Thursday, June 7, 2007

Thanx 4 Sleepwalkin’ AKA How The TurboGrafx Game Systems Failed So Miserably In America

There’s a saying...those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. The execs at Sony obviously didn’t do the knowledge to the unfortunate case of the Turbo Grafx 16. A game system that was so ahead of it’s time, it was doomed from the beginning (I should know...I owned one). The Turbo Grafx 16 was the American name given to Japan’s premiere gaming system, the PC Engine. In Japan and Asia as a whole, the PC Engine and it’s games were wiping the floor with the competition so they figured that the American market would be a damn cakewalk. They had a much better library of games, a better graphics processor, better sound and better hardware and peripherals that any of game system on the American market at that time...besides, that’s all they really needed...right?
The only competition that stood in the way of NEC’s TurboGrafx 16 were the 8 bit machines touted by Sega and Nintendo, the Master System and the Nintendo Entertainment System. NEC was extremely confident that they could crush their competition regardless of the facts that Nintendo was outselling Sega so badly that they now accounted for 90% of the videogame market and they had been on top since 1985 and it was late 1989. The marketing people at NEC figured that all they had to do was show pictures of their games in comparison to Nintendo’s and it would be a slam dunk. People would use their common sense and abandon the clearly inferior NES and it’s cumbersome games in favor of the TurboGrafx 16 with it’s sleek design and easy to store ulrathin HuCards.

The execs in Japan were also harboring a major weapon a CD drive that allowed the consumer to play arcade style games right there in their own homes! There was no way NEC could fail! They heard that Sega was planning to release another version of their Mega Drive in America called the Genesis (below)...the NEC executives laughed themselves out of their leather chairs. After all, the Mega Drive was a HUGE disaster in Japan and consumers had flocked to the PC Engine and it’s CD drive...the PC Engine was also burying the Famicom in Japan. The American would soon follow suit, there was no doubt in anyone’s minds. Plus NEC had a full four month lead on the Genesis, they would surely mop their floor with them...not so much.

The TurboGrafx 16 had an interesting ad campaign where they showed their games in action against NES games on a split screen. The print ads compared screenshots and then left the reader to draw a conclusion. They did make an impression, as did their promo videocassettes which showed off the different capabilities of TurboGrafx 16, the games it was bringing over from Japan and all of it’s peripherals (which were a lot). The games were better, the system was more powerful and the sound was bananas. How could it possibly go wrong? Well, for one the TurboGrafx 16’s free game was the wack ass Keith Courage In Alpha Zones....when you were in the armor the game was ill. When you weren’t you thought you were high looking at the screens. Why were you killing curio cats with a yellow baton anyways? The Genesis had mad games that people knew from the arcade like it’s free pack-in title, Altered Beast. While the translation wasn’t all that great it had hella more appeal and playability than Keith Courage did.

The next problem was that Genesis was getting games from mad developers as well as pulling their own popular titles from the arcade and making translations for the Genesis system. This gave them John Madden Football, Lakers Vs. Celtics And The NBA Playoffs, Strider and many other popular titles that caused consumers to lean towards the system with more familiar games. While the TurboGrafx 16 had such award winning, cutting edge games like Fighting Street (Street Fighter), Legendary Axe, Alien Crush, Bloody Wolf, Devil’s Crush, Bonk’s Adventure, Military Madness, Monster Lair, Ninja Spirit, Psychosis, Splatterhouse, Takin’ It To The Hoop, Timeball, World Class Baseball, Neutopia, Dungeon Explorer and Y’s Book I & II it didn’t really matter because the peripherals were too numerous (such as the TurboTap that allowed 5 players to play as once but in turn meant you needed to buy 4 more controllers) and the CD ROM add on while it was impressive, it cost too much damn money for the average consumer in 1990. To further put salt in the wound, by that time NEC/Hudson Soft only had 4 other companies besides themselves producing games for the Turbo Grafx 16. Sega had 32 companies developing/producing titles for the Genesis.

NEC was screwed because they couldn’t lure any of the other available gaming companies or development teams to make games for them. Back when Nintendo took over the market and saved it form the edge of oblivion (we 70’s babies remember the Video Game Crash of 1984), they decided to make all of their developers sign contracts preventing them from producing games for other game systems or translating their arcade titles for any other game system other than Nintendo. Sega had the advantage over NEC on American soil because the arcade format gave them a built in market for coin op hits to become sought after translations on the Genesis system. Now NEC’s only hope was to hurry up and translate their hit games from Japan and bring them to America or drop the price points on all of their peripherals.

They did the latter and added in a promotion where if you bought a certain add on and sent them the UPC code and a proof of purchase, they’d send you 5 free games of your choosing from a list...They became backed up with game requests, especially after the released what might be even to this very day the greatest handheld system ever made, the TurboExpress (PSP owners often modify them to play HuCards like the old TurboExpress did).

