Before we examine EGM's first preview of TG-16 or the evolution of HuCARD aesthetics or learn how to win a TG-16, let's examine an early TG-16 advertisement…
THE HIGHER ENERGY VIDEO GAME SYSTEM: Look at all that hardware! NEC did not shy away from promoting the expensive TurboGrafx-CD ($399.99) during TG-16's launch. Keen eyes will note that China Warrior is briefly mentioned in the text, but is nowhere to be seen in the actual ad. Keener eyes will note that TurboBooster and TurboTap are printed in gray on the peripherals, whereas the items actually shipped with the product names molded in the plastic (bas-relief). And the keenest of eyes will notice something odd about Legendary Axe and Victory Run.
YOU HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A VIDEO GAME SYSTEM: The new wave of "16-bit" consoles had to convince folks that an upgrade in hardware was necessary. NEC hoped that Nintendo's iconic Super Mario Bros. (above) would look aesthetically-challenged when compared to Vigilante on TG-16 (below).
UNTIL NOW: Only a few games are represented in the exploding shards. Vigilante is front and center, with fractured pieces of Keith Courage, Victory Run, and Alien Crush in the periphery.
TOUGH BROTHERS: The screenshot above is taken from the end of "The Junkyard" (Stage 2) in Vigilante, where our hero faces two bosses, who are simply named the "Tough Brothers" in the TG-16 game manual.
FINAL VERDICT: As a game, Vigilante actually has a lot more eye-candy to offer, but you won't find much of it in this advertisement. That said, at least we get a small taste of what Vigilante offers. With only 1.4 screenshots, Vigilante has a personality that is communicated to the reader. The same cannot be said for the other games featured in this ad, which seem devoid of an identity. Indeed, the "exploding head" centerfold would have been more impressive if Alien Crush and Keith Courage exhibited a more dominant presence and personality. This could have been achieved with carefully-chosen screenshots that were purposefully arranged to pique our interest. Instead, we are presented with lackluster, random bits of Victory Run (behold the generic lap timer and icons!) and Keith Courage (truly, the least impressive parts of the overworld are presented here…where are the screenshots from the underworld?). Had this advertisement been more carefully executed, with a more impressive collection of screenshot "shards", EGM's readers might have lingered on the page a bit longer.
MOCK-UP vs. ACTUAL PRODUCT… ▲
Look closely at the HuCARD's pictured in the pre-launch TG-16 ad (1300x1760 .jpg ▼) above. These two HuCARD's (Victory Run and Legendary Axe) are clearly mock-ups (for reasons specified below). Finding stuff like this is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading/archiving old print magazines…
Legendary Axe (1989)…
MOCK-UP COVER: How many differences can you find between the two covers for Legendary Axe? The image on the left, which appeared in an early TG-16 ad, is a mock up: (1) the title is white text + dropshadow (vs. the less-legible orange text + white outline seen in the final version), (2) Gogan's blade is clearly underneath "AXE" in the mock-up (vs. the upper tip of the blade extending out beyond the "E" in "AXE", as if it were three dimensional, in the actual release).
MOCK-UP HuCARD: The HuCARD (on the left) for Legendary Axe is clearly a mock-up, since it features a full-color reproduction of the cover art (echoing PCE HuCARD design in Japan). However, as any TG-16 enthusiast can tell you, North American HuCARD designs were far more austere during TG-16's first two years. The actual Legendary Axe HuCARD, for example, simply has yellow text on a solid orange background. North American HuCARD design did not stray from this Spartan aesthetic until…
Similarly, we can spot a few differences between (1) the mock-up of Victory Run used in the advertisement vs. (2) the final HuCARD and cover art that went into production…
Victory Run (1989)…
MOCK-UP COVER: The mock-up cover (on the left) for Victory Run has (1) white text + dropshadow (vs. orange text + white outline) and (2) the Eiffel Tower clearly resides behind the text in the mock-up (vs. the Eiffel Tower prominently displayed in front of the "V" and "I" in "VICTORY" on the retail version).
TRIVIA: Can you identify the two PCE games stacked underneath the mock-up for Victory Run? Award yourself 10 points apiece. HINT: Focus on titles from PCE's first two years of existence. ANSWERS: Fantasy Zone is in the middle. Necromancer is on the bottom.
MOCK-UP HuCARD: The mock-up (on the right) for Legendary Axe features full-color artwork on the HuCARD, which was common in Japan, but would not appear on North American HuCARD's for several years.
JEWEL CASE: Keen eyes will note that the jewel case in the mock-up lacks the plastic clip found on all North American jewel boxes (Keith Courage is the exception to this rule). So, a Keith Courage (or random PCE) jewel case was used during the photoshoot for this TG-16 ad. Actually, they might have used the Japanese jewel case from Necomancer or Fantasy Zone used elsewhere in this ad!
MORE EXAMPLES: Enjoy examining the differences between the mock-up VS. actual CD-ROM for It Came From the DesertI wish we had many further examples of how TG-16 products evolved before they were officially released. Although it is possible we will uncover additional discrepancies in TG-16 marketing (for example, it is possible that there are some advertisements I have not yet seen), I think it is much more likely that I will shift my focus across the Pacific, to uncover discrepancies in PCE marketing vs. actual PCE retail products in Japan.
