PC Engine Core Grafx Mini Review

Back when I was a mere teenager, the PC Engine (or the Turbo Grafx 16 as it was known in the UK) was a mythical beast. You’d often see the games for it reviewed in the multi-format magazines of the time, and compared to titles found on other systems, they were far superior with mind-blowing graphics and multi polyphonic sound. However, the console, which launched in 1987, was extremely rare in the UK and despite many searches I never managed to even see one, let alone get to play one. I therefore jumped at the chance to take a look at the new PC Engine Core Grafx Mini console.

Please note that the console was meant to launch in March, but production has been held up by Covid-19. Konami have not announced a new release date but hope to have it on the shelves as soon as possible. The console is exclusive to Amazon in the UK. 

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The first impressions of this latest mini console are a little disappointing. Opening the box, you’re greeted by cheap looking plastic that’s not what you’d expect from a £100 console, just a single controller (additional controllers and a multi-tap are available separately), and you’ll have to bring your own USB power adapter to feed it electricity. It’s incredibly small and light; so light it seems like an empty case, but flip the power button and you’re greeted with a menu that shows the 25 English Turbo Grafx offerings, and a second menu with another 32 games from the PC Engine, all of which are in their native Japanese.

Each game has a quick save feature and you also have the option of various display modes including one with scan lines for retro perfectionists. Although the console has been shrunk down in size, the controller is an exact replica and fits nicely in you hand, boasting a D-pad for directional control and two action buttons, both of which come with very welcome auto-rapid fire switches.

The games that are preloaded on the console cover a wide range of genres including side-scrolling beat ’em ups, RPGs, and puzzle games, but this is really the mini console for shoot ’em up fans. It’s packed with genuine classics, all faithfully reproduced to near coin-op perfection, and in some cases, even better than their money guzzling counterparts.

The two daddies of the shoot ’em up genre, Gradius (also known as Nemesis in the UK) and R-Type are the stand outs, both arcade perfect with Gradius including an extra level not found in the coin-op as well as additional bonus stages.

Lords Of Thunder is a heavy metal inspired shooter and it’s joined by Star Soldier, Dragon Spirit, Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire, and Star Parodier, a shoot ’em up that replaces spaceships with teddy bears and toy trains, and lasers with compact discs. Another oddity is the fabulous Chō Aniki which is side scrolling shooter featuring heavily muscled men thrusting and groaning in a bizarre mix of shooting and soft porn.

Click here to see a full list of the games included

Games in English

  • Air Zonk
  • Alien Crush
  • Blazing Lazers
  • Bomberman ‘93
  • Bonk’s Revenge
  • Cadash
  • Chew-Man-Fu
  • Dungeon Explorer
  • J. & Jeff
  • Lords Of Thunder
  • Military Madness
  • Moto Roader
  • Neutopia
  • Neutopia II
  • New Adventure Island
  • Ninja Spirit
  • Parasol Stars
  • Power Golf
  • Psychosis
  • R-Type
  • Soldier Blade
  • Space Harrier
  • Splatterhouse
  • Victory Run
  • Ys Book I&II

Japanese language games

  • Akumajō Dracula X Chi No Rondo
  • Aldynes
  • Appare! Gateball
  • Bomberman ‘94
  • Bomberman Panic Bomber
  • Chō Aniki
  • Daimakaimura
  • Dragon Spirit
  • Dungeon Explorer
  • Fantasy Zone
  • Galaga ‘88
  • Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire
  • Gradius
  • Gradius II – Gofer No Yabō –
  • Jaseiken Necromancer
  • Nectaris
  • Neutopia
  • Neutopia II
  • Ninja Ryūkenden
  • PC Genjin
  • Salamander
  • Seirei Senshi Spriggan
  • Snatcher
  • Spriggan mark2
  • Star Parodier
  • Super Darius
  • Super Momotarō Dentetsu II
  • Super Star Soldier
  • The Genji and the Heike Clans
  • The Kung Fu
  • The Legend of Valkyrie
  • Ys III

The Japanese version of Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, Daimakaimura, is another near-perfect conversion, and Castlevania fans will be pleased to see Akumajō Dracula X: Chi No Rondo, aka Castlevania: Rondo Of Blood, the prequel to Symphony Of The Night. As one of the first games to come on compact disc, it benefits from voice overs and cut scenes. Other stand-outs include Splatterhouse, Soldier Blade, Bonk’s Revenge, and a couple of incarnations of Bomberman.

The console also contains a port of the rarest game from the Bubble Bobble trilogy: Parasol Stars. Never released in arcades, this game was made specifically for the PC Engine, before being ported to the Amiga and Atari ST. A Commodore 64 version was in the works but never released as the freelance developer’s wife got drunk and destroyed all the disks – there’s a fact to dazzle your gaming mates with! Although Bubble Bobble has been ported to many consoles, the last time you could buy Parasol Stars was in 1991 so it’s a true rarity and, like the other two games in the series, arcade perfection.

Of course with such a huge number of games, there are going to be filler titles that just don’t hold up today. You’ll turn Moto Roader off 20 seconds after you discover that it’s a top down racer which flips screens rather than scrolling, and Genpei Tōma Den is an awful side scroller with really poor collision detection.

Most of the Japanese games use English on the menus so you can easily access the games, but visual novel Snatcher, Hideo Kojima’s first game, is entirely in Japanese rendering it totally unplayable unless you speak Japanese or source a full translation of all the text from the internet to read alongside. It seems like a hugely missed opportunity; Hideo Kojima’s name sells games and the chance to play his first game in English would have been a mini system seller.

There are also some duplicates like Ys Book I & II, Dungeon Explorer, Military Madness, and Neutopia that are available in both English and Japanese, which seems largely pointless outside of cutting out the need for region-specific consoles. I also noticed that Salamander and Ninja Spirit also suffer from slow down when there’s a lot of action on the screen, but it’s a little puzzling when other games are shifting many more sprites around on screen. Maybe this makes their emulation ‘perfect’?

One other thing that’s noticeable is how most of the titles are incredibly hard arcade games, designed to rob you of 10p’s at an astronomical rate. Younger players may be off put by the games that give you every weapon possible in the first twenty seconds and then kill you off in a hail of bullets five seconds later. Progression didn’t exist back in the 80s.

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Summary
An absolute must-buy for classic shoot 'em up fans the PC Engine Core Grafx Mini also has plenty of games from other genres to keep you entertained. There are some duffers and the duplicates are pointless, but the huge number of great games outweigh the fillers.
Good
  • Shoot 'em up heaven
  • Parasol Stars!
  • A good mix of other titles
Bad
  • The most expensive mini console at £100
  • Duplicate games
  • Some games are entirely in Japanese
8
Written by
News Editor, very inappropriate, probs fancies your dad.

3 Comments

  1. This is so tempting, but the price is a little much. If it ever hits £60-ish then I’ll bite.

  2. So I guess if you’ve review it and it’s the core Europe edition one then it must be due for release soon as a lot of reviews are flying around today with the Europe core edition.

    • There’s no release date yet sadly.

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