Monday, August 1, 2016

The Top 50 TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine Games EVER! (Part Two: Number 40 to 31)

Part two of a special five-part series counting down the best NEC's 16-bit system had to offer ... on both sides of the Pacific, no less!

By: Jimbo X
When people think about video gaming in the late 1980s and early 1990s, visions of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis seem to pop up almost instinctively. However, amid all of that late 8-bit and early 16-bit awesomeness, there was a third home console challenger, which despite never getting as much publicity or reverence as the Big Two, nonetheless managed to grace us with some of the greatest and most inventive 2D shoot em ups, action platformers and multiplayer puzzlers in the history of the interactive medium. 

While NEC's TurboGrafx-16 ran a distant third in the North American console race, its Japanese counterpart the PC Engine had legs well into the mid 1990s. Indeed, the pioneering 16-bit system (which actually used an 8-bit CPU, but no need to muddle with the technicalities) actually outdid Nintendo and Sega in many respects, creating a cult classic piece of hardware that even now, can lay claim to owning one of the best and most versatile software libraries of any console ever. 

As we've done with the DreamcastSega CDNeo Geo and Game Gear, we here at The Internet Is In America now pay tribute to the iconic NEC system with a special five-part series counting down the absolute best games to ever grace the TG-16 or PC Engine. And exhaustive doesn't begin to cover how in-depth we went for this undertaking - it took a full year, but eventually, we managed to get our hands on every single game to ever legally make its way to either system, thus allowing us to review and rank every title objectively across the entire field of PC Engine and TurboGrafx offerings. 

Before we hop into the countdown, let's go over a few ground rules, why don't we?

First, only games released on the proprietary Hu-Card format are eligible for the list. So that means, as awesome as they were, no PC Engine offerings only available in CD-ROM, Arcade CD-ROM or Super CD-ROM formats are included in the rankings.

Secondly, only officially licensed games released during the system's first hardware run (that's from 1987 to 1995, in case you were wondering) are considered. So no homebrews, ROM hacks, pirated ports or unlicensed mass-produced games got any consideration.

And lastly? Opinions are like assholes, and your asshole is probably different from mine. Don't like the final outcome? Then take it upon yourself to play every fuckin' game on the console like I did and craft a better countdown. I'm waiting, amigo. I'm waiting. 

And without further adieu, how about we get this show on the road? 

Number 40:
Keith Courage in Alpha Zones
(1990 - Hudson Soft)

Ah, yes, the iconic pack-in game for the TG-16's big debut in the States all the way back in 1989. Keith Courage (in Japan, it's a licensed game base on the anime Mashin Hero Wataru) was for many people their first exposure to the new console on the block, and while opinions on the overall quality of the game remain a topic of much debate, I've long believed it to be one of the finer action-platformers on the system. It's such a wonderfully weird blend of late 1980s platforming. It's got the Mario-style hop and bopping, the lite RPG elements of the second Zelda game and once you don that trademark "Nova Suit," the title suddenly transforms into a very enjoyable Mega Man/Castlevania hybrid. Considering how long the game is and how tough some of the boss battles are, Keith Courage has a lot more meat to it than most wanna-be mascot games from the time frame - and although I'm probably in the minority, I actually prefer the challenging fusion gameplay here to the much easier, much more by-the-books platforming of the Bonk series. 

Number 39:
City Hunter
(1990 - Sunsoft)

You know what genre I miss? The multi-tiered, exploration-based run and gunners of yore. City Hunter is a very good entry in said genre, offering a search-and-destroy, equip-the-special-item-so-you-can-keep-moving-forward blast-a-thon reminiscent of the revered Rolling Thunder and Elevator Action series. While the levels are a little bland here and there (then again, the whole labyrinthine layout is kinda' by design, I suppose), the action is fast and furious, with some downright exceptional hair-trigger, NRA-approved gun-play from start to finish. On the whole, it's a pretty short game (the whole thing can be completed in half an hour, even with the exploration), but the core mechanics are so satisfying that you'll want to play through the game at least twice. Also, any game that involves boss fights against a pink sabertooth tiger and a non-authorized T-1000 endoskeleton has to be included on the countdown, out of sheer principle. 

Number 38:
Genji Tsuushin Agedama
(1991 - NEC Home Electronics)

I honestly have no clue what this game is based on, but whatever anime or manga series it is derived from (or hell, maybe it's an original license - I don't feel like conducting the research), it has resulted in one hell of a video game. On the surface, Genji may look like just another weirdo platformer where you play some sort of superpowered robot child who fights miscellaneous sentient fruits and various killer slugs, but it ups the ante by including an automatic side scrolling mechanic that has you constantly on the run (except during boss battles.) This, naturally, makes the platforming sequences much more harrowing, but the game's real killer aces is its combat system. You see, by killing enemies, you get these little power orbs, which can be charged a'la R-Type and Mega Man to launch mega-blasts that can wipe out most enemies in one blow. The brilliance there is you have to time how long you charge up your weapon so you unleash the "kill-everything" attack that's best suited to your current crop of bad guys (the tornado attack works wonders on flying enemies, while the green laser beams are terrific for taking out ground-hugging foes.) This is one obscure Hu-Card you don't want to miss out on, especially if you like action-platformers that test both your balance and your reaction skills.

