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Console Histories

Virtual Boy-1995


Number of Models Released : One- Virtual Boy

Number of Units Sold : Approximately 770,000 units in Japan and North America

Life Cycle: 1995 through 1996

Flagship Titles: Mario Clash, Mario Tennis, Red Alarm, Wario Land

Number of Games Released: 22 Individual titles (19 Released in Japan and 14 Released in North America)

Region Coding: No Region Protection

Price: $179.99 & ¥15,000

Peripherals: AC Adapter

History:
The Virtual Boy was the first console to be billed as a ‘portable virtual reality device’ and was released by Nintendo in Japan on July 21, 1995 and in North America on August 14, 1995. The production delay of the Nintendo 64 had consumers wanting a new system as the SNES neared the end of its life cycle. It was rumored that Nintendo rushed the Virtual Boy to the market in an attempt to calm consumer anxiety over the long delayed Nintendo 64. Whatever the reason the red and black visuals of the Virtual Boy were not a hit with consumers and the system was doomed. A total of only 19 games were ever released in Japan, a slim margin over the 14 released in North America for the Virtual Boy. The fall of the Virtual Boy caused a very unfortunate loss to Nintendo; Gunpei Yokoi was asked to leave the company and never had a chance to create any more amazing video game consoles. The creator of the Virtual Boy, Gunpei Yokoi was also the man responsible for the creation of the Game and Watch games, the Gameboy and the Gameboy Pocket, among many other legendary Nintendo properties that he was a part of. He also played a large part in the making of Metroid and Kid Icarus on the Famicom as well, but shortly after the launch of the Gameboy Pocket, Gunpei Yokoi turned in his resignation and left Nintendo.

The Virtual Boy was one of the most unique console launches in game history; released when 'virtual reality' was beginning to become a pop culture fad, many expected the system to perform in a more realistic visual style than the red and black monochromes that the system provided. The visual style of the Virtual Boy left many gamers' eyes tired after just a mere 30 minutes of gaming, the red and black color scheme frustrate many gamers and the risk of eye strain loomed when playing a game. The Virtual Boy creates the illusion of 3D graphics by projecting two separate images, one black and one red onto the two LCD screens that make up the eye portion of the system. The resulting image appears to the viewer to be 3 dimensional; the contrast of the red pixels on the black background make the image stand out significantly creating the illusion. The image created by the Virtual Boy could cause eye strain to such a degree that it was not recommended for children under the age of 7.

Nintendo's claim that the Virtual Boy was a portable console is a bit of a stretch, the rather large size of the console would have prevented most gamers from taking the console any great distance. The console does fully disassemble into 3 main parts that could be transported in a backpack, but the fully assembled system measures 8.5 inches tall by 10 inches wide and is 4.3 inches deep. The 3 main parts are the bulky red and black Virtual Boy Console, the Stand and the Controller & Battery Pack but any avid Virtual Boy fan would most likely have the optional AC Adapter for those long 30 minute gaming sessions. The console was also awkward to play unless the player took time to adjust the stand to fit the players sitting position by using the tilting feature that adjusts the angle of the goggle view ports.

The Virtual Boy was a console that had a few flaws, but did push the industry forward trying new ideas. It is such a shame that the system was abandoned by Nintendo so early after it was launched. Given more time and effort from Nintendo and a few third party publishers, the Virtual Boy had great potential to spawn some innovative games using the new hardware invented by Gunpei Yokoi. The system is still a great investment for any collector who is at all interested in the early 32-bit 3D system that creates a better image of virtual reality than most 3D movies on DVD. The Virtual Boy will no doubt still be remembered as one of the greatest flops in video game history and for its short lifespan, but it still is a great addition to any gamer's collection.

Ultimately, the Virtual Boy did not fair well in the 32-bit era and was undone by the mighty PSX and the equally powerful Sega Saturn; aside from its many flaws. The monochrome visual style was the downfall of the console, but the system still represents the risks that Nintendo was willing to make to push the industry forward by advancing the technology. Although the Virtual Boy was considered a failure by Nintendo and had one of the shortest lifespans in video game history, the console is still a testament that new technology and ideas drive the industry forward. The major casualty of the Virtual Boy’s demise is the resignation of Gunpei Yokoi from Nintendo, the man who was responsible for much of what Nintendo is known for today, innovation.

Rare and Collectible Titles:

*Virtual Bowling (JPN)
Jack Bros.
SD Gundam Dimension War (JPN)
Space Invaders Virtual Collection (JPN)
Virtual Lab (JPN)
Space Squash (JPN)

*Nester's Funky Bowling is a North America exclusive and is not the same as the Japan only Virtual Bowling



Pioneer LaserActive - 1993

 

Life Cycle: Released in 1993.

Number of Models Released: One with three different PACs for playing Mega Drive and PC Engine games as well as singing karaoke.

Number of Units Sold: Estimated at around 10,000.

Flagship Titles: All PC Engine and Mega Drive titles

Number of Games Released: Close to 1500 games can be played on the LaserActive.

Popular in Japan for use in the Love Hotel circuit (after all you need something to do during your down time), this beast combines the PC Engine, Sega MegaDrive, Karaoke and Laserdisc player all in one XBOX-sized steel case. A collector's dream, and the grand daddy of all video game systems - the Pioneer LaserActive. Moreover, LaserActive plays the 31 extremely hard to find LaserActive games such as Melon Brain, Space Berserker and Angel Mate.

While if you look hard enough, you can probably find a Japanese version of the console, it is rumored that the US version is uber rare with very few units being sold stateside. And with a price tag of $970 for the base unit, it's easy to understand why. The LaserActive is believed to be one of the most expensive game consoles ever released. With a total cost topping out at about $3000, back in the day, you needed to mortgage your house to purchase the complete system with some games.

