TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine
PC Engine logo.png
The TurboGrafx-16
The PC Engine
Western markets model (top) and the original Japanese and French system (bottom).
ManufacturerNEC Home Electronics
TypeHome video game console
GenerationFourth generation
Release date
  • JP: October 30, 1987[1]
  • NA: August 29, 1989
  • FRA: November 22, 1989
  • UK: 1990
  • ESP: 1990
  • FRA: Mid 1993
  • NA: May 1994
  • JP: December 16, 1994
Units soldWorldwide: 5.8 million[2]
Japan: 3.9 million
MediaHuCard, CD-ROM (only with the CD-ROM² add-on)
CPUHudson Soft HuC6280
- max. 565×242
- majority: 256×239
- available: 512 (9-bit)
- onscreen: max. 482
(241 background, 241 sprite)
Dimensions14 cm × 14 cm × 3.8 cm
(5.5 in × 5.5 in × 1.5 in)
SuccessorSuperGrafx (upgraded)

The TurboGrafx-16, known in Japan and France as the PC Engine[3], is a cartridge-based home video game console manufactured and marketed by NEC Home Electronics, and designed by Hudson Soft. It was released in Japan on October 30, 1987 and in the United States on August 29, 1989. The Japanese model was imported and distributed in France in 1989 and United Kingdom and Spain received a version based on the American model known as simply TurboGrafx. It was the first console released in the 16-bit era, although it used a modified 8-bit CPU. In Japan, the system was launched as a competitor to the Famicom but the delayed United States release meant that it ended up competing with the Sega Genesis and later on the Super Nintendo.

The TurboGrafx-16 has an 8-bit CPU, a 16-bit video color encoder, and a 16-bit video display controller. The GPUs are capable of displaying 482 colors simultaneously, out of 512. With dimensions of just 14 cm × 14 cm × 3.8 cm (5.5 in × 5.5 in × 1.5 in), the Japanese PC Engine is the smallest major home game console ever made.[4][5] Games were released on HuCard cartridges or later the CD-ROM optical format with the TurboGrafx-CD add-on.

The TurboGrafx-16 failed to break into the North American market and sold poorly, which has been blamed on the delayed release and inferior marketing.[6] Despite the "16" in its name and the marketing of the console as a 16-bit platform, it used an 8-bit CPU, a marketing tactic that was criticized by some as deceptive.[7] Developer Doug Snook of ICOM Simulations said the team struggled with the relative low performance of the CPU.[8]

However, in Japan, the PC Engine, introduced into the market at a much earlier date, was very successful. It gained strong third-party support and outsold the Famicom at its 1987 debut, eventually becoming the Super Famicom's main rival.[9]

At least 17 distinct models of the TurboGrafx-16 were made, including portable versions and those that integrated the CD-ROM add-on.[10]

An enhanced model, the PC Engine SuperGrafx, was rushed to market in 1989. It featured many performance enhancements and was intended to supersede the standard PC Engine. It failed to catch on - only six titles were released that took advantage of the added power and it was quickly discontinued.

The entire series was discontinued in 1994. It was succeeded by the PC-FX, only released in Japan.


The TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine was a collaborative effort between Hudson Soft, who created video game software, and NEC, a company which was dominant in the Japanese personal computer market with their PC-88 and PC-98 platforms. NEC lacked the vital experience in the video gaming industry so approached numerous video game studios for support. By pure coincidence, NEC's interest in entering the lucrative video game market coincided with Hudson's failed attempt to sell designs for then-advanced graphics chips to Nintendo.[11] The two companies successfully joined together to then develop the new system.[5]

The PC Engine made its debut in the Japanese market on October 30, 1987, and it was a tremendous success. The PC Engine had an elegant, "eye-catching" design, and it was very small compared to its rivals.[6] This, coupled with a strong software lineup and third-party support from high-profile developers such as Namco and Konami gave NEC a temporary lead in the Japanese market.[5] In 1988, it outsold the Famicom year-on-year, putting NEC and Hudson Soft not only ahead of Nintendo in the market but far ahead of Sega.

