• magisterrex Retro Games


    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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The Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games Part II

The first part of this series was written back in June of 2010, a hard-hitting, pull-no-punches look at the best HuCards that the TurboGrafx-16 console had to offer.  Well, perhaps that’s describing it with a bit too much hyperbole, but in my defense, I have been reading a lot of old magazines lately, and some of the ad copy is beginning to assimilate my mind. Regardless, I thought that the original list was a pretty good one, and was meaning to write the next Top Ten, but…well, it is as it is.  And here it is, a mere two years later. (What’s two years to we retrogamers?) Once again, here are what I consider the next Top 10 HuCard (in no particular order) games for this forgotten system.  Remember (!): no CD games, and only North American releases.

Air Zonk
Once you get past the fact that Hudson Soft used a futuristic Bonk as the pivotal character in this game, you’ll find it a challenging shooter. Humorous sci-fi updates to Bonk’s various power-ups and their effects, such as the glass-encapsulated meat and the ability to call in one of Zonk’s friends to help shoot down the Bosses, keep Zonk’s airborne adventures from becoming just another Bonk’s Adventure game.

Bloody Wolf
Have you ever noticed that the President of the United States gets kidnapped a lot in the video game world? He’s been kidnapped again in Bloody Wolf, along with a truckload of other hostages, all of which you have to rescue. A sound track that drives the action, plenty of enemies to dispatch with a good assortment of weapons, and a variety of level designs make this game a must-have T16 arcade experience!

Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon
It’s a D&D RPG on the T16! Based on the Dungeons & Dragons rules – not the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules – this game was designed by Westwood Associates, before they became the gaming giant Westwood Studios. It is very similar to the Gold Box series by SSI: pick a party of four pre-generated characters, and off you go adventuring. Strategic thinking is required to survive the many encounters, as well as while constructing your party. Saving your game frequently is wise!

Final Lap Twin
What’s more fun than racing behind the wheel of a Formula One race car? How about racing your buddy with the screen split in two, one half for each player? And if you don’t have any friends that want to race you, then you could also play in RPG mode, searching for challenges to face in your quest to become a World Champion racer!

Galaga ’90
Colorful animations, jaunty tunes and endless waves of alien ships are just a few of the things I liked about Galaga ’90. The ability to gain a triple ship almost immediately by temporarily sacrificing one of my precious single ships and relying on the alien capture teams and my sharpshooting skills is another. Now that is Galactic Dancing.

Klax
There’s something to be said for Tetris clones that don’t play anything like Tetris. This is a marvelous puzzle game that requires quick-thinking and even quicker reflexes as you attempt to sort the oncoming conveyor belt blocks by color into rows, stacks, and diagonals. The applause from the crowd and the onomatopoeia  from the obviously impressed female announcer make it all worthwhile.

Parasol Stars
There are two things you need to know right away about this game. First, a parasol is a sun umbrella, from the Latin verb “parere” (“to ward off”) and the noun “sol” (“sun” ). They’re often colorful and decorative, and not for heavy rain. Second, this game is part three of the Bubble Bobble trilogy, so you can expect the same kind of colorfully bright graphics and weird gameplay. So when I tell you that you use your parasol to capture and toss objects around to score points and capture power-ups, you won’t immediately re-read the sentence for clarity. Did I mention it’s bright and colorful? Because it is…relentlessly so!

R-Type
There are some people who believe R-Type is the best arcade shooter ever devised, and though I am not one of those people, I can see their case.  The graphics are reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s work, and some of the power-ups are unique, such as the Power Pod, which can be detached to attack enemies or attached to your ship to fend off attackers. The game can be very challenging, even with the robot help, so be prepared to be faced with an equal mixture of joy and frustration when playing R-Type!

Raiden
Another in a long series of arcade shooters that put you at the controls of an advanced fighter facing off against hordes of alien invaders, Raiden distinguished itself from its competition with superb graphics (including a wide variety of background screens), well-thought-out power-ups, and vertical scrolling gameplay that progressively became more difficult until it reached diabolical levels. The game was translated into seven different gaming platforms, but the TurboGrafx version is the best!

Super Star Soldier
Do you want to play a vertical shooter that is relentlessly challenging? One that boasts outstanding graphics and a wide array of weapons, all programmed onto a standard huCard? Well do I have a game for you!  Besides having some of the best weapon choices ever to grace the TurboGrafx-16, this game also does not clip when the enemies fill the screen and the action is at its most intense, making Super Star Soldier one of the best arcade shooters to ever show the T16’s capabilities!

