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When many of us think of the Nintendo Entertainment System we are taken back to a time when life was simpler, with fewer worries. A time when instead of working a full-time job, we came home from school, begging our parents for just one hour to play Nintendo before homework. If you are one of the lucky people to be around in arguably one of the best, if not the most significant era’s of gaming, then you, and your grandmother must be familiar with the Nintendo Entertainment System. The first thought that probably materializes into your brain is that gray and black box, with the blinking lights when the game refused to load. Blowing in the cartridges, and wiggling the game just right to get it to load up first try. No doubt you probably mastered how to get your games to working first try like some sort of Ninjtendo. Then you are probably reminded of when the game first booted up, and you can still hear after over 25 years The Legend of Zelda theme music, and still hum every note on key. Surely you can still remember the infamous Konami code you entered to get 30 lives in Contra and Life-Force. You probably even remember the exact order, and weapons used to defeat every boss in Mega Man II. Good times indeed!
If you are one of the many people out there who is interested in reliving your cherished childhood memories and play some classic NES games again, then this article should be perfect for you. This is an article for people with excellent taste in video games who want to play original Nintendo games, on original hardware best suited for their needs. I will go over various consoles in the NES and Famicom line of products and explain why it is, or why it is not a good choice to purchase them. So let’s get things moving right along:
Original Nintendo (NES)
This is the gray box you are familiar with that resembles a VHS tape deck. The sole reason for many uncompleted homework assignments, and un-mowed lawns. The one thing your parents regretted buying you the most for Christmas, and the one thing you cherished most until Super Nintendo came out.
Has composite (AV) video built-in, which is very acceptable quality for the time.
can be hooked up to a stereo system in mono.
It’s the model you know and love.
Readily available, though inflated in price.
Does not play Japanese Famicom games without hard to find converters. Most of these converters require ribbons to pull the games out. These are annoying to use and very overpriced. The Honeybee converter is a prime example of eBay price jacking. You can make your own if you can pull one out of a 5 screw NES launch title game like Gyromite, but you still need power tools to modify it due to the deep NES cartridge slots. Then you need to sacrifice an old nes game and cut up the shell to make the converter be able to fit and accept Famicom games. Unless of course you want to dismantle your system.
The horizontal VHS style loading system is hard on the contacts of the games, and will wear them down over time faster.
The 72 pin connectors wear out and need replaced. Then the new 72 pin connectors “Kung-Fu Grip” your games making it very hard to remove them, or use a ribbon based converter. I have had to resort to using pliers to get games out before. You can repair the connectors yourself though by bending them back in place. Pretty easy to do and will save you a few bucks, and you can avoid kung-fu grip.
The English NES is missing audio channels found on all models of the Japanese Famicom consoles. Castlevania 3 is a prime example of how superior the sound in the Famicom is. Just check out this YouTube video and decide for yourself.
Nearly impossible to hook up a Famicom Disk System.
Security chip present. This is the sole reason you got the blinking lights. The NES thought you were inserting pirated software and the gray screen would boot up denying you access to your game. This can be clipped though to bypass. Search tutorials online. Incredibly easy.
The original NES is a solid system. For the average collector it should suffice. Especially if you have no desire to ever play imports. Just know there are better alternatives out there, and a whole world of amazing games never released in the USA. The issues mentioned can be fixed for the most part. You can modify your console for the extra audio channel. You can also easily cut a pin on the security chip to de-activate it. The deal breaker for me in the ultimate decision to sell my NES was:
Lack of audio channels leading to inferior sound
The annoyance of trying to play import games with overpriced crap converters.
Inability to hook up a Famicom Disk System without major exterior change.
The rise of price in uncommon games being sold at ridiculous rates. Little Sampson is notable example. The NES version is not rare and sells for over $350.00, the Famicom version Lickle sells for less than $125.00 any day of the week.
Nintendo Top Loader
This is the very desirable Top Loading Nintendo. Don’t ask me why everyone wants it so badly. If anything this is a downgrade from the original NES console!
Small and lightweight
Games load up much easier.
No annoying security Chip.
Easier to get converters to work due to cartridge slots not being as deep.
Only has RF video! This is the deal breaker. Unacceptable and ridiculous Nintendo didn’t include Composite AV jacks. Sole reason I would never buy one. In case you’re wondering, RF is that very old connection that looks like a giant screw on the back of your television. It’s the crappiest video signal known to man next to the old connection where you had to physically screw in the 2 prongs with the alligator clips. Yeah, you can get them modded for AV, but you’re going to spend a lot more, and you will see down the road, still be at a disadvantage.
They put a hump on the back to try to keep importers from hooking up the Famicom Disk System.
