The home computer market of the early 80's - early 90's was incredibly varied, with dozens of brands rising and falling and new computer models being released almost all the time. By comparison, the console market may have seemed a lot clearer.

Until you dove in and found that the very same variety of companies and differences between models thrived in the console markets as well. All these differences and quirks deserve some attention, so roll on todays 8-bit console edition of the 6502 spotlight!

This entry pushes the boundaries of 6502 machines in more ways than one. If only because it was actually marketed as a 16-bit machine for a while (yes, really!), even though its 8-bit roots are clearly visible in the (modified) 6502 based CPU!

That's right, I'm writing about that hot commercial success story that everyone here in Europe surely recalls as the console that brought Nintendo and Sega to their knees and took over: The NEC TurboGrafx-16!

The box art of the European TurboGrafx 16
Above: The European TurboGrafx-16 Boxart, featuring R-Type.

Ok, ok.. It didn't do anything of the sort*.

The console was designed by Hudson Soft and NEC to tap into the lucrative NES market. It featured - for the time - tiny cartridges, great conversions of arcade games by the likes of IREM and some interesting hardware. Including a heavily modified 6502 with a block move instruction, built-in MMU and register swap functions as well as a 16-bit graphics architecture and later a series of CD-ROM expansions.

Its CD-ROM adaptor actually beat the Philips CDI and Commodore CDTV to market and can arguably be seen as the first mass market computer system using a CD for media.

Oddities included having only one controller port (two player support required an adaptor), a very short controller cable and needing an expansion for composite video out (the base model only featured RF video).

For the unofficial European release further oddities included that the box-shot featured a completely different game than what was included (pack shot as above features R-Type, the game included was Blazing Lazers) and that you could play only American region games on it - no European games existed at all, they were all repackaged American ones!

Why it is interesting:
  • One of the fastest 6502 derived 8-bit architectures ever released to consumers (outside of turbo cards for the home computers it may actually be the fastest 6502 based system released ever**)
  • Graphically it gave the 16-bit systems of the time (Amiga, Atari ST, Megadrive, SNES) a real run for their money. And all of that in 16KB of graphics memory and 8KB of general RAM!
  • It ended up as one of the highest spec 8-bit machines around, the last version released offered 2048KB of RAM together with double the graphics power. It was still running on the very same modified 6502 though!

Notable software available includes:
  • R-Type, the TurboGrafx-16 version is considered one of the very best available. Does have a lot of sprite flicker though.
  • Cratermaze, digging holes to kill monsters and collecting keys in a maze is more fun than you'd think!
  • Bonk's Adventure, a 2D platformer featuring NEC's mascot - Bonk.

Some TurboGrafx-16 trivia:
  • The TurboGrafx-16 is part of the PC-Engine family, which has (excluding American & European variants at least 13 different models available, including ones in lap-top style, some with the CD-ROM accessory built in and some portable ones.
  • After failing to sell the design of their new graphics chips to Nintendo, Hudson Soft teamed up with NEC to make the PC-Engine (which became the TurboGrafx-16 in the USA and Europe). They ended up selling at least 12.5 million consoles.
  • The cartridges are mostly solid plastic, only the black part near the connector actually houses electronics.
  • You can still buy brand new (albeit produced back in circa 1989) European models of the base TurboGrafx-16 console on E-Bay and from various other companies.

Interesting sites about the TurboGrafx-16 include:

Personal notes on the TurboGrafx-16:
  • Personally bought my TurboGrafx-16 in 2011, on E-Bay. New in box with 9 games.
  • My personal favorite games so far are Blazing Lazers and R-Type and Salamander.
  • I got this machine to play old school shoot-em-ups. It does those really well!

*) To be fair, it did do quite well in Japan as the PC-Engine, but it's European success was, shall we say, limited... Mainly because it was never officially released here!

**) The 6502 relative the WDC 65C02 does run at higher speeds, but to my knowledge no consumer home computer or console has beaten the 7.16MHz clock speed that the TurboGrafx-16 CPU can run at without use of extra accelerators or upgrades.