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The folks over at NEC, the creators of the NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16, thought they had the answer to one of the biggest gripes in handheld gaming. Unlike their chief competition, the Nintendo Game Boy, their new handheld game device, the TurboExpress, had a backlight, played games in color, and - get this - could play the entire library of existing NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 HuCard games. There was no need for developers to create scaled down handheld versions of games and no need for gamers to buy new games just for the handheld experience. NEC primed the TurboExpress as everything the Game Boy and Sega Game Gear were not, so what went wrong? Why did the TurboExpress fall out of the market and become relegated to a historical footnote?

There are a number of reasons, but one of the biggest dealbreakers for the system was the price tag. Released in 1991 at a cost of $299.95, the TurboExpress was priced way above the $89 Game Boy and the $129 Game Gear. And yes, the little machine could play all the NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 games, but with the TG16 coming in third place in the console wars, very few people had the games to begin with. What good is compatibility if very few people own the original games? Furthermore, yerricde tells me that another big problem with the TE was that display text was hard to read. Some games, such as Klax, actually did include special-case code for the TE. The TurboExpress itself resembles a Game Boy. It's black and features the same controls as its big brother, the TG16. The device also sported an optional TV tuner called the TurboExpress TV Tuner that allowed the unit to pick up TV signals via a built-in antenna. This add-on cost nearly as much as the TE itself.

And now, the system specs...

  • Bits - 8
  • Processor - Custom 6820 (NEC)
  • Processor Speed - 7.6 MHz
  • Display - Active Matrix Color LCD
  • Display Resolution - 400 x 270
  • Maximum Colors Displayed - 512
  • Colors Available - 512
  • Maximum Sprites - 64
  • Sound Channels - 6

The TurboExpress died out when the NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 was retired, although it's still possible to find the units (still expensive, of course) at used game stores, online auctions, and even online among the TG16 developer and fan community. The TE was quite amazing, but ultimately it was in a class by itself which proved to be its downfall.


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