Famicom Family Computer
The original Family Computer was a bit different from the American NES. It used a completely different cartridge connection. The American NES uses a 72 pin connector, and the Japanese console uses a 60 pin connection. Japanese games will not work in an American NES, and vice versa. In my opinion the original Japanese Famicom is the best looking console. But it has many issues that will drive Americans away.
You can play Japanese games on it.
You can hook a Famicom Disk System to it.
It’s the only console to have a microphone, which is mounted to the second player controller. Some games use this feature. Like the Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda.
It has extra audio channels.
No security chip.
Extra controller port for the Zapper or ROB.
Controllers are mounted to the console. Which means you are stuck with them if they break. And to add more frustration the controller cords are only 3 ft long. It is also worth mentioning that the microphone on the second player controller comes at a cost. For the second player controller there is no select or start button. There is however 1 controller port for hooking up another controller or light gun. However, this is for player 1 only.
You are forced to use only Japanese RF video output. This is where the line is drawn. Japanese RF is even worse than American RF for the sole reason there is no guarantee you will be able to get it working without some sort of adaptor. If you remember the old American RF then you might recall that you had to set the television to channel 3 or 4 to get the video working. With Japanese RF the channel normally has to be set somewhere in the 90’s if I remember right. Just trust me on this one, I have been through this in the past, and it can be very annoying. A lot of old televisions in America don’t go that high. With a newer television you can probably get things working, but a lot of people prefer to play on old tube televisions which display scanlines and make the picture look better with old games. If you play a NES on a newer LCD television you can see that the picture looks too good sometimes, and you can see all the pixels. Scanlines help hide things so the game doesn’t look as bad, by hiding the blockiness of the pixels to a small degree.
This is the second model of the Japanese Famicom. It looks almost identical to the American Top Loader, with a few differences. It is said this version was released because Japanese consumers complained about the hard-wired original Famicom controller ports, and bad video signal.
NES style controller ports.
The annoying hump found on the American Top Loader is not present, therefore there is Famicom Disk System supported natively.
Games load up easily.
No Security chip.
Extra audio channels are present.
The best part. It’s not referred to as the AV Famicom for nothing. This comes with an on board connector that is identical to the American Super Nintendo AV cord. So you have composite AV right out of the box with no need to get the console modded.
Does not play American NES games. However do note, converters to play English games on a Japanese console are plentiful. They are a bit tricky though. You need to play with them to figure out how to get the games loaded up. Normally this involves making sure the USA cartridge is seated properly. The label almost always faces away from you. Then you usually have to barely pull the game cartridge toward you a tad bit to get a good connection. Once you get it figured out you will be pleased to see these converters work almost every time. Here is a link to a cheap one that works great.
No microphone (but who cares).
No extra controller port, but it has NES style controller jacks so no big deal.
Sharp Twin Famicom
The Sharp Twin Famicom is a very cool console. It is very desirable due to the fact that it has a Famicom Disk System, and cartridge system built right in! It also comes in various color combinations, and there are 2 variations. The original model has 3 ft controller cords, and the second revision has 6 ft cords and turbo controllers.
Composite RCA Jacks.
Extra controller port for hooking up a Zapper or ROB.
It’s 2 consoles in 1.
Looks really cool and you can pick a color that you like.
Has extra audio channels.
No security chip.
It’s really large.
Pretty expensive, and due to the size it costs a lot to ship from Japan.
It also uses hard-wired controllers, but if you can find the second model with 6ft controller cords this shouldn’t be a huge issue, unless your controller breaks.
Sharp Famicom Titler
I know little of this obscure console. I have never had the privilege of owning one. But here is a paste from Wikipedia:
“Nintendo-licensed Famicom-compatible device produced by Sharp Corporation in 1989. The console was released exclusively in Japan at a retail price of 43,000 yen. The system was the only consumer-level Famicom to internally generate RGB video, the only Famicom system with S-Video output, and it has been noted for its crisp clarity of image. The system also functioned as a subtitle-generator and it could be used in combination with a RF-video camera to create gameplay videos and demos.”
Obviously this system has the best native video signal. On board S-Video and internal RGB. You really can’t beat that!
Has extra audio channels.
No security chip.
Crazy expensive! Look to pay upwards of $700.00 for one. This will make it out of reach for pretty much everyone except the most hard-core collector. You would be better off just getting another console and having it modded for RGB, AV, or S-Video.
Again. Hard-wired controllers with short cords.
What’s this Famicom Disk System (FDS) thingy?