Honorable mention: Legendary Axe II
Now this game should probably be on the first Top Ten list as part of the Legendary Axe series, but since I didn’t remember to put it there, I’m exercising executive authority to put it on this list. Legendary Axe was a fantastic game, but its sequel (imaginatively entitled Legendary Axe II) was even better. More creatures to fight, better levels to navigate, better atmosphere overall…this was and is an amazing game that showcased what the TurboGrafx-16 could offer gamers. It could stand up against many of today’s graphic extravaganzas and easily win on gameplay alone!

Have a different Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 list?  Leave a comment with your favorites – and don’t forget to say why!

The Top Ten TurboCD TurboDuo CD Games

Of all the video game consoles I’ve played, the one that holds a special place in my retrogaming heart continues to be that poor doomed also-ran in the Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo Wars: the NEC TurboGrafx-16.

This is the TurboGrafx-16 with the TurboCD attachment.

What makes the TurboGrafx so special to me? Perhaps it is because of my love for a good underdog against the favorite of the great unwashed, perhaps it was the console’s design, or perhaps it was the because of the amazing peripherals NEC offered for their system.  Regardless, it will always be my first choice when heading back to the 90s for retrogaming (yes, I realize it was released in North America in 1989…most of the games came later!) Picking up a TurboCD and a Super System Card was one of my best gaming investments back in the day.  There were some fabulous CD games that I played over the years, some of which I was not able to pick up until a decade later!  Here’s a small list of my favorite TurboCD games, some requiring the Super System Card, some not, but all worth playing!

Loom for the TurboGrafx-16 TurboCD

I’ve written about the wonders of Loomelsewhere, so I’ll be brief: this game is well worth playing. This is a beautiful game on the TurboCD, with enhanced music and gameplay based upon the original IBM-PC diskette version, but with the better graphic capabilities of the TurboCD.  It does not feature any voice acting, but the story and gameplay is wonderful, regardless. After all, this is a LucasArts adventure game; how can you go wrong?

Prince of Persia for the TurboCD

One of the finest platformers ever to grace any gaming system, Prince of Persia for the TurboCD has the same flair as the original, with the added feature of animated cutscenes with voice acting to help propel the storyline.  A little note for those who think Prince of Persia is based on Disney’s Aladdin movie: the original Prince of Persia was released in 1989, and Aladdin hit the movie theatre circuit in 1992.  Hmm…tell me again who influenced whom?

Ys I & II for the TurboDuo

Way back in 1987, a game called Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished was released, and the game was successful enough to not only be ported over to several game systems (including an excellent Sega Master System version), but to also spawn a sequel one year later: Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter. The TurboDuo game Ys Book I & II is a remake of these two games, with better graphics, animated cutscenes, better sound, and, of course, voice acting. Ultimately, the game was considered one of the best games of its genre, with contemporary game reviewers giving it perfect or near-perfect scores. This is another Turbo CD must-have!

Bonk 3 for the TurboDuo

Back in 1993, the TurboGrafx CD system was nearing the end of its product life, and one of the last games released in North America for NEC’s gaming system was Bonk 3: Bonk’s Big Adventure. The game was released in both SuperCD and HuCard format, and the game was identical on both, except the CD version had much better audio. Bonk 3 was much like the previous two games in the series, with the added element of being able to play cooperatively with another player – two Bonks for the price of one!

Gate of Thunder for the TurboDuo

In 1992, NEC was selling the TurboDuo system in North America, and to help show off just what it could do, Gate of Thunderwas added as one of four games on a “pack-in” game CD.  This was a kind of shooter that gamers dreamed about, with incredible action, switchable and power-up weaponry, the ability to tackle enemies from both the front and the rear, interesting level design and compelling gameplay. If all TurboCD games were like this one, NEC would have won the Console Wars!

Lords of Thunder for TurboDuo

Billed as a sequel to the impressive shooter Gate of Thunder (albeit in a fantasy setting, not sci-fi), Lords of Thunderis a bold testament to the what a gifted programming team could do with the TurboGrafx CD technology.  Seven levels that you can select from at will (with one more final level available when you complete the others!), awesome power-ups, colorful and imaginative backgrounds and unique enemies…plus killer heavy metal guitar licks on the soundtrack all add up to making this an incredible game!

