|The now-famous image that so tantalised us in C&VG...|
I was not one of the lucky ones - I managed to snag a classic white Engine a couple of years after it came out, as detailed here many moons ago, but as demonstrated by an image on that post, the CD-ROM unit was well beyond my reach. That never stopped me from gazing upon it with envious eyes though, and there were plenty of games I wanted to play on it. Inconveniently for me but splendidly for people rich enough to afford one, there was quickly quite a few titles to choose from too.
|The ultra-handy (and desirable) PC Engine Duo...|
A couple of years later came another new card too - the Arcade Card, which came in Duo or Pro forms - and again, some games required it to run. In addition to this, there would also eventually be three 'Duo' consoles released which combined the PC Engine console and the CD-ROM in one unit. First came the PC Engine Duo, then the Duo-R, and lastly the Duo-RX. Jeepers! Maybe Japanese NEC fans were used to it though - the PC Engine itself was released in numerous forms too, after all.
|Looks at it - it's almost as sexy as the Engine itself!|
As usual, I've selected five titles to try out. The first two of these are the first two games to be released on the system which I figured would give me a good idea of how happy (or unhappy) new owners might've been. The next two titles I chose include probably the game I've most wanted to play all these years and the game most other people seem to want a PCE CD for, and lastly I figured I'd go for a game renowned as one that really demonstrates what the system is capable of technically. Here's how I got on with these five games on this still-desirable system:
Fighting Street (1988)
here for details of the actual game, but suffice to say, it's obviously very basic by today's standards. Less so in its day, perhaps, but I can't imagine too many excited new owners of the PCE-CD were ultra-enthusiastic about christening their new system with this. The standard PCE would go on to host an amazing conversion of SFII a few years later too, which put further into focus the substandard quality of this release. It remains a notable release though, simply because it was the first (or close to it), and it may have provided a bit of fun in its day in the absence of alternatives.
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair (1989)
Gate of Thunder (1992)
Thunder Force series. It wasn't as it turned out, but some Techno Soft staff did work on it, and you can tell - it's fantastic! It's also very similar to TFIII, both visually as well as with its design. Your ship has variable speed settings, for example, and the power-ups include a shield, support drones, and you can cycle through the weapons you collect. The stages are fairly similar in style too. Even the ship itself looks like Styx! These similarities are a very very good thing, however, simply because the game that they are based on is so good, but even if you've never played TFIII, Gate of Thunder is a superb horizontal-scroller in its own right. The CD format is put to pretty good use too. The normal Engine is home to some awesome shmups, many of which have ace graphics themselves - could it have handled this too? Possibly, but it's a great-looking, action-packed game anyway, and the guitar-based soundtrack, while rather drowned out by the loud effects, is fantastic. A must for the collection.
Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (1993)
Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire (1995)
Well, the verdict this time around is about as straightforward as any I've written on an 'exploring' post - the PC Engine CD is every bit as splendid as I've long thought it to be! The reason for that isn't that it offers an entire new, otherwise-unmatched level of technical amazingness, or that the CD format offers obvious advantages over that of the HuCard; It's simply down to the games that it hosts.
As mentioned, many of the early CD-ROM expansions and some of the first CD-based consoles featured games that were simply ports of titles already available elsewhere (usually on the base system with games for expansions), and in a vast majority of cases these games were barely any different, if at all. Some had animated or FMV intros and the music was generally of a higher quality (at least technically), but there weren't often games exclusive to the systems that truly took advantage of the new format, or at least there weren't often good games of that type.
One of the most interesting things about the PCE CD is simply that it succeeded. In fact, you could argue that the PCE CD is the only CD-ROM add-on for an existing, established console that was successful. It sold well, in Japan anyway, and that means there are lots of releases for it - some 466 in total, apparently, and that library of games was crucial to the system's ongoing success.
It featured many exclusive titles, and happily, most of these were also of types already popular in Japan such as shmups and RPG's, just with slightly fancier, more colourful graphics and grander soundtracks, rather than attempts by developers to utilise the CD format by making interactive FMV games and all that nonsense (see the Mega CD). There are a lot of mahjong titles and digital comics, admittedly, but the sheer number of decent 'traditional' games easily makes up for them and confirms what I had long suspected - that the PCE CD was fantastic!
In fact, I don't think it's unreasonable to say that nowadays, for retro gamers and collectors, of all the pre-Saturn/PlayStation-era CD-based systems or ones that had a CD-ROM add-on, the PC Engine's example is the one that's most worth having. That's if you can afford it, of course, as the systems and many of the games still command a hefty sum, sometimes much more than their original retail cost, rather distressingly. If you have the desire and the cash, though, there are few better systems available for pure retro awesomeness if you ask me.