PC Engine
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

A collaboration between Japanese tech giant NEC and video game developer Hudson Soft, the PC Engine caused shockwaves when it hit store shelves in the Land of the Rising Sun in 1987.

Boasting graphics which made Nintendo's Famicom look positively old-fashioned in comparison, this diminutive console was capable of hosting faithful ports of the era's best arcade releases, with Irem's R-Type receiving a near-arcade-perfect replica on the machine.

While Nintendo remained supreme in Japan, the PC Engine certainly made a dent and would be the region's second most popular system well into the 1990s, even putting Sega's more powerful Mega Drive in the shade.

Sadly, it was unable to repeat this commercial success when it was launched in North America as the TurboGrafx-16, despite its almost dizzying number of hardware iterations, which include multiple variants of the original model, two CD-ROM attachments, a handheld edition and a trio of different 'combined' units which allowed players to access the entire HuCard / CD-ROM library for the system.

Given that it is still relatively obscure in the west, picking the best games for the PC Engine might be harder than you think if you weren't a keen follower of the import sector back in the 1990s. Many of the machine's greatest titles were exclusive to Japan, and to truly sample everything it had to offer, you really needed access to both HuCard and CD-based titles. With that in mind, our list not only covers both North American and Japanese releases, but it also includes cartridge and disc games, too.

In 2020, Konami (which now owns Hudson Soft's properties) released the PC Engine / TG-16 Mini, a micro-console pre-loaded with classic titles. You'll be pleased to know that many of the games we've picked out below are on this system.

The following list is presented in no particular order, and we've tried our best to cover as many genres as possible.

R-Type (TG-16)

This port of Irem's seminal shmup is often credited as being the game which 'sold' the PC Engine to the masses; it was certainly one of the most impressive indications of the kind of power the console had. R-Type isn't arcade perfect – there's slowdown, sprite flicker and a reduced number of on-screen colours – but the gameplay is faithful enough to make you ignore these shortcomings. The Japanese version of the game was divided into two versions, but for North America, these were combined. It's worth noting that the North American version also has a boss encounter at the end of the sixth level, which is missing from other versions. In Japan, a 'complete' version was released for the PC Engine's CD-ROM drive, and this includes an arranged soundtrack. R-Type is included on the PC Engine Mini, released in 2020.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (TG-16)

The first Castlevania game to leverage the storage power of CD-ROM, Dracula X: Rondo of Blood sort of picks up where Castlevania III on the NES left off. The branching pathways are back, as is the ability to play as someone other than a Belmont. However, what makes Dracula X so appealing is the way it uses the power of the CD to offer a staggering level of presentation. Animated cutscenes abound, and each stage feels fresh and different. The soundtrack, too, benefits immensely from the fact that it's no longer constrained by the limitations of cartridge media. While the bright, anime-style character designs aren't quite as moody and atmospheric as they should be, Dracula X's position as one of the greatest games in the series is secure thanks to its impeccably-designed levels, fantastic visuals and gorgeous music. The game was later remastered for PSP in the form of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, but the 2.5D visuals have aged much worse than the 2D ones of the original game. Thankfully, The Dracula X Chronicles includes both the PC Engine version of the game and Symphony of the Night as unlockables. Oh, and it's also included on the PC Engine Mini.

Blazing Lazers (TG-16)

Known as Gunhed in Japan, Blazing Lazers was another relatively early PC Engine outing which did an excellent job of convincing potential buyers to lay down their cash for the system. Even by modern standards, the sheer speed of the game is impressive; enemy craft and projectiles hurtle around the screen at a breakneck pace, and there's not a single hint of slowdown. Developed by Compile, the team behind Aleste and Zanac, Blazing Lazers is rightly regarded as one of the best shumps of the late '80s – and you can play it on the PC Engine Mini.

Soldier Blade (TG-16)

While the jury is still out on whether or not this is better than previous entries in the 'Star Soldier' series on the PC Engine – its development was infamously rushed so it would be completed for Hudson's yearly 'Caravan' event in Japan – there's no denying that Soldier Blade is an excellent vertically-scrolling blaster that sports some of the most impressive presentation you'll find on the console. Fantastic visuals, great music and tight gameplay make this a must-play (it's on the PC Engine Mini) – although we'd add that Gunhed, Super Star Soldier and Final Soldier are also worth a look, as they're all (roughly) part of the same series.

Alien Crush (TG-16)

Developed by Compile and part of the same series that includes Devil's Crush and Jaki Crush, Alien Crush combines horrible xenomorphs with pinball to stunning effect. The eye-catching (and often nightmarish) visuals would have been enough to ensure that the game made an impact when it was first released, but the fact that it boasts absolutely spot-on ball physics and some challenging tables have ensured that Alien Crush has remained a firm favourite with PC Engine fans. A remake later appeared on WiiWare, but it couldn't quite match the brilliance of the original. Alien Crush is included on the PC Engine Mini, released in 2020.

