Friday, July 3, 2009

The Original Six

IvaNEC's initial Turbo experiences didn't quite go according to plan...

It was December of 1989 when I laughed the laugh of a madman and elbow dropped my NES, smashing the system into a billion pieces.

"I don't need you anymore!" I yelled, gleefully flinging the gray-and-red remnants across the room.

Then I remembered that the awesome-looking Crystalis was due out in just a few months. I hastily reassembled the machine.

But my point had been made. I was (just about) ready to leave the unrefined 8-bit world behind and discover 16-bit Valhalla. My highly advanced console of choice? The TurboGrafx-16.

There really wasn't any question as to whether I would go with the Turbo or the Genesis. Screenshots of games like Keith Courage and R-Type completely blew me away. What brilliant colors! What enormous enemies! Yeah, the guy who hurled his heads at the hero in Altered Beast was cool, but he couldn't compare with the big, scary Deep Blue boss fish. Screw Tommy Lasorda Baseball; I wanted some manly barbarian-style hacking and slashing, and The Legendary Axe was sure to give it to me. Speaking of Axe, who could ever forget the first time they saw the TG-16 commercial showing off the giant Jagu?

Helping to seal the deal was the Electronic Gaming Monthly article that basically declared NEC's triumph in the United States inevitable based on the PC Engine's effortless slaughter of the Mega Drive overseas. Seemed like I couldn't go wrong with the mighty, can't-miss Turbo. So after swiping a few moneybags from my cousin Zigfriedolstoy's vault, I set off for my local video-game store with the confident swagger of a man headed toward a wondrous destiny of guaranteed gaming excellence.

Upon entering the shop, I noticed a TG-16 display running a Victory Run demo. A lone lad stood gazing at the screen, no doubt marveling at the amazing technology on exhibit before him. I walked on over to pass along my expertise on the 16-bit powerhouse he had just become acquainted with, to let him know that Victory Run was but the tip of an extraordinary iceberg.

He turned to me and said, "This thing sucks."

"Yeah... right," I replied with a scowl. We gave each other cold looks; enmity had evolved between us.

And with that tough-guy staredown, the 16-bit wars had begun.

We went our separate ways. He walked over to the Genesis aisle. I walked over to the... lazy-looking store manager, as there was no TurboGrafx aisle and I wanted to know what the hell was going on.

"Oh," he said. "You're the first person who's asked for one of those."

That's odd, I thought. Oh well. Word of mouth would spread and sales would heat up soon enough! All that was important at that moment was that the goofy manager was digging up a TG-16 from the back of the storeroom so that I could purchase it and take it home and start playing it.

Of course, before I could start playing it, I had to set it up, and setting it up necessitated removal of its back cover, which left the previously sleek console looking awfully fucking stupid. It was like discovering your hot girlfriend is hot only because of a lot of makeup and a wig. But at least the TurboPads had turbo switches! That was fucking rad.

The first game up, of course, was Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. The pack-in title always has to be first, after all. And, holy shit, did it blow me away right off the bat. A flashing title screen! The magnificence was blinding. Or maybe it was the glitchy manner in which the text finally settled/grinded into place. Either way, I was impressed.

Then I started playing the game. Hm. Little squeak-squeak sword noises and beanie-wearing villains weren't exactly what I had envisioned for 16-bit action. But, well, the sound of the enemies biting the dust was pretty explosive, at least.

Then Keith changed into his alpha suit or whatever it is.

Fucking awesome. Here we go, I thought.

And indeed, KC's graphics and audio stepped up big time in its underworld. Unfortunately, after bumbling along for a few seconds and making a blind leap into a spike pit, I didn't really feel like playing any more of the game.

Well, VideoGames & Computer Entertainment had warned me that KC's gameplay lacks depth. At least the chip had done the job of whetting my appetite for more awesome 16-bit tunes and visuals. And who knows, I thought, maybe the game itself will grow on me!

Seventeen years would pass before I'd bother with it again.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Next up was the TurboChip I was most looking forward to, the ultimate TurboGrafx title of the day... The Legendary Axe.

Now this is fucking badass, I thought, as I hacked up bats and high-leaping axemen to the groovy rhythm of a jungle-themed tune. The spider residing in the first level's pit and the bears at the end of the stage seemed fucking HUGE to me. No more midget-esque Birdos and Kraids acting as "bosses." Big monsters, awesome musical tracks--this is what 16-bit gaming was supposed to be about! Some amoeba thing knocked me into lava in Area 2, but with that level's haunting tune still running through my mind, I moved on to my next TurboChip with renewed enthusiasm.

And that next TurboChip was Victory Run, the very title whose honor I'd defended during the legendary shop confrontation described earlier. Man, I thought upon powering it up, what a nice-looking driving game. I walked over to my shelf of NES carts, picked up Rad Racer, and chucked the old-timer out the window. With a miscreantic smile on my face, I sat down to enjoy advanced racing action.

