Nothing exists in a vacuum, and the cyberpunk-themed PC Engine shoot-em’-ups of the Download series are indeed children of its time. The games were released just a few years after the 1988 Akira movie and the impact of that film along with William Gibson’s Neuromancer novel from 1984 have left clear traces on these games. Unlike the ships and aircrafts of most other shooters, this series has you piloting a red motorcycle that also acts as a network terminal to jack in your brain to the cyberspace — two of the most iconic parts of the aforementioned works. The games also set themselves apart from its peers by its dense story and high amount of cutscenes, which was unusual for the genre at the time.
There’s no doubt that the TurboGrafx-16 was by far the most underrated console of the 16-bit era. For various reasons, only a small percentage of the game released for that system made it to North America. The system had a much longer life and many, many more games in Japan. Download is one of those.
The TurboGrafx-16, or PC Engine as it was known in Japan, was known for its side-scrolling shooters as much as any genre. Download is a cyberpunk themed shooter with elements reminiscent of other popular cyberpunk works of the time like the earlier Neuromancer and Akira. While the plot doesn’t matter a whole lot, this one reminds me a little of the plot of Ready Player One. Essentially you are fighting criminal organizations in the cyber world via your flying motorcycle which also acts as a terminal.
Game play is excellent and so are the graphics. Levels consist of “real world” locations along with more abstract cyberspace locations. As is common with these shooters, there are plenty of weapons and enemies. Since this is a Japan only release, cut scenes are in Japanese so it may not be entirely obvious what is going on in terms of the story all of the time. This isn’t really that big of a deal though and the game itself isn’t difficult to play because of the language barrier.
The good news is that it isn’t too hard to play a PC Engine game on a TurboGrafx-16. All that is required is a relatively simple adapter. Unfortunately, the price for Japanese import games is often quite high and this one is no exception. The PC Engine must be one of the most expensive systems to collect for. However, like most retro systems, this one is easily emulated so if you are content with that then all those games that were never released in North America are at your fingertips today.