In 1988, NEC decided to expand to the American market and directed its U.S. operations to develop the system for the new audience. NEC Technologies boss Keith Schaefer formed a team to test the system. They found was a lack of enthusiasm in its name 'PC Engine' and also felt its small size was not very suitable to American consumers who would generally prefer a larger and "futuristic" design. They decided to call the system the 'TurboGrafx-16', a name representing its graphical speed and strength, and its 16-bit GPU. They also completely redesigned the hardware into a large, black casing. This lengthy redesign process and NEC's questions about the system's viability in the United States delayed the TurboGrafx-16's debut.[6]

The TurboGrafx-16 was eventually released in the New York City and Los Angeles test market in late August 1989. Disastrously for NEC, this was two weeks after Sega of America released the true 16-bit Genesis to test markets. Unlike NEC, Sega didn't waste time redesigning the original Japanese Mega Drive system.[12][6] The Genesis' launch was accompanied by an ad campaign mocking NEC's claim that the TurboGrafx-16 was the first 16-bit console. Despite the 16-bit competition, the TurboGrafx-16 was marketed as a direct competitor to the NES and early television ads touted the TG-16's superior graphics and sound.

Sega quickly eclipsed the TurboGrafx-16 after its American debut. NEC's decision to pack-in Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, a Hudson Soft game unknown to western gamers, proved costly as Sega packed-in a port of the hit arcade title Altered Beast with the Genesis. NEC's American operations in Chicago were also overhyped about its potential and quickly produced 750,000 units, far above actual demand. This was very profitable for Hudson Soft as NEC paid Hudson Soft royalties for every console produced, whether sold or not. By 1990, it was clear that the system was performing very poorly and severely edged out by Nintendo and Sega's marketing.[6]

After seeing the TurboGrafx-16 suffer in America, NEC decided to cancel their European releases. Units for the European markets were already produced, which were essentially US models modified to run on PAL television sets, and branded as simply TurboGrafx. NEC sold this stock to distributors - in the United Kingdom Telegames released the TurboGrafx in 1990 in extremely limited quantities.[13] This model was also released in Spain and Portugal through selected retailers.[14] Games were not retimed for PAL regions, instead European systems were designed to play American games, albeit with the necessary slowdown to 50 Hz.

From November 1989 to 1993, PC Engine consoles as well as some of its add-ons were imported from Japan by French licensed importer Sodipeng (Société de Distribution de la PC Engine, a subsidiary of Guillemot International).[15] This came after considerable enthusiasm in the French press. The PC Engine was largely available in France and Benelux through major retailers. It came with French language instructions and also an AV cable to enable its compatibility with SECAM television set. Its launch price was 1,790 French francs.[16]

In December 1990, The TurboGrafx-series became the first video game console ever to have a contemporaneous and fully compatible portable counterpart with the release of the PC Engine GT, known as the TurboExpress in North America.

The TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine was the first video game console capable of playing CD-ROM games with an optional add-on.

By March 1991, NEC claimed that it had sold 750,000 TurboGrafx-16 consoles in the United States and 500,000 CD-ROM units worldwide.[17]

Later in 1991, NEC released the PC Engine Duo in Japan, a model which could play HuCards and CD-ROM² discs, making it the first game console with an integrated CD-ROM drive. In addition to standard CD-ROM² format discs, the Duo could also play games in the newly introduced Super CD-ROM² format due to its greater RAM size. Existing PC Engine owners could gain Super CD-ROM² support by purchasing the The Super System Card. The Duo came into competition with the Sega CD, which, in Japan, was released just two months later.

For its American release, The Duo was licensed to Turbo Technologies, Inc., an American company co-founded by NEC and Hudson Soft to market the new console in the United States. Once again, NEC's first to market advantage was crushed when delays put the American release of the TurboDuo on October 10, 1992 - just five days before the Sega CD's American release.

Turbo Technologies ran comic book ads featuring Johnny Turbo. The ads mocked Sega, and emphasized that though the TurboDuo and Sega CD had the same retail price, the TurboDuo was a far better value because it was a standalone platform and included five pack-in games; Sega CD buyers needed to own a Genesis console and purchase games separately.

However, neither CD-based console would catch on and the North American console gaming market continued to be dominated by the Super Nintendo and Genesis. In May 1994 Turbo Technologies announced that it was dropping support for the Duo, though it would continue to offer repairs for existing units and provide ongoing software releases through independent companies in the U.S. and Canada.[18]

The final licensed release for the PC Engine was Dead of the Brain Part 1 & 2 on June 3, 1999, on the Super CD-ROM² format.[19] The last game on HuCard format was 21 Emon: Mezase! Hotel Ō on December 16, 1994.

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