The smile vanished almost instantly. See, what screenshots and even the aforementioned store display failed to convey was just how poorly Victory Run plays. It's hard to begin with and extremely clunky on top of that. Time elapsed on my crash-ridden "run," leaving me angrily shaking my fist at the screen.

I decided that returning to The Legendary Axe was my only viable option at that point. But hey, I thought, with a little practice, maybe I'll come to like Victory Run after all.

Eighteen years would pass before I'd bother with it again.

Axe was great and would remain great in my book for all eternity, but I was young and impatient and a single title could hold my attention for only so long. I needed more games. Help arrived quickly in the forms of Vigilante and Fantasy Zone.

Vigilante--a fighting game with an attitude! Or so it seemed. I'd put a ridiculous amount of play time into NES Double Dragon, so the hours I'd end up devoting to a 16-bit brawler seemed inestimable.

Well, it was more like minutes. Like... six minutes. Because that's about how long it took me to crush the game on my very first try. My Genesis-owning friends' jibes about it basically being a Kung Fu clone didn't help alleviate the disappointment. Of course, I didn't express that disappointment; I argued against their accusations vehemently, in fact. But I knew what the truth was, and it burned.

Thank goodness Fantasy Zone had ridden into town that same day.

Even those snickering buddies of mine had a blast with FZ. I myself became so enamored with its pretty pastels, jolly music, and charismatic bosses that I proclaimed it my favorite game of all time. Of course, it kinda stuck in the back of my mind that I was singing the praises of a practically ancient Sega game while the Genesis owners in town were moving on to cool new things. But, look, I needed something to boast about as a Turbo fan, and I could play the Legendary Axe card only so many times.

Well, I had to play that card once more... when VG&CE declared Axe their 1989 Video Game of the Year. Andy Eddy and company had come through for me! I assembled a crowd of Genesis lovers and broke out the magazine, flaunting the feature.

"You can't beat this!" I yelled.

Unfortunately, they could. In the midst of my euphoria, I was handed a copy of the EGM awards issue and came crashing back down to Earth with a cold, hard thud.

The Genesis had been named System of the Year. I read the report and wept.

Those formerly unsympathetic Genesis fans consoled me with statements like,

"Just get a Genesis, dude."

I could pretend no longer. The show was over.

"Well, the Turbo has been a bit of a disappointment..."

And with that, say the scribes, the Genesis won its war versus the TurboGrafx-16. It had been an epic battle in which a winner could not be determined for a whole, oh, four days or so.

But I wasn't quite ready to give up on the TG-16. I'd heard about the insane intensity of a brash new shooter, a cocky young gun called Blazing Lazers. It was pretty much my last hope. All was riding on BL.

Even the Genesis fans were praying that it would all work out for me.

I took a deep breath, swiped another moneybag from Zigfriedolstoy's vault, and journeyed back to the local game shop. This would be the title I was waiting for. I just knew it.

Blazing Lazers, unfortunately, was out of stock. So I bought Alien Crush instead. A pinball game.

Looking to salvage what little was left of my Turbo's dignity with a fucking pinball title seemed a hopeless proposition.

But funnily enough, I spent hours in front of the TV that night, enjoying AC and digging its soundtrack, particularly the eerie Demon's Undulate tune. And I thought to myself, "You know, this console doesn't get the appreciation it deserves." And I played on, with a little bit of new hope, a little bit of anticipation for what was yet to come for the system...

And I bought a Genesis a few weeks later. Man, Thunder Force II was fucking awesome. And there was also the wonderful Castle of Illusion, which somehow managed to outdo J.J. & Jeff in the 16-bit cartoony-platformers duel.

But the Turbo hung around. What can I say? I'd become attached to the damn thing. And eventually Blazing Lazers did make its way into my collection and did indeed blow me the fuck away, as did other sweet cards like Bonk's Adventure. Once the CD unit finally dropped to a price I could afford and I got to play games like Ys Book I & II, Cosmic Fantasy 2, Gate of Thunder, and Shape Shifter, I experienced unforgettable moments that would not only entrench the Grafx in its long-maintained, never-relinquished position of being my favorite system but also validate its presence there. And when I eventually discovered import titles a few years later, well, my Turbo gaming was lifted to an entirely different and glorious realm.

Twenty years and hundreds of games later, my TG-16 is still with me. It had worked sans issues of any sort until it was ultimately set aside for a fancy Duo-R. As for Keith Courage, Legendary Axe, Victory Run, Vigilante, Fantasy Zone, and Alien Crush? They, too, are still with me. LA, FZ, and AC remain personal favorites. KC and VR did eventually grow on me--it took them a decade or two, but who's counting? And Vigilante, erm, still sucks. But it'll always hold a spot among that old, original crew, the batch of games I've come to look upon so fondly and dub The Original Six.

Without them and their collective inadequacy, I might never have discovered just how awesome a console the Genesis really is.

1 comment :

Sensei said...

I loved this post. Especially the last line. Been reading reviews on this site for 2 hours now when I should be getting to sleep. In my book that means this is a great site. Keep at it.

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