Sunday, August 25, 2019

The 50 Greatest TurboGrafx/PC Engine CD Games of All-Time (Part Four: #020-#011)

Part four of a special FIVE INSTALLMENT series counting down the best NEC’s cult classic console had to offer!

By: Jimbo X


Part One (Games #050-#041)
Part Two (Games #040-#031)
Part Three (Games (#030-#021)
Part Four (Games #020-#011)
Part Five (Games #010-#001)

It’s a late summer rite at The Internet Is In America. The same way we’ve given you long, all-encompassing round-ups of the best software to be found on the Dreamcast, Sega CD, Neo Geo, Game Gear, TurboGrafx16/PC Engine, Atari Lynx and Sega Master System, for 2019’s epic retro gaming mega-marathon we’re gonna’ be taking a look back at one of the more obscure 16-bit systems out there — and one that, regrettably, never got the love and attention it rightly deserved: The Turbografx-16/PC Engine CD. 

Now, technically, the system was essentially just an add-on called the  CD-ROM2 — which, later got upgraded to the Super CD-ROM2 — which itself was released in various models (the PC Engine Duo, the PC-Engine Duo-R, the PC-Engine Duo-RX, etc.) all of which could be upgraded with various expansion cards. So, needless to say, things can get real convoluted in a real hurry talking about the platform, so for the sake of simplicity, it’ll put it this way: if it was shit you could play on the TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine on a CD, it’s good enough for consideration on our countdown.

While hundreds of games were released on the platform, only a small percentage — we’re seriously talking less than 10 percent — ever made their way out of Japan and on the Americanized model of the console. Thanks to the emulation revolution, however, we can now play all of those outstanding, Nippon-centric games from the late 1980s and early 1990s, and as it turns out? This system was just BRIMMING with outstanding games, covering just about every genre and subgenre you can think of.

Of course, a good chunk of those games that never made it stateside were endless mahjong and karaoke permutations, and a staggeringly high volume of pseudo-pornographic visual novels that — depending on your perspective — are unfortunately (or fortunately) a little too kanji-centric to be accessible to the non Japanese language-reader. So while we might be missing a couple of RPG and adventure games, our omnibus overview of the TG16/PCE-CD oeuvre IS fairly comprehensive, and as such, we’ve managed to boil down our list of top games on the system to 50 … which, as customary, we’ll be taking a look at 10 at a time as part of a special, five-installment series paying homage to the best and brightest the cult classic console had to offer. 

So before we get into the countdown, a few caveats:

— One, only officially licensed software is eligible for consideration. Nor are we including tech demos, sampler CDs or title so deficient of actual gameplay that you can’t really call them “games” in the traditional sense — i.e., visual novels or other primarily text-driven adventure games.

— Secondly, only games that were commercially produced during the system’s organic lifespan are eligible for inclusion on the countdown. So that means “homebrews” are strictly off limits

— And lastly, this countdown is just one man’s opinion, so if you made your own list, I’m pretty sure it’d look a lot different … although, at the end of the day, my list is still better, so blow me.

And with all of that prerequisite material out of the way, who’s ready to get this countdown chugging along? That’s right … every single person on the planet, that’s who.

Psychic Storm (1992)
Developer: Telenet
Publisher: Laser Soft

With so many great shoot-em-ups on the system, a lot of times even outstanding genre games on the TG16/PCE-CD sometimes fall through the cracks. While Psychic Storm may not get the same fanfare that some of the bigger named SHMUPs on the console get, you would be wise to forego passing this one up, as it’s easily one of the more unique blast-fests to be found on the console. For starters, the game employs a really cool “transformative” system, which unlike other SHMUPs utilizing the same hook, is actually meaningfully ingrained into the game mechanics. Indeed, at certain junctures switching up your “character” isn’t just advisable, it becomes damn near essential, which in turn gives the game a more frantic and frenzied feel than some of its console contemporaries. Secondly, the visuals in the game are pretty friggin’ outstanding, with diverse backdrops spanning from glowing, neo-metropolis skylines to crystal-like alien strongholds Dune-inspired desert planets. And that’s to say nothing of the game’s final level, which takes you inside the intestines of the end boss, who’s every bit as ugly on the outside, to boot. Sure, at about 40-minutes long it’s not a terribly lengthy investment, but Psychic Storm certainly has one thing going for it to increase its replayability that some of the more well-known SHMUPs on the system don’t — a solid two-player mode.

