The PC Engine Mini was released in Japan on 19th March 2020.
The original PC Engine game console, developed by Hudson Soft Company and NEC Home Electronics, was released in Japan in 1987 before being brought to the west in 1989, where it was known in most regions as the TurboGrafx-16 and used a different design. The TurboGrafx-16 ultimately did not succeed in penetrating western markets, but remained popular in Japan throughout its lifespan and beyond, maintaining a cult following to the present day.
It was thus not unexpected that the the current-day trend of retro consoles getting revived as self-contained mini-consoles would reach the PC Engine. Handled by Konami and Hori, the PC Engine Mini was announced at Tokyo Game Show 2019 and released on 19th March 2020.
Like with other retro mini consoles, the PC Engine Mini has different versions for different regions; The PC Engine Mini for Japan, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini for North America, and the PC Engine CoreGrafx Mini for Europe.
While all three versions use different shells, the NA and EU versions have identical game lineups, and the Japanese version’s lineup is only slightly different from the NA/EU version, excluding Salamander and including Tokimeki Memorial and Tengai Makyo II instead.
In this article, Frontline Gaming Japan takes a look at the Japan-exclusive PC Engine Mini.
The PC Engine Mini includes an instruction manual, the console, a micro USB type B cable for power, an HDMI cable, and one controller. An AC adapter is not included.
The console is roughly 85% the size of the original PC Engine. While this might not sound like much of a difference, this small change is actually quite significant in how it makes it so that the console can now fit into the palm of one’s hand, and also how the size makes it fit alongside other mini consoles.
The shell is mostly accurate to the original PC Engine, with only a few changes. There is no HuCard slot, and the controller port is replaced with two USB ports (allowing for up to two controllers to be connected by default). The external bus on the back has its cover, but is replaced with HDMI and micro USB type B sockets. The markings for the RF port and channel switch are moulded on to the console, but the port and switch are not present in any form.
The controller is a replica of the original PC Engine controller, meaning that it does not include the turbo functions that were included with the TurboGrafx and CoreGrafx controllers by default. While it may look identical to the original PC Engine controller, however, Hori put their knowhow in controller manufacturing to work, and the buttons feel far better than the original’s did.
One problem with the PC Engine Mini is how, because it is so small and light, a gentle yank on the controller could easily pull it towards the player and potentially off a table or stand. To mitigate this, the controller cable is longer than standard, at 3 meters, but depending on the use-case this might do little to alleviate worries. Non-slip pads or having the console itself physically close to players would probably be a good idea.
Peripherals such as additional controllers (with turbo functionality), a multi-tap for multiplayer games such as Bomberman, and an AC adapter were also originally scheduled for the console’s 19th March release, but have been delayed indefinitely due to the influence of the coronavirus pandemic. The Turbografx-16 Mini and Coregrafx Mini, which were also scheduled for 19th March, were also delayed.
The console’s lineup is divided into two assortments, one for the PC Engine and one for the TurboGrafx.
The games included in the PC Engine Mini are as listed below. Bolded titles are exclusive to the PC Engine Mini, and titles in italics are playable in both PC Engine and TurboGrafx modes. Alternate titles are in (parentheses).
