TurboGrafx Memories

28 12 2011

In early 1992 I started getting into Japanese stuff.  I can thank seeing Matthew Sweet’s music video I’ve Been Waiting for that.

Back in the early 90s, Japanese stuff was hard to come by.  Viz had translated barley a handful of titles in manga, and then there was Dark Horse Comic’s Studio Proteus, that did Shrow Masamune stuff and the like; but overall the selection of anime infused goods was few and far between.  New anime came out on VHS sporadically, and it, too, was hard to find… and expensive; one VHS tape cost $40 and up.  It seemed the easiest way to get a large amount of that “anime look” was through video games.  Now like any kid, I read video game magazines; usually at the store while my parents were shopping.  One day while reading a copy of Diehard Game Fan, I happened upon a sidebar that told about this magical game Gunbuster for the TurboGrafx-16 CD system.   It talked about the smooth, high quality animation in the game and lamented the fact it would never see stateside release because the game contained nudity.  From that moment, I was sold on Japanese video games and the TurbGrafx-16 in particular.

The Duo, in all it's glory.


I didn’t make much money working a part time job in high school.  Back then, if I made $100 every two weeks I was rich.  A Turbo Duo (ThrboGrafx-16 with built-in CD player) cost $299 plus tax, so you can see my predicament.  There was no way that I was ever going to have $299 plus tax on me at one time.  The closest I ever got was when I got fired from a dishwashing job so they paid me all at once, resulting in a $200 paycheck.  I was super rich.  And I blew it all in 2 days.  I did, however, use some of that money on a TurboGrafx CD game.  I walked in to a local Babbage’s and spent a great deal of time studying the back of each Turbo game they had.  The one that looked most anime-like was called Y’s Book I & II.  I bought it.  It was $50.


I still didn’t have anything to play it on.  When I got home, I ripped open the box and read the instruction booklet.  Being that the game was on a CD, I wondered what would happen if I just listened to it.  Stop and think about my logic here… I didn’t have a system to play the game on, so I would listen to the game.  I didn’t know what would happen if I put it in a CD player, or if it would even work.  At that time, media other than music that was on a CD was magical.  Most computers didn’t have CD drives, and games were all on cartridges.  Try listening to a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis cartridge for a while.  Just hold it up to your ear.  I’ll wait for you.

The first thing that happens when you put a TurboGrafx CD in a CD player is that woman’s voice tells you not to put the disk in a CD player.  But I was young, reckless!  I waited for the track to end to see what happened.  My ears got blown out.  The second track on every TurboGrafx disk is the data track.  It sounds a lot like what a dial-up modem sounded like during its handshake when connecting to the internet.  After recovering from that, I moved to the next track, and my mind was blown…

The game was talking to me.  There was an actual voice in the game!  It was describing things that I couldn’t see, so I had to imagine.  Other tracks contained other voices too, pleading for my help, sending me on quests, and beckoning me to my doom.  And the music!  I had never heard anything like it!  Previously, my expectations had been lifted after playing Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo; but this was miles beyond that.  As good as it might sound, Nintendo and Sega systems still made bleeps and bloops.  This game had a whole band playing real music.  Real music in a game!  Oh.  My.  God.

Time passed and eventually I ran short of cash so I sold my copy of Y’s.  I wouldn’t have any real money again until November of 1993.  I turned 18 the previous month and due to a settlement regarding an accident I was in when I was much younger, I received a payment of $8,000.  The first thing I did when that money hit my account was drive to Babbage’s, the same Babbage’s from a year before.  Scanning the store, I couldn’t seem to find their TurboGrafx section, so I approached a salesman.

“I would like I purchase a Turbo Duo,” I said.

“Ah,” said he. “We just shipped our remaining stock back to the company last week.  The TurboGrafx has been discontinued.”

I was visibly crestfallen.

“But fear not!” he proclaimed (or something like that).  “There’s a store just up the road that sells used TurboGrafx systems!”

So I got directions, thanked the man and was on my way.  That store’s name was Games to Go.  The man behind the counter that day was Paul.  He was a portly fellow with an excitable, childlike demeanor and a thin, greying beard circling his many chins.  I repeated my dance from before, asking for a Turbo Duo game system.  Paul informed me that they were sold out of Duos at the moment, but they did have a TurboGrafx system with a CD add-on attachment that would to the same thing as the all-in-one unit.  I was desperate.  I took it.  And then the moment of truth…  Remember, what started me on this quest was the blurb I read about there being nudity in Japanese TurboGrafx games.  Now, I didn’t want to seem like a pervert, and Paul seemed to be a knowledgeable kind of guy, so I used a code word to ask about what I was looking for.

“Do you have any “pink” games?’ I causally queried.

“What?” said Paul.

Leaning closer I repeated my question.  “Do you have any… “pink”… games?”

“Oh, uh… yeah… yeah, sure.  We have pink games.  Only we’re all sold out of them right now.  If you leave your number, I can call you when those pink games come in.  I’ll put you on the pink game waiting list.”

It didn’t occur to me until months later that Paul had no idea what I was talking about.  Eventually I settled on re-purchasing my copy of Y’s Book I & II and I headed home, anxious to boot up my new system and actually see what the game had been talking about.

The TurboGrafx-16 with CD attachment in all it's glorious ugliness!


The TurboGrafx CD attachment came in a suitcase like carrying pack.  It was black, had a handle, and two plastic snaps to that secured the lid making everything fit snuggly inside.  I couldn’t help but position the thing in my passenger side seat, flipping the lid and stealing lusty glances at it as I drove.  Arriving at my apartment, I closed the lid, grabbed the handle, and walked briskly to the entryway.  That’s when I heard “clunk”.  Sort of like the sound of metal dropping on plastic.  Not a loud, “clunk”, but a noticeable one, nonetheless.  I also couldn’t help but notice that the case in my hand had become remarkably lighter.  I had forgotten to fasten the snaps on the case, and there was my machine, face down on cold, black, tarry, Minnesota asphalt.  I lovingly picked it up and cradled it in my arms.  Slowly, I placed it back in the case from which it sprang, double snapped the latches, and trudged up to my third floor apartment.

Turbo CD carrying case. Built to last, but not close easily.


The system still worked.  It had a scratch on the CD lid; but I hadn’t learned to be anal at that time, so it was all good.   That little TurboGrafx with CD attachment gave hours and days and weeks and months of joy, and never ask anything in return.  It was The Giving Machine.  And the one that started me down the road of video game hell that I still follow today.



4 responses

28 12 2011
Mark E

Third floor apartment? Didn’t you have one when you lived in the duplex on Grand Av?? I remember you blowing my mind with 16 bit anime video game greatness one night when I dropped you off there…

28 12 2011

Silverbell Apartments in Eagan. Third floor. I lived with my friends Shaun and Steve. The guy who lived across from us was Josh Hartnett. By the time I lived on Grand I was rocking either a Duo or a Duo-R.

28 12 2011
Shaun from the 3rd floor.

On grand you had a PS1 that you rigged to play Japanese titles and a Neo Geo.

28 12 2011

Yes I did! I used the eraser and paperclip trick on the PS1. That Neo Geo was a Neo Geo Gold AES system. I got it specifically to play Samurai Showdown 2. I think I bought the Neo for $80 and the game was $125. I recently got a Neo Geo again. Love that machine!

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