During my recent visit to my local Valvil (Value Village) thrift store, I came across a collectors item like no other. The hard to find, and even harder to justify NEC TurboExpress.

 The TurboExpress is a handheld video game console, released by NEC in 1990. It is essentially a portable version of the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine home console that came two to three years earlier. It was sold as the PC Engine GT (Game Tank) in Japan. It primarily competed with Nintendo’s Game Boy, Sega’s Game Gear, and the Atari Lynx. However, with 1.5 million units sold, far behind its two main competitors, NEC failed to gain significant sales or market share in the handheld market. Sad that it never really took off, but then again TurboGrafx 16 had its wings clipped by giants like Nintendo and SEGA so for all the NeoGeo, 3DO and Atari fans out there, they would have to wait for the next train… if that ever came.

I was pleasantly surprised at such a find and snatched it up posthaste. There was even a HuCard in there. Low and behold the classic game R-Type was lodged in the slot along the back. The device had batteries but didn’t actually turn on. I chalked it up to old cells and proceeded to manipulate the buttons along it’s sleek, black fascia. Everything worked; no broken or cracked plastic, no sticky or recessed buttons, and no missing battery cover (a syndrome popular among old donated electronics). And now for the coup de grâce. It was $7.99! Even if the damn thing didn’t actually work, buying it for $8 and selling it as a defective unit for parts alone would be worth it. During the same trip I picked up a few other things for great value, like a 19″ Widescreen Dell monitor for $12.99 (no dead pixels or saturation issues, w/VGA and power cables) and a Fiscar Rotary cutting board.

When I got home I looked up the street value of my new used handheld device and was pleasantly shocked. On Ebay the NEC TurboExpress values at over $300. Some auctions even going as high at $500 (incl. console, games, accessories, etc.). The bottom end of range was $150 and that is just for the unit, no game and no adapter. There also seems to be a common issue with the speakers failing on these devices. That’s what seems to be happening with mine. The volume is very low, in both speaker and headphone jack. Nevertheless it’s revived the retro gamer in me. I’ve just picked up two more games; Takin’ it to the Hoop and TV Sports Football.

Never underestimate the value and opportunities a thrift store can offer. I’m a collector and relic purchaser at times and I catch flak from the wife once in a while, but I’ve never felt more joy than to have the things I admired as a child but never had access to. My childhood begs for satisfaction and as a working, responsible adult I feel it’s my duty to satiate those feelings and share the nostalgia with my son. You can find out about other electronic relics I have procured over at the TYL Blog.