, this is not just the TurboGrafx-16 Mini but, instead, the entire NEC effort.

I know what you are thinking, “58 games, but how many of them are worth it?” The vast majority is my short answer. My much longer answer is that there is something for everyone and I will explain how. In the broadest contours of my impressions, this console has it all for the true fan of retro gaming.

Alien Crush for the TurboGrafx-16, now also available on the Mini

Not as popular as Devil’s Crush, but I can guarantee the Alien table is a hidden gem…

Pinball, shooters, platformers, puzzlers, adventure titles, and on and on. No one held back when it came to putting games on this system and, instead of a shovel full of crap with a few gems in between, we get pure retro gold. A consequence of this is that the console is great for newcomers and “discovery.” What is this game? What is going on with that artwork? The whole experience is one that is both new and old at the same time. Sure, it is made for fans, but it is great for everyone else.

Hudson Soft makes a strong appearance here. We have got Bomberman out the wazoo and tons of Bonk (and his descendant, Zonk), but we have also got a must-play Castlevania title and the fellow goth game, Ghouls’n’Ghosts.

While Ghouls might be a game you have played multiple ports of before, the Castlevania game is built from the ground up for the TurboGrafx-16 and really shows how it was different from the NES. More akin to a “super” NES than anything else, the TurboGrafx-16’s graphics are still beautiful even now. Hudson’s titles, in particular, have stood the test of time and it is not hard to imagine an alternative universe wherein NEC became Nintendo and Hudson Soft’s characters occupy much of the cultural space that Nintendo’s do. But history did not go that way.

For fans of shooters, we have got the Gradius games which are tough but rewarding in their own way. If you are a fan of shooters, by the way, this game has a ton of them with R-Type also joining the fray.

The pinball game Alien Crush is a stand-out title in multiple ways, not least of which is its interesting and compelling take on pinball. Of all of the games I played, this one was particularly interesting because it is a genre that is pretty much DOA today. This is such a good example of how to do this kind of game that I can’t help but hope someone tries to do a modern take on it.

The Neutopia games are two other titles that I think will appeal to gamers familiar with Nintendo’s work but who want to try something a little different out. Unashamedly, these games are Zelda clones but are good ones at that.

You are allowed to copy if you do it almost as well as the original, and the Neutopia games definitely evoke classic Zelda while themselves being both classic and retro. Games like Military Madness are your run-of-the-mill hex-based strategy games but, on this console, stand out among the platforming and shooters that dominate here. It is a great entre into the broader world of Japanese strategy games.

But with all of these games, the omissions do stand out. These are not really complaints for me as I do not have any attachment to these titles, but I can understand how, from an archival and historical perspective, leaving these out does not make much sense.

The first game is the launch title Keith Courage. It is not included on here and, though not on the level of Sonic or Mario, it is a game that is compelling enough to perhaps occupy a spot on here. But the real exclusion that is worth mentioning, and the one that is the most heartbreaking for true fans of this system, is the absence of The Legendary Axe.

Often cited as “the game” for the TurboGrafx-16 when it came out, the game is a jumping-off point for many alternative reality theories in which NEC’s console took off and dominated in the West.

A mixture of Castlevania and Mario, this game is a true classic even now. The action is intense, the music is great, the graphics are standard-setting for their time, and it is a game that needed to be on here. Why Power Golf and not The Legendary Axe? Probably something to do with licensing, and that just stinks.

Final thoughts – expensive, but it is totally worth it

A thumbs up image made of many little thumbs ups.

Not enough thumbs up, lol…

Really, though, the complaints are minor when it comes to this system. Aside from the relative difficulty in obtaining one at a fair price right now, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is a must-own device… I would just wait until you can find it at a reasonable price AND brand new straight from Amazon.

Right now the market is flooded with resellers but, you know what they say, the market’s demand tells more stories than marketing hype ever could. The verdict is in: It is a good machine, and it is one you should own, whether you had anything to do with NEC’s console dreams or not.

Till next (maybe) retro review!


Turbografx-16 mini’s full game list:

Air Zonk
Alien Crush
Blazing Lazers
Bomberman ‘93
Bonk’s Revenge
Chew Man Fu
Dungeon Explorer
J.J. & Jeff
Lords of Thunder
Military Madness
Moto Roader
Neutopia II
New Adventure Island
Ninja Spirit
Parasol Stars
Power Golf
Soldier Blade
Space Harrier
Splatterhouse (TurboGrafx-16 Version)
Victory Run
Ys Book I & II

Original article