Might and Magic III for the TurboDuo

Once upon a time RPGs were designed so that the player could move throughout the game world at will, either following the overarching storyline or not, and generally staying off the linear express that modern RPGs have become. One such game was Might & Magic III: Isle of Terra, which was ported to the TurboCD, losing none of its charms on the way. The game was extremely challenging, requiring time spent on outfitting your party, mapping corridors, tracking inventory, and overcoming obstacles, whether those obstacles were monster encounters or difficult riddles to solve, all of which put off the casual gamer. However, those with the gaming fortitude love of RPGs found Might & Magic III: Isle of Terra a game that they couldn’t say “NO” to. And neither should you! Some of the marketing decisions that NEC and TurboCD game developers made were considerably suspect. As an example, let me present the North American game Monster Lair, which would have been much better known (and received) had they used its real name, Wonder Boy III. The Wonder Boy series had its own following, so what possessed NEC to drop the “Wonder Boy” part of the title is a mystery.  Regardless, this game is an excellent platformer, colorful, fast-paced, and imaginative. Another must-have for anyone’s TurboCD collection!

DragonSlayer for the TurboDuo

Falcom, the developers who designed the Ys series, returned to the TurboCD console to create another RPG that has made my Top Ten List: Dragonslayer: The Legend of Heroes. This is a good “pick-up” RPG, in that you can get into the game quickly, but it is also highly addictive – very much in the Final Fantasy realm of console gaming. The game plays quickly and smoothly, and has an interesting option of switching between PSG (Programmable Sound Generator) or CD music files, which can affect the game speed. The only complaint I might have with this game is the voice acting quality, but considering the general state of voice acting in games during the early 90s, it’s well within industry standards of the time!

Dungeon Explorer II for the TurboDuo

The first Dungeon Explorer game was an action-RPG hybrid HuCard, good enough to make the Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games list. Its sequel, Dungeon Explorer II, was even better, with all the gameplay of the original – a simplified combat and magic using system, outstanding inventory acquisition and deployment, as well as the ever-present theme of dungeon delving – but with the added benefit of CD quality sound.  This game was a showcase on how to use music to enhance the mood by altering to fit the location, sometimes airy and light, and sometimes dark and forbidding. The trouble with finding this game today is its rarity; the PAL version is readily available, but the NTSC version fetches hundred of dollars online.

I can hear the outcry from TurboDuo gamers: “You forgot the best game of all, Dracula X!”  Well, not really. Dracula X: Rondo of Blood was only an import in North America, and not readily available on the shelves of any retail store.  It is true that it was an amazing game – perhaps the best game of the entire TurboDuo lineup – but as an import, it’s disqualified from the list of best TurboCD games available in North America. Remember, at the time there wasn’t an eBay or Amazon (or even magisterrex.com) to turn to for your games; you either went to the video game store to buy what you wanted or you mailed away for them. My, how times have changed!

Ultimately, any of the games presented on this list are worth buying and playing, and each well-represents the long-past, but never-forgot, NEC TurboGrafx-16 CD video game system!

Advertising From Yesteryear…Bonk’s Adventure

Once upon a time the NEC TurboGrafx-16 video game system seemed poised to enter and dominate the North American console gaming market.  Alas, it was not to be.  Recognizing the link between comic book readers and video game players, Hudson Soft paid for a two-page spread advertising their game, Bonk’s Adventure, in a comic format, in popular titles, such as this one, found in Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man (Issue #3, October 1990).  Click on the image below to enjoy a larger version!

Bonk's Adventure ad from 1990

Happy 20th Birthday, Super Nintendo!

It was August 23, 1991, that Nintendo finally answered the 16-bit challenge in North America, releasing the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, for short.   It’s difficult to appreciate today, with the prosperity Nintendo has enjoyed with its gaming systems over the past twenty years, but when the SNES was released, there was no guarantee of success. The competition had been in the 16-bit market for two years already, with the Sega Genesis debuting in August 14, 1989, and the NEC TurboGrafx-16 launching in August 29, 1991, and Nintendo faced an uphill battle for market share.  To make matters more difficult, on its launch date, there were only five games available for the system, which included Super Mario World (packaged within the game box), Gradius III, SimCity, Pilotwings, and F-Zero.  No Zelda, no Mega Man, no sports titles of any kind, no puzzle games…that’s it.

The Nintendo SNES Super Set

Nintendo gambled on the fact that its pre-existing userbase for the predessor of the SNES, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), was huge.  30 million homes had a Nintendo Entertainment System in them, and the NES was already regarded as the most successful gaming system in history.  The question that the Nintendo executives had was very simple: could a majority of those past customers be convinced to invest in a new Nintendo system?

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The success of the Super Mario Bros. game franchise had not gone unnoticed by these same executives.  Which came first in the buying decision priorities of Nintendo’s customers, the desire to play Super Mario or the desire for the system itself?  Hedging the bet, and recognizing that Super Mario had entered popular culture as an iconic symbol of gaming, Nintendo helped ensure a commercial success by including a 16-bit “sequel” to the original Super Mario series within the box of the SNES, Super Mario World.

