Rediscover the Overlooked Gem of the 16-Bit Era: The TurboGrafx-16

The TurboGrafx-16 constantly falls through the cracks in gaming history, often labeled as just a small blip between the wildly popular NES/Super NES and Genesis systems. But the TG16 earned a passionate cult following in the early 90s, thanks to an underappreciated library exclusive gems.

As a SNES or Genesis owner, you missed out on these TG16 games that rivaled and even surpassed their libraries at times. Let‘s rediscover the system‘s standout exclusives to appreciate why it matters.


While the TG16 didn‘t sell anywhere close to Nintendo or Sega‘s consoles, it innovated in areas like:

  • First console with a CD-ROM add-on for bigger games
  • Small, sleek overall hardware design
  • One of the earliest mascot platformers with Bonk
  • Unique shooters, pinball games, and roleplaying experiments

The TurboGrafx-16 ultimately became home to myriad games you simply couldn‘t play on the SNES or Genesis. Let‘s spotlight the 10 absolute best exclusives that TG16 owners loved – many of which got overlooked by mainstream gamers.

1. Splatterhouse

  • Released: 1989
  • Developer: Namco
  • Sales: Top 10 highest-selling TG16 game
  • Reviews: 4/5 average critic score

This gruesome hack and slash title made waves for extreme (for the time) violence and horror elements. In the vein of 80s slasher flicks, you play as Rick Taylor armed with just melee weapons invading a haunted mansion to save his girlfriend from grotesque monsters.

With decapitations aplenty and zombies rising from the ground, Splatterhouse cranked the gore way past what Nintendo allowed. The outstanding visuals and soundtrack accentuated the almost-too-real carnage with ample blood splatters dousing the detailed pixel art sprites.

Beyond the controversy, Splatterhouse featured tight combat and level designs paying homage to horror and action movie tropes. Much like the films it referenced, this game attained cult classic status as one of the TG16‘s must-play exclusives.

2. Neutopia

  • Released: 1989
  • Developer: Hudson Soft
  • Sales: 350,000+ (JP)
  • Reviews: 87% average critic score

Jumping into Neutopia feels akin to the original Legend of Zelda…but with some welcome twists on the formula such as:

  • Deep character customization via meters for life, strength, wisdom, etc that grow through side activities
  • Robust inventory and item upgrade systems
  • Navigation puzzles in multi-tiered dungeons

The sprawling world captures a true sense of adventure as you traverse forests, deserts, tribal villages, islands, and castle strongholds. Slashing through quirky enemies with yourtrusty sword rarely gets old when the environments pose such intriguing navigation puzzles and secrets to uncover.

While Neutopia trades the fine polish of Nintendo‘s games for more RPG depth, it absolutely deserves to stand toe-to-toe with Link‘s NES odysseys for Zelda fans.

3. Blazing Lazers

  • Released: 1989
  • Developer: Hudson Soft/Compile
  • Sales: 300,000+ (JP)
  • Reviews: 9/10 average critic score

When TG16 owners popped in Blazing Lazers, their jaws dropped at the console‘s first true showcase of technically impressive graphics and blazing fast action. This scrolling shooter drops players in a space fighter fending off an alien invasion of Earth across 9 exhilarating levels with a stellar weapons system.

You can rapid fire guns, launch seeking missiles, and charge up a devastating laser beam. Combine these tools of destruction to tackle endless alien ships and towering bosses. With polished visuals rivaling some early SNES titles, Blazing Layers kept up a breakneck pace and assaulted your senses.

Blazing Lazers represented a true technical showpiece for the TG16 hardware. After conquering the game‘s near-impossible difficulty, it etched itself into the console‘s hall of fame.

4. Bonk‘s Adventure

  • Released: 1989
  • Developer: Red Company/Atlus
  • Sales: Over 1 million across series
  • Reviews: 9/10 average critic score

The beloved caveboy Bonk headbutts his way through dinosaur baddies in his quest to rescue Princess Za from the evil King Drool. This absurd premise allows for delightful side-scrolling platforming action across prehistoric jungles, glaciers, ruins, and volcanoes.

With vibrant colors, goofy enemy designs, and slick controls, Bonk exudes an innocent charm reminiscent of Kirby or Mario games. While not particularly difficult, discovering hidden areas and consoling power-ups like invincibility or health regenerating meat keeps gameplay fresh and rewarding.

Bonk‘s Adventure marked an important milestone as one of gaming‘s earliest mascot platformers. The character‘s humorous giant noggin headbutt cemented him as the cute and family-friendly face of the TG16 library.

TitleGlobal SalesOriginal SystemGenre
SplatterhouseTop 10 (TG16)TurboGrafx-16Action Platformer
Neutopia350,000+ (JP)TurboGrafx-16Action RPG
Blazing Lazers300,000+ (JP)TurboGrafx-16Shoot Em Up
Bonk’s Adventure1M+ (Series)TurboGrafx-16Platformer

Table showing sales and genre data for games covered so far

5. It Came From the Desert

Transporting players straight into a cheesy 50s sci-fi B-movie, It Came From the Desert pays respectful homage with its schlocky FMV story scenes and wacky plot:

Meteor crashes outside a small town, mutating ants into enormous radioactive monsters. As a geologist investigating the incident, you‘ll battle swarms bugs, drive vehicles in a fledgling open world, and make story decisions influencing which scenes play out.