Number 37:
Cyber Cross: Busou Keiji 
(1989 - Face Corporation)

The PC Engine isn't really remembered as a "platformer" heavy console, but although it didn't have as many quality genre titles as its Sega and Nintendo counterparts, there were still plenty of great games on the system that fused the tried and true "jump on all the things" mechanic with elements of other genres. Face's first Cyber Cross game is a great example, as it merges the action-heavy, reflex-intensive fundamentals of stuff like Rolling Thunder and Kung Fu with the lite-platforming dynamics of games like Altered Beast. Part side scrolling beat em up and part Mega Man imitator, Cyber Cross really stands out due to its vibrant visuals, nonstop combat and awesome leveling-up system, which allows you to harness numerous super-powers and weapons that can be charged up even more as implements of mass-ass-kicking. It's not the most original idea in the world, but it's just executed so well that you can't help but remain glued to your control pad. As a side note, Face did indeed publish a sequel to Cyber Cross, but it's nowhere near as solid as this one - as often the case in life, best stick with the original, kids. 

Number 35:
(1989 - Hudson Soft)
Neutopia II 
(1992 - Hudson Soft)

It's very easy to take a look at Neutopia and say to yourself "yep, just another Zelda ripoff," but in reality, Hudson Soft's "homage" to the venerable Nintendo I.P. actually manages to outdo its inspiration in some respects. For starters, the first Neutopia actually came out a full two years before A Link to the Past, and to call their visual style and core gameplay "similar" is an understatement. Of course, Link's first foray on the SNES is overall a better game, but Neutopia does manage to stand on its own merits with really well-designed levels and some downright awesome weapons (the fire rod, motherfucker, the fire rod.) Neutopia II is more or less the same game as the first outing, albeit with improved visuals, more self-referential humor and a greater emphasis on RPG-like NPC-interaction. I'd say both games are about even in terms of general quality; if you want a more action-oriented affair, go with the first one and if you want a more exploration-based top-down stab-fest, numero dos is the route you ought to take. 

Number 34:
Formation Armed F
(1990 - Nichibutsu)

Sometimes, you don't want anything fancy out of your SHMUPS - just old school, button-destroying, twitch-reflex awesomeness. The clumsily titled Formation Armed F offers just such an experience, eschewing the convoluted power-up systems and side-shooting mechanics for a fairly straight-forward, no gimmicks-required vertically-scrolling shoot-a-thon that's light on features but heavy as a brick on the action. The visuals, while simplistic, have a very arcadey flair to them, with bright pastel enemies swarming you amidst the largely grim and grimy-looking playing space, and the sound effects, although minimal, definitely add some quirky atmosphere to the experience. There really isn't a whole lot more to be said about the game - it just does what it does extremely well, combining rock solid controls with challenging gameplay that'll have even veteran SHMUP enthusiasts wiping sweat from their brows. If you dig hard-ass, throwback shooters, you will definitely get your money's worth out of this one. 

Number 33:
Terra Cresta II: Mandora no Gyakushuu
(1992 - Nichibutsu)

Do you like really easy shooters that allow you to blast through the whole game by holding down the fire button and barely weaving in and out of a straight line? If so, Terra Cresta II is going to kick your ass and take your lunch money afterwards. While the game does liter its stages with generous supplies of power-ups, it also ups the ante by throwing a huge number of enemy ships at you, and unlike most SHMUPs from the time frame, these motherfuckers don't just fly by you, they all actively try to take you out. Granted, the visuals aren't as strong as some of its genre contemporaries, but Terra Cresta II nonetheless manages to provide a gripping, vertically-scrolling blast-a-thon with lots of diverse adversaries, tough-as-nails boss battles, nice and varied backdrops and some really cool weapons upgrades. That, and this has to be one of the longest shoot em ups on the console - even if you don't die a billion, million times, completing this sucker from start to finish is going to take you at least an hour and a half, at the absolute minimum. 

Number 32:
Image Fight
(1990 - Irem)

Irem's Image Fight is a port of an obscure but very solid arcade SHMUP from 1988. The iteration the PC Engine received plays almost as well as the coin-op original, and it's MILES ahead of the weak-ass NES version ... hell, in my book, it even outdoes the ports released on the X68000 and FM Towns! What you see is what you get with Image Fight, and for once, that's actually a positive. The sprites are nice, chunky and detailed and the core gameplay - while 100 percent everything you'd expect it to be from looking at it - is nonetheless fast, fluid and fun. Furthermore, Image Fight ups the ante a bit by including a four-tiered speed mechanic, allowing you to zoom up or slow down depending on how intense a firefight is and a ton of "pod" and "force" attachments that really make the game a hoot and a half to blaze through. Oh, and if you are looking for a challenge? Bump this sumbitch up to the highest difficulty setting and turn off the auto fire, and you are in store for lots and lots of punishment ... albeit, the kind of punishment you can't help but return to time and time ago

Number 31:
(1990 - Hudson Soft)