Ys Book I & II (TG-16)

You could argue that Ys Book I & II is a difficult game to judge today because when it’s viewed in parts – such as graphics, combat, depth and so on – it’s comfortably bettered by practically every RPG released since. However, when everything is pulled together, Ys becomes an epic proposition that will have a profound impact on anyone who gives it the time of day. The storyline is epic, the CD-quality music remarkable and the animated sequences – which were mind-blowing back in the early '90s – elevate things to the next level. The Ys series remains an ongoing concern for Falcom, but this classic double-pack is still an essential play – you can do so on the 2020 PC Engine Mini, thankfully.

Splatterhouse (TG-16)

Namco's arcade title Splatterhouse was notable at the time for offering gruesome visuals which took inspiration from '70s and '80s horror epics – it's actually amazing that there wasn't more fuss made about the fact that kids were playing a game which contained zombie babies! NEC scored something of a coup by securing the home console port of the game for its PC Engine, and while the resultant conversion isn't quite arcade perfect, it was close enough back in the day. Despite sequels on the Mega Drive / Genesis (and a much-maligned reboot on the Xbox 360/PS3), many feel that the original game has never been bettered. You can play it on the PC Engine Mini.

Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure (TG-16)

Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure was the final game in the original trilogy of Bonk games – so it's easy to see why Hudson Soft decided it had to cram as much into it as possible to ensure it was the best title. A two-player mode has been added, and the gameplay has been refined massively over the previous two instalments. Furthermore, the animation is improved, and the music is fantastic. It's a shame that Bonk hasn't enjoyed the longevity that Sonic and Mario have, but this is a fine game to sign off with for the PC Engine part of the series.

Bomberman '94 (TG-16)

When you think Hudson Soft, the first title that springs to mind is almost certainly going to be Bomberman – and the PC Engine had several excellent entries in the franchise. They're all worth a look, but Bomberman '94 is perhaps the best to start with if you're coming to the console (and series) cold. The solo campaign will keep you busy for a while, but it's the multiplayer battle mode which really sets this apart – you'll want to make sure you have access to a multitap accessory and four controllers to ensure you get the most out of the game. Guess what? Bomberman '94 is part of the PC Engine Mini's library of games. Hurrah!

Star Parodier (TG-16)

If Parodius is Konami's parody of its own shooter franchises, then Star Parodier is Hudson's attempt to poke fun at the conventions of its own Star Soldier series. Gorgeous cartoon-like visuals run alongside some excellent music, and it's all held together by challenging gameplay and some inventive boss battles. Never released outside of Japan back in the day, it would eventually come to the west as part of Nintendo's now-defunct Wii Virtual Console library – and it's on the PC Engine Mini, too.

Military Madness (TG-16)

Military Madness feels like a futuristic take on Fire Emblem series and offers some of the most engaging strategy gameplay you'll find on the PC Engine – it's a shame, then, that it isn't remembered as fondly as its rivals. A deep, tactical experience that will keep you glued to your console for weeks, Military Madness is a refreshing change of pace on a system which is so well-stocked when it comes to action titles; PC Engine Mini owners can play it right now.

Gekibo: Gekisha Boy (TG-16)

One of the most unique games on the PC Engine, Gekibo: Gekisha Boy tasks you with guiding a snap-happy photographer around a series of levels with the aim of capturing the perfect photo – however, you'll also have to deal with a series of hazards which can harm your character. Gekibo: Gekisha Boy has some seriously amusing visuals, and the game's longevity is helped by the fact that there are so many unique animations and things to see. A Japanese exclusive, the game was republished on the PlayStation as The Cameraman: Gekisha Boy Omakefu, while a PlayStation 2 sequel arrived a few years later. It was mooted for a Eurpeaon release under the title Polaroid Pete, but it never happened.

Seirei Senshi Spriggan (TG-16)

Developed by Compile, the same team behind the Aleste series, Seirei Senshi Spriggan is a Japanese exclusive which puts the PC Engine's CD-ROM hardware to good use. Originally intended to be part of the Aleste series, it shares many gameplay elements with that franchise. Lauded for its stunning visuals, robust weapon system (which focuses on mixing coloured orbs for different effects) and tight controls, Seirei Senshi Spriggan has become a highly collectable title on the secondary market. A Japanese release on the Wii Virtual Console took place in 2008, and the game was included on the PC Engine Mini in 2020 – the game's first official outing in the west. Spriggan Mark 2: Re-Terraform Project followed on the PC Engine in 1992, but it's not quite in the same league as the original.

