Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Console Review: PC-Engine Duo RX


When I first heard the words "TurboGrafx-16" uttered, a curious awe washed over me: just the name of the console screams "awesome". However, for years, it was merely a name to me. I read about its lore longingly, but there were many other fish in the sea. The fantastic thing about all the home console competition that occurred from the 70s to the 90s is that there are now many options for collectors. Every console has a unique look, different hardware, and its own library of incredible games.

Just last year, I remember finding myself restlessly pacing around my home. I slid open the door of my den closet and stared up at my Vectrex, perched up upon a shelf, collecting dust. The Vectrex is an incredible console, but it isn't the best console to break out at a party if you want multiple people involved. I sighed as I walked over to my TV. If they had arms, my Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis would surely reach up to me, pleading "play me", but I wasn't in the mood. I didn't want to admit it, but the truth was that I needed a new, awesome, classic console.

To this day - one of the coolest looking consoles of all time.

The TurboGrafx-16 was calling my name. My quest to obtain one immediately began. Excitement shot through me as I realized that I was about to be the owner of the very first 16-bit console. That's right - even before the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo was NEC's monster of power and pure attitude.

The unfortunate thing about the TurboGrafx-16 is that it was utterly destroyed by the Sega Genesis in terms of marketing. It only boasts 94 games playable in the U.S. An additional 44 games were available with versions of the console that could play CDs.

While my heart did sink a little after learning this, the good news was that the Japanese version of the TurboGrafx did extremely well, having been released over a year prior. The PC-Engine was what I wanted: A whopping 650 games can be played on this beast of a console.

Soon enough, I had a PC-Engine Duo RX in my possession. The "Duo" part of the name implies that it plays both HuCards (the storage medium for the PC-Engine and TurboGrafx) and CDs. The "RX"... well it's just a different version of the console.

Look and Feel: 

The PC-Engine Duo RX is a sleek looking piece of hardware. It's smooth, white exterior gives it a futuristic look, though fans of the TurboGrafx-16 may note the absence of the rugged, textured look we got in America with some displeasure.

The PC-Engine Duo RX, aka the "future"

The great thing about this console is that it is extremely light, yet it doesn't feel cheap. It just ends up having a very convenient, portable feel to it that is hard to describe but easy to appreciate. A purple button on the right side pops open the CD player, and the HuCard bay on the left can be flicked open with ease. Once a HuCard is firmly inserted into the bay, the power switch on the front also serves as a lock to prevent the card from accidentally escaping during play - exceptional design.

So what is a HuCard, exactly? A HuCard is the PC-Engine/TurboGrafx equivalent of a game cartridge, except the thing is literally pretty similar in dimensions to a credit card (except twice as thick). I am personally endlessly fascinated and impressed by them. They are super convenient to transport (especially if you get a small baseball card binder), and plugging and locking them in is very satisfying. Cute!

The standard two-button PC-E controllers have an identical layout to the TurboGrafx-16 controllers (they are not interchangeable, however, due to a different plug size and pinout). They essentially look like NES controllers with turbo switches (which are extremely handy for playing any of the many shoot-em-ups for this console). I do think they play a bit better, though, due to a better d-pad and a more comfortable shape.

A great controller... but why aren't my turbos on?!

My PC-Engine Duo RX happens to have an RGB/Component video mod, which is very common if you shop around for one. Normally, the system has Composite video. Regardless, this much better than older consoles that only supported RF, so the system was definitely not taking a step backwards where this is concerned.

As far as region locks for games, the CD component of the unit can play either American (TurboGrafx CD) or Japanese (PC-Engine CD) games. However, the system only plays Japanese HuCards. This isn't a huge deal, considering most of the good HuCards for the TurboGrafx were also made for the PC-Engine, but it's something to take note of. There are HuCard region adapters, but finding one at a decent price nowadays may prove difficult.

Overall, this console looks and feels incredible. It's simple, classy, and functional. However, it's not flawless.

One complaint I have is that most people are going to want extension cables for the controllers and video, because they are definitely on the short side for some strange reason. The good news is that the pinouts are pretty standard, so you can get extension cables for just a few bucks and you'll be ready to go. It's a minor inconvenience that wouldn't be necessary if they would have thought it through just a bit...

It's also unfortunate that there is really only one controller port on the console, but purchasing a Multi-Tap will allow you to play games with five people. Five. You get shortchanged out of the box, but the Multi-Tap will allow you to play games with more people than most consoles even locally support! While that's a pretty incredible accessory for a console that came out in 1987, it becomes another additional cost you have to shell out for you if you want to play with a few friends. 


I mentioned that the PC-Engine has a library of 850 games to pick from. That is a ton of games, but are they any good? What kind of gamer would like them? Is one better off just getting another console with a "better" game library?