PC Engine titles
- Akumajo Dracula X Chi no Rondo (Castlevania: Rondo of Blood)
- Appare! Gateball
- Bomberman ’94
- Bomberman Panic Bomber
- Cho Aniki
- Daimakaimura (Ghouls ‘n Ghosts)
- Dragon Spirit
- Dungeon Explorer
- Fantasy Zone
- Galaga ’88
- Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire
- Gradius II – Gofer no Yabo – (Gradius II)
- Jaseiken Necromancer (Necromancer)
- Nectaris (Military Madness)
- Neutopia II
- Ninja Ryukenden (Ninja Gaiden)
- PC Genjin (Bonk’s Adventure)
- Seireisenshi Spriggan
- Spriggan mark 2
- Star Parodier
- Super Darius
- Super Momotaro Dentetsu 2
- Super Star Soldier
- Tengai Makyo II Manjimaru
- The Genji and the Heike Clans (Genpei Tomaden)
- The Kung Fu (China Warrior)
- The Legend of Valkyrie (Valkyrie no Densetsu)
- Tokimeki Memorial
- Ys I・II (Ys book I & II)
- Air Zonk (PC Denjin)
- Alien Crush
- Blazing Lazers (Gunhed)
- Bomberman ’93
- Bonk’s Revenge (PC Genjin 2)
- Chew-Man-Fu (Be Ball)
- Dungeon Explorer
- J.J. & Jeff (Kato-chan Ken-chan)
- Lords of Thunder (Winds of Thunder)
- Military Madness (Nectaris)
- Neutopia II
- New Adventure Island (Takahashi-meijin no Shin Boukenjima)
- Ninja Spirit (Saigo no Ninja)
- Parasol Stars
- Power Golf
- Psychosis (Paranoia)
- R-Type (R-Type I・R-Type II)
- Soldier Blade
- Space Harrier
- Victory Run
- Ys book I & II (Ys I・II)
Additionally, Soldier Blade has a special “caravan stage” mode and Gradius and Fantasy Zone have secret “near arcade” modes accessible by holding the select button while starting up the games. Gradius and Fantasy Zone’s near arcade modes make the games closer to the arcade versions, while Soldier Blade’s caravan stage mode was originally a special version of the game used in Hudson’s All-Japan Caravan competitions that was only available to select winners and master class participants in the events.
While the console does include language options, this only affects the main menu, and not the individual games: PC Engine games are only playable in Japanese, and TurboGrafx games are only playable in English.
The only exceptions are the five games (Dungeon Explorer, Neutopia, Neutopia II, Nectaris/Military Madness, and Ys I & II) listed on both modes. While the console is purported to include 58 games, these five are actually being counted twice, putting the number at 53 different unique games.
Some games only being available in specific languages is understandable: For example, Blazing Lazers was originally a video game based on the 1989 movie Gunhed, while the original versions of J.J. and Jeff (Kato-chan Ken-chan) and New Adventure Island (Takahashi-meijin no Shin Boukenjima) featured the likenesses of Japanese celebrities: The English versions of these games exclude these references. Additionally, many of the Japanese games were never released in English, and some feature gratuitous amounts of voice acting.
When it comes to titles where no such issues are present, however, one does have to wonder why alternate language versions were not included. Bomberman and PC Genjin/Bonk’s Adventure are particularly odd cases, where Bomberman ’93 is only in English while ’94 is only in Japanese, and PC Genjin 1 (Bonk’s Adventure) is only available in Japanese while PC Genjin 2 (Bonk’s Revenge) is only available in English.
It should be noted that the version of Splatterhouse included in the PC Engine Mini is the original uncensored version that was exclusive to Japan: While the TurboGrafx-16 Mini also includes Splatterhouse, that version is the one that was censored for western audiences.
Another thing of note is how the Japanese and English versions of Ys I & II are in fact different: The western release, which came after the Japanese one, actually has balance improvements made to the gameplay, making it a different experience from the Japanese one.
The console actually runs five different emulators for the five different types of game included: HuCard, Super Graphx, CD-ROM2, Super CD-ROM2, and Arcade Card. Games run smoothly and look gorgeous and sound perfect, and while there might be some cases of slowdown, developers have gone on record saying that slowdown was in fact intentionally added, as they aimed to make the games play as closely to how they originally did as possible. There are also a few different display modes and wallpapers, and a single CRT filter.
Pressing run and select at the same time in-game brings up the system menu, which allows the player to save or load states (four slots are available for each game), reset the game, or exit to the main menu. Unfortunately, one cannot change display settings (or language settings) from here: The user must exit the game entirely and do so in the main menu.
Conclusion: While the PC Engine Mini has a few odd issues, it has an incredibly solid lineup of games, which it runs fantastically, and is more than absolutely worth its price tag.