Magazine Archive: NEC, The Hudson Bee and TurboGrafx-16: From Japan to the USA, a Turbocharged Competition

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Click to read full issue

- Jim  Combs, from Issue #3 (March 2008)

The late 80′s and early 90′s where breakthrough years for classic gamers, the Sega Genesis had hit the market in 1989, SNK released the mind-blowing arcade perfect home console, Neo-Geo in 1990, the Nintendo Entertainment System was still going strong and in late August of 1989 one very nostalgic gaming system was released along side the Sega Genesis, the TurboGrafx-16 by NEC. Being 22 years old, one of my first memories as a gamer that I’m very fond of, was playing the TurboGrafx back in 1990 at our neighbors house. I still live in the same neighborhood and every time I drive by that house, memories of me eating Broccoli (monster trees I used to call them) dipped in a bowl of melted cheese while playing Keith Courage, Ninja Spirit, Bonk, Air Zonk and Splatterhouse among many others come rushing back. As a gamer, I’m very grateful for the TurboGrafx because originally the TurboGrafx was never intended to be released in the states…. let’s pack our bags and find out what happened. Don’t forget your tooth brush, Nintendo DS and oh yeah, your TurboExpress as we take a flight back in time to Japan.

From 1983 to 1987, Nintendo’s Famicom was the system of choice in Japan and the most popular. Cruising on the success of the Famicom, Nintendo did not know what was about to hit…. the PC-Engine released by Hudson Soft and NEC. It’s kind of Ironic actually because Hudson Soft who came up with the concept for the PC-Engine tried to sell it to Nintendo since they already had a relationship with Nintendo as their first Third Party Developer, developing games for the Famicom such as Lode Runner and Bomber Man. However, Nintendo turned Hudson Soft’s concept down. So, Hudson Soft approached a very big name in the electronics world, NEC, and together they developed the PC-Engine, Hudson designed the system’s graphics chip and they released it in late 1987.

Hudson Soft was founded in Sapporo, Japan on May 18th, 1973 by the Kudo brothers, Hiroshi and Yuji Kudo. Both being fascinated with trains, they restored a Steam Engine train that used to run nearby their house when they where kids. The Kudo brothers named their company after their favorite train called the Hudson locomotive. They started out as a small shop selling telecommunication devices and photographs. In 1975, they started to venture more into the electronic entertainment route by selling personal computer products and in 1978 started developing games. NEC which stands for Nippon Electric Company, was founded in 1898 by Kunihiko Iwadare and Takeshiro Maeda, spans a very long in depth history. NEC started Production, Sales and maintenance of Telephones and Switches and later went onto being a powerhouse in Super Computers. It was in 1987 that NEC broke into the home console market when approached by Hudson Soft.

Flashing Forward, The PC-Engine was billed as the first 16- bit console due to it’s 8-Bit CPU combined with it’s 8-Bit Graphics Chip, the colorful graphics contributed as well sporting 512 on screen colors. However, soon after the PC-Engine launched, NEC faced their main competition when Sega released their first 16-Bit System, the Mega Drive. No worries for NEC though, the PC-Engine remained on top and hundreds of games where released for it. Due to the major success of these two consoles in Japan, they where both released State side where they continued to duke it out.

Avoiding Godzilla’s attack in Japan and landing safely back home in the good old USA, let’s continue. In late August of 1989, both Sega and NEC released their systems, now known as the Sega Genesis and the NEC TurboGrafx-16 (Turbo for it’s fast game play speed, Grafx for it’s colorful graphics power and 16 for it’s 16 bit graphics processor) in the states. Sega released the Genesis a day earlier than the TurboGrafx to get the 1up, in an attempt to beat NEC to the punch. Both systems entering into the market where competing with Nintendo who had 90 percent of the US market at the time. NEC crowned their own mascot to represent them, Bonk, the very lovable character who starred in his own adventures, going around smashing everything up with his noggin and fighting prehistoric creatures including a giant green dinosaur through 28 levels to save the princess. Bonk joined Sega’s, Sony’s and Nintendo’s famous mascots (Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot and Mario).

