If you’ve never heard of the TurboGrafx-16, PC-Engine or the PC-FX, it’s not surprising. In the world of the ever evolving console market, systems come and go with a sometimes very short shelf life, while others stay around forever (see GameBoy). So if you never knew about NEC’s role in the video game console market, well here is your history lesson.
It all started on October 30, 1987 in Japan. NEC released the first 16-Bit video game console called the PC-Engine (which had nothing to do with the IBM/PC by the way). The system itself was ahead of it’s time - the console was very small, packed with power and the games were stored on “HuCards” which were credit-card sized cards. Within two years of launch, the PC-Engine dominated the Japanese market, outselling the Famicom (and later the Mega Drive/Genesis) and it was at this time that NEC announced that they were going to bring the console to US shores.
On September 1st, 1989, NEC rolled out the TurboGrafx-16, the US version of the PC-Engine. At the same time, Sega released their 16-bit console, the Sega Genesis which pulled ahead of the TurboGrafx-16 fairly quickly due to better marketing, more 3rd party games, and a stronger mascot.
In 1990, NEC fired off another round at the competition with the release of the TurboExpress. This was a portable version of the TurboGrafx-16 that used the exact same carts the home system used, making it one of the only systems ever made to have the same power & compatibility in portable form.
Shortly after the TurboExpress was released, NEC did another industry first with the release of the TurboGrafx-CD (the first CD-based game console in the world) Unfortunately, due to lack of quality software, price and marketing, the TurboGrafx-CD did poorly in the US market.
Fast forward to 1992...the Sega Genesis had gained massive ground over the Turbo, and with the upcoming release of the Sega CD, the aging Turbo needed a face lift. NEC created a new company called TTi (Turbo Technologies Inc.) which were made up of employee’s from both NEC and Hudson Soft to redesign the TG-16/CD combo into one unit...the result was the TurboDuo. The TurboDuo was not only a slick looking unit, but had increased memory capacity and a lower price tag than the TG-16/CD combo.
TTi aggressively advertised the TurboDuo in the US, even directly attacked the Sega CD in some of their ads...but it was a little to late as the Genesis had already captured gamers wallets, leaving little market share left for the TurboDuo. By the end of 1993, all TurboDuo 3rd party support was stopped and the Super NES and Sega Genesis were battling it out, leaving the Turbo in the dust.
After official support of the system was stopped by TTi/NEC, TTi closed down and Turbo Zone Direct (TZD) was born to continue supporting the Turbo systems with a back catalog of games and console repairs.
In a surprising turn of events, 2006 marked the return of the Turbo in the form of the Virtual Console on the Nintendo Wii. Since then Hudson has released many classic TurboGrafx-16 & Super-CD games on the unit.
In 2008, TZD finally closed its doors and sold what they have left to a new buyer. As we now look into the future, it is really up to sites like PCEFX and others to keep the spirit of the NEC console legacy alive.