Feature Article

TurboGrafx-16 Mini Review - It's Been A Long Time Coming

The TurboGrafx-16 Mini is an awesome little device with a lot of great games that should not be ignored.

Of all the mini consoles released so far, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is perhaps the most exciting. The original PC Engine was a beloved console in Japan with a huge library of great games, but when the console released as the TurboGrafx-16 in North America, the vast majority of those games never made their way over. Unlike Nintendo and Sega's classic titles, these games have rarely been re-released over the years, and so the TurboGrafx-16 Mini does something very special. It brings together some of the best games from both the TG-16 and PC Engine libraries and packs them into one convenient device that does right by the console's mixed past.

For $100 USD, you get the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, a USB TurboGrafx-16 controller, an HDMI cable, and a microUSB cable to power the mini console--no USB outlet adapter is included. It comes with 57 games from both the TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine libraries, 32 of which are in Japanese--though most of them are still playable for English speakers, as the libraries largely consist of shooters, platformers, and other games where the language barrier doesn't impede the experience. There are also CoreGrafx and PC Engine versions of the TG-16 Mini, but those are exclusive to Europe and Japan respectively.

Pulling it out of the box, you'll notice the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is a faithful homage to the original console, though in a smaller form factor. The Mini features the same removable backplate that covers the AC adapter and HDMI cable as well as that little plastic piece that slides out when turning the console on and holds HuCard cartridges in place. These are, of course, things that don't affect the quality of the device, but the attention to detail makes for a fun homage.

The TurboGrafx-16 Mini includes games from the PC Engine library as well.
The TurboGrafx-16 Mini includes games from the PC Engine library as well.

While the original console only had one controller slot, requiring you to buy a multitap if you wanted to play any multiplayer games, the TG-16 Mini has upgraded to two USB inputs for the mini console's controllers. If you want an extra controller, you'll need to buy Hori's $25 TG-16 Mini controller, as no other controllers are compatible, and if you want to play a full game of Bomberman '94 with all five players, that means you'll be spending an extra $100 on controllers and an additional $30 on the TG-16 multitap.

There are a couple of notable differences with the included controller, though if you haven't held an original TG-16 pad in a while, you likely won't notice them. The TG-16 Mini's controller is noticeably lighter, making it feel a little cheap. The texture around the outside of the pad is also not as pronounced, and the D-pad feels a little stiffer than what I'm used to--of course, I've never actually held a brand-new TG-16 controller, so it may loosen up after prolonged use. Thankfully, the TG-16 Mini's controller has a much longer cable than the original pad, measuring in at about 9.5 feet long, so it's a lot easier to relax on the couch while playing. It may not be as good of a pad as the original, but it's still perfectly capable.

Having played a lot of my PC Engine Duo R over the past couple years, I had a great time not worrying about swapping system cards and discs in between games. Coming off their success with the Sega Genesis Mini, emulation outfit M2 has taken the reins of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. The games look and sound fantastic, replicating the system's vivid colours and chippy soundtracks excellently. However, more diligent gamers may notice a small amount of frame lag. I found myself flopping boss patterns in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, a game that I've spent an inordinate amount of time with and know inside and out. So when I booted up my Duo R through an OSSC scan converter on the same TV, I was able to confirm my suspicions simply by playing Bonk's Revenge. It was clear the TG-16 Mini was performing a few frames behind the Duo R, as Bonk would butt his head slightly after pressing the button instead of right on the dot. This frame lag was more pronounced in some games than others. However, the vast majority of people won't notice this, and thankfully, it doesn't ruin the experience, even for someone intimately familiar with the original console.

The TG-16 Mini is still a great device with a fantastic selection of games. It has a fair number of great shoot 'em ups--which is what the console is most known for--like Seirei Senshi Spriggan and Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire. However, there are a wide variety of excellent games like the action platformer Ninja Spirit, the storied RPG Ys Book I & II, and the Zelda-like adventure games Neutopia and Neutopia II. The mini console also features PC Engine ports of some all-time classics like Ghouls 'n Ghosts and Ninja Gaiden.

TurboGrafx-16 gamesPC Engine games
  • Air Zonk
  • Alien Crush
  • Blazing Lazers
  • Bomberman '93
  • Bonk's Revenge
  • Cadash
  • Chew-Man-Fu
  • Dungeon Explorer
  • J.J. & Jeff
  • Lords of Thunder
  • Military Madness
  • Moto Roader
  • Neutopia
  • Neutopia II
  • New Adventure Island
  • Ninja Spirit
  • Parasol Stars
  • Power Golf
  • Psychosis
  • R-Type
  • Soldier Blade
  • Space Harrier
  • Splatterhouse
  • Victory Run
  • Ys book I & II
  • Akumajo Dracula X Chi no Rondo
  • Aldynes
  • Appare! Gateball
  • Bomberman '94
  • Bomberman Panic Bomber
  • Cho Aniki
  • Daimakaimura
  • Dragon Spirit
  • Dungeon Explorer
  • Fantasy Zone
  • Galaga '88
  • Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire
  • Gradius
  • Gradius II - Gofer no Yabo -
  • Jaseiken Necromancer
  • Nectaris
  • Neutopia
  • Neutopia II
  • Ninja Ryukenden
  • PC Genjin
  • Salamander
  • Seirei Senshi Spriggan
  • Snatcher
  • Spriggan Mark 2
  • Star Parodier
  • Super Darius
  • Super Momotaro Dentetsu II
  • Super Star Soldier
  • The Genji and the Heike Clans
  • The Kung Fu
  • The Legend of Valkyrie
  • Ys I - II

