Useful Notes / Nintendo Entertainment System

"Now you're playing with power."

The system that brought video game consoles back from The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 in North America (they were pretty healthy elsewhere) and ushered in The 8-Bit Era. Known in Japan as the Family Computer (commonly abbreviated as the "Famicom") and in South Korea as Hyundai Comboy (현대 컴보이) made by Hynix with unlicensed clones made in Eastern Europe, India, the Middle East and in China (most notably the Dendy, although many in Asia are also familiar with clones sold under the brand Micro Genius), it was the console that brought in the oldest and longest lasting competitor in the Console Wars, Nintendo. It also served as the initial console for many of gaming's oldest franchises, introduced the modern third-party licensing model for video games, and set the standards in control pads for consoles. It is still very much an icon of video games (less so the redesigned variant).

To a casual observer, the graphics for the NES may be seen as "blocky". This is because every graphical element generated by the system is made up of 8x8 pixel blocks known as tiles. The reason all NES games are tile-based is because that's what the NES hardware does; the graphics system is a separate processor that has its own memory space for palettes and images. It only understands tiles, tilemaps, and sprites, and it implements them directly in the video output hardware. While this imposed limitations on developers that even Atari 2600 games didn't have to suffer under, it also freed them from having to deal with the minutiae of graphics. Yes, you could only do tile-based graphics with sprites, but at least they were good tile-based graphics.

While the NES-001 is an iconic part of video game history, it's pretty badly designed. While the Japanese version (HVC-001) is a remarkably solid piece of engineering that often continues to work over 25 years later, the American release (handled by Nintendo of America) was rather sloppily redesigned to distance itself from pre-Crash consoles due to many vendors refusing to stock anything even remotely resembling the console, fearing that they wouldn't sell.

So what was wrong with the NES-001? Well...
  • NoA's industrial designers made the console look like a VCR, adopting a VCR-like front-loading cartridge. Due to expenses, a "zero insertion force" mechanism was used (put a cart in, fix it with a lever) but said mechanism ended up putting great force on the pins in both cart and connector, bending them slightly more with each insertion and shoving the ROM board back into the cartridge.
  • This was further compounded by using rather substandard materials for the connector and its frame, making it susceptible to bending. With each cartridge insertion, the cheaply-made pins and frame were bent more and more until no contact could be established. The fact that the pins were simple, ungilded copper and tarnished easily at exposure to moisture didn't help, and only intensified when NoA blamed dirty cartridges... which led to the classic tactic of blowing into the system and/or games, which actually just exacerbated the situation by throwing more moisture onto the pins from the water vapor carried in one's breath.
  • The infamous 10NES lockout chip, required for all NES cartridges. While intended to keep unlicensed games from being used, the fact that it required a constant connection meant that constant usage of the system made it block even the licensed titles (hence why the system occasionally resets once per second). The Famicom didn't have this problem because it had no lockout chip or any contact problems in the first place, all due to being a traditional top-loader.
  • Despite being given a slot with more pins than the original Famicom when the original pins for the co-processor is now connected to the 10NES, the extra pins ended being only for show and not connected to anything, rendering it impossible to include co-processors on a cartridge, a function that is usually used to expand the audio capabilities of the original Famicom (as was the case with the Japanese version of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, which made use of a special mapper).
  • The removal of the Mic on controller 2 and removal of the DB15 peripheral port. This meant that the NES was incompatible with many hardware peripherals released for the Famicom, and added the burden of necessitating the swapping of Zapper and controller 2 should the player wish to play a Zapper game (the Japanese Zapper always connected to the DB15 expansion port. As a nice side effect, it is possible to use both controllers to control both ducks in two-duck mode in Duck Hunt). The removal of the mic also meant that several novel features in games (like defeating the Pols Voice monster in The Legend of Zelda by screaming into the microphone proper) had to be changed for the American release.