The greatest feature of the LaserActive was the separately sold add-on modules, referred to as PACs by Pioneer, which allowed you to play PC Engine games, Mega Drive/Sega Genesis games or sing Karaoke to your favorite Amuro Namie tunes. Wanna play Phantasy Star? Just hit the eject button, and replace the PC Engine PAC with the Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis) PAC. Feel like belting out your own rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," pop out the game PAC, and slam in the Karaoke PAC and your ready to go. This was truly an all-in-one system.

Other features include digital audio, control ports for PC Engine or Mega Drive/Sega Genesis controllers (PAC specific), microphone jack, ability to play audio CD's, and remote control. One of the rarest accessories for the LaserActive are the 3-D goggles. At its release, the system was touted as "the industry's first multi-platform system to combine high-quality full motion video, digital sound and interactive capabilities. In its press release, the company's president, Mr. "Fo' Sho" Yamada boasted, "LaserActive offers an unprecedented level of interactive performance. It achieves the highest quality full motion interactive video possible and realizes the potential for future compatibility with other multimedia formats. Based on its future viability, LaserActive will not only expand the LaserDisc business, but will create an industry-wide demand for more sophisticated interactive home entertainment."

Unfortunately, the steep price tag prevented the LaserActive from reaching its potential. The LaserActive, however, is truly a collector's gem and one of Pink Gorilla's favorite systems. What's not to love about a system that can play PC Engine Hu Cards, all the PC Engine CD-ROM formats for any region, Mega Drive and Genesis carts, Mega CD games, and the elusive LaserActive games.

 

Plug-in Modules

The SEGA PAC - PAC-S10/PAC-S1

Pioneer Electronics in collaboration with SEGA Enterprises released this module allowing users to play 8-inch and 12-inch LaserActive Mega LD discs in addition to the hundreds of existing Mega CDs, Mega Drive and Genesis ROM cartridges, and standard CD+G discs. It was the most popular add-on that the greater part of the LaserActive owners bought at the price of $600. It came with the usual Mega Drive/Sega Genesis control pad printed with a gold Pioneer LaserActive logo.

NEC PAC - PAC-N10/PAC-N1

Pioneer Electronics with NEC Home Electronics released this module that allow users to play 8-inch and 12-inch LaserActive LD-ROM 2 discs, as well as current PC Engine and Turbo Graphx 16 CD-ROM discs, PC Engine Hu Cards and CD+G discs. This PAC is really hard to find. Note: the Japanese version of the PAC cannot play USA NEC Hu Card games, and vice versa. But for the USA version, there does exist a third party universal cartridge adapter, which allows you to play all the Japanese titles. The PAC comes with the usual PC-Engine/TurboGrafx control pad emblazoned with a gold Pioneer LaserActive mark on it.

KARAOKE PAC - PAC-K10/PAC-K1

This PAC allows you to fully utilize all NTSC Laser Karaoke titles. The front panel has two microphone inputs with separate volume and key control. The retail price was $350.


Software Titles

LaserActive's LD-based games originally retailed for $120 a piece.

3-D Museum
3D Virtual Australia
Angel Mate
Back To The Edo
Don Quixote
The Demon's Judgment
Dr. Paolo No Totteoki Video
Ghost Rush!
Goku
The Great Pyramid
High Roller Battle
Hyperion
I Will: The Story of London
J.B. Harold - Blue Chicago Blues
J.B. Harold - Manhattan Requiem
Manhattan Requiem
Melon Brain
Pretty Illusion - Minayo Watanabe
Pretty Illusion - Yuko Sakaki
Pyramid Patrol
Quiz Econosaurus
Road Blaster
Rocket Coaster
Space Berserker
Time Gal
Triad Stone
Varja
Vajra 2
Virtual Cameraman
Virtual Cameraman 2
Zapping TV Satsui

At a glance:
RELEASE DATE:
US - October 1, 1993
Japan - August of 1993
ORIGINAL PRICE:
Base Unit - $970
PC Engine PAC - $600
Mega Drive/Genesis PAC - $600
Karaoke PAC - $300
Media: Laserdisc; Hu Card (PC Engine); Compact Disc (PC Engine & Mega CD); Cartridge (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)
REGION:
US and JAPAN
COMPATIBILITY:
PC Engine/Turbo Grafx 16 CD-based games are region free; Sega Carts are region free; but Hu Cards and Sega CDs are region locked.

 

Mega Drive - 1988

Life Cycle: 1988 through 1998.

Number of Models Released: Eight - Mega Drive, Mega Drive 2, Sega Multi-Mega, Wonder Mega, Sega Mega Jet, Tera-Drive, Aiwa Mega CD, and the Pioneer LaserActive.

Number of Units Sold: Estimated at 4 to 6 million units in Japan.

Flagship Titles: Sonic the Hedgehog, Bare Knuckle and Phantasy Star.

Number of Games Released: Approximately 700.

The Mega Drive is the 16-bit successor to Sega's Mark III or Master System as it was known in the United States. Although its North American counterpart, the Sega Genesis, gave Nintendo a run for its money during the 16-bit era, the Mega Drive finished a disappointing third behind the Super Famicom and the PC Engine in Japan. How did it all go wrong in Japan for Sega? If fingers are to be pointed, we can start with the Mega Drive spokesman's haircut.

With Nintendo achieving an over 90% market penetration in both America in Japan, Sega decided it was time to abandon the 8-bit Mark III and join NEC in the 16-bit era. So in 1988 Sega launched the Mega Drive receiving only a tepid reception from Japanese consumers.

Sega had three major forces impeding the Mega Drive's potential for success. For starters, Nintendo's Famicom was a gaming phenomenon, and with a steady stream of quality titles still being churned out gamers had very little incentive to jump ship. Moreover, by 1988, NEC's pseudo 16-bit PC Engine console had already been on the market for a year and it was just starting to pick up steam. Consequently, by the time the Mega Drive was released in Japan, most graphics whores and early adopters of technology had already become heavily invested in the expensive PC Engine. In other words, the consumers who were most likely to adandon Nintendo for the processing power of the Mega Drive had already left and were firmly embedded in NEC's camp. Finally, the Mega Drive lacked the killer app or the mascot star power to draw the casual gamer away from Nintendo. Keep in mind, Sonic the Hedgehog wasn't released in Japan until 1991. By that point, Nintendo's Super Famicom had gained control of the 16-bit market and Mario continued his rule as the king of video games with his best-selling title Super Mario World.

