TurboGrafx by NEC

Credit: The Centre for Computing History
Console Name: TurboGrafx
Original Name: PC-Engine
Release Date: 1990
Country of Origin: Japan
Manufacturer: NEC Home Electronics
Publisher: Telegames
Developer: Hudson Soft

The PC-Engine was released in Japan on October 30, 1987. Although not a true 16-bit console as only the graphics processor was 16-bit (the main processor was still 8-bit), it was a huge step up from the current console generation (Nintendo Famicom and the Sega Mark III). The console was a huge success in Japan with more than 500,000 units sold in its first week of release. By 1989, NEC was ready to conquer North America and released the PC-Engine in the United States and Canada on August 29, 1989 under the name TurboGrafx-16.  The name implied that the TurboGrafx-16 was a fully 16-bit console, which wasn’t. This decision seems to have been made as a marketing decision as the TurboGrafx-16 was released in America only two week after the American release on the Sega Genesis, a true 16-bit system. While the TurboGrafx-16 was not an under-performing console by any means when compared to the Sega Genesis, it didn’t have the foothold in North America that Sega had. Also, Sega which had beaten Nintendo to the 16-bit era, had an aggressive marketing campaign to take over as much market share as possible before the release of the Super Nintendo. All of these factor lead to poor sale in North America.

In 1989, the Guillemot brothers, who also just started a video game publishing company called Ubisoft, started a new company dedicated to the import of the Japanese PC Engine in France under the name “Société de Distribution de la PC Engine” or Sodipeng, a subsidiary of Guillemot International. Although the imports were unlicensed by NEC, Sodipeng provided French instruction, a custom AV cable to enable its input to a SECAM television set and their own warranty. Its launch price was 1,790 French francs.

Meanwhile, NEC was getting ready to release the PC-Engine in Europe under the name TurboGrafx  (without the -16 suffix). The production of the console was well underway when NEC decided to pull the plug following disappointing sale number in North America. The stock that was sold to Telegames, a well-known British video game publisher.

The TurboGrafx was “officially” released in 1990 by in the United Kingdom by Telegames. This model was also released in Spain and Portugal through selected retailers.

Even with NEC throwing the towel, the TurboGrafx could have been successful if it was not for one small detail, the lack of game availability. No game was ever produced specifically for the European market. The TurboGrafx was not compatible with the Japanse PC-Engine Hu-Cards that was becoming more available in Europe thanks to the imported PC-Engine by Sodipeng. It was in revenge “fully” compatible with the North American release. Sadly, since the PAL format run in 50Hz, all North American games were slowdown from their native 60Hz NTSC format. But the biggest problem was distribution. With the TurboGrafx being sold in extremely low quantity, importing North American games were not in any local retailer interest, which would, in turn, discourage even more potential buyers.

Telegames continued to liquidate their inventory over many years. The system could still be found brand new in the 2010s through liquidators. The systems were finally sold out with the increase of adept of retro gaming hobby.


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