PC Engine - A Forgotten Gem
Guest Blog by Jason @
In late October 1987 I noticed a curious white box was released on to the Japanese market, the “PC Engine” as it was named by NEC was an unusual little console that was 14cm X 14cm square to be precise, around the size of a bag of crisps to the layman. It was tiny compared to the competition.
With 8K RAM, 64K video RAM plus a custom Hudson soft 8bit processor plus a single joypad connection it was a fantastic games console that would go on to have a massive cult following and eventually outsell the Nintendo Super Famicom in Japan, Now that’s saying something!
I’d first read about this machine in C&VG after they did a small article on it, showcasing some of the forthcoming titles on it such as RType, Victory Run and The Kung fu (terrible name). I was immediately drawn to the machine for one thing only... R-Type!, being a massive arcade player and huge fan of the IREM game I pretty much decided there and then I had to own one, I wasn’t sure how I’d go about this but my mind was set.
Now I already owned the usual ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amiga 500 and wasn’t really fussed by the 8bit NES or Sega Master System as my A500 was much better than either of these systems but something about this weird little system interested me.
With a stroke of luck and making of a great friend who managed to get hold of an RGB modded full scart version from Telegames, for me this however created a huge and costly problem as in the UK at the time PAL TV’s were the standard and only SONY at the time fitted 21 pin scart connections, hard to believe I know!
The games were released on small HU cards, only about the size of a standard credit card but packing in some fantastic programming of colourful sprites, amazing music and some truly stunning games. Among my favourites were, RType 1 (split onto two cards due to storage limitations of 20mb per card), Galaga 88, Fantasy Zone, Space Harrier, Dragon Spirit, Gunhed, Side Arms, Atomic RoboKid, Image Fight, Bomberman and Gradius.
Unfortunately for this great machine NEC in their divine wisdom chose not to release an official version in the UK or Europe for that matter as they deemed the market to small it however was released in the US about 2 years later renamed the Turbo Grafx16. It was meant to compete with the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo but the original 8bit was replaced by a custom dual 8bit processor setup, technically it was amazing what either machine could do but poorly marketed it failed to really make an headway against these two heavyweight fully 16bit consoles.
It was added to with an additional CD ROM unit and redesigned many times by NEC into some weird and wonderful shapes and sizes including the Core Grafx, Core 2, Duo, Duo R, Duo RX, Shuttle, LT and GT the last two of which had LCD screens attached. NEC had CD ROM based gaming way before anyone else and their handheld GT model had a colour back lit LCD screen which was way ahead of it’s time using the same HU cards so no need to buy new games! Being released just after the original Nintendo Gameboy but being far superior to it but even this didn’t sell due to pricing.
All in all NEC have made some awesome hardware which most people have only ever heard of if at all, which as a massive shame as they were far superior in many ways but the lacked direction of SEGA and Nintendo.
So if you get the chance to play one, take it but if you get the chance to own one these quirky little machines go for it as they are still a great gaming machine.
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