Sega supported the Mega Drive until 1996 when Sega abruptly announced they were dropping support for all consoles that Segata Sanshiro didn't play. In one fell swoop, Sega axed the Mark III, Mega Drive, 32X and Mega CD. Although Segata approved of Sega's decision to divert all its resources to the Saturn, many gamers were angered. By contrast Nintendo continued to support and make games for the Super Famicom through the year 2000.

Backwards Compatibility

One of the key design features of the Mega Drive was its ability to play Mark III games. To achieve backwards compatibility, Sega actually included the Mark III's central processor and sound chip in the Mega Drive hardware.

Of course, the Mega Drive lacked a port for the Mark III's card-based games and Mark III cartridges could not be inserted directly into the Mega Drive's cartridge slot. To address this issue, Sega released the Mega Adapter, a separate device that connects to the cartridge slot and features ports for both Mark III software formats.

Both the two-button Mark III controllers and the standard Mega Drive pads are essentially compatible with Mark III games, although some input anomalies occur when using a Mega Drive pad. For optimum performance it's best to use an Mark III pad when playing Mark III games.

Beware. The Mega Adapter is not fully compatible with the redesigned Mega Drive 2. Consequently, the original Mega Drive is your best option for playing Mark III games on the Mega Adaptor.

Peripherals

The Mega Drive had a number of peripherals to enhance the game play. The big two were of course the Mega CD (1991) and the ill-fated Super 32X (1994). These peripherals will be addressed in greater detail in separate articles. Briefly, however, the Mega CD attachment enabled the Mega Drive to play CD-ROM games. It was designed to compete head-to-head against the PC Engine's CD-ROM² System, which was popular in Japan. The Super 32X attachment magically transformed the 16-bit Mega Drive into a 32-bit work horse. The Super 32X, however, was not so super as it did not perform nearly well as advertised. Less than 40 games were released for the Super 32X before Sega ceased its support in 1996. There were a small handful of Mega-CD 32X games, which required the original Mega Drive, the Mega CD and the Super 32X to play.

Believe it or not, the Mega Drive was the first home console to support competitive play over the internet. Back in 1991, with nothing but a Mega Drive, a telephone line and the Megamodem , a boy in Kanto could link up with a friend in Kansai for a rousing game of Sonic Eraser. Considering the Megamodem's blistering download speeds of 1,600 to 2,400 bit/s, game play was surely frenetic (yes, that is sarcasm you detect). The network was supported by the Sega Meganet. In addition to facilitating the online play, the Meganet also provided downloadable content. The Meganet was not very successful and met the same tragic fate as Nintendo's competing Satellaview.

Region Coding

Sega employed limited forms of region lock out for its 16-bit system. The Japanese Mega Drive games tended to be physically larger than the Genesis games, which prevented them from being inserted into the cartridge slot. With a simple modification, however, a good number of Mega Drive games can be played on a Sega Genesis. Simply expand the size of the console's cartridge slot by filing down the edges until the Mega Drive game fits. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for all games as Sega later embedded the region lockout in the software. Although a Genesis can be modified to overcome this hurdle, the simplest solution is to use a converter.

The Mega CD games are also region protected and will not work on a Sega CD.

Console Variations

Not to be outdone by the competing PC Engine, Sega created and/or licensed a number of Mega Drive hardware variants. The most common of these variants was the Mega Drive 2, which was a smaller version of the Mega Drive. Other than the size and the lack of a headphone jack, the only difference of significance is peripheral compatibility. The Mega Drive 2 was not fully compatible with the Mega Adapter or the Super 32X. Moreover, to play Mega CD games, the Mega Drive 2 required its own a specially designed Mega CD attachment.

TeraDrive: released in 1991.

 

Released only in Japan, the TeraDrive was an IBM PC with an integrated Mega Drive. Three models were available ranging in price from 148,000 to 248,000 yen (~$1200 to $2000), but only the most expensive model contained a hard drive. The monitor was not included in the price. IBM, however, designed a custom monitor for the TeraDrive that could display both RGB and VGA video signals. The TeraDrive also had composite A/V outputs for playing Mega Drive games on a standard TV. One of the TeraDrives coolest design features is the ability to play Mega Drive games even when the PC's non-gaming applications are in use.

Victor Wondermega: released in 1993.

 

The Wondermega combined the functionality of the Mega Drive and the Mega CD in a single slick package. The Wondermega featured superior sound quality compared to the standard Mega Drive, extra mic inputs for karaoke, S-Video output and music CD playback. Victor aimed to take advantage of the Wondermega's superior sound quality with the release of the Wonder MIDI and the Piano Player. The Wonder MIDI, which originally retailed for 9900 yen (~$90), was a cartridge that made the Wondermega compatible with MIDI devices. The Wonder MIDI also contained music composition tools and teaching software. The Piano Player was basically a MIDI keyboard designed specifically for the Wondermega.

Pioneer LaserActive: released in 1993.

 

Sony was not the first company to combine movie playback with a videogame device. Back before Blu-ray and HD DVD's, there were Laser Discs. And before the PS triple there was the Pioneer LaserActive. In addition to the small line up of LaserActive games, with the use of the SEGA PAC, the LaserActive could play Sega's complete library of Mega Drive and Mega CD games. Other features include digital audio, control ports for Mega Drive controllers (located on the SEGA PAC), microphone jack, ability to play audio CD's, and remote control.

Multi Mega: released in 1994.

 

In an attempt to resuscitate the failing Mega CD, in 1994 Sega launched the compact Multi-Mega. The Multi-Mega was basically a portable CD player that incorporated the Mega Drive and Mega CD hardware. While the CD player function could run off of just two AA batteries, to play games the Multi Mega had to be plugged in. Despite its sexy design, the Multi Mega did not sell well making it a nice collector's item for the Sega enthusiast.

