Jeff Masser of Chicago, Illinois is a proud father and honorable veteran. He’s also an incredibly enthusiastic videogame collector with a particular fondness for the three decade old TurboGrafx-16, a game console that’s notoriously expensive to collect for these days. Called PC Engine in Japan, its wide array of excellent games helped the system become a legitimate competitor to the Nintendo Famicom in its home country. In the US it helped kick-start the 16-bit era, but was never a true competitor to the then-newly launched Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, released in 1991. But for those who were lucky enough to play TurboGrafx-16 and its various add-ons and accessories, they knew what the Sega and Nintendo fans were missing out on. And as the years went by – 30 on August 29, 2019 – more and more collectors and gamers were able to experience those great, very Japanese videogames too, and in turn, respect for the system and its library increased exponentially. And because of this admiration and relative scarcity associated with a failed system, the value for hardware and certain games has been driven up dramatically to what would have been unimaginable heights even a few years ago.

These are complete in box and new in box TurboGrafx-CD systems. Not many of these huge boxes have survived intact with all the foam pieces and manuals, etc. due to its size. Many are missing components or have been faded.

In honor of the system’s 30th anniversary, Masser was kind enough to sit down for an interview explaining his relationship with the system and how he built one of the finest TurboGrafx-16 collections in the world. Following the interview, Masser was kind enough to share photos (all photos courtesy of Masser) of some of the greatest and most interesting pieces in his impressive collection along with his commentary.

If you have any grasp of TurboGrafx-16 collecting you will understand how impressive these museum-quality pieces are. For everyone else, be impressed. What Masser has amassed is truly amazing.

What does TurboGrafx-16 and its library mean to you? What feelings does it conjure when you think about it all?

Jeff Masser (JM): Turbografx-16 came out in the United States at a perfect time for me. I was 12 years old and very much into videogames. I had gotten the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1986 and loved that console so much; it was so different than anything I had experienced before.

By 1989 I was looking for new games with better graphics and sound. Being here in Chicago, NEC (TurboGrafx-16’s manufacturer) had an office my family and I would often pass while driving, so when they announced a console and showed off the gorgeous graphics and the fact they were on those tiny cards, I had to have one.

It represented a complete change in what could be done with videogames. Being able to not only play these amazing games on a home console, but on a portable, the Turbo Express (Turbo Express utilized the same games as TurboGrafx-16), was mind-blowing.

So not only were you an original fan, but in a sense Turbo was a “local” console for you regardless of its Japanese origins.

JM: Correct. I followed magazines at the time so I knew of the PC Engine, but only what I saw of it in Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) magazine for the most part.

Rare Buttons and Promotional Swag given out at CES.

I had to get one. I started selling off my Nintendo stuff– games that I had meticulously saved the boxes and manuals for in addition to the carts. I sold them at my parents’ garage sale, and in addition to that I got my first jobs, including a paper route and mowing lawns, to get enough to buy the console at launch and a game!

Saving up almost $300 was quite an accomplishment at 12 years old!

You grew up in Chicago near NEC. Did that prove to be an advantage in building your collection?

JM: Yes. They did a lot of promotions here in Chicago, and Chicago was a main distribution region of TurboGrafx, meaning that every Toys R Us, Babbages, Kay Bee Toys and Electronics Boutique sold them.

People in many other regions couldn’t find them outside of mail order, but I could walk in to most retail stores and buy stuff.

It would also later be instrumental in building my collection of employee items, merchandise and a lot of stuff that couldn’t be purchased at a store.

I have to imagine they had a lot of stock leftover that they blew out.

JM: Yes, especially at the end, and later even! Especially when the NEC offices officially let go of the TurboGrafx and it switched over to TTI (Turbo Technologies, Inc.) in California.

What was the process like locating NEC employees and what was their reaction when you wanted to purchase their stuff?

JM: I began looking at local classifieds and would get this paper once a week called “The Advertiser.” People would take out ads when they were selling stuff, estate sales, etc. A sort of Craigslist before Craigslist.

I started looking at these classified ads and found a TurboGrafx-16 console with like 15 games for $150. I came to find out it was from a former employee who had bought the stuff while working for NEC and TurboGrafx, but wasn’t really a gamer. So he bought it, ended up playing it a couple times, and stored it.

