Today is the 34th anniversary of God’s favorite video game system, the PC-Engine. Seeing as how I’m kinda sorta known for my love of the console, I figured I’d do a write-up about it.
I should start this out with a confession: I’ve never owned an actual PC-Engine. Hell, I don’t even have a PC-Engine Mini. Nope, my entire experience of playing games on the system has been through emulation. I started with the shitty emulators with bad sound, before getting hooked up with a cracked version of Magic Engine. I still have that version around here; it was on my previous laptop, in fact. It’s also the only emulator that can run Wonder Momo without graphical issues, something that modern ones cannot do. It may be sacrilegious to some, but all I’ve ever known is pirating these old games and playing them with cheap USB pads, before making the switch to a six-button Sega Saturn controller when I was around 19 years old. As such, I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on a CD-ROM add-on so much as installing DAEMON Tools and mounting ISO images. Someday, I would like to actually own one of these things, but they are hard to find, or at least hard to find at a price that I don’t have to knock over a bank to afford.
All that being said, the PC-Engine is still a wonderful gaming console, even if my experience with it is only at a software level. Over here in The States, we regard the system as an absolute failure. Sitting down, thinking about the list of games that stayed in Japan, and I can’t help but liken the PC-Engine to the Saturn. Both were awesome systems that did really well in Japan, and got absolutely cut off at the knees by bad management everywhere else. While we did end up getting stuff like an exceptional port of R-Type, we got Bomberman, we got Blazing Lasers, we got Valis somehow. But what didn’t we get? Gradius, for one. We didn’t get those great ports of Gradius 1 or 2. Fire Pro Wrestling was bafflingly left in Japan up until the release of the Game Boy Advance. A whole host of RPGs were left untouched, giving the PC-Engine a reputation of only being a home for shooters and high-octane action games. Not that that’s a bad thing, but having a bit of variety is good. Just because the genre wasn’t doing Final Fantasy VII numbers in the early 90s doesn’t mean that Far East of Eden or Jaseiken Necromancer couldn’t have moved some units.
Worst of all, there were two very specific games that didn’t come out over here that 100% should have. Games that I think would have at least kept the PC-Engine as a contender, if not outright successful for at least a little while longer. I’m talking about a surprisingly great port of Street Fighter II Champion Edition.
And I’m also talking about the biggest fuck-up of all: not bringing over Akumajou Dracula Chi no Rondo.
This is another one of those times where I get frustrated at the continued ineptitude of corporate suits. Did we need a stellar port of the hottest fighting game of the era? No, we needed Yo, Bro. Did we need what is arguably the greatest Castlevania? No, we needed Darkwing fucking Duck. What about Final Soldier? The New Zealand Story? Rainbow Islands? Metal Stoker? Lode Runner? The Tower of Druaga? Linda Cubed?
No. We got none of those. Instead, we got Johnny Turbo.
You want cool games? Fuck you! Have a shitty series of anti-Sega ads that suddenly pivoted into an overly long series of gay jokes aimed at a Turbo Technologies brand manager who sounds like an absolute nightmare to work with. Great.
I know I’m being negative here. But fuck me, it’s fucked to think about what could have been. Suit mismanagement aside, the PC-Engine was an awesome system. This cute little modular box loaded with some of the greatest games of the era. Thankfully, emulation and compilations allow us to sidestep the mistakes of the past, and enjoy the PC-Engine closer to how we should have in the first place. That’s what this all about, and what it has always been about: the games.
Getting back to my teenage days in Hu-Go! and Magic Engine. In addition to slowly and blindly leeching the contents of PlanetEmu’s Mega Drive collection, I would spend so many weekends going through the PC-Engine catalogue. All those shooters. A pretty good version of Space Harrier. Getting into Fire Pro for the first time. Enjoying the uniqueness of Photograph Boy, a game that can never be re-released due to its large amounts of gross racism. Falling in love with all those Namco games. Trying, and failing, to get into The Legendary Axe and Splatterhouse (sorry). It was a great time to be discovering and experiencing new games.
Much later in life, in my 20s, I actually pretty popular on Tumblr by playing and screenshotting and giffing various PC-Engine games. The “Good Old Days” of drinking loads of iced tea, eating lots of Asian cuisine, popping a Vicodin, and binging a bunch of ROMs while Friday Night Smackdown played on my TV a couple feet away, after spending the rest of the week drinking myself stupid every night at a whole host of terrible local concerts. It was a fun time, but I don’t necessarily miss it. That little white box seems to be a constant at various points of my life.
There’s something I’ve been dancing around for the last 800 words. I didn’t suddenly wake up one morning as a teen and decide to start playing the PC-Engine and its games. Rather, I had been introduced to it through a, I would say, relatively popular web site. Not a major one, but popular enough. It was one of those humor-based gaming web sites that were all the rage in the late 90s until the late-2000s. I’m taking great pains not to name the site, or the guy who ran it, for reasons that will be made clear soon enough.
When you’re about 16-17, and you come across something where the quality of writing is far beyond the usual “Menace Beach on NES is gay faggy shit for retards” fare, that kind of sticks with you. I read and reread and reread again every gaming article. When he put up his original fiction, I loved that shit too, because it was once again something that I wasn’t used to seeing at that age. The way that this guy would tell a story, or make you laugh, or would find a way to appeal to your nostalgia as he tore into things made from a distinct lack of effort. I don’t want to say that I idolized the guy, but I would be lying if I said that he wasn’t influential in the way I’ve written over the last fifteen years. That the way I consumed media hadn’t been influenced. The way that I appreciated and created art hadn’t been influenced. I very distinctly remember him messaging me on AIM back in 2007 to tell me how much he enjoyed something I wrote, which stuck with me for a long time.
Then the site vanished, along with the owner. Eventually, the mirror hosting his archives was deleted, too. Every so often, I would wonder what exactly the fuck happened. I wasn’t fretting over it every day like it was a missing person, but late at night, when I was bored and looking for something to do, I would think about that.
Anyways, I found out last year that the reason why he’s gone and any trace of his presence has been scrubbed from the internet is because he turned out to be an abusive piece of shit. Been over a year now, and I still haven’t truly gotten over that. I get that this is a tangential aside for a post about a retro video game system, but I feel like it’s important to bring up when talking about my memories and my experience with it. My introduction to something that, while it hasn’t been the most important thing in my life, is still something I really enjoy, was very nearly tainted. A console that I most associate with my beginnings as a writer and artist could have been fucking ruined forever by the delivery of some bad news. Cringe though it may sound, all these PC-Engine posts (among a few other write ups) I’ve made over the last year have been done as a way of reclaiming games and my nostalgia for my own peace of mind.
This long, rambling screed of bull shit that got very personal is my tribute to the PC-Engine. Any artist worth their salt (and I count game developers as artists), even if its only done secretly and quietly, loves to hear that their work has impacted someone in a positive way. I can’t imagine that any of the people who worked their asses off on these great games thought that in about 10-15 years, some lonely white kid half a world away was going to feel things and somehow grow as a person while playing them. But it fucking happened: I Felt Things. And while recently, my feelings that I feel are a bit complicated, at the end of the day, the PC-Engine is still God’s Favorite Console.
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