TurboGrafx 16 Entertainment SuperSystem
The Entertainment SuperSystem
To most, the TurboGrafx was just there, warming store shelves for the imminent arrival of the Super NES before being relegated to a footnote in gaming history. To some of us, it was our system. There were so few of us that had one, that it would be difficult to find someone who owned one that doesn't have an unmistakable fondness for it, despite being a relevant for such a small snapshot of time.
By 1989, the NES was old news. We've spent years playing all that it had to offer. Role playing games, puzzle games, sports, platform. My goodness, the platform games. We were ready for our games to look more like the arcade, where larger, more detailed characters lived and thrived. The action was faster. The sound was realistic and intense (with speech). We couldn't get the experiences that the arcade provided until this, the 16-bit generation. Konami's Contra was always a standout arcade game for me and I inserted many a quarter into that cabinet even though I owned the NES version. The arcade game was so much more detailed and I wanted that experience at home. With the introduction of the Sega Genesis, childhood arcade staples like Altered Beast and Golden Axe could be owned at home with little difference.
My friend John was already asking for a Sega Genesis for Christmas, so I thought it best to ask for a TurboGrafx. How could I go wrong with a system that has Christian Slater on the box? Yes, I really thought it was him. With each of us owning a different system, we could have access to every new game that gets released. Despite Atari's best efforts (or lack of) with the 7800, the 8-bit generation was all Nintendo, but the 16-bit generation had two systems! They must both be equally as good! While the TurboGrafx was a great system (Japan's PC Engine counterpart was wildly successful), it felt like more of an extension of the NES game library than the arcade action I craved. Where was that glorious parallax scrolling that the Genesis seemed to do with ease? Where were the hard hitting arcade games like ESWAT and Afterburner? We only had Legendary Axe and China Warrior.
The System is called TurboGrafx 16 and it was eventually printed right there on the game boxes: 16-Bit Graphics. "Oh, wait. The graphics are 16-bit but the processor is still 8-bit? Like the NES?" That explains everything, but I convinced myself that I made the right choice. The games were great and the graphics were certainly out of the NES's league, but they weren't what I craved. Still, I held on tight to that one controller port-clad system and waited for more games to come out. I read Electronic Gaming Monthly and subscribed to the TurboEdge newsletter to keep up to date. Surely NEC sees what the Sega is putting out and will start to compete. Any day now.
Staring at the shelves of an Electronic's Boutique with the same twelve TurboGrafx games that were there for the past few months while everyone else is turning over the hottest new Genesis titles does something to a kid. We had an appreciation for the few games that we had access to. If we put a game on our birthday or Christmas list, chances are it wasn't the newest, hottest, just released title. Since games were so few and far between, it was more than likely a game that game out months ago. On one visit, I was so desperate for a new game that I purchased Jack Nicklaus' Turbo Golf.
Owning the underdog system in a generation helps one grow attached to it and I hated Sega for overshadowing my attachment. I owned an Atari 7800 when the NES came out but I eventually admitted defeat a couple of years later and got myself an NES Action Set. I wouldn't admit defeat with the TurboGrafx, though. When the Super NES came out, I got one immediately. "You dare defeat my beloved TurboGrafx, Sega? I've now aligned myself with the powerful Nintendo and there's no way you'll be able to compete with them. You'll finally get what you deserve."
Only after the dust of the 16-bit wars wore off, could I see the Genesis for what it was: A fantastic game system molded out of arcade games but providing it's own style of hard hitting, great sounding experiences. The TurboGrafx and Super NES seemed content on carrying the feel of the NES into the new generation, which is perfectly fine in their own right. Competition from NEC and Nintendo made the Genesis flourish. I didn't appreciate it then, but I do now, as all three systems sit on equal ground: The TurboGrafx exited the market first, but now they're all discontinued and relegated to history.
Sega never again experienced the success it had during the 16 bit days and, for me, neither has Nintendo. Competition and innovation during this era brought out some of the best games that are still revered to this day and many of those titles are on the TurboGrafx 16.
Real World Implications
Many friendships were forged out of simply owning a TurboGrafx 16 instead of a Sega Genesis. If there weren't kids on the school bus that we could talk HuCards with, then we found each other in class, or at least found leads. "Mike has a TurboGrafx. You should talk to him." We had to work hard for our conversations and seek each other out in order to discuss what Keith Courage II would be like. Will he still be in Alpha Zones? Beta Zones? Will he be out of the Zones altogether? Sadly, the game never materialized, despite the promise in the end credits of the original.
I first rooted for the underdog with the Atari 7800 ProSystem, then I did the same with the TurboGrafx 16 and it became personal. On September 9th, 1999, at the very same Electronic's Boutique that I used to go to for TurboGrafx games and sneer at the Sega fans, I stood in line at midnight to purchase my brand new Sega Dreamcast. I got so mad at the Playstation 2 for killing it...
Ken has long since forgiven Sega for their part in defeating TurboGrafx 16. He's owned Genesis models 1 and 2, a JVC X'Eye, Power Base Converter, 32X, Saturn and Dreamcast. He now resides in a house atop an enormous amount of steps on an island with three cats and a toddler sized Omega Supreme.