The 8- and 16-bit console generations were dominated by Nintendo and Sega, which already have excellent retro models in the forms of the NES Classic, the Super NES Classic, and the Sega Genesis Mini. The NEC PC Engine, probably know it better by its Western name, the TurboGrafx-16, got plenty of excellent games of its own, though not as many Americans played them because the system wasn’t nearly as popular. This makes the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, produced by Konami, an excellent opportunity for Western gamers to try out something that’s old for the industry, but new for them. It packs 50 different PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 games into one $99.99 package that looks just like the original system, opening up a whole new library of retro titles you might not have played before. That’s enough for the TurboGrafx-16 Mini to earn our Editors’ Choice.
Despite its name, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is surprisingly large compared with the SNES Classic, Sega Genesis Mini, and PlayStation Classic. In fact, at 1.2 by 9.4 by 6.2 inches (HWD), it’s actually bigger than the Japan-only PC Engine and European CoreGrafx versions of the system (of which there are retro versions, just like the TurboGrafx-16 Mini). So this isn’t much of a “mini” console at all—it’s simply a retro compilation system.
The system oozes early ’90s style, with a chunky black plastic design covered in stylistic ridges and sporting the console’s classic orange-and-yellow logo on the top. A molded slot on the front and top mimics the game card slot on the original system, and is flanked by a power switch and two USB ports. The back is covered with a trapezoidal shell that pops off to reveal a smaller, flat-topped protrusion where the TurboGrafx-CD add-on would be mounted on the old hardware.
Molded labels on the top panel point out where the antenna switch and power adapter connectors would be on the original, but those components aren’t present on this version. Instead, an HDMI port sits on the back edge of the console, to the right of the TurboGrafx-CD protrusion, while a micro USB port for power sits in a recess within the plastic extension. A cutout in the removable shell lets you replace it on the back of the system and run both cables out to a power adapter (not included) and your TV while hiding the ugly, TurboGrafx-CD-less plastic block on the back. A micro USB cable and HDMI cable are both included.
Controller and Build Quality
The TurboGrafx-16 Mini comes with one controller, mounted on a generous 10-foot cable ending in a USB plug. It’s a faithful reproduction of the TurboPad, the original TurboGrafx-16’s controller. The gamepad is rectangular, with a very similar configuration to the NES controller. It features only two face buttons on the right, I and II, along with a circular direction pad with a prominent plus shape on top and Run and Select buttons in the middle. Two three-way sliding switches sit above the I and II buttons, providing turbo fire of two different rhythms for each control.
The system and controller look great, but the build quality feels a bit cheap. The system is made of a fairly light black plastic with a matte finish, and along with its larger size, it doesn’t feel quite as dense as the multiple textures, finishes, and colors on different parts of the NES Classic, SNES Classic, or Genesis Mini. The gamepad is made of the same plastic, and doesn’t have the bulletproof feel of the NES and SNES Classic controllers. On the bright side, the controls are very responsive under the thumbs.
Interface and Game List
Turning the TurboGrafx-16 Mini on boots up a system that features the same attractive interface and polish as the Nintendo and Sega systems. The console opens to a retro-styled TurboGrafx-16 menu displaying a row of tiles showing the cover art of TurboGrafx-16 games arranged by release date (you can also arrange the games alphabetically). This only shows half of the available games, however.
Navigating to the PC Engine icon in the corner of the screen leaves this menu and loads a Japanese PC Engine-styled menu with a similar row of cover art tiles for the PC Engine games on the system. You can’t combine the two collections into one master list; you need to switch between the consoles. It’s slightly inconvenient, but the variety of aesthetic changes between the two menus adds some pleasant variety, and highlights the fact that, when you load a PC Engine game, you’re loading a game that wasn’t available in the United States until now.
