The Turbo Grafx-16 may have belly-flopped onto American shores and died a swift death, but it found smash success overseas under the name PC Engine. Hudson and NEC’s video game machine that was designed to challenge the NES/Famicom sported a quirky name — it was from the era of video game consoles that masqueraded as 8-bit home computers — but its library is one that is remarkably strong and patently Japanese. The PC Engine excelled at the 2D shooter; only the SEGA Saturn managed to host shmups of such quality and number. In fact, shmups could have very easily been the heart of this X-List.
Instead, I decided to pluck representatives from different genres to showcases what this lil’ semi-16-bit system can do (it sported a 8-bit CPU similar to the NES, but a powerful 16-bit graphics chip that let it eventually compete with the likes of the Super NES and SEGA Genesis). The PC Engine’s unique architecture didn’t end there; the system’s games came on credit card-size HuCards and later on the burgeoning CD format for the CD-ROM add-on (and PC Engine Duo combined system). The PC Engine, in a way, has elements of the 8-, 16-, and 32-bit systems.
From hop-and-bop mascot action to hardcore one-on-one fighting action, here are the best PC Engine games that serve as a marvelous introduction to the system’s varied, and quirky, video game catalog.
Video games and pinball co-existed in arcades throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s, but whenever a manufacturer combined the two interactive electronic entertainment genres, the results were always less than stellar (see Baby Pac-Man). Naxat’s Alien Crash changed that with its tight gameplay and Alien-inspired aesthetic.
The sequel, 1990′s Devil’s Crash (known in the U.S. as Devil’s Crush), built upon Alien Crash‘s foundation with a three-level high table, three flipper sets, and a hellish atmosphere. There are tons of demonic entities to dispatch –and hidden areas to discover — in this hybrid pinball-shooter that’s one of the most addictive titles on the platform.
Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Konami’s Dracula X: Rondo of Blood is the pinnacle of the old-school, stair-climbing Castlevania gameplay that ruled the 8- and 16-bit eras and, miraculously, also laid the foundation for what would become the open-castle adventures that would become popularized with by Symphony of the Night and its sons. Rondo features your standard old school gameplay featuring whips, knives, holy water, and other series staples, but ups with it incredibly detailed environments, multiple pathways and secret areas, and one of the greatest soundtracks to grace videogamedom.
Rondo’s audio bliss is a product of the game’s media format: CD. The extra memory that the discs delivered not only facilitated a stellar score, but an incredible anime-style opening cinematic that explains why Richter Belmont must grab the Vampire Killer and ascend Dracula’s castle. Richter’s story continues in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Rondo’s breakthrough PlayStation follow-up which came four years later.
Garou Densetsu Special
Street Fighter II’ may be the PC Engine’s most talked about fighting game, but that doesn’t it’s the only one worth your retro dollars. A handful of Neo Geo ports appeared on NEC and Hudson’s machine, but none match the quality and playability of Garou Densetsu Special.
This port represents the closest thing to the Neo Geo experience on mid-’90s non-SNK hardware. Garou Densetsu Special‘s color pallette and audio are noticeably weaker than their Big Red counterparts’, but it keeps the tight 2D fighting action, surprise hidden character, and unique line sways. Grab a six-button controller or two and have a blast.
PC Genjin 2
Half-baked company mascots sullied the 16-bit era in an attempt to cash in on Mario and Sonic’s popularity, but none garnered respect from press and gamers like Red and Hudson’s PC Genjin (aka Bonk’s Adventure). The sequel, 1991′s PC Genjin 2 (Bonk’s Revenge in the U.S.), adds even more prehistoric enemies, a wider variety of powerups, and tighter controls.
The lil caveman’s near-gamebreaking spinning headbash is M.I.A. to the chagrin of many, but PC Genjin 2 delivers delightful (if quite easy) Jurassic-era gameplay, memorable tunes, and some of the 16-bit era’s most charming and memorable worlds this side of Sonic and Super Mario World. The PC Genjin/Bonk series would go on to spawn several sequels and spin-offs on multiple platforms, but none balanced excellent level design, charming graphics, and challenge like this gem.
Hudson, Inter State, and Kaneko took a light-hearted approach to the 2D shooter with 1992′s Star Parodier. As the name suggests, Star Parodier is a parody of the Star Soldier series that sees gamers taking control of the Paro Caesar (the Star Soldier series’ weapon of destruction), a flying Bomberman, and a flying PC Engine which shoots CDs and HuCards.
Star Parodier is the very definition of the “cute ‘em up” shooter sub-genre. The graphics are colorful and cartoon-like, and the music has an uptempo, playful charm that will keep you humming long after you power down your video game console. The one knock against Star Parodier is its difficulty — unlike other PC Engine shmups, Star Parodier is a fairly easy game to complete. If you own a PC Engine CD of PC Engine Duo, your collection is incomplete until Star Parodier is in it.
Street Fighter II’
When people mention Street Fighter on the Turbo Grafx-16, they are referencing Fighting Street, the CD version of the original, awful Street Fighter. The PC Engine, however, boasts a massive 20 MB HuCard port of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition that — despite some minor visual tweaks — ranks right up there with Capcom’s SNES and home ports, belying the system’s 8-bit core. This may be a controversial statement, but I rank it higher than the Genesis/Mega Drive’s Special Champion Edition due to better audio and visual elements.
The PC Engine’s single controller port and default two-button game pad don’t do the game justice (and is a horrible hardware design choice), but if you score a pair of six-button controllers and a multi-tap, you could hadouken, sonic boom, and hurricane kick to your heart’s content.
Winds of Thunder
Developer Red and publisher Hudson collaborated on many great PC Engine games, but Winds of Thunder (known as Lords of Thunder stateside) was one of the duo’s finest. This 1993 2D shmup sees gamers controlling an armored warrior who blasts his way through highly detailed, beautifully designed element-based stages.
Winds of Thunder features a rarity in a 2D shooter: the ability to upgrade your “ship” by visiting a shop to increase offensive and defensive capabilities. The tight gameplay — featuring levels that you can tackle in any order — is supplemented by an absolutely rocking heavy metal score that adds the perfect soundscape for obliterating all manner of beasties. The disc-based game is one of the reasons to own a PC Engine CD or PC Engine Duo.