Table of Contents for Electronic Gaming Monthly #02 (July/August 1989)▲
- 01 Cover: 16-Bit Gaming Explodes. Artist: ?
- Sega's Genesis, NEC's TurboGrafx-16, and Nintendo's Gameboy adorn the cover. EGM chose to include the Super Nintendo as well, even though the Super Famicom (as it was known in Japan) had not been released yet.
- 04 Table of Contents.
- 27 Contest: Win an NEC TurboGrafx-16 System + Games!
- "Win an NEC TurboGrafx-16 Game System and a Library of Games."
- 34 Feature: 16-Bit Gaming Explodes. 31 34 35
- "The American version of the Japanese PC-Engine, NEC's TurboGrafx-16, has all of the good looks of the rival 16-bits and great game play as well! Combined with a library of games larger than any other next-generation system, TurboGrafx-16 is ready to take command of the 16-bit wars!"
- 36 Advertisement: TurboGrafx-16.
- "You've always known what to expect from a video game system…" A screenshot of Nintendo's iconic Super Mario Bros appears in the middle of the page.
- 37 Advertisement: Vigilante (HuCARD) & TurboGrafx-16.
- "…until now."
- 39 Advertisement: Where the system gets its energy….
- HARDWARE: TurboGrafx-16, TurboGrafx-CD, TurboBooster, TurboTap, TurboPad, TurboStick.
- SOFTWARE: Legendary Axe, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, and Victory Run are pictured. China Warrior and Vigilante are briefly mentioned.
- HELP: If you can translate the Table of Contents (or any other part of the magazine) into english, please contact us! Your efforts benefit all TG-16/PCE fans. Thank you!
EVOLUTION OF HuCARD AESTHETICS… ▲
When TG-16 launched in 1989, NEC used the same font across all packaging, creating a uniform look and style. However, at some point in 1990, NEC began using a variety of unique fonts/logos on coverart, which were replicated on the HuCARD as well (see Tiger Road below). Although impossible to verify, it is possible that Bloody Wolf (along with Tiger Road, Splatterhouse, Veigues Tactical Gladiator, etc.) were among the first wave of games to abandon the uniform "TG-16 font" in an effort to create more individuality.
Finally, at some point in late-1990 (or early-1991), NEC began printing full-color reproductions of the coverart on the HuCARD itself (which had been standard practice in Japan since the PCE's debut in 1987). Again, it would be impossible to verify, but it is possible that Legendary Axe II was the first North American games to feature full-color art on the HuCARD itslef…
FROM AUSTERE TO FANCY: (A) 1989-1990. Text-only on solid background color. (B) 1990-1991. Unique fonts/logos from coverart replicated on HuCARD. (C) 1991-1993. Full-color reproductions of coverart on HuCARD.
WHY CAN'T AMERICA HAVE NICE THINGS? When the PCE debuted in 1987, full-color artwork was printed on the HuCARD itself. Why did it take so long for North American releases to follow suit? Was it a cost-cutting measure? Was it logistical problem? We may never know.
Personally, I like the simplified, bold look of the earlier HuCARD's (the simplified designs never look as crowded and cluttered as the miniaturized artwork found on later HuCARD releases). That said, some art, when miniaturized, did not devolve into a cluttered mess. This art deserved to be on a HuCARD! For example, the mock-up HuCARD for Victory Run looked fantastic and was far more compelling than the text-only HuCARD design that actually shipped.
ENTER & WIN! THE INCREDIBLE TURBOGRAFX-16 FROM NEC… ▲
To promote its new console, NEC was giving away a TG-16 and a "library of great games." Now, look at the contest page. What specific games would be awarded to the winner of this contest?
ALSO WIN A LIBRARY OF GREAT TG-16 GAMES: This contest clearly suggests that the winner will receive three games (The Legendary Axe, Victory Run and R-Type). ▲
MISLEADING: Sadly, this contest page is misleading. The winner is not guaranteed to receive the three games—The Legendary Axe, Victory Run and R-Type)—pictured prominently on the page. Keen eyes will note a disclaimer at the very bottom of the page. It reads…
"…The selection of the games as well as the delivery of the TurboGrafx-16 system depend on NEC's production schedules. Void where prohibited by law. Now stop straining your eyes and enter!"
Clearly, at the time of publication, NEC was being cagey. They were careful not to make any promises concerning the software. In fact, the contest never specifies the number of games the winner would actually receive, although we can surmise that at least two titles would be awarded. Why? Because a "great library of games" is plural, requiring at least two games.
That said, I doubt the winner would have been too upset if NEC sent an alternative selection of games. At least, I know that I would not have complained: at launch, TG-16 retailed for $199.99. And the games retailed for $30-$60 (R-Type was the highest-priced HuCARD during the system's launch, possibly because it was the first 4Mb HuCARD and, initially, more costly to manufacture than 2Mb and 3Mb games). ANECDOTE: The local Toys•R•Us (northern New Jersey) was charging $59.99 (or was it $69.99) in December of 1989 for R-Type. I wanted the game, badly, but that price was brutal. I remember patiently waiting for the price to drop, but it did not happen for at least a few months. ▲
EGM's FIRST PREVIEW OF TG-16 ▲
The editors assert that EGM had the scoop on TG-16's launch before any other publication, but the claim is debatable, since rival Video Games & Computer Entertainment (VG&CE) also previewed the TG-16 in their July 1989 issue.