Mega Jet: released in 1994.

 

As its name implies, the Mega Jet was originally designed as a gaming device for use as in-flight entertainment on Japan Airlines. A consumer model was released only in Japan. The Mega Jet was an odd system. It was essentially a Sega Nomad without the back lit screen meaning it needed to be connected to a TV and plugged in to play. It wasn't so much a hand held device as it was a portable Mega Drive that could easily be thrown in your bag to take to a friend's house.

Aiwa Mega CD - CSD-GM1: released in 1994.

 

One of the rarest of the Mega Drive console variants is the Aiwa Mega CD. One part portable boom box, two parts Mega Drive, the Aiwa Mega CD was only released in Japan. To play Mega Drive games, the Aiwa Mega CD needed to be attached on top of a docking station. Once connected, the Aiwa Mega CD could play both Mega Drive games and Mega CD games. As the cartridge port is located in the front of the docking station, the Super 32X and Mega Adapter attachments don't work particularly well with this unit. Regardless, this is one of the most collectible Mega Drive consoles and worth a pretty penny especially if it is complete with the matching blue controller.


Pink Gorilla's Top Ten Mega Drive Games

In compiling this list, we focused on games that were either not released or were a little more obscure in the US. Mega CD titles have specifically been excluded as they will be addressed in a separate article.

1. Gunstar Heroes
2. Alien Soldier
3. Alisia Dragoon
4. Panorama Cotton
5. G Wars
6. Battle Mania Daiginjou
7. Snow Brothers
8. Wonder Boy V
9. Contra Hard Corps
10. Gaiares

Honorable Mentions - Chelnov, El Viento, Fatman, Gynoug, Hellfire, Koutetsu Teikoku, Maou Renjishi, Ragnacenty, Ristar, Slap Fight, Sparkster, The Super Shinobi II, Surging Aura, Task Force Harrier EX, V Five, Vampire Killer

Rare And Collectible Titles

There are a few rare games for the Mega Drive. The rarest being Batman Forever, Justice League Maximum Carnage and Virtual Bart, which fetch prices of $550 to $700 in Japan.

Alien Soldier
Batman Forever
Battle Mania Daiginjou
Comix Zone
G Wars
Gauntlet
General Chaos
Justice League
Koutetsu Teikoku
Maou Renjishi
Maximum Carnage
Panorama Cotton
Pepen ga Pengo
Ristar
Slap Fight
Snow Brothers
Surgical Strike
Tom & Jerry
True Lies
Vampire Killer

 

Nintendo Color TV Game Systems - 1977

Life Cycle: 1977 through 1980.

Number of Models Released: Five - Color TV Game 6, Color TV Game 15, Color TV Racing 112, Block Kuzushi and Othello.

Number of Units Sold: Over 2.5 million units in Japan.

Flagship Titles: None.

Number of Games Released: None as the games were built into the console.

History

Most PG Satori know that Nintendo began as a playing card manufacturer. But before the word Nintendo became synonymous with videogames, Nintendo, in collaboration with Mitsubishi, released a series plug-and-play consoles in Japan called Color TV Games. The early Color TV Game systems were versions of Pong with a very limited color palette. The series also included a racing game, a Breakout clone and Othello.

Selling over 2.5 million units, the TV Color Game consoles were a success laying the foundation for Nintendo's ascent to the top of the gaming universe with the release of the Famicom in 1983.

The Color TV Game consoles are compatible with American television sets. As the technology is now 30 years old, however, your best bet is to purchase a vintage 1980's television and then follow this link to a handy step-by-step guide to to gaming like it's 1979.

The Color TV Game consoles are both fun to play and excellent collectors items. There's no better way to impress your Nintendo fanboy friends than by busting out a Nintendo Color TV Game 15 for a high stakes Pong battle. While tough to find in the United States, the Color TV Game 6, Color TV Game 15 and the Block Kuzushi systems aren't too difficult to track down in Japan. Color TV Racing 112 is a little harder to find and the Othello system is pretty rare. The rarest of all the Color TV consoles, however, is the white Color TV Game 6, which was produced in very limited quantities.

Color TV Game 6

Released in 1977, the Color TV Game 6 was the first of Nintendo's Color TV Game systems, and is considered Nintendo's first home console. The Color TV Game 6, as the name implies, packed in six variations of the classic Pong game. The system sported two control knobs that were built into the base, which made for some cozy quarters when playing head-to-head. The Color TV Game 6 was very popular in Japan selling through over one million units. The TV Color Game 6 was originally released in a yellow box with a yellow casing. Later, however, Nintendo released a very limited run of Color TV Game 6 consoles with a white casing. The white Color TV Game 6 consoles are very rare, hence the most desirable amongst collectors.

Color TV Game 15

Hot on the heals of its successful debut in the home console market, Nintendo released the Color TV Game 15 in 1978. The Color TV Game 15 console featured a more powerful processor, which allowed Nintendo to cram 15 variations of Pong into the console. Well, sort of. There were really just five different Pong games, three of which had an A version and a B version. Four of these games also had a singles version and a doubles version. So with lots of double counting, Nintendo stretched five "unique" games into fifteen. Like its predecessor, the Color TV Game 15 was wildly popular in Japan topping the million-seller threshold.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of the Mario and Zelda franchises, was hired by Nintendo in 1977. Legend has it that Miyamoto's first project at Nintendo was to design the casing for the Color TV 15. Not only did Miyamoto change the color from yellow to tangerine orange, but he added detachable controllers providing the players with some much needed elbow room when playing head-to-head.

Color TV Racing 112


In 1978, Nintendo released a second Color TV Game console called Color TV Racing 112. As the name implies, the Color TV Racing 112 console featured 112 slightly different racing games. The most innovative aspect of the console was its steering wheel shaped controller located in the center of the console. For head-to-head action, Color TV Racing 112 was played using the two small detachable controllers.