Super Mario Bros. for the NES

As we all know, things turned out well for Nintendo.  It took only one year for sales of the Super Nintendo to match those of the Genesis, and the two fought the 16-bit Console Wars until Sega sabotaged itself with its bizarre Sega Saturn strategy.  (A story for another day…)  Even in the face of stiff competition from the Sony PlayStation, the Super Nintendo continued to be a strong force in the gaming market.  A smaller, redesigned version of the system was put to market, and one of the system’s most popular games, Donkey Kong Country, was not released until late 1994, which promptly sold over 6 million copies!  The Super Nintendo sold so well that Nintendo did not cease production of the Super Nintendo until 1999, and only because the Nintendo 64 was poised to launch.

The SNS-101, the 2nd Super Nintendo Console

So, Happy 20th Birthday to a system that more than covered its bet, and helped shape the gaming world into what it is today!


The very first Super Nintendo commercial?

Great Gaming Accessories from Yesteryear: The Turbo CD

The ultimate accessory for video console gaming in the early 1990’s was not the Sega CD – it was the Turbo CD with a Super System Card.  This combination permitted owners of NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 gaming system to access some of the very best games available at the time, whether they were North American or Japanese releases, such as Dungeon Explorer II, Ys Book I and II, Lords of Thunder, and Dracula X.

The Turbo CD with TurboGrafx-16

The Turbo CD attached itself to the TurboGrafx-16 system, and the new world of CD gaming was opened up.  The Super System Card turned the Turbo CD into a Turbo Duo machine, with 256K of RAM (split 64K DRAM and 192K SRAM).  It also provided the most advanced bios for the T16 (version 3.0), which permitted its owners to play the “Super System CD” games.  The extra memory gave programmers the ability to use the entire color palette for their games’ backgrounds, which provided a much richer gaming experience.

Turbo CD Super System Card 3.0

So if this accessory was the greatest thing to happen to gaming since the release of the Atari 2600, why didn’t everyone own one?  Well, to begin with, it was an accessory for the TurboGrafx-16 system, which was fighting for ground in the Nintendo vs. Sega console wars, and losing.  It was also BIG, which was odd, considering the Japanese model it was based on (for the PC Engine) was quite small.  Perhaps the North American fascination for big trucks and luxury cars blinded the design team at NEC, since they clearly thought BIGGER was better.  Unfortunately, retailers don’t want giant boxes that are mostly Styrofoam or packaging today, and they didn’t then, either.  With a box measuring 59.5cm x 44.5cm x 26cm (23.4″ x 17.5″ x 10.2″), who had the space to display it, never mind stock it in any significant quantity?  Another reason was that, unlike the Sega CD, which included Sewer Shark, the Turbo CD did not include a game, which meant you had to add a little more cost to the final bill.  That leads us to the final, and most important reason why the Turbo CD did not catch fire in the gaming universe: the price.  NEC priced the Turbo CD at $399, which was a prohibitive price point.  Although the standard System 2.0 Card was included in the package, it only gave access to the standard CD games.  Only by purchasing the Super System Card could gamers access the Super CD titles (like Prince of Persia, DragonSlayer, etc), and this was retailing in the $80-$100 range.

So let’s review NEC’s market strategy for the Turbo CD:

  1. High price
  2. Basic function unless you pay even more money for an accessory for the accessory
  3. GIANT size
  4. No game

I’m not a rocket scientist, but this combination would spell disaster today for any peripheral’s sales, never mind during the height of the Nintendo vs. Sega console wars!

Behold: The TurboGrafx CD original box

So in the end, the Turbo CD was the best gaming accessory no one bought.  Today retrogaming is a both a popular and enjoyable pastime.  If you are a retrogamer with a passion for all things 90s, you simply need to have a TurboGrafx-16 with a Turbo CD system!  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel a need for some Lords of Thunder Super CD action coming on – awesome guitar riffs and amazing game play await!

The Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games

When gamers look back at the heyday of the Genesis/NES wars, NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 is often overlooked.  That’s a darn shame – as big a shame today as it was back in the 1990s, as the TurboGrafx video game system had some quality games that are still fun to play today.  Just for kicks and giggles, here are what I consider the Top 10 huCard (in no particular order) games for this forgotten system.  One more caveat: the CD games aren’t on this list – they’re for another day!

Box front for Bonk's Adventure

Bonk’s Adventure / Bonk’s Revenge / Bonk 3
What can you say about this classic game of caveman versus his world.  How can you not like a character that gains enormous health and power from eating giant, meaty bones or who dispatches his enemies by smacking them with his granite-like head?  I’ll always like the first game the best simply due to its original charm, but the others in the series were gold, too, so they’ve been bunched together as some of the best games ever for the T-16 system!