Lords of Thunder (TG-16)

The PC Engine was blessed with many shmups, but few of them are as original as Lords of Thunder. Its fantasy setting immediately sets it apart from the crowd, while its amazing rock soundtrack still sounds utterly stunning, even today. The game's weapon system is also refreshingly unique, and it hosts some of the best boss fights you'll see in any shooter from this period. If you're a fan of the genre and you own a PC Engine, then this is a must – thankfully, it made the cut on the PC Engine Mini in 2020.

Gomola Speed (TG-16)

Remember Snake on your old Nokia? Well, Gomola Speed plays very much like an enhanced version of that and is arguably one of the PC Engine's true hidden gems. First, you must assemble your robot-like snake by collecting body segments before using the snake to encircle food (and enemies). Simple on paper, but devilishly challenging in its later levels, Gomola Speed is a superb puzzle/action hybrid that doesn't get anywhere near enough praise and attention today.

Neutopia II (TG-16)

A quick glance at the screenshots for Neutopia II should be enough for you to realise that it's basically the PC Engine's take on Nintendo's Zelda, and while this cute action adventure can't hold a candle to the likes of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Link's Awakening, it's still a wonderful way to spend a week or so. If you fancy taking this one for a spin, it's worth noting that it's included on the 2020 PC Engine Mini micro-console.

Gate of Thunder (TG-16)

Lazy comparisons between games in similar genres have been here since the start of the industry, but in the case of Gate of Thunder, it's worth noting that this was heralded as 'Hudson's Thunder Force' back in the day – and, when you consider that the team behind it was comprised of several ex-Technosoft staffers, it's not entirely without merit. It certainly 'feels' like it could be a Thunder Force title, and in many respects, actually surpasses that series; the music is utterly brilliant, while the visuals are colourful and striking. Lords of Thunder is considered to be the 'unofficial' sequel to Gate of Thunder, and it's a bit of a shame that the latter wasn't included alongside the former on the 2020 PC Engine Mini.

Dungeon Explorer (TG-16)

Shamelessly derivative of Atari's Gauntlet, Dungeon Explorer nonetheless builds on that formula to offer an even more enjoyable experience. For starters, additional depth is afforded by the light RPG elements, and there's more variety thanks to the different locations to explore. The ability to bring along other players for the ride isn't unique to the game, but makes it even more appealing. This one is part of the PC Engine Mini's lineup of pre-installed games.

Air Zonk (TG-16)

When creating Air Zonk, Hudson Soft essentially took the 'Bonk' character and renamed him Zonk, setting the action in the future for good measure (perhaps it wasn't deemed felt appropriate for a caveman to be jetting around in the sky, who knows). Questionable setting aside, this is a top-notch side-scrolling blaster which showcases bright visuals, inventive enemies and plenty of variety – and it's yet another PC Engine shmup that you should have in your collection. Its CD-ROM sequel, Super Air Zonk: Rockabilly-Paradise, was developed by a different team and isn't anywhere near as good, so don't get them mixed up. If you have the PC Engine Mini, then you'll be pleased to learn that this is included.

Street Fighter II': Champion Edition (TG-16)

With the SNES and Mega Drive getting Street Fighter II, it was almost inevitable that the PC Engine would follow suit, given the fact that it was Japan's second-favourite games console at this point. Despite the relative weakness of the host hardware when compared to Nintendo and Sega's consoles, this is actually a surprisingly faithful conversion and loses none of the characters, moves or stages. The gameplay is also brilliantly replicated – with one caveat; you'll need to invest in the six-button NEC controller to get the most out of the game, as the PC Engine's standard two-button pad simply isn't up to the task.

When did TurboGrafx-16 launch?

The PC Engine (which is what the TurboGrafx-16 was called in Japan) was released on October 30th, 1987. The remodelled TurboGrafx-16 was released in North America on August 29th, 1989.

Why did TurboGrafx-16 fail?

Sega and Nintendo were simply too strong in North America. Nintendo locked down several big third-party publishers and developers during the NES era, and by the time the SNES came along, Sega's Genesis was Nintendo's biggest rival. Despite getting upgrades like a CD-ROM attachment and a revised TurboDuo system (which combined the TurboGrafx-16 with the aforementioned CD drive), the system couldn't compete with the Genesis and SNES – however, in Japan, the PC Engine outsold Sega's Mega Drive.

How many TurboGrafx-16 games are there?

There were 678 games officially released on the PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16.

Can you play PC Engine games on TurboGrafx-16?

No. Despite the HuCard / Turbo Chip format being the same in physical terms, the console has a region lock which prevents Japanese PC Engine games from being played on a North American TurboGrafx-16 system, and vice versa. It is possible to modify your system to get around this limitation, however.