That brings us to the TurboGrafx-16’s game list. It’s an impressive collection of over 50 titles across the TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine, including both games released on HuCard/Turbo Chip cards and TurboGrafx-CD/Super CD-ROM optical discs. While none have quite the name recognition factor of Mario for Nintendo or Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega, fans of the TurboGrafx-16 will certainly recognize the caveman boy Bonk in Bonk’s Revenge, and PC Engine enthusiasts will be thrilled to see Richter Belmont in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (technically “Devil Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, in Japanese).
Standout games on the system include Bomberman ‘93 and ‘94, Bonk’s Revenge, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Cho Aniki, Gradius, Lords of Thunder, R-Type, Salamander, and Snatcher. There are also some excellent JRPGs and dungeon crawlers like Dungeon Explorer, Neutopia, Neutopia 2, and Ys Books I & II, and several nearly arcade-perfect platformers like Daimakaimura (Ghouls & Ghosts in North America), Ninja Ryukenden (Ninja Gaiden), and Ninja Spirit.
If you can’t tell from the inclusion of no less than five shoot ’em ups (shmups) in that list, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is a fantastic system for scrolling shooter fans. There are well over a dozen quality shmups here, including obscure and unusual ones like Cho Aniki, Psychosis, and Star Parodier.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is perhaps the singular best game on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. This was the precursor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and stands as the last and perhaps best linear, level-based Castlevania game in the series (before Symphony of the Night took it into a much more exploration-focused direction). Snatcher, a narrative-driven cyberpunk mystery game by Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima, would stand alongside Rondo of Blood as a must-play experience on the system, except for one potential flaw: It’s in Japanese.
Some Translation Required
The TurboGrafx-16 games on the console are the North American releases in English, but the PC Engine games are all in the original Japanese, with no translation. This isn’t an issue for Rondo of Blood, which has English menus anyway and is focused on action rather than narrative, but it makes games like Snatcher, along with RPGs like Jaseiken Necromancer and Super Momotaro Densetsu II, completely unplayable unless you can read Japanese. Obviously translating games is expensive and time-consuming, but at least for Snatcher Konami could have used the translation made for the North American Sega CD version of the game. It’s incredibly disappointing not to be able to play it, considering how influential Hideo Kojima has become to gaming worldwide.
While the device is emulation-based, you won’t find many emulator tricks on the TurboGrafX-16 Mini. It’s equipped with the same four-slots-per-game save state system as the NES and SNES Classic and Genesis Mini, and has the same dearth of any other extra features as those retro consoles. Graphics options are limited to aspect ratio tweaks and a fun but distracting frame that lets you play games on a virtual TurboDuo (a portable TurboGrafx-16 system) on your TV, and simulated scan lines. That’s it; you can’t remap buttons or use any other graphical enhancements. Modifying or augmenting the list of games on the system is out (officially, of course; modders can work wonders with anything by risking damage to their devices).
The TurboGrafx-16 Mini felt brisk and responsive when playing various games on it. While the gamepad is light, the circular direction pad let me make precise maneuvers in shmups, and the face buttons didn’t fail any presses.
The games themselves are loads of fun. The selection is weighed heavily toward shmups, but Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is a fantastic platformer, and I enjoyed the simple RPG gameplay of Ys Books I & II. As always, Bomberman is a fun party game, which is why it’s unfortunate a second TurboPad isn’t included (additional controllers are $24.99, and the Turbo Tap five-port USB hub enables up to five players for the two Bomberman games, Bomberman Panic Bomber, Dungeon Explorer, and Moto Roader).
And despite my inability to play Snatcher due to the language barrier, I had no problem finding plenty of games on the system I could happily dive into.
If You Haven’t Played It, It’s New to You
The TurboGrafx-16 is one of the most surprising retro game consoles, and it’s also one of the most fun. While its library isn’t as iconic as the NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis, there’s some genuine gold to be found here. If you never spent any time with NEC and Hudson Soft’s system when it was first out, or missed many of the best games because they only came out in Japan, this is an excellent opportunity to learn about and play some of the gems you missed. The TurboGrafx-16 earns our Editors’ Choice for being a retro console that offers new experiences to most American gamers.