LAUNCH TITLES? This has been the topic of much debate, since it has been difficult to determine exactly which titles were widely available at launch. The article mentions three specific titles that "NEC will be showing with the unit" at press events (The Legendary Axe, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, Vigilante) and later adds one more (Victory Run) under the banner "initial TurboGrafx-16 games"…which does not guarantee these titles were actually available at launch, but rather were available within the first few months of TG-16's launch.
LIBRARY OF GAMES: A single screenshot apiece for Legendary Axe, Victory Run, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones and Vigilante. At the time of publication, EGM noted that the PC-Engine catalog contained "more than fifty" games, which was "larger than any other next generation system." Initially, TG-16 did have a larger library of games than its rival (Sega's Genesis), but by autumn of 1990, Genesis had pulled ahead and never looked back. ▲
ARCADE PORTS: EGM praised the PCE software library, listing arcade ports of R-Type, Dragon Spirit, SideArms, Galaga '88 (re-titled as Galaga '90) that were eventually released for TG-16 in North America. Although mentioned in the article, the PCE ports of Twin Cobra (Kyukyoku Tiger) and Ninja Warriors, never made it across the Pacific. We can't really fault EGM for highlighting the last two games: Twin Cobra and Ninja Warriors were reasonable candidates for localization. So far, so good…
PCE EXCLUSIVES: After praising Son Son II and Victory Run (appropriately, I would argue), EGM's coverage suddenly takes a turn for the worse when the author asserts that Deep Blue and Honey in the Sky (Hanii in the Sky) are "outstanding original efforts". These two shootemups are not "outstanding", but they are "original" in that they both offer unusual, non-standard approaches to the genre. For example, the firing/aiming mechanic in Hanii is unique, but cumbersome. Meanwhile, success in Deep Blue seems more dependent on dodging/avoiding your aquatic foes instead of firing upon them. Experimenting with new or unusual concepts in a shootemup is commendable, but if the execution is awkward, then the game—however creative or innovative—can fall flat. Ultimately, Deep Blue and Hanii in the Sky fall flat. They are not "outstanding", but we can forgive the author these brief lapses in judgement. ▲
PROTOTYPE PCE KEYBOARD: Although "PC Engine" is clearly printed on the keyboard, it was a prototype, and thus was never officially released for the PCE in Japan (or any other region). Pairing the PCE with a PC-8801 keyboard (from NEC's own line of PC-8801 computers) was not merely a marketing stunt, since NEC was actively developing a PCE modem (Tsushin Booster) during 1989-90. As it turns out, Tsushin Tool (the software for the modem) supported keyboard input.
Projects like Tsushin Booster promoted "wishful thinking" about the future of the platform, suggesting that PCE/TG-16's flexibility and extensibility was akin to that of a computer. NEC was not being completely dishonest about TG-16's extensibility, as evidenced by (1) TurboGrafx-CD (the first CD-ROM drive for a video game console) and, much later, TTi's (2) INTELLIGENT LINK (an SCSI cable that allowed TG-CD/TurboDUO to be used as an external CD-ROM drive for personal computers; never released commercially). NOTE: Interestingly, a PCE mouse was released, years later, for the PC-Engine DUO, although only a handful of games supported it.
ONLY IN JAPAN: The white PCE controller and three-player multi-tap were never released for TG-16. ▲
The venerable Sega Master System (SMS) was overshadowed by the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America. As a result, it was always nice when Sega's console received some press. Below, EGM provides a nice contextualization of TG-16's new HuCARD format by comparing it to the Sega Card…
SEGA CARD vs. HuCARD: A nice reminder that the Sega Master System supported two media formats. For the few readers who had actually held a Sega Card in their hands, this was the most useful comparison to make between TG-16's new HuCARD format and existing media in North America. Naturally, EGM did not delve into the obscure history of Hudson's HuCARD, which has its roots in the BEE CARD for the MSX computer. Nor would I expect the editors to explain that Mitsubishi Plastics manufactured all three cards: the Sega Card (My Card) was designed by Sega in 1985 and held up to 32kb, the BEE CARD (1985, up to 128 kb storage) and HuCARD (1987, up to 20Mb storage) were designed by Hudson. ▲
TURBOCHIP VS. HuCARD: In order to maintain branding consistency across hardware and software, NEC attached the prefix "Turbo" to every product. In general, I supported this policy…except when it came to TurboChip. "TurboChip", as a moniker, was simply too goofy. Plus, the format was always identified (both on the card itself and on the packaging) as "HuCARD", anyway, rendering the term "TurboChip" redundant. Of course, TG-16 instruction manuals made frequent use of the term TurboChip—to the detriment of human culture worldwide. ▲
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