I love lists. I’ve been making lists of things my entire life, whether that meant sitting by the radio, counting down the weekly Top 40 with Casey Kasem each Sunday or keeping lists of my favorite songs or albums by artist, genre, era, etc. In the two years that I’ve been writing for my retro video gaming blog, I’ve been keeping lists at a minimum but the time has come for the addition of lists. I tore the band-aid off with my “Top 10 NES Black Box Titles” post a month ago and now I feel compelled to do the same with the Turbografx-16, a console that I’ve been playing pretty steadily as I worked through “Ys Book I & II” as well as my annual trip through “Splatterhouse”.
Unlike the NES Black Box games, I have not played every single Turbografx-16 game in the system’s library so my list can only include games that I have played, not games that look fun or are high on other’s lists. As of November 2018, my Turbografx collection currently sits at 28 games, and with a total of about 138 games (Hu-card and CD) in the entire library, I know my own personal top 10 list is going to be missing quite a few excellent titles. With that said, this is my own personal list of top 10 Turbografx-16 games.
10. Devil’s Crush – “Devil’s Crush” is a scrolling, 3-screen pinball game where you take on demons, skeletons, monks that look like they are in the occult and a creepy looking human face that slowly turns into the face of the devil himself as the game progresses. The theme is very dark and eerie and the enemies come at you constantly as you try to accomplish the various in game tasks. There are mini-games within the board and 3 sets of flippers, one for each screen. There’s a lot going on in this game. “Devil’s Crush” is super addictive and one of the best pinball simulation games I’ve played in the 8-16 bit era.
9. Bloody Wolf – On the surface, “Bloody Wolf” looks and feels like a “Contra” clone with a little bit of “Heavy Barrel” for good measure. It’s a side scrolling shooter where you control a mercenary out to rescue the President of the United States as well as any P.O.Ws you come across. The boss fights are interesting and fun but can be difficult so you’ll need those continues until you master the various boss’s movements and identify their weaknesses. Just like a good action game, it’s not too hard to make it overly frustrating and not too easy so you can breeze through the game with little difficulty. I like “Bloody Wolf” a lot and while it’s not superior to “Contra”, the interesting level design, large unique boss battles and overall gameplay make it a winner in my book.
8. Ys Book I & II – “Ys Book I & II” is an action RPG title that does a lot of things right. The story is compelling, the music is a major highlight, and the bosses are unique and varied. The missions you are sent on to retrieve items or rescue townsfolk are (usually) clear and distinct, and the animated cut scenes with dialogue may not be Oscar worthy but they are far from being a laughingstock that video game dialogue from the era often is. “Ys” is a pleasure to play, plain and simple. If you’re looking for a top notch RPG title with high production values, look no further than “Ys Book I & II”.
7. Bonk’s Adventure – The Turbografx-16 mascot, Bonk, uses his big, bald noggin to bonk his opponents either from the side, above or below on this first entry in the well respected platformer series. A regular bonk won’t do as much damage as a jumping spin bonk from above. While more powerful, they are harder to land as you have to time it just right especially when your opponent is constantly moving. It’s also a critical attack for level ending bosses that are much larger than you. If you find and eat meat during the course of the game, it will increase your strength/attack, allow you to stun enemies by bonking the ground and eventually if you eat enough, Bonk’s head splits open and he becomes a dark, angry red color. At this point, Bonk is invincible for a short period and even after your invincibility ends, you still retain your angry Bonk strength for a little longer. Amusingly enough, Bonk can also use his teeth to climb up cliffs. Less amusingly, when Bonk dies, he falls on his back and foams at the mouth which is kind of gross when you think about it. Even my 8 year old daughter questioned what the hell was coming out of Bonk’s mouth as she watched me play. Still a classic platformer.
6. Galaga ’90 – A brilliant remake/sequel to the classic 80s shooter, “Galaga ’90” makes a strong case for the best game on the Turbografx-16 thanks to enhancements to what was already a brilliant and insanely addictive game. You want to shoot at space bugs that come at you in formation? Check. You want to be able to pull of the double shot trick? Check. You want challenge stages? Check. But how about new space bugs? The ability to pull off a triple shot? Mini-bosses and the ability to choose you own path? Check to all of those. Toss in upgraded and gorgeous graphics and addictive and original yet familiar music and you have a must own.
5. Ninja Spirit – NEC’s answer to “Ninja Gaiden” is anything but a copy cat or knock-off. If you like your action platformers that feature ninjas with a side of chaos, this is the game for you! “Ninja Spirit” may have a simple concept, taking control of the ninja named Moonlight and using his weapons to defeat enemies until each of the stage’s bosses are presented. You also have the unique gameplay mechanic of the inclusion of shadows that can provide additional firepower and protection. “Ninja Spirit” is a tough as nails title but rarely has dying looked this good and most importantly, this fun.
4. The Legendary Axe II – “The Legendary Axe II”, was a sequel in name and theme only. Your character is not the same as the one from the original and your mission is different. This time, you are a ancient hero off to defeat your brother who has succumbed to the evil forces that he used to overpower you in a battle for the throne after your father (the King) died. The graphics & music are still top notch and the level design allows you to not just move horizontally but also vertically. Your character looks significantly different than the one you used in “Legendary Axe 1” as you no longer have red flaming hair but a more traditional Conan-like look complete with skimpy loin cloth. The monsters and level bosses are still detailed and quirky with unique attack patterns that must be memorized to excel. The gameplay is also enhanced by giving you two other weapons besides the sword you start the game with. You can also pick up a sickle and chain and a battle axe (i.e. the legendary axe) which is the most powerful of all the weapons. You can acquire bombs to improve your chances against bosses or clear a screen of enemies when things get hairy. Like it’s predecessor, there is no save feature in “Legendary Axe II” but instead you get 3 continues along with opportunities to add extra lives. In all, “Legendary Axe II” is a slightly deeper and more improved version of an already great TurboGrafx-16 title.