I have mentioned the FDS numerous times in this article, and you may be wondering what it is. The FDS is a add-on for the Famicom console that stores, and plays games on hard floppy disk’s. It sits under the console, and there is a RAM cartridge that plugs in the cartridge slot. The disk’s have 2 sides “A” & “B”, and must be flipped at times. One of the really neat things is that game data can be saved in games like Metroid, to avoid writing down huge passwords. These were released in Japan because the games were cheaper to manufacture. There were even kiosk’s in Japan where you could take your game, and have a new one written to it. If only Nintendo offered such a service now. I would love to switch out my Donkey Kong 3DS for Fire Emblem! The Famicom Disk System is a really cool system, but it does come with a little baggage.
The system uses a rubber-band belt mechanism, and the belts wear and break. They can be changed, but then you are going to have to re-calibrate the system, among other things. It isn’t terribly hard to do, but it does take some practice, and a little asking around on forums to keep these things up and running until you learn how to take care of them.
The game disk’s are very prone to erasing, you have to be very careful with these games. They are getting old, and honestly I question whether it is even worth collecting for anymore. But it is a great console.
The system can run on batteries. I can’t remember is its C or D batteries, but it is a lot of them. Which can lead to you purchasing a system with a battery compartment corroded with acid. So ask this question specifically before any purchase, and if the belt is new. This can run off of a power supply. So just try to buy one with a power supply, or research online for a compatible Radio Shack one.
This is just one of those consoles, that you should probably expect to have issues with. It may even arrive and need a little TLC. Be ready to jump in and try to fix this on your own. Part of retro game collecting is learning how to fix things on your own that is easy. And the Famicom Disk is an easy but annoying system to care for.
At this point you should have a pretty good idea of what to look for. Either you want to just play American games, or maybe you want to play Japanese games as well. There is one major consideration though, and that is the recent inflation of American games in the last 3 years. Most specifically games on various Nintendo consoles. It truly is ridiculous. Everything on eBay is “OMG L@@K SO SUPER RARE LIKE GOLD FOR YOUR SHELF!!! BUY NOW BEFORE GONE!!!”. You will know what I mean if you start looking at eBay auctions. For about 99% of those games, they are not rare at all. Even Japanese games are slowly climbing as people realize they are cheaper, and in some cases just as playable. I am going to give you my personal opinion, and that is get a Japanese AV Famicom, one of the cheap converters from http://www.stoneagegamer.com to play American games, and if you want to, get a Famicom Disk System. If you truly want to start building up a good collection being able to collect USA and JP is the best, and not to mention easiest option on your wallet. You will buy mainly USA games, but get the super expensive and Japan exclusive games on Famicom, like Little Sampson, Holy Diver, and Bubble Bobble 2. This will also give you the flexibility to decide whether you want the English or Japanese version of a specific game, like Castlevania 3, or many of the games that had stuff cut out, like Contra (Probotector), Bionic Commando (Hitler no Fukkatsu) and such in Japanese format to get a real experience. To be completely blunt, the Japanese have treated American gamer’s like we have the maturity, and mental capacity of a three-year old since the 80’s, to the present. And it’s probably never going to change. So do yourself a favor and research games that have better Japanese versions. Watch YouTube videos, research forums like DigitPress, Nintendo Age, Neo-Geo, Assembler and such. And save yourself the frustration of learning that the copy of Castlevania 3 you purchased is inferior.
For those of you that want to play games on original hardware, I have a tempting alternative for you. I mentioned the Everdrive N8 earlier for the Famicom, and there is even an American NES version. You can research them again at http://www.krikzz.com. They can be purchased from a few different vendors, but I am going to highly recommend spending a little more and just getting them locally from http://www.stoneagegamer.com. Stone Age Gamer sells The best Everdrive cartridges hands down! I have purchased from him in the past, and currently have a order pending from him now. They are top-notch quality! In case you are wondering the Everdrive line of products are flash cartridges designed for loading ROMS and playing on real hardware. This is not emulation, and there are no ancient parallel cables, or software that runs on old unsupported operating systems. Just a cart, SD Card, and the desire to play video games is all you need. This is the real experience for those who want to play backups of games they own, or even games they have developed. They are priceless for people interested in developing games for retro game consoles. And it is worth mentioning that the NES and Famicom Everdrives load up Famicom Disk games without the need for a physical Famicom Disk System. It is also worth mentioning that with exception of pirate cartridges, and unlicensed multi-carts these Everdrives have a compatibility rate in the high 90th percentile in terms of games that work properly. Now this won’t change the fact that if you have an American system you can’t get the extra audio channels present in the Famicom, but it will change the fact that you need converters to play other region games on a console of a different region. You can load up Japanese Famicom and Famicom Disk games on a USA console and vice versa. The Everdrive is truly an amazing product!
I think that about wraps things up for now. Hopefully I didn’t forget anything. I am always available to take questions. And if I don’t know the answer then I can surely find out for you if there is an answer. So until next time.
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