I imagine this was a Eureka moment to see if you could find more employees or see what else this person had.

JM: Exactly. I found more former employees and came in contact with a couple gentlemen that made agreements with NEC upon its closure to buy remaining stock and merchandise. I met another employee and some other guys that bought heavily when Turbo Zone Direct (A company formed to distribute remaining TurboGrafx-16 stock) was dumping stuff.

What do you think of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini? Will renewed interest in Turbo push the value of original games even higher?

JM: I believe it will renew interest from people like me that have an affinity towards it from their childhood, or those that always wanted one.

Whether it raises prices, I don’t know for sure, but I think the Internet and eBay has already shown that prices continue to rise regardless of a Mini console.

I’d like to thank Konami for the upcoming Mini consoles (Three different versions will be released worldwide); I hope they do well and we can see more of the library available and the IPs resurrected for future generations.

I’m lucky I sourced most of my stuff before the boom or from local collectors/gamers for a good price.

This was acquired from an employee who actually worked for customer support. It contains phone numbers of all NEC/TurboGrafx offices, magazines (EGM, Gamepro, etc.), and also includes contact information for important individuals and third party publishers. It lists all of the games available at the time (mostly pre-TTI) tips, codes, maps, etc.

JM: Yeah, up until a few years ago, a complete in box Magical Chase (One of the rarest and now most expensive TurboGrafx-16 releases) was attainable for $5K or less. These days, getting one under $10K is considered a deal, akin to the increase in value we’ve seen with Stadium Events on NES.

What do you think of Magical Chase?

JM: I love it. I think it’s definitely a highlight of the North American library. The games we call Cute ‘Em Ups are some of the greatest shooters on both PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16.

Magical Chase has a certain mystery surrounding it. Some people believe it was only available through Turbo Zone Direct or only 2,000 copies were produced.

I know it was sold at retail, but at the time it released, very few stores sold TurboGrafx games. And of those stores that actually carried them, they would only get a couple copies.

How do you know?

JM: One that I purchased was from a retail store. The game also has a Vidpro card (cards retailer Toys R Us used in stores to indicate which games were in stock), with one surfacing last year. This means there’s a good chance Toys R Us actually sold Magical Chase.

My copy came from a mom & pop store that sold new TurboGrafx-16 releases.

Collecting for the system is out of reach for a lot of people today due to skyrocketing prices. What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into Turbo collecting today? Or is that effectively a non-starter?

This item was sold by mail order through the “Turbo Gear” catalog that was inserted into boxes of the early run of games for the console.

I would suggest that you join the online groups. Facebook has many and people are often selling games under ridiculous eBay prices. You can usually get a discount by buying in multiples or bundles and trade is often a good way of getting them. Go in with realistic expectations, but be optimistic.

TurboGrafx collecting is fun, and the games are edgy and just spectacular.

Would you ever recommend going the game reproduction route?

JM: I bought a repro once, knowingly. It was for an English-translated version of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. I wanted to play the game in English on my DUO (a unified version of TurboGrafx-16 and it’s CD-ROM add-on), so I didn’t see an issue. Is it wrong? Maybe. But the options at the time were not there.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or say to Turbo fans and collectors?

JM: TurboGrafx-16 fans and collectors: Don’t give up on collecting! This stuff is still out there and don’t be afraid to continue looking for it. Every day more stuff is found, so keep on looking!

Thanks, Jeff. Connect with Jeff via Instagram, @samuraighost, and his Facebook group, TurbOriginal-16.

TurboGrafx-16 Gallery
(Click image to enlarge and easily scroll through.)

Copyright © 2019 Rob Faraldi. All rights reserved.

Rob Faraldi Rob Faraldi (8 Posts)

Rob Far is a videogame industry veteran, writer, filmmaker, historian and many other things you wouldn't believe upon first glance, but are indeed true. He believes in uncompromising freedom of speech, truth and expression, which translates to every piece he writes. Whether you agree with him or not, you will never find another person quite like Rob Far. Far is of African and European descent, and resides in the Philadelphia region with his Pit Bull, Jesse Pinkman.