Of course, with these mini consoles, there are always games that people will think are "missing," whether it's Chrono Trigger on the SNES Classic or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on the Sega Genesis Mini. These "missing games" are obviously going to be different for everyone, but in the end, the SNES and Sega Genesis have incredible libraries that are represented well by their respective mini consoles. The TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine game libraries are also well-represented by the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, but while a lot of these games do come to mind as emblematic of the 8-bit console, it's not always for a good reason. Even as a die-hard fan, I have to admit that the console had some stinkers, some of which are featured on the TG-16 Mini; The Kung Fu (aka China Warrior), as well asThe Genji and the Heike Clans, come immediately to mind as games that could have been omitted entirely. Because of this, the absence of some of the console's best games--such as The Legendary Axe, Bloody Wolf, and Street Fighter II: Champion Edition--stand out more.

It's awesome to see games from across the console's multiple regions represented on the TG-16 Mini. Many of the Japanese-only games are completely playable for English speakers, such as Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and the multitude of shoot 'em ups, but there are several that are extremely text-heavy and completely in Japanese. Hideo Kojima's Snatcher is one of these and is no doubt a classic, but its narrative-focused adventure is impenetrable for those who can't read and understand Japanese. Having these games as an option on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is a cool novelty, but for English-only players that's all they really can be. The TG-16 Mini could have been an even more valuable mini console if it featured more accessible titles for each specific region.

There are also some doubles in the collection, where both the English and Japanese versions of a game are included. Thankfully, there aren't many cases of this, and with 57 total games, the TG-16 Mini isn't lacking in quality titles. You'll also find that the sequels of some games are included as either the Japanese or English version. For example, PC Genjin (known as Bonk's Adventure in the West) is included on the PC Engine side, while its sequel, Bonk's Revenge, is in the TG-16's library.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (aka Akumajo Dracula X Chi no Rondo)
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (aka Akumajo Dracula X Chi no Rondo)

The games are presented in two different menus: one for the TurboGrafx-16's library and another for the PC Engine. The two menus feature appropriate themes and colours for their respective console, setting the stage for the games to come. Once you select a game, a specific animation will play out depending on the format of the original. If it came on a HuCard cartridge, then the title's HuCard will appear and insert itself into the virtual console's slot. CD games, on the other hand, will cause a system card to appear and insert itself before the CD attachment spins up, producing that familiar sound while the game boots up--honestly, I wish there was a setting to keep the disc-spin sound going indefinitely. The presentation of the two separate menus and game boot-up animations adds a healthy, and much-appreciated, helping of charm to the overall experience of playing these retro games.

The TG-16 has options for different display modes--original 4:3, stretched 4:3, square pixels, a stretched widescreen, and Turbo Express. The Turbo Express mode gives you a template of the handheld TG-16, while emulating the device's screen. It's not my preferred mode to play through games, but it's definitely a fun novelty. You're also able to enable a CRT filter, which I found just made the games darker and wasn't effective at evoking that nostalgic, glow-y CRT feel.

The TurboGrafx-16 is an expensive console to be a fan of in 2020, with many of its best games selling for high prices on Ebay and at local game stores. It's not cheap to get a TG-16/PCE console displaying properly on a 4K TV either, and you rarely see the console's games released for modern platforms. This makes the TurboGrafx-16 a particularly enticing mini console, though its $100 price tag is a little disappointing--and even more expensive if you want to take full advantage of multiplayer. The issues with frame lag might make that price tag even harder to grapple with for the exacting gamer.

However, the TG-16 Mini is not for those who want a perfect recreation of the system; most people won't even notice the lag. And the case still stands that there's plenty to enjoy in revisiting this quirky 8-bit console's past. M2 did a great job making the TurboGrafx-16 sound and look as good as it always has, and a good chunk of its included games are fantastic and absolutely worth your time. Being able to experience these classic titles in one convenient place--and witness M2's charming, nostalgic presentation--makes the TurboGrafx-16 Mini an exciting device that does a great job of capturing the past of a console that should not be forgotten.

The TurboGrafx-16 Mini is available to pre-order now exclusively at Amazon.

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