The racing genre apparently wasn't as popular as Pong in Japan as the Color TV Racing 112 only sold through 160,000 units.

Block Kuzushi


Based on the popular arcade game Breakout, Block Kusushi is a single player game in which you bounce a ball into rows of colored blocks. Destroy all the blocks without missing the bouncing ball and you progress to the next level, each more challanging than the last. Of all the Color TV Game consoles, the gameplay of Block Kuzushi has probably withstood the test of time the best.

Block Kuzushi performed relatively well selling through approximately 400,000 units.

Othello

Released in 1980, Othello was the last of the Color TV Game systems. The Color TV Game version of Othello is played with shapes rather than the traditional black and white pieces. The goal is to turn your opponent's tiles into your own by sandwiching them between two of your tiles. Victory is achieved by filling the board with more of your pieces than your opponent's. Othello featured some relatively advanced AI enabling the player to go it alone. Excluding the white variation of the Color TV Game 6 console, the Othello system is the rarest of the Color TV Game series.

Sales figures for Othello are not available but are assumed to be relatively low as this system retailed for close to $450 back in 1980.

Having the wealthy Othello fanatic market cornered, Nintendo ended the Color TV Game product line and diverted its resources to the development of the Famicom.

 

PC Engine - 1987

Life Cycle: Released in 1987, software produced through 1999.

Number of Models Released: At least fifteen. Continue reading for the complete list.

Number of Units Sold: Approximately 7 million units in Japan.

Flagship Titles: PC Genjin, Dracula X, Bomberman and Y's I & II.

Number of Games Released: Approximately 650 Hu Card and CD ROM games.

History

In the mid-80's, Hudson partnered with NEC to create the PC Engine (or Turbo Grafx 16 as it became known in the United States) videogame console, which was released in 1987. Boasting 16-bit graphics, the PC Engine was designed by Hudson to unseat Nintendo's Famicom as the #1 selling console in Japan. And in the beginning, the prospects of the console appeared extremely promising.

Contributing to the popularity of the PC Engine were a number of factors. The PC Engine was very compact yet graphically superior to the 8-bit Famicom allowing for some beautiful ports of popular arcade games such as R-Type. Moreover, the console had a high-tech feel as the games were published on credit card-sized HU Cards. The PC Engine was also first to market with a CD-Rom expansion unit. These factors endeared the console to Japanese gamers and contributed to the PC Engine beating out the aging Famicom in monthly sales shortly after its release.

While there was a lot to love about Hudson and NEC's joint venture, there were a number of obstacles that the PC Engine faced preventing the console from conquering the home console market of the late 80's and early 90's.

First, although Hudson and NEC touted the PC Engine as the first 16-bit console, this wasn't entirely accurate. While its three chip architecture enabled the system to display 16-bit graphics in 482 colors, the PC Engine had only an 8-bit processor, which was actually a variant of the Famicom's CPU.

Second, the PC Engine lacked the third party publisher support that Nintendo enjoyed. To some extent, this "lack of support" could be attributed to Nintendo's habit of punishing publishers who released games on competing consoles. Nintendo's aggressive business practices created a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma for the PC Engine. Third party publishers such as Konami could not afford to incur Nintendo's wrath, manifested in sudden "chip shortage" just before the holidays, unless the PC Engine had a much larger installed user base to help absorb the expected loss of Famicom software sales. But the installed user base of the PC Engine couldn't grow without strong third party support. Consequently, the console depended largely upon games developed by Hudson. Although Hudson did publish some of the greatest games of the era, it wasn't enough to prevail in the 16-bit era. Ironically enough, this would be a lesson that Nintendo would learn during the next generation of home consoles.

Third, the PC Engine couldn't match Nintendo and Sega's mascot star power. While PC Genjin (Bonk's Adventure) was a great flagship title, the main character did not work well as the PC Engine's official mascot since he was not exclusive to the console. Hudson actually publsihed a version of the game called FC Genjin for Nintendo's competing Famicom. This was certainly an odd business decision by Hudson akin to Nintendo publishing a Super Mario Bros. game on Sega's Mega Drive.

Fourth, Hudson's release of approximately fifteen licensed variants of the PC Engine hardware contributed to consumer confusion and hesitancy. Gamers who were interested in the console became reluctant to purchase the system fearing buyer's remorse should Hudson release superior hardware shortly thereafter, which Hudson was prone to do.

Although Hudson was able to land a few jabs, ultimately the PC Engine was never able to land the knock out blow to unseat Nintendo from the number one position in console market share. Despite Hudson's attempts to extend the life of the system with the release of Arcade Cards and the Super Grafx, the PC Engine ended up settling for third place in the 16-bit console wars behind Nintendo and Sega. That said, the PC Engine is a retro system that has aged well boasting a solid line up of about 650 games. Fans of the 16-bit era, especially classic shoot'em ups, should give the PC Engine a try.

Console Variations

As there were no fewer than 15 different licensed variants of the PC Engine, even the most hardcore collectors have a hard time keeping them all straight. For everyone's sanity, we've compiled a complete list of each model. Enjoy.

PC Engine - Released in 1987 with a MSRP of 24,800 yen (~$220).

 

At the size of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the original PC Engine is one of the smallest home consoles ever released. This model played only the Hu Cards and did not have A/V outputs. So if you have the original PC Engine, then you'll need to locate the PC Engine Channel (see below for details) on your TV before you can play. The PC Engine is compatible with the PC Engine CD-ROM² attachments.

Sharp X1 Twin - Released in 1987 with a MSRP of 99,800 yen (~$900).

 

Soon after the launch of the original PC Engine, Sharp released the X1 Twin, which combined the gaming functionality of the PC Engine with the practicality of Sharp's X1 line of personal computers. Like the PC-KD863G, the X1 Twin only plays the Hu Cards and is incompatible with either of the CD-ROM² attachments. As the computer portion of the console has long been obsolete, Sharp X1 Twin is hard to find and is considered one of the rarest of the PC Engine variants.

PC-KD863G - Released in 1988 with a MSRP of 138,000 yen (~$1200).