The TurboExpress (above) took 6 AA batteries but it also had a rechargeable battery pack (which only gave you between 3 to 5 hours of life if you were lucky), it was retailing for between $249 and $299..about $50-$100 dollars MORE than the TurboGrafx 16 which had just had it’s price point dropped in hopes of moving more units. While magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the TurboExpress awards like Best New Game System of 1990, few could afford it. NEC would boast that they always sold out shortly after shipping...because they didn’t ship very many in the first place.They also focused on releasing more CD ROM titles in 1990 (which was a mistake since few people could pay $399 for one then anyways), Sega just kept cranking out more titles and they slowing began to widing the gap between themselves and the TurboGrafx 16. Nintendo was able to stay afloat by releasing third party titles and sequels of previous hits (sound familiar?), they were about to unleash their next generation syatem on the public in 1991, the Super Famicom/Nintendo.

The TurboGrafx 16 was doomed...first of, it was called the TurboGrafx 16 even though it wasn’t a true 16 bit system to start. It was an 8 bit system with a 16 bit graphics processor. When that fact was revealed in several video game publications, the system immediately came under fire for it’s claims of being a 16 bit system. NEC’s inability to have the same companies that produced it’s games in Japan make hits for the system in America were devastating. Meanwhile, Nintendo had Mario, Mega Man, Adventures Of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Tecmo Bowl, Ninja Gaiden and Double Dragon all become franchises and produced incredibly successful sequels.

Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog which sold them millions of units....All NEC had was Bonk the Caveman. They were also extremely late bringing their Japanese hits to America. Titles like Space Adventure Cobra, Samurai Ghost and Ninja Warriors didn’t come to America until the system had already given up trying to make any headway in the US market (1992/3)...even though these titles were all advertised as “coming soon” on the promo videotapes NEC mailed to potential consumers back in the Fall of 1989.

Our boy Kai (What up Nasarok!) had a TurboGrafx 16 back in 1989 and my brothers and I were blown away by it. We had just come off playing NES games like Contra, Ikari Warriors, Pro Wrestling, Double Dribble, Tecmo Bowl, Ninja Gaiden and Baseball Stars when he showed up with China Warrior, Alien Crush, Dungeon Explorer, Legendary Axe, Moto Roader, Vigilante, Monster Lair and Fighting Street....By the next day we were like “Nintendo who?”. Our big brother was like, “I gotta get one of those”. We ended up getting a TurboGrafx 16 right around the same time everybody else was copping a damn Genesis (Genesis Does What Nintendon't).

After a while my brother moved out to go to college and he bought a Genesis for his own apartment. Just from going to didferent peoples houses in the neighborhood or going down the block it was obvious that the TurboGrafx 16 was getting it’s ass kicked. By 1992 it was obvious we took an L...but then NEC folded and turned all of it’s operations over to Hudson Soft/Turbo Techologies Inc. to release the $299 TurboDuo (below). It played regular HuCards with a CD-ROM incuded on it came with 7 free games including Y’s Book I & II , Bomberman and Gates Of Thunder. I was like “Say Word!”

By that time, I already had a SNES, a dusty old Genesis and I was rocking my TurboDuo and all of my CD ROM games until I finally got a Playstation in 1996. Sony is now learning that just because everyone had a damn PS2 in their crib they weren’t going to run out and buy an overpriced system when their were better and less expensive alternatives on the market. Plus, where the games at? All any of those Sony execs had to do was a couple of Google searches and check out Wikipedia to see that their plan for the sale and marketing of the PS3 was gonna backfire. Dumbasses.



Tetsuo said...

Yo, I mos def gotta agree with you. I remember back in the day saving up to try and get me a Sega or Snes and then one day this dude showed up from England and had a Turbo Express and everybody went mad crazy over that thing. But ain't no one have that kind money, so we settled for one of the big two- haha.. I remember dudes hustlin mad hard just to get a friggin game system... Things done changed huh?

Anonymous said...

I was the only kid I knew with a TurboGrafx16. I used to be ill with Bonk!

The only downside was that the football game was the most infuriating, ass backwards sporting game I ever played. I read the directions and played it all the time yet could never complete one pass! I ended up spending an hour trying to destroy that damn football game--water, fire, boots, whatever! After that, I rejoined the Tecmo/Madden camp and let TurboGrafx16 die a quiet death.

Dart Adams said...

What up, Zilla? Here's the funny thing...I was NICE at TV Sports Football and I sucked at Madden. I brought my TurboDuo to college with me and my RA had a widescreen TV so I left it in his room one night. I was asleep at 2 AM and I get a phone call. It's from him and 3 of his boys. They wanted to play TV Sports Football against the computer and needed me to be the quarterback...I could evn throw into coverage! One.

alex said...

It always killed me that the poor Turbografx system got killed by the Genesis. I been a Sega kid from way back (1st gen Master System and all), I can't help but think if the timing had been a little better Sega and NEC might have taken a bite out of Nintendo instead of the Genesis killing the TG. Still, do we want to consider a world with that many competing consoles? I can barely decide between the Wii and the 360.