Bakushou Yoshimoto No Shinkigeki (1994)
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft

It’s not just that BYNS has a charming, often-hilarious, super-Japanese idiosyncratic quality to it. It’s that, in addition to all of those quirks, at heart it’s a fundamentally solid platformer, with great controls, humongous levels, well-designed stages and hop-and-bopping gameplay that’s not only satisfying, but surprisingly challenging. Of course, you’ll be doing more than butt busting bats and rolling downhill, killing dozens of innocent pedestrians at once for the LULZ. The gameplay in BYNS is pretty damn diverse, with the sidescrolling shenanigans stopping every so often so you can engage in a mini-game or two of rock, scissors, paper, Whac-A-Mole, snowball fighting and, uh, riding a mechanical bull in the middle of a courtroom? It’s pretty much impossible to play this game without a huge, stupid smile on your face the whole time; and while BYNS is indeed goofy fun for the whole family, I think you might also be surprised by just how technically sound the platforming dynamics are, as well — which, really, is no surprise, considering it’s made by the same folks who gave us the Bonk games.

John Madden Duo CD Football (1993)
Developer: Hudson Entertainment
Publisher: Hudson Entertainment

Electronic Arts handed over the keys to John Madden Football ‘93 to the House that gave us Bomberman and Blaster Master, and the end result is a football sim that plays WAY better than it probably had any right to be. While empirical wisdom would suggest that it’s technically impossible to make a nuanced, Madden-calibre football sim video game with a mere two face button, empirical wisdom just happens to be a lying whore. Not only does John Madden Duo CD Football play just as smoothly as its predecessors on the Genesis and SNES, in my humble opinion this iteration of Madden ‘93 plays even better thanks to smoother animations, faster gameplay and, of course, all of the cool audiovisual doodads that only the power of CD-ROM gaming can give us. The presentation is great, the gameplay is rock solid and the robust season mode and multiplayer features ensures you’ll be playing this one plenty. And holy hell, is the soundtrack in this one early ‘90s excellence PERSONIFIED.

Horror Story (1993)
Developer: Toaplan
Publisher: NEC Avenue

You may have recalled us reviewing the arcade version in-depth a couple of years back. Well, thankfully, very, very little is lost in the transition from the coin-op to the TG16/PCE-CD port — well, besides its name — and in some regards, this version is even better than its forerunner. This merciless, side-scrolling action platformer effectively plays out like a combination of Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins and Metal Slug, complete with some awesome firepower, a constant barrage of weird-ass enemies (among others, prepared to be attacked by demonic umbrellas and stereotypical Chinamen on tricycles) and one of the most satisfying double-jump mechanics you’ll likely ever experience in a 2D game. Granted, at barely an hour in-length it doesn’t pack too much replay value, but to its credit, it’s so goddamn difficult that it’ll probably take you hours — if not days — to figure out the level layouts and gain the muscle memory necessary to surmount the game’s ultra-hard boss battles. This is definitely one you’ll want to break out every Halloween season — I mean, how could anyone hate a game that, essentially, revolves around a chibi Chuck Norris fighting ghosts and vampires with a freakin’ speargun, anyway?

World Heroes 2 (1994)
Developer: Alpha Denshi Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Hudson Entertainment, Inc.

