Did you know that Konami made its own game console back in the ’80s? As I posted pictures on social media with the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, it became obvious most didn’t.
If you happened to be around playing video games back then, you may remember some of TurboGrafx-16’s games. I’d also forgive you if you didn’t. Konami isn’t necessarily a smart company.
I’ll cut to the chase here and tell you all, this goes toe-to-toe with the Sega Genesis Mini as the best mini console but just like the original’s launch, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini has its flaws.
What is the TurboGrafx-16?
Released back in the US in 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 was an actual marvel of a console, proving to be a much more robust and capable system than its current competitors. It was a rebranding of Konami’s PC Engine system from Japan, which is famous for games like Snatcher, Salamander, and Castlevania: Dracula X. I spent most of my childhood not even knowing these two systems were the same thing.
In the states, the system found a relatively decent foothold in using the big-headed caveman, Bonk as the mascot. It also made headlines for being the console that the gory beat-em-up, Splatterhouse, was on. At 7 years old, I rented it from our local Family Video but I never owned it. The system made the rounds for four years before being quietly discontinued. That wasn’t before it did spawn the spinoff TurboExpress, which was a handheld TV with a TurboGrafx-16 built-in.
Why the TurboGrafx-16 Mini though?
The TurboGrafx-16 Mini actually is an instant reminder that the era of shoot-em-up games came from Konami. R-Type, Salamander (Lifeforce), Lords of Thunder, Space Harrier, and more really got their start on the console. Also, games like Bonk’s Revenge are some of the best platforming games of the 90s. The TurboGrafx-16 had a lot of good games but never stood a chance in the console wars.
Enter the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, which comes in at a cool $100, and looks to redeem the console of yesteryear. If you stop reading here, just know the price tag is totally justifiable, provided a few stipulations.
There are at least 52 games on the TurboGrafx 16 Mini. I say “at least” because there is a ton of stuff hidden in other games and in the menus. Checking out the TurboGrafx subreddit shows that even data miners aren’t 100% sure yet.
Of those 52ish games, 25 of them are easily playable as their English localized copies. The other games are the PC Engine version and are completely in Japanese. If you were going to pick this up to try Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher, I hope you can read Japanese. The system includes a single controller with a decently long cable. If you want another, you are going to have to dish out about $25 more.
What about the games?
Honestly, 23 of the 25 TurboGrafx-16 Mini games are all badass and completely worth sinking your time into. Unlike many other mini systems, there hasn’t been a blissful nostalgia period where the game is tolerable and then I find myself moving on.
Those other two games are J.J. & Jeff and Power Golf. Power Golf just isn’t my jam, it’s not bad per se but it isn’t my thing. J.J. & Jeff is absolutely horrible though. It has you playing as a guy that looks like Eric Trump as he and his dumb buddy Jeff fuck around in a shitty and uninspired side-scrolling platformer with a bunch of low-brow humor. How this got in and not Keith Courage, I’ll never know.
The 23 good TurboGrafx-16 Mini cover so many genres that there is something for everyone. Moto Roader and Victory Run are great for the old-school racing fans. Ys book 1 & 2 is a fantastic JRPG and the Neutopia and Dungeon Explorer games are awesome adventure titles. I found myself putting an extensive amount of time into Splatterhouse and Bonk’s Revenge. Both of those games were system sellers for the original console and really have aged like fine wine.
Those other 32ish PC-Engine games? They are playable as well, but certainly with limitations. Castlevania: Dracula X is hard to decipher but completable. It’s actually quite the treat to see it in its original release state. Bomberman ’94 is still Bomberman but benefits from having an extra controller. Fantasy Zone is also completely playable. As I said, most of these games are, as long as they aren’t story intensive, like Snatcher.
The Good, the bad, and the chungus
Easily, the TurboGrafx-16 has the most personality of any mini console. When browsing games, there are little chibi game-cards walking around in the background. They don’t do anything that I know of yet, but they are fun to watch. When you load a game, you see the card inserted in the system from the menu. If you’ve ever done it in real life, the sounds are unique. If you load a Super CD-ROM game, you can hear the old telltale CD reading sounds. It’s neat. Also, when you turn the system on, the card lock tab slides out. It doesn’t do anything, but Hori certainly paid attention to detail here.
With all the games on the system, you’ll get your money’s worth in gameplay. To address that elephant in the room, it doesn’t appear that they’ve modded the console yet to be able to play any ROMs or fan-translated games. It doesn’t seem like it is impossible, but the system has only been out a week and I’m sure they are still figuring it out.
One of the biggest drawbacks that I’ve found while playing is that I have zero interest in buying a second controller. This means that many 2-player and co-op games simply can’t be played as intended. I don’t know about you but I have never played Bomberman for its gripping story. Another gripe I have is that while the collection of playable English games are good, one of the best the system is known for is simply not here. Keith Courage was an adventure platformer with a ton of great mechanics that kept the game going for a long time. To not be included is almost a deal-breaker.
Oddly, one of the most notable things about the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is that it isn’t so mini. Measuring almost exactly the same length and width as the Nintendo Switch (longer with the “power box” on the back) it’s an absolute unit. When I showed my wife, she thought you could actually put real games in it, because it eclipses all other mini consoles by comparison. The back end of the console comes off to reveal the power plug and the HDMI output. You can run the cables through the plastic butt of the console to reattach it, but it’s more of a pain than I expected it to be. Who thought that was a great idea?
The TurboGrafx-16 Mini is awesome, but potentially limited
I am really happy that I spent my own money purchasing the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. I’d recommend it to mini console collectors, anyone that likes older games, or old TurboGrafx-16 fans. It’s a much harder sell if you’ve never heard of the thing or you are a gamer that isn’t interested in old school games. The price point of $100 is a tough sell and the limited availability through Amazon makes me concerned that at some point it may just vanish. There isn’t a lot of saturation without big-box retailers.
All in all, it’s a damn good time and I think it rockets to the top of the class for mini consoles. I honestly can’t wait to see the community figure out how to upload translated versions of the PC Engine games though.