“ Manufacturer: Hudson Entertainment / Type: iPhone Game „
Most people are probably unaware of the Turbo Grafx-16, a console that was popular in Japan but never caught on in the west. If it passed you by first time around, this iPhone app gives you the chance to see what all the fuss was about.
The Turbo Grafx-16 had a superb catalogue of games released during its lifetime, many of which are now considered classics; and this is reflected in the games accessible through this app. There are currently 31 titles available, with more being added on a fairly regular basis - although as you'll see, there's a big BUT attached to this. Games include titles which will be instantly familiar to fans of older games: Salamander, Gradius, Vigilante, Bonk's Adventure, together with a few lesser known ones. The mix of titles is excellent, covering everything from shoot em ups and platform games, through to sports titles. Whatever your taste in retro games, there's probably something here for you.
Presentation on the early screens is good. The opening screen shows the original Turbo Grafx-16 console rigged up to a TV so you can pretend you've got the real thing! Tapping the screen will take you into a nicely presented menu screen where you can view the games available. Titles are presented in a neat carousel menu format, so swiping your finger to the left or right will move the menu on and display the next title. Tapping on a game tells you a little bit more about that particular title, as well as access to the manual containing the instructions for play. All this is accompanied by a nice little tune that captures the good old days of 16 bit gaming (although Mrs SWSt said it was repetitive and annoying, but then she has not taste. After all, she married me.)
First the good news about the cost: the basic app is absolutely free to download. Now the bad news (here comes that big BUT I mentioned): for this, you only get one (mediocre) game. If you want the others, you have to buy them via an in-app purchase, which costs £1.99 per game. Nor is the app particularly upfront about this. The first time you open the app, you terribly excited about the great titles available. Only when you click on the game itself do you find out you have to pay to play it. It would have been a lot more user friendly if they had been upfront with the prices on the main menu screen.
Admittedly, there is usually one game made available for free for one day only, usually in a limited form (you are restricted to a 10 minute game, for example), so at least this gives you the chance to try-before-you-buy. Yet given that there are 31 games available, you sometimes have to wait until the one you are interested in is made free in this way, which can be frustrating. Why not just make them all available in a demo version by default, so that you play them all and decide whether you want to buy the full version?
I suppose there are two ways to look at this pricing structure. The first is that if you went out and bought a proper TurboGrafx 16, together with all these games it would cost a small fortune, so £1.99 per game is actually pretty cheap. On the other hand, if you buy all 31 currently available titles, you're looking at over £60 for the complete collection, which is damned expensive for an iPhone app. I'd rather have this as a premium priced app (£5-10), but get everything included for free. As it stands, unless you're prepared to shell out quite a lot of cash, there's not a lot you can do with the basic app.
Once you get over the horrific pricing structure, the emulation of the games themselves is fantastic and really captures the spirit of the original machine. Selecting a purchased game will start it up, and give you access to the buttons which were available on the original console (an Eject button, for example to return to the game selection screen, together with options to Save and Load progress to date). Emulation is very smooth. The graphics are glitch-free, the scrolling very smooth and the sound faithfully reproduced (although it can sometimes sound a little tinny on the iPhone's feeble external speaker. You are instantly transported back to those great days of 16 bit gaming, when not everything was a driving game, a first person shooter, or yet another sequel.
There are, however, a few issues other than just the price. Firstly, the game area is squeezed into an area less than half the size of the iPhone's screen. On some games, this does not matter. On Bonk's Adventure, for example, the graphics are big, bold and colourful so despite being squeezed into a much smaller area, they are very clear. On others (such as the shoot em up Gradius), the graphics are quite small to begin with, so shrinking them even further can cause problems. When playing Gradius, I often find myself being killed by missiles that are so tiny they are virtually invisible. This is incredibly frustrating and renders some otherwise excellent titles difficult to like.
The quality of the controls also varies according from game to game. They all use an 8-directional virtual joystick for movement, together with two fire buttons to control actions such as shooting or jumping. These are placed outside the main gaming area, so they don't interfere with the game you are playing and are comfortably positioned in the bottom corners of the screen. For some games which don't require fast movement and immediately responsive controls, this works fine. Unfortunately, on other titles (Salamander), lightning fast reactions on the part of the player are needed to make any real progress. Here, the controls are just not up to the job. They are not sensitive enough you often find yourself dying not because of your lack of skill, but because the controls did not respond quickly enough to your frantic button pressing. On faster paced games, the controls feel rather skittery and you never feel fully in control of your avatar.
So, on the whole, a bit of a mixed bag. It's certainly a lot better implemented than the awful Commodore 64 emulator, also available from the App Store. Presentation is good, there's an impressive range of quality games available and the emulation of the titles is very strong. On the other hand, the cost of buying each of the titles, the small graphics on some games and the unresponsive controls makes buying titles a bit of a lottery. A tentative thumbs-up, then.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011
TurboGrafx 16 emulator. Please Note: although the basic App is free, in-app purchases are essential to get anything from it