Box front for Blazing Lazers

Blazing Lazers
How about a game that filled the screen with non-stop arcade action – alien ships coming in wave after wave of attack runs, but dropping just the right kind of power-ups to keep your thumbs mashing the pad until defeating each level boss and getting a breather?  Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  Blazing Lazers was AWESOME.

Box front for Neutopia

Neutopia / Neutopia II
Wait a minute – is this game a Zelda game or not?  Well, it sure played like Zelda, even if it just “borrowed” elements of the classic NES series.  Jazeta strapped on his sword and shield and searched for the eight Medallions that would spell defeat for Dirth, the wizard with a bad attitude.  Charge up the Fire Wand and help Link Jazeta burn his way to success!

Box front for Military Madness

Military Madness
Tell me again why we’re fighting the Axis-Xenon scum for the right to control the Moon?  Who cares – this was a turn-based strategy wargame for a console system…and it didn’t suck!  The game’s victory music still pops unbidden into my thoughts (at mostly appropriate times).

Box front for Alien Crush

Alien Crush / Devil’s Crush
I never thought I’d sit in front of my television and play a pinball game for hours, but that was before Alien Crush showed me what a good pinball game looked like.  And Devil’s Crush upped the ante even more.  Great graphics, speed, table feel…these were some great pinball games.

Box front for Bomberman

Bomberman
Who wants to play a five-player TurboGrafx-16 game and blow up all your friends?  If you had a TurboTap and enough TurboPads, this game was the ultimate multi-player game for the T-16 system.  Of course, if you had NO friends, the game had a decent single-player mode, too, which, considering many gamers in the 90s didn’t see the sun until the Millennium Bug scared them into going outside to forage for supplies, was a good thing.  By the way, if you had two TurboExpress handheld systems you could link them and play head-to-head.

Box front for Splatterhouse

Splatterhouse
Did you ever want to put on a hockey mask, pick up a weapon, and lay a beating down on the hapless evil denizens of a haunted house?  Don’t worry about your psyche, so did everyone else.  Lots of gore (not as much as the Japanese version, though) made this a controversial game and gave it a cult following even before its release.

Box front for Cadash

Cadash
Another super RPG for the TurboGrafx-16, Cadash gave the player the opportunity to play a fighter (heavily armoured and packing a mean damage rating), a mage (with magical firepower), a priestess (a decent fighter who can heal herself), or a ninja (a FAST little guy with the ability to reign death by shuriken from afar or use a spread fire ability to burn enemies to ash).  The game had plenty of Zelda II elements (shades of Neutopia!), and remains a T16 collector favorite to this day.

Box front for Dungeon Explorer

Dungeon Explorer
Long before there were MORPGs letting gamers explore virtual fantasy worlds together, your choices for multiplayer RPG action were slim. Until Dungeon Explorer arrived, that is, with the ability to play with up to four more of your friends (using the TurboTap).  You could even save your progress with a password save game feature!

Box front for The Legendary Axe

The Legendary Axe
This game was hard.  And I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this when it came out.  It was also a visual/audio masterpiece that garnered a Video Game of the Year honor from VideoGames & Computer Entertainment.  A game that redefines an entire genre (the platform sidescroller) deserves to be on any TurboGrafx-16 Top Ten list!

Box front for J.J. & Jeff

Honorable mention: J.J. & Jeff
OK, I played Leisure Suit Larry when it came out, and loved the infantile humor, but up to J.J. & Jeff, I never saw a steaming pile of defecation in a video game before.  Although the North American version of this game was much tamer than the Japanese version (no public urination, for example), it still had some punch to shock and titillate the North American puritan audience.

Have a different Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 list?  Leave a comment with your favorites – and don’t forget to say why!

20 Years Ago – Great Video and PC Games Released in 1990

1990 was an interesting year.  George H.W. Bush was still President of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the U.S.S.R.  It was the year Nelson Mandela became a free man, Mike Tyson got knocked out, Marion Barry got busted for drug possession, the Edmonton Oilers won their last (for now) Stanley Cup, the Detroit Pistons took another NBA title, Germany was reunified signaling the end of the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Iraq invaded Kuwait. And that’s just some of the year’s highlights!

Just for fun, let’s look at what some of the awesome video & PC North American game releases were 20 years ago. All of these are great games to play, and some are retro gaming classics!  Of course, these are by no means all the game releases for 1990 – just some of the ones I thought were worth mentioning.

1990 also saw the release of Pretty Woman!

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