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Article 25—turbografx-16 direct-mail brochure (1990)

Click to View: Page 1 Pages 2-5 Page 6 Pages 7-10 Poster Envelope

Besides the fact that most third-party publishers ignored it, poor marketing is generally
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considered to be the other reason why NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 Entertainment SuperSystem failed in North America—even though it had been the #1 game system in Japan (where it was called the PC Engine). I don’t necessarily agree. It’s true that a lot of the games had lame box art, but that was a sickness that afflicted many game publishers at the time, not just NEC. Sega eventually proved that an all-out blitzkrieg of confrontational TV advertising was the key to unseating Nintendo from its perch at the top of the video-game food chain, an approach that NEC never really figured out. I get that. But it wasn’t all bad. I happen to think that the folks who redesigned and repackaged the PC Engine for the American audience did a nice job under the circumstances, establishing a solid brand identity for the TurboGrafx-16 and delivering a clear message about the system and its games.

Here’s an example. This informational brochure was mailed to consumers in December of 1990. It told us everything we needed to know about the TurboGrafx-16, its peripherals and the available software. Even though the system had been available in the U.S. for over a year, NEC was still using many of the visual elements that defined
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TurboGrafx-16 marketing at launch, like the tall text font, the stark white backgrounds and the fluorescent fifth-color ink. And it’s hard to believe that this was not an effective approach. I mean, look at it. This is nothing like the desperate message being delivered by the dying Turbo Technologies a few years later, with its defensive tone and craptacular Johnny Turbo comic characters. I think it’s classy. People used to make fun of the original TG-16 system packaging seen on page 7. “It’s just an orange box with a picture of a kid laughing,” they’d say. I probably felt the same way at the time, but when I look at it now, I don’t really see anything wrong with that package. If anything, the understated presentation may have been ahead of its time—it’s not much different from the boxes in which the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 are currently sold.

While it is a nice slice of ephemera for TurboGrafx-16 fans, this pamphlet doesn’t have a lot of surprises for video-game archaeologists to uncover. Every one of the games mentioned here was eventually released, although a few of them (Lords of the Rising Sun, Chase HQ, Camp California) would not appear until two years later. It’s
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interesting that several notable 1990 releases (including Bomberman and Ninja Spirit) are not included—not even in the “Coming Soon” section, even though they had already been released by the time the brochure was mailed. I’m also surprised that existing third-party games like SideArms and Klax are not mentioned; you’d think they would want to call attention to the fact that other publishers had jumped on the TurboGrafx-16 bandwagon, albeit tentatively.

In the corner of page 5, you can see a partial cover of an issue of Computer Entertainer/The Video Game Update, a newsletter that I’m not really qualified to talk about because I don’t think I own any copies of it. From what I understand, though, it has a unique place in the history of video-game journalism: It is technically the only U.S. console-game enthusiast publication that originated in the Atari 2600 era, continued through the
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mid-’80s industry “crash” and was still operating in the Nintendo Entertainment System era.

Aside from the slightly off-model illustration of Bonk on the cover, the only other notable feature of this brochure is a small photo of NEC’s game counselors—known as the Turbo Team—on pages 3 and 4. I actually responded to a “cattle call” job ad that was placed in Chicago-area newspapers when the Turbo Team was first assembled...but that’s a story for another article.

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© 2011 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.