The first company to release a new, more powerful console to rival the NES was NEC with the PC Engine. This console was first released in Japan for the 1987 holiday season and became known as the TurboGrafx-16 in the United States where it was released in August 1989.4 Even though the PC Engine was still an 8-bit machine at its core, it had a significant amount of horsepower thanks to an original three chip architecture designed by Hudson Soft that, besides a customized 8-bit CPU,5 also included two 16-bit GPUs able to handle many sprites on screen and display hundreds of different colors simultaneously from a palette of 512. 6
The original Japanese version of the PC Engine. Games were released in small cards and the console was very popular in Japan where it even outsold the NES. Several different iterations were released between
1987 and 1994 and, overall, about 10 million units were sold worldwide.
The PC Engine was also notable for the addition of an optional CD module—
making it the first CD-ROM-based console—and also for being the smallest home console ever, measuring only 14 cm × 14 cm × 3.8 cm (5.5” × 5.5” × 1.5”).
Regarding video games, NEC’s console excelled in porting arcade shooters but lacked top-notch original titles and memorable characters, with the possible exception of Bonk. Most likely it was this weakness, coupled with some unlucky marketing choices and, most importantly, a slow localization process for making the successful Japanese games sellable in other markets, that severely limited the appeal of its overall catalogue and prevented the system from gaining a larger following worldwide.
Bonk’s Adventure, released in 1990, made the cute bald caveman Bonk one of the most popular characters born on the PC Engine. The game was also ported on the Amiga (as B.C. Kid) and then even on the rival NES.