 

Sporting a futuristic robot name, the PC-KD863G was the love child of a PC monitor and a Vectrex. The key selling point of this system was the high quality resolution of the RGB monitor, which would produce a much sharper image than a standard TV set. With a whopping price tag 138,000 yen (~$1200), however, not too many of these systems were sold and even fewer still exist. This is one of the rarest of the PC Engine consoles and is really just for collectors as it only plays the Hu Cards and is incompatible with either of the CD-ROM² attachments.

CD-ROM² System - Released in 1988 with a MSRP of 57,300 yen (~$550).

The PC Engine was the first console to have a CD software attachment predating the Mega CD by about three years. The CD-ROM² System sat next to the PC Engine core unit and was attached with an interface unit. To play the CD-ROM² games, you had to insert a system card into the Hu Card slot of the core system. This complicated set up, and the availability of the Super CD-ROM² and DUO systems, makes the CD-ROM² System an unattractive option for today's retro gamers. Unless you're a collector or prefer a CD system that matches the color scheme of the original PC Engine, then it's best to avoid this attachment.

PC Engine Shuttle - Released in 1989 with a MSRP of 18,800 yen (~$160)

Shaped like a UFO, the PC Engine Shuttle was essentially a budget model PC Engine sporting A/V outputs. Although for a number of reasons the Shuttle did not sell well, these systems aren't that difficult to find nearly 20 years after the launch. The unique shape makes the Shuttle a good system for collectors or those looking for a fun way to play PC Engine Hu Card games as it is not compatible with either of the CD-ROM² attachments.

PC Engine Core Grafx - Released in 1989 with a MSRP of 24,800 (~$225).

The Core Grafx was essentially a minor redesign of the original PC Engine. In addition to the obvious color change, the Core Grafx featured A/V outputs and a controller with adjustable rapid fire capabilities, which was great for playing shoot'em ups. The Core Grafx is compatible with the CD-ROM² attachments.

PC Engine SuperGrafx - Released in 1990 with a MSRP of 39,800 yen (~$375)

 

Likely inspired from the environments of Sigorney Weaver's Alien films, the SuperGrafx can be simply described as a PC Engine on steroids. Originally intended to become the successor to PC Engine, the SuperGrafx turned out to be little more than a standard PC Engine with enhanced graphic capabilities for the seven games that were specifically developed for the system. The seven games were Aldynes, Battle Ace, Darius Plus, 1941 Counter Attack, Granzort, Ghouls and Ghosts and the ultra rare Darius Alpha. Despite the lack of SuperGrafx software, the system is still one of the most desirable of the PC Engine variants as it plays all of the Hu Card games and is compatible with the CD-ROM² attachments.

PC Engine GT - Released in 1990 with a MSRP of 44,800 yen (~$420)

 

The PC Engine GT, one of the most collectible handhelds ever released, was Hudson's answer to Nintendo's Game Boy. The PC Engine GT, which was really just a portable PC Engine, had a number of advantages over Nintendo's famous handheld. First, the PC Engine GT played the standard PC Engine Hu Cards, so there was no need to purchase additional software. Second, while the Game Boy monitor was dark and only displayed black and white graphics, the PC Engine GT featured a full color, back lit LCD screen. But with the PC Engine GT's superior technology came many problems that ultimately doomed the system. As LCD technology was in its infancy back in 1990, the PC Engine GT screen was plagued with dead pixels. Also, the back lit screen required a lot of energy, which resulted in a very short battery life compared to that of the Game Boy.

A television tuner and a system link cable were released for the PC Engine GT, but very few games actually took advantage of the system's multi-player capabilities.

PC Engine Core Grafx II - Released in 1991 with a MSRP of 19,800 yen (~$180).

 

With a drop in price came yet another PC Engine console variant. Except for the color scheme, the Core Grafx II is essentially the same console as the original Core Grafx. The Core Grafx II sports the same A/V outputs and is also compatible with the CD-ROM² attachments. So if you ever have to decide between a Core Grafx or a Core Grafx II, the only consideration should be the color. Do you prefer the black model with blue detailing or the dark gray model with orange detailing?

PC Engine Duo - Released in 1991 with a MSRP of 59,800 (~$550).

The PC Engine Duo combined the standard PC Engine with the SUPER CD-ROM² in one sleek shell, which actually netted Hudson and NEC a Design of the Year award. If you are looking for systems that can play all of your favorite PC Engine games (excluding the 7 Super Grafx games), then any of the three PC Engine Duo models are your best bet.

PC Engine LT - Released in 1991 with a MSRP of 99,800 (~$900).

The PC Engine LT was one of the most extravagant video game consoles of all time. Resembling a laptop computer, the PC Engine LT had its own monitor and folded shut like a large Game Boy Advance SP. Although portable, the PC Engine LT was not a handheld console as it required a controller and an AC adapter to play. The PC Engine LT was more or less an expensive toy for Japanese business men who wanted to be able to play games or watch TV while away on business trips. The PC Engine LT played all the standard Hu Card games or could be attached to the Super CD-ROM² module to play the CD based games.

PC Engine Duo-R - Released in 1993 with a MSRP of 39,800 (~$375).

Other than the color and the lack of a headphone jack, there really is no difference between the DUO and the DUO-R. Both systems play all the Hu Card and Super CD-ROM² games. So if a headphone jack on your console is not important to you, then your only concern is the color. Do you prefer black or white?

Pioneer LaserActive - Released in 1993 with a MSRP of 89,800 (~$825).

The Pioneer LaserActive was not a PC Engine console per se, but with the purchase of a NEC PAC (sold separately for 39,800 yen (~$375)) the LaserActive could be magically transformed into a PC Engine super machine that could play everything but the SuperGrafx games. And we mean everything - Hu card, CD-ROM², Super CD-ROM², Arcade Card CD-ROM², and LD-ROM² (laser disk) games were all compatible. And with its digital audio output, there is no better way to play Dracula X than on a LaserActive. For Pink Gorilla's complete write up on the LaserActive, go here.