The TG16 with an MSRP of $199.99, came bundled with one controller and Keith Courage In Alpha Zones Hu-Card, it is interesting to note that this game was named after NEC’s Executive Vice President Keith Schaefer. The TG16 uses credit card sized game chips called Hu-Cards, also known as TurboChips. NEC also released the following accessories: The TurboTap allowing for up to five players for multi-player gaming, the TurboStick which is an arcade style controller and the TurboBooster which when hooked up to the back of the TG16 and once plugged into a Sound System, offered a very nice gaming experience. NEC and Hudson Soft released a total of 94 games in the States making it one of the easiest systems for collectors to attain a complete collection. On the contrary though, collectors will have their work cut out for them in finding the two rarest Turbo games, Bonk 3: Bonk’s Big Adventure and Magical Chase. Both where released in 1993 during the end of the TurboGrafx-16′s run.

The TG16 was the first system in America to release an optional CD add on called the TurboGrafx-CD, beating the Sega CD to the punch. Released a couple months after the TG16 launched, The TGCD which retailed for $399.99, plugged into the back of the TG16′s expansion port and once the TurboGrafx CD TurboChip is plugged into the TG16, you are ready to get your game on with the TurboCD’s which featured more advance graphics and FMV sequences. For example, It Came From the Desert, featured live actors similar in fashion to Sega’s Sewer Shark and Night Trap which where released after the TurboCD. TGCD games also featured beautiful animated sequences to tell the game’s story, similar to the animated sequences in Sonic CD. The TGCD also has an upgrade TurboChip called the CD-Rom Super System Card, which allowed for 2 megabit power for faster game play compared to the 1 megabit line of games. Also when detached, the TGCD could be used as a CD player, however, it must still be plugged into a wall outlet.

In 1990, NEC released The TurboExpress, a favorite among fans. Competing head to head with Nintendo’s Gameboy and Atari’s Lynx handheld system, The TurboExpress retailed for $249.99 and played all the TurboChip games that could be played on it’s parent system. A popular peripheral came out along side the TurboExpress, the $149.99 TurboVision, which plugged into the TurboExpress and allowed gamers to watch the good ol boob tube on their Express as well as play games. Some gamers who bought the TurboExpress experienced the missing pixel dilemma, something that happens at times with handhelds, even including the Gameboy Advance SP.

NEC didn’t waste any time starting their marketing campaign once they where state side, releasing television commercials and magazines. From June/July 1990 to August/September 1992, Larry Flynt Publications released 14 Bi-Monthly issues, 32 pages in length, of TurboPlay Magazine which covered anything and everything Turbo. TurboForce was another publication at the time, that covered only the TurboCD games. Also released for Turbo fans, where VHS promo videos which talked all about the Turbo Grafx-16 Hu-Cards and CD games that where available to buy or coming soon, as well as the accessories that you where able to purchase. Amongst their marketing, NEC released some bad ass Tshirts. I saw a collector at the Classic Gaming Expo last year wearing an insanely cool Splatterhouse T-shirt, I wanted to jump him for it, but hey, I’m a nice guy.

Also, as a marketing move to help attract back those who where slowly starting to convert over to the Sega Genesis early in the game, NEC and Hudson Soft created a new software company called Turbo Technologies Inc. (TTI). As a result, they cut the prices on all their systems including the TG16, TGCD and the TurboExpress. On October 10th 1992, the TurboDuo was released for $299.99 under the newly founded TTI, to help generate a new fan base. The TurboDuo combined the TG16 and TGCD into one gaming unit, similar to the JVC X’Eye which played both Sega Genesis cartridges and Sega CD games.

After all was said and done and the war was over, the Sega Genesis turned out to be the system of choice in the states compared to the TG16. Mainly what happened was NEC had games developed exclusively in house by Hudson Soft and all the games had already been released in Japan, so they just ported them over to the states. Since the Japanese gaming market was different, American gamers did not always catch onto the Turbo games that where being ported over to the states from Japan. Sega on the other hand, had many third party developers and geared toward the American gamers including licensing such games as movie tie-in’s with games like Cliffhanger and Hook for example. This attracted the TG16 buyers and brought them over to the Genesis side. NEC and Hudson Soft came into the states very strong and launched a system that is extremely fun to play and collect for. Just pop in a copy of Splatterhouse, Bonk or Ninja Spirit and you’ll see what I’m talking about. TurboGrafx-16 “The Higher Energy Video Game System.”

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Video Game Trader magazine & price guide is a quarterly print publication dedicated to classic and retro video gaming. VideoGameTrader.com serves as a companion site to the magazine. An iPhone app is also available by searching 'video game price guide' in iTunes App Store.