Prologue

If there was to be one product in the TurboGrafx line to be considered NEC’s crowning achievement in the gaming world, the Turbo Duo would be the one to take the crown. The Duo was a fine system that was lightyears ahead of its time with an innovative electronics architecture and a streamlined product design. The Turbo Duo was to be the last TurboGrafx system released in the United States and survived through the first half of the 1990's, leaving an incredible mark on gaming history that would not be realized for nearly a decade.

Dawn of the Duo

The dawn of the Duo era begins in the Summer of 1989 with NEC's announcement of the Turbo CD peripheral for the TurboGrafx-16 game system. With the introduction of the TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine in Japan, NEC had taken a unique approach in software interfacing, bypassing the traditional game cartridge for a unique style of media similar in design to a credit card commonly referred to as "HuCards" and introduced in the United States "Turbo Chips". This HuCard technology garnished a great deal of attention and intrigue for the system in its early days, setting the consumer mentality of the TurboGrafx as a unique game system utilizing innovative state-of-the-art methodology for media interfacing. NEC capitalized on this image by pushing the TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine to the next level with the development of the TurboGrafx-CD, the first commercialized CD-Rom game peripheral marketed to the home consumer that proved to be just a little ahead of its time. The TurboGrafx-CD component sat in sync behind the TurboGrafx-16 base unit, adding a massive amount of potential to the already powerful system. A CD-Rom could hold hundreds of times the data that could be stored on a silicon-based cartridge, allowing the quality of gaming to increase dramatically over a standard game cartridge based on the huge potential for storage capacity. Ahead of their time, NEC forced the gaming industry to accept and embrace the concept of CD-Rom based videogames for the home, setting the stage for the CD/DVD standard of today.

The Genesis Situation

Fast forward three years into the future. The PC Engine was a shining success across the pond in Japan where the system benefited from a 2-year head start on the Sega MegaDrive (Genesis) and an abundance of exciting game titles, resulting in PC Engine units being sold in the millions. However, the American story for the TurboGrafx-16 was not quite the same as it was in Japan. NEC had waited a good two years before porting the PC Engine to the United States, allowing Sega to catch up during a period that should have been NEC's lead time to introduce the PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 to the American home consumer market. Failure to act swiftly coupled with advertising that was at times lacking, along with bad word-of-mouth that "TurboGrafx-16 wasn't really 16-Bit" gave Sega the leg up on the 16-Bit market share. NEC was also feeling the looming pressure of Nintendo's Super Nintendo introduction. With a three strong competitors in the American market NEC knew they had to act if they wanted to survive. Savvy as always, NEC began working on a new gaming system which would be able to go head-to-head with the other consoles, condensing the Turbo gaming experience into a singular potent and capable machine. With multiple editions of the PC Engine having already been introduced in Japan, it was fitting that NEC would go back to the drawing board once again to see if they could innovate their way into a market that was quickly growing saturated with 16-Bit game systems, titles and mascots.

The Launch of Turbo Duo

On October 10th, 1992, NEC and Hudson Soft joined together in a venture called Turbo Technologies to introduce the next generation game system to the TurboGrafx lineage, the Turbo Duo. The Duo was to be all that the PC Engine had grown to be in Japan, and everything that the TurboGrafx should have been in the United States. It was the pinnacle of advanced gaming technology of the 1990's, all bundled into one sleek sophisticated low-slung package that looked more at home sitting next to a Ferrari than a Nintendo. The Turbo Duo was capable of playing all Turbo CD and CD2 game titles through its CD-Rom drive, as well as the existing library of standard TurboGrafx game titles through the unique HuCard port which was concealed under a gullwing flip-top door on the front-left of the Duo game system. However the Turbo Duo was capable of being more than just a TurboGrafx-16 / Turbo CD combo unit, the Duo could play new Super CD2 game titles that had been developed to utilize an expansive amount of additional memory and resolution built into the Duo's core, as the Duo came pre-loaded with the SuperSystem 3.0 card and 2 Megs of additional Ram. This meant better graphics, higher quality sound, and a more intense gaming experience that could not only compete with the other 16-Bit game systems, but put them to shame. NEC also offered existing TurboGrafx-CD owners the option to upgrade their old 16/CD system to play new Super CD2 games though the purchase of a system upgrade card. At introduction the Duo MSRP'd at $399.99 in New York and Los Angeles for Christmas of 1992, but quickly dropped to $299.99 where it would remain for the rest of its lifespan. Surprisingly, the Turbo Duo retailed in such stores as Toys 'R' Us, Kay-Bee and Babbage’s and came bundled with a large package of software including Bonk's Adventure, Bonk's Revenge, Bomberman, the advanced 3-Dimensional shooter Gates Of Thunder and Ys Book I and II, along with a Duo version of the TurboPad, RCA television connections and power supply.

A Niche Market Success!

In Japan the Duo was acclaimed as the ultimate PC Engine system and sold in numbers that rivaled that of Nintendo. The Turbo Duo was also a niche-market success in the United States, quickly becoming the best-selling high-end niche system. The Duo coupled with the Turbo Express made for a wonderful gaming experience weather at home or on the go, a gaming experience that was well ahead of its time and still proves to be both innovative and enjoyable to this day. However NEC was unable to turn the tide against the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo in the American home consumer market as the Duo suffered from the same stigma that had so hurt the original TurboGrafx-16 system. People were geared up for Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, while a lack of advertising left casual gamers clueless as to what a Turbo Duo even was. The Duo's $299.99 price tag also kept the system pinned into the niche market as the general consumer population would look at the Duo and say "why would I want to purchase a Turbo Duo when for half the price I can get a Super Nintendo and play all the new Mario games?" This was the stigma that kept the Duo pinned into niche market sales, however this was also one of the Duo's key selling points. The Duo was NOT a Nintendo, it was not a toy. The Turbo Duo was a serious machine that catered to a select few gamers that were looking for something more mature than a Donkey and a Princess riding in a purple go-cart powered by magic stars. The Duo was different. This is why the Duo was both a failure and a success, and why you are here reading this history review right now.

Epilogue

In conclusion, no matter which way you choose to spin the Duo story, the fact is when you purchased a Turbo Duo you got real bang for the buck, receiving a highly advanced game system for its era, featuring gameplay that put the Nintendo and Sega systems to shame. The Duo was a masterpiece of technology which was a fantasy to own. It was a unique system that was unlike anything anybody else had, going against the grain of what all the rest of the sheeple were playing with in that day. The Duo survived with its head above water through 1993 and took a rough ride through Christmas of 1994 where by that time NEC had begun to pull the Turbo line out of the American market. It was possible to find Duo systems and software through portions of 1995 in some major retail markets in America, however by that time the majority of the remaining stock had been snatched up by Turbo Zone Direct, keeping the Duo alive through mail order, even to this day. The Turbo Duo remains one of the most highly sought-after 16-Bit collectables, often auctioning in upwards of $350 - $450 on eBay. I seriously doubt you'll see a Genesis go for anything close to that. (smirk)