In the grand pantheon of SNK fighters, World Heroes 2 isn’t usually regarded as one of the illustrious developer’s better genre offerings. Still, it’s undeniably a fun button-masher, and what the folks at Hudson were able to do with the TG16/PCE-CD hardware on this arcade port is nothing short of technologically astounding. Not only does it look just as good as the SNES iteration of the game, it plays even better, with smoother animations and considerably faster combat. It may not have the depth or nuance of The Last Blade II or Samurai Shodown II, but World Heroes 2 nonetheless packs quite the punch, with simplistic, immediately accessible gameplay and a really fun roster of characters, which runs the gamut from Hulk Hogan and Joan of Arc clones to a psychotic football player and a giant tribal mask wearing “indigienous person” that would probably be labeled as just mildly problematic in today’s stuffy, uptight, politically-correct monoculture. All in all, this is a solid coin-op translation well worth going out of your way to experience — even if, as you shall soon see, it’s not even the best SNK fighter to get the redux treatment on the system.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes (1991) / Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes 2 (1992)
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Hudson Soft

With so many great RPGs coming out in the early 1990s, it’s not surprising that a lot of really solid franchise got lost amidst the Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star shuffle. The same guys that gave us all those Ys games also gave us one of the more criminally underrated RPG series of the decade in the form of The Legend of Heroes, a series that — if you can believe it — spans about a dozen games across 30 years, with installments getting churned out as late as last year on the PS4. Borne of the same 8-bit soup that gave us Legacy of the Wizard and Faxanadu, I think you’d be surprised by just well-polished each of the TLOH games on the TG16/PCE-CD actually are, complete with their TV-quality voice acting and well-above average stories. While the actual combat mechanics may be fairly predictable, there’s just so much to do and explore in each of the games that I had a hard time choosing one over the other — really, if you’re going to play one, you might as well play both anyway, right? Though each of the games were ported to the Genesis and SNES (or, at least, their Japanese analogues,) the CD-ROm=M capabilities of these games certainly make them the superior means of getting your Dragon Slayer on. Hell, these things are worth tracking down just for the soundtracks alone, in my humblest o’ opinions.

Hellfire S: The Another Story (1991)
Developer: Toaplan
Publisher: NEC

Yes, the subtitle of this game is indeed “The Another Story,” because fuck hiring people to proofread things in the marketing department. Horrific maladaptations of the English language aside, Hellfire S is indeed a fantastic SHMUP, and one of the more enjoyable you’ll experience on a home console that makes use of that whole multidirectional shooting gimmick. The audiovisuals may not be the best the system has to offer, but the fast and frantic gameplay certainly makes up for whatever graphical shortcomings you can criticize Hellfire S for. Since it’s made by Toaplan, you just KNOW the controls are going to be smooth and fluid and that the enemies are gonna’ be coming at ‘ya nonstop. And while the half-hour length is admittedly a let-down, at least the programmers had the good sense to throw in a killer co-op mode to increase its shelf-life … and the amount of time you’re gonna have this one wedged inside your TG16/PCE-CD disc drive.

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (1991) / Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Vol. II (1993)
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Publisher: Victor Musical Industries

If you want to talk about games that were WAY ahead of their time, you’ve got to have a conversation about the two Sherlock Holmes games on the TG16/PCE-CD from our good amigos over at Victor Musical Industries. Not only was Sherlock Holmes one of the first mass-release home console video games to incorporate a significant amount of full motion video content, earnestly, it’s one of the few FMV games to successfully incorporate live action video right, wrapping a downright STAGGERING amount of video content around a downright rock solid strategy/puzzler video game. Both games are downright fantastic adventure games with an absolute ton of material to trudge through, giving gamers one of the few sleuthing simulators of the early 1990s that actually provides a cerebral challenge. The controls are fluid, the screens are very easy to manage and the real selling point of the two offerings? Not only do these two games have among the best storylines of any game you’ll play in the 16-bit era, the acting herein isn’t just good, it actually teeters on being legitimately outstanding. To be sure, such games aren’t for all tastes, but if you’re looking for a thinking man’s title on the system, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything on the platform more intellectually invigorating than this whodunit double-header from ICOM.


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