I am pleased to report that the NEC only takes a backseat to the giants of video gaming history because of aspects like marketing and timing; not because the games aren't good. The PC-Engine library is fantastic, and I would recommend it to gamers looking for a refreshing variety of games that don't necessarily jump on the bandwagon as far as style or mechanics. For instance, Bonk (the TurboGrafx/PC-Engine's flagship mascot) stars in a series of platforming games in which you often do want enemies to hit you on your head, which adds a lot of flavor and uniqueness that most platforming games just don't have. In Gekibo: Gekisha Boy, you guide the protagonist through levels, avoiding obstacles but taking care to photograph interesting happenings during the level.

The same strategy applies whether you play Bonk's Adventure, Bonk's Revenge, or Bonk's Big Adventure: point your head at your enemies.

Come to think of it, Pokemon Snap for the N64 seems a little less novel now that the PC-Engine had an action-photography game. Also, Nectaris for the PC-Engine is essentially a much earlier version of Advance Wars. This console definitely has influence going for it, and it's hard not to notice once you start playing games.

The bread and butter of the PC-Engine's library is definitely shoot-em-ups (hooray for the turbo switches on the controllers!). If you enjoy shoot-em-ups and are interested in collecting consoles at all, NEC's 16-bit consoles are the way to go.

For R-Type fans out there, the PC-Engine has a direct port of the R-Type arcade game, and I'm pleased to report that it is astonishingly awesome. Like other R-Type games, it's a horizontal scroller in which you are desperately strafing for open gaps among obstacles. The twist in this version of R-Type is that you have a little companion: a glowing ball that serves as a shield, but that can also be shot at enemies as a weapon. The music is incredible and the game is extremely intense and thrilling.

R-Type for the PC-Engine
Spriggan (from the same studio that developed M.U.S.H.A for the Genesis) is a a vertical scroller in which you collect colored balls which give you different attacks; multiple colors can be combined for various multi-faceted attacks, or the same colors can be combined for a more powerful version of the same attack. To actually explain all the possible attacks would be extremely difficult, as there are a lot of combinations that function very differently, which is what makes the game incredibly interesting and fun.

Spriggan is incredible, and looks like a lot like M.U.S.H.A, which is also incredible...

Air Zonk is a horizontal scroller that stars a punk-like protagonist that bears an uncanny resemblence to everyone's favorite TurboGrafx/PC-Engine mascot, Bonk. The airborne rebel flies through each level blowing the hell out of various cartoony enemies to an infectious soundtrack.

Who the heck is Zonk, anyway?

If you're in the mood for something a bit different, Cotton is a horizontal scroller in which you play a witch on a broomstick shooting her way through all sorts of mayhem. The reason why this game is so special is because of the unique art style. A lot of the enemies are shaded in almost a 3D or claymation manner, and seeing graphics like this on such an old console is unbelievable.

Cotton is very lush and beautiful for a shoot-em-up.

For gamers that really just want to play something that blows everything else out of the water, Lords of Thunder is an incredible shmup featuring an epic heavy metal soundtrack and upgrades between levels. The action is almost unparalleled and it's difficult for me to play this one without my jaw hanging open in awe.

At this point, you're probably convinced that the PC-Engine has a wide variety of shooters... and that this Bonk guy is allegedly pretty cool. What about the staple video game series, though? Do the PC-Engine equivalents do them justice?

For Castlevania fans, the PC-Engine has Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. While making the case for this game being better than Symphony of the Night or Super Castlevania IV is difficult, it's still undoubtedly one of the best games in the series, and the atmosphere and gameplay is spot-on. The game looks and sounds absolutely superb, and Rondo of Blood will not disappoint fans of the series.

Rondo of Blood: An intensely gratifying Castlevania game.

Like the Genesis and Super Nintendo, the PC-Engine also has a port of the Street Fighter II: Champion Edition arcade game. Many consider the PC-Engine port the most faithful; it serves as a testament to how competent this system really was compared to the more popular 16-bit consoles.

Additionally, the system has a great collection of unique RPGs, such as the Ys series, so fans of the genre will definitely have enough to sink their teeth into.

The major gap in the system's library is definitely platformers, especially when you are comparing the console against its16-bit foes. However, the small collection of platformers of the PC-Engine are mostly a blast to play and often even innovative, so as long as you don't only want to play platforming games, it shouldn't be a deal breaker.


The PC-Engine DUO RX is an unbelievable relic of time that can still be found today, if you find someone willing to give it up for a good price. Its sleek design, vast and diverse game library, and sheer influence on its descendants make it an ideal choice for video game collectors and enthusiasts. 

The only real knock against this console are the single controller port and short cables, which are minor annoyances that need a little extra cash thrown at them to solve.

Retrodrunk Rating: (9/10 pints)