This blend of top-down shooting, adventure game puzzles, dialogue trees and live action cutscenes shows off the CD add-on‘s technical capabilities beyond traditional games. The campiness also fits the pulp movie aesthetic perfectly for a truly unique play experience.

It Came From the Desert followed more ambitious TG16 titles like Ys using storytelling and cinematics to immerse players beyond just gaming challenge. This innovative title kicked off Cinemaware‘s distinct catalogue.

6. Devil‘s Crush

  • Released: 1990
  • Developer: Naxat Soft
  • Reviews: 9/10 average critic score

The TurboGrafx-16 often became home to stellar pinball video games, starting with Devil‘s Crush – a hellishly-themed pinball table dripping with personality. Players navigate perilous ramps and loops across a scrolling, multi-screen playfield invaded by demons if you get careless.

With an excellent physics engine and brutal difficulty, Devil‘s Crush nailed that authentic pinball feel. But it stands apart from other virtual pinball machines thanks creative boss fights, bonus stages transporting you to the underworld and heaven, plus unlockable tables with their own stories!

Devil‘s Crush raised the bar for pinball video games and still reigns as one of the most memorable mashups of pinball wizardry with pure gaming excitement.

7. The Legendary Axe

  • Released: 1989
  • Developer: Victor Interactive/ Taito
  • Sales: 500,000+ (JP)
  • Reviews: Over 80% average critic score

One of the TurboGrafx-16‘s earliest defining titles, The Legendary Axe delivered a showcase of responsive side-scrolling hack and slash gameplay. Vibrant fantasy vistas coated with lush jungles, dark caves, misty graveyards and imposing castles serve as backdrops to mow down menageries of mythological beasts.

Our axe-wielding hero controlled like a dream thanks to superior TG16 horsepower affording refined combat animations and mobility. This smoothness combined with the stellar atmosphere and soundtrack transport players into an arcade-like fantasy adventure…at home!

The Legendary Axe represented a landmark early title proving the TG16 as a powerful 2D gaming machine on par with Nintendo‘s heaviest arcade ports. It also spawned one of the console‘s few original franchises with its excellent 1992 sequel.

8. Beyond Shadowgate

This point and click graphic adventure follows in the footsteps of the original Shadowgate. But while that game appeared on multiple platforms, the TurboGrafx-16 snagged the exclusive sequel:

  • Released: 1993
  • Developer: ICOM Simulations
  • Reviews: 82% average critic score

With help from novelist Rose Estes, Beyond Shadowgate expands in scope delivering a fresh castle to escape filled with even deadlier puzzles. Gorgeous backdrops of glowing caverns, libraries, and halls lined with skulls do a fantastic job establishing the dark fantasy vibe.

As Prince Erik, players combine inventory items and magic to bypass traps…of which there are many. Beyond Shadowgate will kill your character repeatedly in amusing ways, but makes conquering the intricate puzzles so rewarding.

Like Shadowgate, this game oozes atmosphere from its eerie music to the expertly crafted prose responses to your actions. But being a CD title, Beyond Shadowgate piles on substantially more locales and lore told through beautiful illustrations and text.

9. Cadash

Blending side-scrolling hack and slash platforming with RPG progression systems and random battles, Cadash delivers a delightfully deep action RPG hybrid:

  • Released: 1991
  • Developer: Taito/Asmik Ace
  • Reviews: Over 75% average critic score

With dashing heroes like fighter, priestess, or ninja to pick from, players embark across fantasy landscapes straight out of D&D. Shanking goblins, wolves, and magicians with melee combos feels great. In between, random encounters see you using magic spells and careful tactics to dispatch mages, dragons, and other formidable foes.

Leveling up your chosen adventurer grants you points to distribute across attributes like strength (melee damage), wisdom (magic damage) or vitality (HP). Looting incrementally better weapons and gear compounds that sense of progression.

Cadash essentially laid foundations for AAA action RPG franchises like Zelda II or Ys with its pitch perfect blend of real-time combat and RPG number crunching long before they hit 16-bit consoles.

10. Turrican

Yet another beloved Metroid-like proves the TG16 could produce exciting action platformers just as well as Nintendo‘s juggernaut franchise.

  • Released: 1991
  • Developer: Factor 5
  • Sales: Over 1 million (Multiplatform)
  • Reviews: Over 80% average critic score

Set across visually stunning alien worlds, Turrican equips players with a versatile weapon that shoots lasers, bounce balls and spread bullets. This allows tackling mechs, mutants, robots and wildlife with different attack styles. Like Samus Aran, the morph ball ability proves invaluable for navigating tight spaces.

Huge, freely explorable levels crammed with alternate routes and secret power-ups promote that addictive search for progression Metroid perfected. Boss fights are similarly monumental production packing scope and challenge.

From thumping synth music to flashy set pieces like outrunning exploding bases, Turrican oozes that cinematic sci-fi action vibe. Fans of Nintendo‘s masterpiece should adore this slick side-scroller for TG16.

The TurboGrafx-16‘s eclectic library of exclusives covers so many imaginative genres from bonkers B-movies to hellish pinball. Many pushed hardware capabilities and game design forward far beyond competitors.

I hope this glimpse at just 10 of TG16‘s very best exclusives compels you to dig deeper into the system‘s hidden gems after missing out originally.

Thanks to modern retro collections and emulation, experiencing this underappreciated console‘s innovative library is easier than ever. And after playing these exclusives, you might just gain a newfound appreciation for the TurboGrafx-16‘s rightful place in gaming history.

So which of these TG16 exclusives catch your interest? I‘d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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