PC Engine Duo-RX - Released in 1994 with a MSRP of 29,800 (~$275).

Originally released as a "budget" model Duo, the PC Engine Duo-RX has become the most desirable (and expensive) of the three DUO models. The primary reason for the high demand of the Duo-RX is the six-button controller that comes packaged with the system.

Compatibility Guide

To summarize, if all you are interested in is playing Hu Card games, then any of the above PC Engine systems will suffice. If you want to play the seven SuperGrafx games, then you'll need a SuperGrafx system. If you want to play CD-ROM², Super CD-ROM² or Arcade Card CD-ROM² games, your surest bet is to grab one of the Duo systems. Otherwise, you'll want to carefully follow the compatibility guide below.

To Play Hu Card Games:

Excluding the CD-ROM² attachments, all of the PC Engine systems will play Hu Card games.

To Play SuperGrafx Hu Card Games:

Only the SuperGrafx system will play the seven available SuperGrafx games.

To Play CD-ROM² Games:

Any of the following configurations will work.

Any Core system + CD-ROM² Attachment + Any System Card
Any Core system + SUPER CD-ROM² Attachment
SuperGrafx system + ROM² Adapter + CD-ROM² + Any System Card
SuperGrafx system + SUPER CD-ROM²
PC Engine LT + SUPER ROM² Adapter + SUPER CD-ROM²
Any of the PC Engine Duo Systems
Pioneer LaserActive with NEC PAC

To Play SUPER CD-ROM² Games

Any of the following configurations will work.

Any Core System + CD-ROM² + System Card ver. 3.00 or Arcade Card Pro
Any Core System + SUPER CD-ROM²
SuperGrafx + ROM² Adapter + CD-ROM² + System Card ver. 3.00 or Arcade Card Pro
SuperGrafx + SUPER CD-ROM²
PC Engine LT + SUPER ROM² Adapter + SUPER CD-ROM²
Any of the PC Engine Duo Systems

To Play Arcade CD-ROM Games

Any of the following configurations will work.

Any Core System + CD-ROM² + Arcade Card Pro
Any Core System + SUPER CD-ROM² + Arcade Card Duo or Pro
SuperGrafx + ROM² Adapter + CD-ROM² + Arcade Card Pro
SuperGrafx + SUPER CD-ROM² + Arcade Card Duo or Pro
PC Engine LT + SUPER ROM² Adapter + SUPER CD-ROM² + Arcade Card Duo or Pro
Any of the PC Engine Duo Systems + Arcade Card Duo or Pro

* The PC Engine GT, Shuttle, Sharp X1 Twin and PC-KD863G were not compatible with either of the CD-ROM² attachments.

Region protection

Basically, the Hu Cards are region protected and the CD-based games are not. So your Turbo Grafx 16 copy of Ys I & II will work on a PC Engine Duo and the PC Engine's Dracula X will work on your Turbo Duo. Although PC Engine Hu Card games won't normally work on a Turbo Grafx 16 system, a couple different third party converters were released to circumvent the region lockout.

Of course, with a Hu Card converter all Japanese released system cards, such as the Arcade Card Pro, work in the Turbo Grafx 16 systems.

System Cards

After the launch of the CD-ROM² attachment, NEC and Hudson released a series of System Cards in Hu Card format, which were required to play CD-ROM², SUPER CD-ROM² and Arcade CD-ROM² games. Back in the day you couldn't just download a new firmware update. Instead, updates were achieved through the use of these System Cards, which in some instances users actually had to purchase separately. The System Cards also gave the PC Engine a RAM boost. As demonstrated above, the type of System Card required depends on your hardware configuration and the type of CD format you want to play. If you own a PC Engine Duo, then the only time you need to use a System Card is to play Arcade CD-ROM² games. Here is a complete list of System Cards.

System Card, v1.00 - Came packaged with the original CD-ROM² System.
System Card, v2.00) – BIOS update.
System, Card, v.2.10 – BIOS update.
Super System Card - RAM upgrade and BIOS update.
Arcade Card Pro - RAM upgrade.
Arcade Card Duo – RAM upgrade.

Pink Gorilla's Top Ten PC Engine Games

In compiling this list, we focused on games that were either not released or were a little more obscure in the US.

1. Dracula X
2. Star Parody
3. Gate of Thunder
4. Pop'n Magic
5. Magical Chase
6. Kaizouchounin Shubibin Man 3
7. Atomic Kid Special
8. Valkyrie Densetsu
9. Coryoon
10. Jackie Chan

Honorable Mentions - Ai Chou Aniki, Battle Load Runner, Bloody Wolf, Choujikuu Yousai Macross 2036, Devil Crash, Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, Dynastic Hero, Gomola Speed, Gunhed, Hana Ta-ka Daka!?, Jigoku Meguri, Kickball, Kiki Kaikai, Kyuukyoku Tiger, L-Dis, Momotarou Katsugeki, New Zealand Story, NEXR, Popful Mail, Ranma 1/2 - Toraware no Hanayome, Sapphire, Snatcher, Summer Carnival '93, Tatsujin, and Toilet Kids.

Rare And Collectible Titles

There are a few rare games for the PC Engine with the rarest of them all being Darius Alpha, which sells for over $1000.

1941 Counterattack
Darius Alpha
Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari
Dracula X
Gunhed Special Version
Magical Chase
Rainbow Islands
R-Type Complete CD
Sapphire
Sylphia

 

Super Famicom - 1990

Life Cycle: Released in 1990 and production ceased in 2003.

Number of Models Released: Three - Super Famicom, Super Famicom Jr. and Sharp's SF1.

Number of Units Sold: 17 million in Japan; 49 million worldwide.

Flagship Titles: Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, Super Mario World, Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy VI, Mother 2, Seiken Densetsu 2 & 3, Super Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Super Metroid and F-Zero.

Number of Games Released: 1388 licensed games not including limited edition gold carts and label/box variants.

