Konami had planned to release its mini TurboGrafx-16, PC Engine, and CoreGrafx consoles last week, but the production schedule has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic around the world. I managed to get my hands on a PC Engine Mini here in Japan, though, so here’s a quick look at it ahead of the TurboGrafx-16 launch in the US — which, hopefully, shouldn’t be too far off.
The TurboGrafx-16 was released in 1989 as the US version of the PC Engine, which came out in Japan two years prior. Another revision called the CoreGrafx came later, but all versions shared the same internal hardware. The consoles were manufactured by NEC and designed by Hudson Soft, creators of series like Bomberman and Adventure Island. Konami was one of its strongest third-party supporters and later acquired Hudson, which is why it’s handling the release of the mini versions.
Despite the name, the TurboGrafx-16 actually had an 8-bit CPU, though it did use 16-bit video hardware. It was more of a competitor to the NES than the SNES; indeed, its delayed launch in the US meant it compared unfavorably to Sega’s 16-bit Genesis, which came out the same month. Still, the PC Engine hardware could produce far better arcade-style visuals than the NES, giving its games a distinct look and ensuring that the console stands out as a notable point in the evolution of video game technology.
The thing about the PC Engine Mini is that the original PC Engine was already pretty mini. Konami really hasn’t reduced the size all that much, but it’s still super cute and comes in smaller than the Mega Drive Mini or SNES Classic Edition. The TurboGrafx-16, however, was designed to be far larger in an attempt to appeal to the US market, and it looks like that’ll still be the case with its “mini” edition. Honestly, I kind of like the idea of a comically huge mini console, but we’ll have to see how that model works out in practice.
Like almost every other mini console, the PC Engine Mini uses a Micro USB port for power and HDMI for video output; in this case, it’s hidden behind a removable orange “Ext Bus” flap, which is a nice touch. The controller is full-sized and feels great, with chunky concave buttons and a comfortable D-pad. The cable is regular USB-A, and it’s thankfully much longer than other mini consoles at 3 meters in length. It’s the only wired retro controller I’ve been able to use sat on my couch with the console in the TV stand. I appreciate the nostalgia of sitting on the floor close to the screen, don’t get me wrong, but this is a lot more practical for actually playing the games.
And there are a lot of games. The official total is 57, though there are some extras and Easter eggs hidden away by M2, the studio responsible for the emulation. If you press the Select button while booting certain games like Gradius and Soldier Blade, for example, you can play rare or modified versions of the ROM. There’s even a display mode that lets you play the games as if you were using the low-res portable PC Engine GT/TurboExpress, which is not something I would necessarily recommend you do at length, but it makes for a fun inclusion.
We’ll dive further into the software library when we’ve had more time with the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, but my first impressions are that M2 has done a typically great job with emulation, and the system software is very good. You can have up to four save states for each game, the video output is of high quality with all of the options you’d want, and unlike Nintendo’s mini consoles, you’re able to access the menus without having to get up to press a physical button on the system itself — just press Run and Select together on the controller.
While the lineup of games is excellent, there is a catch: the games are divided into TurboGrafx-16 titles in English and PC Engine releases in Japanese no matter which version of the system you own, with very few regional differences. On one hand, this is a good thing — unlike, say, the Super Famicom Classic Edition, there’s little need to import if you want to play the Japanese games. The original PC Engine version of Hideo Kojima’s text-heavy classic Snatcher was only ever released in Japan, for example, so it’s nice to see it included, even if few people outside the country will be able to play in practice. On the other, it’s a little strange that almost everyone will end up with a bunch of games in their non-native language even when more appropriate versions did exist.
Overall, though, the PC Engine Mini has a lot to offer, whichever language you speak. It’s a neatly designed product that avoids some of the drawbacks found in similar retro consoles, and it’s a great way to get yourself acquainted with one of the more underappreciated systems from the 8-bit era — or 16-bit, if you insist.