History of Consoles: TurboGrafx 16 (1989)


Console: TurboGrafx 16 Entertainment SuperSystem

Manufacturer: NEC Corporation

Availability:  August 19th, 1989

Original Cost: $199.99 ($376.60 including inflation)




The TurboGrafx 16 Entertainment SuperSystem or better known as the TurboGrafx 16, or the TG-16, was developed by both Hudson Soft and NEC Corporation, and released in North America on August 19th, 1989.  The TurboGrafx 16 was known in Japan as the PC Engine, and was released on October 30th, 1987.  The United Kingdom saw a limited release of the system known simply as “TurboGrafx”, and was released by Telegames.

The TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine was the first video game console in the fourth generation of gaming, and when it was released would soon compete primarily with the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Super Nintendo/Super Famicom.  In North America the TurboGrafx 16 retailed for $199.99, while the games retailed for $49.99 each.

When the PC Engine was first in development in Japan a young company at the time called Hudson Soft had failed to sell designs to Nintendo for an advanced graphics chip.  Hudson Soft eventually got connected with the NEC Corporation and plans were in place to develop a new console; the PC Engine.


When it was released the PC Engine was a superior console in many regards to both the Nintendo Famicom and Sega Mark III (Sega Master System).  It has one 8-bit CPU and a dual 16-bit CPU, and can display up to 482 different colors at one time out of 512 available.  Though many gamers may considerof the PC Engine/TurboGrafx as 16 bit console, it actually is not.  While the speed of the hardware was comparable to other 16 bit consoles, the TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine was built around an 8-bit microprocessor.

The PC Engine itself is a very small console due to the very efficient three-chip architecture and its use of “HuCards” (Hudson Cards) game cards; in North America they’re known as “TurboChips”. These game cards are roughly the size of a standard credit card and easy to use and convenient to cary around.  The PC Engine saw much more success in Japan compared to the TurboGrafx in North America.  Though the system is superior to the NES/Famicom and Sega Mark III/SMES, it struggled to compete against the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and the Nintendo SNES/Super Famicom.  By the mid 1990’s NEC discontinued the support for the TurboGrafx 16 in North America, though the last game officially released for the PC Engine came out in 1999 in Japan.


System Design:


As the PC Engine was small and compact, the TurboGrafx 16 was over twice the size.  Perhaps NEC Corporation felt that Americans felt that bigger meant better.  Either way the TubroGrafx 16 had a lot of wasted space within the system’s shell.

One issue with the system was that it only had one controller port.  If people wanted to play a game multiplayer, they had to purchase an additional attachment to allow for multiple controllers to plug in.



The TurboGrafx 16 controller aka “TurboPad” is similar in design to the NES.  It has a four directional d-pad on the left with two action buttons on the right marked as “II” and “I”.  There is a select button in the middle and a “run” button that acts as a start button.  There are two switches on the top right corner of the controller that can change actions for the action buttons.

There was also a “TurboStick” that was released which is an arcade style controller.


Struggles in North America:

The TurboGrafx 16 initially sold well in North America when it came out, however once Sega released the Genesis, and Nintendo the SNES, the software limitations ended up hurting the system.  A standard Genesis cart and SNES cart featured 64KB and 124KB of RAM respectively, while a TurboGrafx 16 TurboChip only featured 8KB of RAM.  In addition the TurboGrafx 16 lacked third party support in large part that Nintendo and Sega had established strong relationships already with many third party developers.

Furthermore when NEC launched the PC Engine in Japan they marketed heavily in the bigger cities where they found success, however the same strategy didn’t work nearly as well in North America.  Many people in the States outside of big cities had very little brand awareness for NEC and the TurboGrafx 16.  Many of the successful games in Japan were built for their CD attachment, while in North America the CD attachment retailed for close to $400 at the time, and was hard to find outside of big cities.  Consumers couldn’t find a reason why to purchase a new system when they had already owned a SNES and/or Genesis.



The TurboExpress was  a portable handheld version of the TurboGrafx 16 and was compatible with all TurboChip games.  It was released in 1990 for a retail price of $249.99, then quickly raised to $299.99, dropped back down to $249.99, while eventually by 1992 sold for $199.99.  The TurboExpress (known in Japan as the PC Engine GT) was very advanced for its time and could display full color, and was the first handheld to play a full console library; beating Sega by five years until they released the Nomad.  There was an optional “TurboVision” attachment that would enable the TurboExpress to tune in and watch TV on the go.



In total 94 games were officially released for the TurboGrafx 16, with many more being released in Japan for the PC Engine.  The TurboGrafx 16 is known for some great shooters including Blazing Lazers, Dragon Spirit and R-Type to name a few.  The most well known character for the TurboGrafx was Bonk, and there were three different Bonk games released for the system.  Bonk is a platformer, and was a face for TurboGrafx for many years, like Mario was for Nintendo, and Sonic was for Sega.  Bonk’s Adventure would later be ported to both the Nintendo Game Boy and NES.


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John "Gamester81" Lester started playing video games at a very young age. His first ever console that he played was a Colecovision, quickly followed by an Atari 2600, and his passion for video games hasn't stopped. In 2008 John decided to start a video game review show on YouTube called Gamester81 by reviewing rare and retro video game systems and games. His show quickly grew in popularity, and he became friends with many other gamers in the YouTube community. He is also one of the hosts of the All Gen Gamers Podcast which is a bimonthly podcast for people and video games of all generations. Some of John's other hobbies includes collecting Star Wars memorabilia (YouTube channel Starwarsnut77), playing classic arcade games (YouTube channel Gamester81Arcade), watching sports, and listening to music. John is a big fan of the 80's and 90's and in 2009 started a YouTube channel called NEStalgiaholic where he talks about nostalgic items and memories from his childhood. To see some of John's video's in 3D visit his YouTube channel Gamester81in3D. Favorite Systems: Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, & SNES. Favorite Games: Donkey Kong Arcade, Atari Star Wars Arcade, Super Mario 3, Final Fantasy II, & Goldeneye 007