So the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is here—kind of. Maybe? Review units went out to American press weeks ago, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, its public launch has been postponed from the original date in March. Rest assured that it’s coming, someday, potentially when you least expect it.
You’ll probably find it worth the wait. As I wrote in my review last week (and which I will helpfully link to right here for the second straight paragraph), it sets a new standard for retro microconsoles. It’s not just a nostalgia machine, but fills in a vital piece of gaming history that has been widely forgotten or overlooked, and also might be the single best collection of shoot ‘em ups you’ll ever buy.
It’s good. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be better.
Between the TurboGrafx-16 and its Japanese counterpart, the PC Engine, there are almost 60 games on this thing. That’s a lot. It’s so many that it feels a little silly to be writing about what it left off. I don’t really believe, as I wrote last year, that every game ever released for the TurboGrafx-16 should be on the Mini. I do think a few crucial additions and alterations would have made for a slightly better product—one that both better represented the full range of gaming options that the TurboGrafx-16 library offered in the early ‘90s, and that also helped the biggest fans of the system finally get some of the rarest and most expensive games that came out for it.
Here are two lists of five games each whose presence would improve the already great TurboGrafx-16. One is a list of the best games that aren’t on the console; the other is a list of the rarest games, the ones that are the hardest to find and have been played by the fewest people.
Bonk was the official mascot for the TurboGrafx-16 in America, and so it’s not a surprise that three Bonk games are on the Mini. The Japanese version of Bonk’s Adventure, the North American version of the sequel Bonk’s Revenge, and futuristic shoot ‘em up spinoff Air Zonk are part of the package. Curiously, the rarest of them all, Bonk 3: Bonk’s Big Adventure, didn’t make the cut. One of the last games released for the TurboGrafx-16, Bonk 3 had a limited supply, despite existing both as a HuCard and in the Super CD-Rom format. It was available on Nintendo’s Virtual Console for the Wii and Wii U, so there was no reason not to include it on the Mini.
The TurboGrafx’s bread and butter was the shoot ‘em up, games like Blazing Lazers, R-Type and Super Star Soldier. Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams is like those games, but fundamentally different; it’s what is known as a “cute ‘em up,” a shooter that replaces spaceships and serious sci-fi trappings with bright colors, adorable characters, and an overall sense of lightness and fun. Another title released near the end of the TurboGrafx’s lifespan, it’s incredibly hard to find in America, and has thus attained an almost mythic status. It alone would’ve been a selling point for some fans if it was included on the Mini.
Speaking of stupidly expensive cute ‘em ups, here’s Magical Chase. They both even star witches who ride broomsticks. The Armageddon to Cotton’s Deep Impact, Magical Chase is the slightly better game, and also rarer, often fetching over $1000 today. Again, it would’ve satisfied a lot of curious players if it was available on the Mini, although the diehard collectors would still be itching for that original HuCard. The game is believed to be owned by Square Enix today, as they long ago acquired its original developer.
The common trend among these rarest of the rare is that they all came out in America in 1993—the last year of the system’s too-short life. The Dynastic Hero is not different. This is a reskinned Super CD-Rom version of Wonder Boy V: Monster World III (my pick for the greatest videogame title of all time), which was released for the Genesis as Wonder Boy in Monster World. That means it’s basically a sequel to Dragon’s Curse, a TurboGrafx game you’ll find lower down on this page. So the source material for The Dynastic Hero isn’t that rare, but it had a different look and story and benefited from the superior audio capabilities of the Super CD-Rom. Again, its rarity alone would’ve made it a welcome inclusion on the Mini.
Japan got a home version of Irem’s arcade platformer in 1991, but it didn’t hit the States until 1993—while the TurboGrafx-16 was going through its final death throes. That’s a shame; despite its short length and sometimes brutal difficulty, this is the kind of fun, colorful, action-packed platformer that could’ve been a hit in ‘91 or ‘92. Instead it’s another TurboGrafx-16 game that’s hard to find and harder to afford, and one that isn’t on the Mini.
Devil’s Crush combines the two styles of video pinball better than any other game. It’s a single machine spread across three screens, each with its own pair of flippers, and a variety of optional bonus screens that can be unlocked in various ways. Even if you stripped away the few elements that would be impossible in a real pinball machine, such as the circle of chanting monks in the top screen, or the swarm of demons that erupt out of a bumper after it’s hit enough times, Devil’s Crush would make for a fantastic old-school pinball machine, with numerous opportunities per screen to score or raise your bonus. Those physically impossible moments are crucial to making this the best video pinball game ever, though, and the goofy satanic heavy-metal aesthetic is the perfect capstone. Alien Crush, its fine but inferior predecessor, is on the Mini, but that slot should’ve gone to this game instead.
The game of its year for beloved old magazine VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, Legendary Axe would’ve been a standard side-scrolling hack’n’slasher in 1989 if it weren’t for two things: It was surprisingly tough and incredibly good looking. This launch title was a graphical trump card for the TG-16, far surpassing similar games on the NES and showing up the early games for the Genesis, which launched the same month. Legendary Axe remains one of the best games to target the Conan the Barbarian demographic.
This side-scrolling run’n’gun arcade hit was the TurboGrafx’s answer to Ikari Warriors or Contra, with your bandana-sporting army man stalking his way through a war zone and blasting away enemies in multiple directions. That was a vital role to play in any console’s catalogue in the late ‘80s. The TurboGrafx version was actually better than the arcade original, with larger levels and a more fleshed-out story.
The TurboGrafx-16 was home to some of the best video pinball games ever made. Time Cruisewasn’t as well-known as the peerless Crush series, but its novel spin on pinball convention is worth seeking out. Time Cruise is less of a pinball machine than a series of conjoined single-screen machines with a common aesthetic. Like the original Zelda game your ball can travel to new screens in all four directions, each with its own pair of flippers at the bottom. Bonus levels are complex balancing puzzles that resemble Marble Madness more than pinball. It’s a pleasantly rambling (but no less stressful) take on classic pinball.
Dragon’s Curse has a confusing history—it’s the same game as the Sega Master System’s Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, but with art changes and a different story. Following up on Metroid’s signature design hallmarks, Dragon’s Curse is a smartly designed but relatively simple non-linear platformer with a cute cartoon art style.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.