But console gaming reared its head once more when 8-bit hardware appeared in the shape of the Nintendo Famicom (renamed the Nintendo Entertainment Sytem outside of Japan) and the Sega Master System. There was no doubt that Nintendoâ€™s box had better software support, but unfortunately many of the Grade-A titles never appeared in the UK, so unless, like me, you imported hardware and games from Japan, the NES was a box full of unfulfilled potential. The Sega Master System was pretty much a disappointment all round, although the original Phantasy Star RPG was superb and arguably still the best in the series.
But the 8-bit era also brought one of my favourite gaming consoles of all time, a machine that separates the hardcore from the casual gamer, a machine that sadly never saw the light of day in Europe â€“ the PC Engine. Now, you may find it hard to equate the name NEC with cutting edge gaming hardware, but when the PC Engine was launched, it was so far ahead of the competition that any form of comparison was an exercise in futility. The PC Engine was the size of a few stacked CD cases and the game cartridges were about the size of a credit card, but it wasnâ€™t just the design and dimensions that made the PC Engine so great, it was the games.
The PC Engine was the first games console that could boast â€œarcade perfectâ€ conversions with any degree of truth. Big arcade titles like Salamander and Side Arms looked pretty much identical on this diminutive console and I couldnâ€™t help but wonder why the arcade cabinets were so huge. The PC Engine was also the first games console to use optical media, thanks to the CD-ROM add-on, which the PC Engine slid straight into. This brought CD quality sound to the party along with massive gameplay. Itâ€™s safe to say that some of my favourite games appeared on the PC Engine, titles like Dungeon Explorer and Gun-Hed were so far ahead of the game at the time, and still play pretty well today.
The diminutive size of the PC Engine also made it possible for NEC to produce the PC Engine GT. This was a handheld version of the PC Engine which would happily play the same game cartridges as the home system. This was a truly special machine and although it cost me an arm and a leg at the time, being able to play all my PC Engine games on the move was fantastic. The downside was that you needed shares in Duracel to keep the thing running!