History

Designed by Nintendo's Masayuki Uemura, the Super Famicom was the successor to the Famicom and Nintendo's answer to Sega's Mega Drive and NEC's PC Engine, which had begun to chip away at Nintendo's dominant share of the home videogame market in Japan. The 16-bit Super Famicom featured superior sound and graphics over the 8-bit Famicom. The SFC launched with only two games in Japan - Super Mario World and F-Zero. Interestingly, the console did not come with a power adapter or cables to connect the console to the television as Nintendo arrogantly assumed that the consumer already owned a Famicom so they could just recycle the AC adapter and RF switch. Imagine the frustration and disappointment of thousands of Japanese children when they anxiously opened their new consoles on Christmas or Oshogatsu day only to discover they can't play it because they don't have the cables. Although the SFC (or Super Nintendo as it was known outside of Japan) eventually beat out its 16-bit competitors for the top position in hardware sales, the SFC sold 13 million less units than its 8-bit predecessor.

Primarily, three factors were involved in the global decline of Nintendo console sales. First, Nintendo was late to the 16-bit market releasing the SFC years after its competitors' 16-bit systems. Enjoying the spoils of a near global monopoly in the 8-bit generation, Nintendo arrogantly sat back while its competitors, particularly Sega in America and NEC in Japan, aggressively captured an ever increasing share of the market with their superior technology. Second, the SFC had a notoriously slow CPU, which gave developers fits in the early days of development. This led to the release of some sub-par titles that created the perception amongst fans of the action and shooter genres that the SFC was technologically inferior to the Mega Drive and PC Engine. The arcade ports of Gradius III, which suffered from frequent slowdown, and Final Fight, which didn't include cooperative play, were the most infamous examples. Third, SFC game carts reached prices as high as 15,000 yen ($140) as compared to 4200 yen ($40) for Famicom games. These exorbitant prices turned off many casual gamers, many of whom decided to skip the 16-bit generation all together.

In the end, the SFC's strong line up of first and third party titles helped it emerge victorious from the infamous console wars of the early 90's. From Nintendo, the SFC welcomed the birth of some of Nintendo's most beloved franchises such as F-Zero, Star Fox, and Mario Kart. From third party publishers, the SFC was graced with some of what are still considered to be amongst the greatest videogames ever released such as Final Fantasy VI, Seiken Densetsu 3, Chrono Trigger and Tales of Phantasia.

Super Famicom Timeline

November 21, 1990 - The launch of the Super Famicom in Japan. Only two launch titles are available: F-Zero and Super Mario World.

December of 1990 - Sharp releases the SF1, a television and SFC combination, in a 14 inch and a 21 inch model.

July of 1991 - Square releases Final Fantasy IV significantly increasing the SFC's installed user base.

The year 1992 - This year sees a marked increase in games with a MSRP of over $100. Thanks to the popularity of games like Street Fighter II, Super Mario Kart and Dragon Quest V, the SFC's market share increases and continues to do so through 1996.

Spring of 1992 - The limited edition Motoko-chan no Wonder Kitchen game is released ushering an era of limited edition games not sold in stores.

February 21, 1993 - Star Fox, the first Super FX chip game, is released.

June 14, 1994 - Nintendo releases the Super Game Boy adapter, which allows gamers to play Game Boy games on their television via the SFC.

April 23, 1995 - Nintendo launches the Satellaview download service.

September of 1997 - Nintendo begins the Nintendo Power download service at Lawson convenience stores. Similar to the Famicom Disk System kiosks, the Nintendo Power stations allow users to download games onto rewritable SFC carts. Some games are released exclusively through Nintendo Power.

March 27, 1998 - Nintendo releases a redesigned SFC, appropriately named the SFC Jr. as it was considerably smaller and lighter than the original console.

June 30, 2000 - Nintendo ceases support for Satellaview.

December 1, 2000 - The last SFC game to be released in Japan, Metal Slader Glory Director's Cut is made available exclusively for download via Nintendo Power kiosks.

August 31, 2002 - Nintendo removes the Nintendo Power kiosks from Lawson convenience stores but continues to offer the service on a restrictive basis.

February 28, 2007 - Nintendo ends the Nintendo Power service.

October 31, 2007 - Nintendo stops servicing the SFC.

Backwards Compatibility

Much to the disappointment of gamers, but more importantly the ire of gamers' parents, the SFC was not backwards compatible meaning that Famicom games could not be played on the SFC. For a brief period in Japan, Nintendo advertised that the SFC would in fact be backwards compatible and early mock ups of the console exhibited a port on the side of the console to be used to connect something called the Famicom Adapter. But alas these plans were abandoned just before the console launch.

Import Mods

Nintendo employed several types of regional lockout, including both physical and hardware incompatibilities.

On a physical level, SFC cartridges are shaped differently than SNES games. SNES carts have a rectangular bottom with inset grooves matching protruding tabs located inside the cartridge slot. SFC carts on the other hand are narrower with a smooth curve on the front and no grooves. The physical incompatibility can be overcome with use of various adapters, or through modification of the console.

Modification of an SNES to play SFC games is relatively simple. Take a pair of sturdy needle-nose pliers and simply snap off the tabs located in the cartridge slot. In about five minutes you should be ready to play Umihara Kawase on your SNES.

Inserting a SNES cart into a SFC is literally like sticking a square peg in a round hole making the SFC more difficult to modify. To play SNES games on your SFC, you essentially need to increase the size of the cartridge slot by cutting away the plastic casing. Not only is it difficult to do but your modded SFC will probably look pretty hideous when you're done. We recommend avoiding this mod all together.

Even though PAL games are shaped the same as SFC carts, a region lock out chip makes the PAL carts incompatible with both the SFC and SNES systems.

Accessories

A number of peripherals were released which added to the functionality of the SFC. Here is a list of some of those accessories.

Mouse
Satellaview
Sufami Turbo
Super Game Boy
Super Game Boy 2
Super Multi-tap
Super Scope light gun
Turbo File Twin

The most intriguing of all the SFC pe