There are a lot of "kill em up" puzzler type games on the PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16, and Cratermaze is definitely one of the better to be found on either platform. The game works in fundamentally the same fashion as Bomberman, but there's a twist: instead of setting off explosives and waiting for them to off the weirdbeard assortment of enemies trying to gobble you up, you have the ability to trap them and bury them alive in holes (little makeshift crucifixes even pop out of the ground, for crying aloud!) So yeah, Cratermaze is really nothing more than a souped up version of Dig Dug (although you do get more weapon, like a bubble gun, later on in the game) but the core gameplay is just so satisfying the comparison to Namco's earlier offering won't even cross your mind. Even better, with 60 stages to churn through, this one will take you awhile to finish it - especially that final boss fight, which has to be one of the absolute toughest you'll find in any game on NEC's 16-bit system

And that's that for part two of this month-long celebration of all things PC Engine! Be sure to check back in a few days, when we continue our epic, sprawling countdown of the best games to ever be molded in the shape of a Hu-Card. Before we call it quits, though, how about we take a quick diversion from the official countdown to explore some of the other pieces of software to make their ways to the TG-16 and PC-Engine? Hold on to your TurboPads, folks, it's time to take a look at FIVE RANDOM PRO WRESTLING GAMES ON THE PC ENGINE!

Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag!

The venerable Fire Pro Wrestling series got its start on the PC Engine, and this was the first of three grapplin' simulators to make its way to the console. The striking system is pretty standard (button I punches, button II kicks), but the grappling system - which allows for a pretty nice mixture of "real" wrestling maneuvers - is pretty advanced for its time. For extra LOLZ, all of the non-licensed wrestlers on the roster are downright lawsuit-baiting facsimiles of real-world 'rasslin stars circa 1989, including the Road Warriors and Stan Goddamn Motherfuckin' Hansen - and yes, you can make your opponent bleed like a stuck pig, if you so choose. 

Maniac Puroresu: Asuheno Tatakai!

The cutscene above may look more like a screencap from Snatcher than a WWF game, but I assure you the confusingly titled Maniac Pro Wrestling is indeed a full-fledged grappling game. In the same vein as Tecmo Cup Soccer Game on the NES, this is effectively a turn-based strategy game masquerading as a semi-sports title, and all in all, it's a pretty entertaining little offering. Granted, most of the gameplay consists of checking off things on a series of window boxes, but the presentation is definitely awesome - from the up-close shots of bulging muscles during submission holds to the ringside announcer losing his shit during pinfall attempts, this thing just nails the ambiance of early 1990s Japanese 'rasslin. If the RPG-esque battle system were more refined, it would've been an absolute must-play for wrestling fans. As is, though, it's still a pretty fun oddity, whose attempts at trying something new should at least be applauded. 

Champion Wrestler!

Taito's Champion Wrestler is pretty much your standard arcade 'rasslin game, filled to the brim with all sorts of hilarious knock-offs of Hulk Hogan, Tiger Mask and The Ultimate Warrior (I like to think of it as the video game equivalent of having a Royal Rumble with nothing but unlicensed action figures procured from the Dollar Tree.) The grappling system is utter shit, and the punching and kicking buttons are about as effective as Gary Coleman as an NBA point guard. Overall, it's a pretty lackluster game, but at least the visuals and music are pretty good. That, and come on, renaming Andre the Giant "M. Decker" because you couldn't think of anything better is just hilarity defined. 

Monster Puroresu!

Well, if you thought Maniac Pro Wrestling was out there, just wait until you get your mitts on Monster Pro Wrestling! Yes, as the name implies, it's yet another RPG-styled wrestling game, albeit, with zombies and Black Lagoon creatures duking it out in their underwear instead of facsimiles of popular 1980s wrestlers from New Japan and WCW. The gameplay is by-the-numbers turned-based "let me hit you and then you hit me," and the pace is perplexingly slow. Indeed, at certain points, your avatar and his(?) adversary just stand in front of each other, bobbing up and down, without doing anything for 20 to 30 seconds at a time. Once the fisticuffs get started, though, it is pretty fun, primarily because instead of using standard body slams and choke holds, the characters attack each other with voodoo spells and Satanic fireballs. And with all of that wacky shit going on, one has to wonder: how come they didn't decide to make this one a more standardized fighting game, a' la King of the Monsters, instead? 

Battle Royale!

For my money, Battle Royale might just be the best game that sucks on the TurboGrafx-16. Mechanically, it's a pretty lame title: the striking is ridiculously simplistic (and ineffective) and if there's any rhyme or reason to the grappling system, I'd love someone to send me an email confirming it. Alas, as crappy as the core gameplay is, the atmosphere of this title is just a hoot. I don't think I have played ANY game that nailed the cheesy, corny, painfully '80s trappings of pro wrestling than Battle Royale: the goofy costumes, the ethnic stereotype managers, the big-boobed TV announcers - it's all wonderfully captured in this obscure-ass Hu-Card. A great wrestling game it may not be, but as far as sheer presentation goes, it's definitely a winner: that, and this clearly is the type of game you tailor made for you and your  buddies are meant play at 3 in the morning while high on cough syrup and other intoxicating substances.


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