Dad got some packages in the mail that looked pretty ‘amped’ but that he seemed no longer interested in. I recall a sleek creature arriving at the house – someone here will start to say, “bro, you skipped NES, how can you skip the NES, I am about to ‘log on’ and go to a forum to complain about you.” The person who said that is a total wailing-guitars gamer bro, and they probably did not own a Turbo Grafx-16. It is very important that this history be rendered according to my personal chronology.
This console is associated with the genuine spirit of obscure Japanese game design; it had a compact disc accessory capable of rendering Japanese animations long, long before anyone ever became interested in ‘Urusei Yatsura’ when they saw a Matthew Sweet video at their Grammy’s house one forsythia summer when they were watching MTV when they weren’t supposed to. Japanese games had wailing guitars, except they were synthesized, possibly stamped against the backdrop of some kind of passionate space heroine with glittering eyes.
I recall at first being barely interested in this fine black box with its minimalist orange-yellow logo; after all, I had been for years drawn into the annals of my abstract PC gaming world. No one would want to play a console if they had been indoctrinated into the precise fashion in which sterile naked type could suddenly make you horrified, heartbroken and thwarted with the pitiless declaration: YOU CAN’T DO THAT.
But as it turned out, the TurboGrafx-16 was the best gaming console of all time. It required paperback strategy guides with ‘amped’ text and dialing the ‘hint lines’ in manuals full of bad translations so that my dad and I could figure out where to stand to chop the legs off of a hairy spider while playing as a shirtless red-haired caveman in the first level of Legendary Axe. I would force my neighbors to ‘play Legendary Axe with me’, except instead of playing the video game we would run around outside and I would tell them someone had to be ‘Gogan’ but no one knew who that was.
Dad almost beat the game, except for one sequence where he’d fall into pits and inexplicable apes would jump on his back. Some time later I heard dad refer to drinking as a ‘monkey on [one’s] back’, and later still that credit card debt was an ‘albatross around [one’s] neck’ and felt confused because Legendary Axe contained no albatrosses.
I had a game called Monster Lair and whenever I got to a part that had angry, stubbornly waltzing mushrooms against the background of weirdly resonant sky castles, I’d pause the controller and put it down so I could clutch my chest, swollen at the crescendo of the level’s song.
I had a game also about a caveman called Bonk’s Adventure and it was the first video game I ever beat. At the end, a delicate, sorrowful little tiara-wearing dinosaur gained her full color palette back – a fuchsia slowly dawned on her, sparkling. She was the princess Za, the first princess I ever saved. I drew colored pencil art of her at my Grammy’s house.
This console mostly played games on tiny little plastic cards like keys to a space station; the CDs you could take out and put them in your ‘boom box’ and listen to the music. Track one would always be an unearthly seizure-scream, the sound of data rendered as audio, but if you knew to skip it, in a secret finger-tripping language you figured out when you were hiding in your room, you could play all the songs from the game. And afterward suddenly advanced the sound effect tracks, ripping-rapid stuttering through the sense memory of menus and OK-BUTTON presses and penalty tunes in a five-minute synaesthetic rush.