With its dinky size, access to an impressive catalogue of games and some superb shooters, NEC’s PC Engine GT remains a highly desireble handheld. After taking its tiny screen into account we’ve picked out some of the most suitable games for the portable console.
A side-scrolling shooter featuring a futuristic version of Hudson Soft’s mascot Bonk (or PC Genjin as he was known to his Japanese fans), Air Zonk is one of the most visually accomplished games to be released on NEC’s 8-bit wonder. Showcasing incredible multi-layer scrolling and some absolutely massive sprites, the game really does push the PC-Engine GT’s hardware to the absolute limit. A CD version of Air Zonk was also released, but ironically it isn’t quite as good as the HuCard variant – the two games are actually rather different in terms of structure. Given the stature of the game it should come as no surprise to learn that Air Zonk currently fetches a fair few bob on eBay these days. Certainly worth getting if you can afford it.
Part of the influential Star Soldier lineage, Soldier Blade was the final game in the series to be released on the PC-Engine and remains a solid fan favourite. Graphically it remains impressive even today, featuring plenty of fast-moving and well-detailed sprites dashing around some sumptuous, eye-catching backgrounds. Debate still rages as to which is the finest shoot-’em-up on the format, but this certainly makes a very strong claim to that crown. Soldier Blade also looks absolutely gorgeous on the PC-Engine GT’s 2.6-inch LCD screen, which effortlessly deals with the rapid nature of the gameplay. Second-hand prices are high, but still affordable, and an American release is also available.
Super Adventure Island
A very likeable offshoot of the Wonder Boy series, Super Adventure Island takes the core gameplay of the Sega original and adds some neat touches. The player takes control of Takahashi Meijin (Master Higgins in the West), who is based on a Hudson Soft employee. Visually it’s a joy, with bold colourful sprites and wonderfully expressive characters. The light-hearted nature of the gameplay makes it an ideal companion for those trips into the outside world. To confuse matters, the previous PC-Engine Adventure Island title is a retooled version of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.
Don Doko Don
This hugely underrated platform romp is often ignored thanks to its similarity to fellow Taito classic Bubble Bobble. While it certainly looks like its stable mate, Don Doko Don is very different in terms of gameplay. Instead of blowing bubbles, the player hurls mallets in the general direction of hostiles, stunning them on contact. They can then be picked up and thrown at other baddies. As is the case in Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands, defeated enemies leave behind fruit that can be gobbled in order to gain even more points. It’s a brilliantly enjoyable title, and this is shown by its high second-hand value.
The Mega Drive version is arguably superior but this remains a fine conversion of a criminally ignored horizontal shooter. Tremendously close to its arcade parent visually, there are some minor changes that stop it being as faithful as it could possibly be, but they don’t seriously impede on the abundance of enjoyment that is on offer. Aero Blasters (also known as Air Buster) is colourful, challenging and incredibly chaotic – everything you want from a decent blaster. Although the game has a decent reputation, it won’t cost you the earth to locate a copy, and it even had the privilege of getting a US release – albeit with terrible box art.
The oldest game to be featured in our perfect ten GT games, Galaga ’88 is pure shooter brilliance. A sequel of the wonderful arcade classic Galaxian, the game contains some suitably hectic gameplay and becomes deliriously addictive after absolutely no time at all. The sparse visuals actually work in its favour when played on the GT’s LCD screen, with the black background making it easy to see what’s going on. Combined with the pick-up-and-play quality of the gameplay, it makes Galaga ’88 the ideal cohort for NEC’s portable hardware. The TG-16 variant is confusingly called Galaga ’90 due to it having a later release date.
Alien Crush was a fantastic simulation of pinball that just happened to contain lots of gruesome looking xenomorphs, but Devil Crash manages to better it in pretty much every way. Visually this is a real classic of the era, with distinctive 2D graphics that still look wonderfully repugnant even today. Like all truly great pinball simulations, the ball physics are absolutely spot-on (ironic given the supernatural nature of the tables) and the additional rooms add immeasurably to the overall experience. Rounded off with some excellent tunes and sound effects, this is an unforgettable experience that is deserving of any gamer’s undivided attention.
Everyone loves Jackie Chan, don’t they? The seemingly indestructible martial artist is so likeable it’s hardly surprising to discover that this platform action title is jolly good fun, too. Featuring amusing cartoon sprites and some seriously entertaining gameplay, this remains one of the finest examples of the genre available on the PC-Engine. As well as running and leaping through a series of oriental levels, Jackie is also able to dish out his own brand of slapstick violence via a series of punches, kicks and special moves, the latter being accessed by picking up special items dotted throughout the stages. A must-have for all GT owners.1943 Kai
An absolutely brilliant conversion of Capcom’s much-loved arcade title, this PC-Engine port actually features two different versions of the game. The Arcade version is, as you would probably expect, a faithful copy of its coin-op parent, but the real attraction here is the Original mode, which is a suitably enhanced update with improved graphics, some slightly different levels and a wonderful soundtrack. One has to wonder just how Naxat Soft managed to do it, considering the generally average quality of its other games. Although many other shooters boast far more complex game mechanics and superior visuals, 1943 Kai has bags of gameplay and is extremely worthy of a place in our perfect ten and is definitely worth a purchase, too.
This is an extremely sought-after ‘cute-’em-up’ game in the same vein as the Cotton franchise. The player assumes the role of a kind-hearted witch, called Ripple, and must safely guide her through several horizontally scrolling levels, taking on hordes of wonderfully coloured foes in the process. It certainly looks harmless enough but the sickly sweet visuals belie the fantastic shooter action that is contained within. Magical Chase was lucky enough to get an American release, although for some inexplicable reason several sprites and some of the backgrounds were altered – the first level in particular looks very different in the US edition of the game. Both the Japanese and American versions carry a hefty price tag these days.