3. Blazing Lazers – “Blazing Lazers” is an extremely addictive shoot ’em up that was released as a launch title for the console back in 1989. It’s fast paced, with an awesome sounding soundtrack that I’m convinced would have sold more consoles than “Keith Courage” if bundled with the system, but 2D platformers were all the rage at the time. There are so many aspects of “Blazing Lazers” that set it apart from other shooters. My favorites in no order are:
- Music – Memorable and fitting for the style of game. High energy soundtrack that never gets boring and gives the player ear worms for days.
- Graphics – The game looks good but most importantly for a next-gen shooter trying to make a name for itself….no slow down! NES shooters were plagued with slow down during chaotic moments but “Blazing Lazers” suffers no such fate. There is a LOT going on during any given screen and the game keeps up with it at all times.
- Power-ups – The power ups come fast and frequent. There are four different types of shots to increase your firepower with and on top of that you can gain additional power -ups such as homing missiles, shields, multi-bodies and full fire. The key to success is knowing which firepower and power-up combinations are most effective for each level and avoid getting other firepower/power-ups once you reach the maximum effectiveness. Avoiding these power-ups becomes a challenge on par with avoiding enemy fire.
In spite of all the power-ups, the game is still difficult and fairly long. “Blazing Lazers” offers 9 levels of intensity and many levels contain a mini-boss in addition to the main boss. Even if you only kind of like shooters, you need to give this game a try.
2. Bonk’s Revenge – No apologies issued for including two Bonk games on my top 10 list. “Bonk’s Revenge”, released in 1991, attempts to improve on the formula created by it’s predecessor and mostly succeeds. “Bonk 2” is similar to the first “Bonk” title in terms of gameplay mechanics and plot (Princess Za is kidnapped again, King Drool has stolen half the moon) but there are enough differences that prevent it from simply being a retread. One of the immediate changes I noted was the improvement in graphics. The first Bonk looked fine but a bit washed out and red-tinted. The colors are more vibrant and the backgrounds more detailed in “Bonk 2”. Bonk appears to have learned the value of junk food between the first and second games as he now not only eats fruit, vegetables and meat units, but also hamburgers, fries, ice cream. When Bonk gets fully angered his head still splits open grotesquely and now he can breathe fire which is a nice addition. When Bonk dies he no longer foams at the mouth but instead just lies there with his eyes crossed out. I guess they realized how odd that sprite was in the original and decided to tone it down. “Bonk’s Revenge” is a longer and more difficult game that the first, which can be considered good or bad depending on your perspective. Regardless, I have a ton of fun with this title and its a worthy game for the #2 slot.
1. Splatterhouse – Based on the beat ’em up arcade title of the same name, “Splatterhouse” for the TG-16 was the only place you could find this grotesque title for a home console in North America as it wasn’t ported to any other consoles. There were direct sequels made for the Sega Genesis but the TG-16 has the one and only original. You play as Rick, a parapsychology student trapped in a terror mask (not a Jason hockey mask – no copyright infringement here!) attempting to save your girlfriend, Jennifer, who is lost inside the mansion of Dr. West. Dr. West was known to conduct ethically questionable experiments in his mansion before going missing. Luckily for Rick, the terror mask gives him superhuman strength which he will need in order to dispatch the disgusting onslaught of monsters. The plot is straight out of a horror film and there are numerous references to other horror films of the time such as Friday the 13th, Poltergeist, Re-animator and Evil Dead. As a huge fan of horror movies, “Splatterhouse” was meant to be one of my favorites! The gameplay is basic side scrolling beat ’em up where you use either your fists, legs or weapons you pick up throughout the game in order to literally splat your enemies against the walls and floors around you.
The plot may seem basic but what sets “Splatterhouse” apart is the game design and graphics. For starters, your attack is very satisfying and results in an audible crunch/squish/splat of your annihilated enemies. Nothing can prepare you for the grotesque variety of enemies & level bosses which are keys to the game’s appeal. During the game you will encounter what appears to be decomposing bodies chained to the walls which will vomit acid, a room full of what appears to be intestines while skinless bodies fall from the ceiling and alien like water monsters. Level bosses tend to up the gross factor as well and the most memorable level boss is a skinless demon with a bag tied over his head and two chain saws for arms….dear lord what a nightmare! Nightmare is the term that sums up the entire game properly but it’s an enjoyable nightmare if you can stomach the gore. Saving Jennifer won’t be easy but you’ll be granted numerous continues which assist your efforts. I’ve play through the game every year around the Halloween season and there are a couple of surprises that await the brave souls who venture into “Splatterhouse”, my favorite game on the Turbografx-16.
Honorable Mentions: Fantasy Zone, Dungeon Explorer, Military Madness, Neutopia, Legendary Axe
Games High On My Wish List: Ys III: Wanderers From Ys, Super Star Soldiers, Dragon’s Curse, Neutopia II, Solider Blade, World Court Tennis