In 1989, Sharp made a television with a built-in NES. The model was known as 19SV111. When the system is turned on, the channel indicator would read P to informed that the NES is on. In addition, they made a special NES controller that reads Game Television instead of Nintendo, and the frame is Black rather than grey like the original NES controller. Also, the controller is the same size and shape of the original NES controller. Additionally, Sharp, along with companies like Konami, actually made licensed famiclones, with licenses and patent access officially granted by Nintendo.

Why so? Well, the Big N reaped enormous profits from being the sole manufacturer of the carts for its system, and thus being able to decide what gets published, in what amount, for what price, and what the developers would have from it. Thus the Japan branch felt it safe to license out their technology to other companies, since they earn much of their income from royalties of cartridge sale and licensing. Additionally, Sharp was a major hardware partner of Nintendo, with the Game Boy being built using Sharp's LCD panels and a Sharp-developed Z80 derivative, and Famicom BASIC being developed with assistance from Sharp and Hudson Soft. Also, Konami was a major third party developer for Nintendo in Japan.

While the Japan branch was able to enforce this without resorting to technical means, the American one was wary of the Atari situation when everybody and their dog was producing carts for the Atari 2600... hence the 10NES and 72-pin cartridge, as well as the refusal of the American and European branch to license out the patents for the American and European variants of the console. But in a misguided attempt to make it easier to integrate the never-released American counterpart to the Famicom Disk System (the Japanese version used a rather convoluted hookup method that wouldn't have worked with the NES's front-loading design), NoA engineers removed two pins that connected the motherboard to the sound extension chips in the cart and rerouted them to the expansion connector on the bottom of the console, ensuring that American releases would always have inferior sound.
The NES-101 (aka "NES 2"), a top-loader styled after the SNES and a bit after the original Famicom, was released in 1993 and not only used a 2-pin version of the original 60-pin connector but further lacked the 10NES chip. Despite being released in all Nintendo markets simultaneously, nobody remembers it. The last official game, a PAL-exclusive port of Virgin Interactive's The Lion King, was released in 1995, after which the console as a whole was discontinued in the west. Japan, meanwhile, produced new units until 2003, recorded sales numbers up to 2004, and continued repair support until 2008, only stopping because Nintendo of Japan finally ran out of the necessary parts and had no way to source new ones within a reasonable budget. At a whopping 20 years, two months, and ten days, the Famicom had the longest lifespan of any video game console to date.note 

The NES' cultural impact and image is more subject to transatlantic dissonance than perhaps any other major games console: in North America and Japan the respective console versions are iconic, and are The '80s for many people, whereas in Europe the system was far more obscure—especially the UK, where Nintendo made some bad decisions with their source of distributor (Mattel) that meant that the NES' very existence was considered apocryphal by many kids who first encountered Nintendo through the SNES and Game Boy. Mattel did, however, distribute the NES in Canada.

However, the NES turned out to be so impactful and well-loved by gamers that Nintendo decided to bring it back. Sorta. On July 14, 2016, Nintendo announced that they would be releasing the NES Classic Edition (known as the NES Classic Mini in Europe), a miniature plug-and-play console with 30 built-in games.List (exclusives in bold)  The device's only function was to play these 30 games; it was not capable of playing any game paks or connecting to the internetnote . The control deck also came bundled with one NES controller, with additional controllers being sold separately. The controller ports are also identical to those found on the Wii's Wiimote, meaning that the NES Classic Edition's controller and the Wii Classic Controller can serve as effective substitutes for each other. The Classic Edition hit store shelves on November 11, priced at $59.99; while this might seem rather expensive for a plug-and-play device, many noted that it was only around one-fifth the price of 30 actual NES game paks and around two-fifths the price of buying all of those games on the Virtual Console, and that's not even getting into the price of a regular NES nowadays (that is, assuming you're not buying the Classic Edition from any scalpers). Despite high demand through the system's life, though, Nintendo unexpectedly pulled the plug on it very early while stock problems were still abound, discontinuing it in April of 2017. It reportedly sold 2.3 million units during its short life, and secondhand units now command the prices you expect from scalpers. On September 2017, Nintendo announced that the NES Classic will return in stores at the end of June 2018.

On September 30th 2016, Nintendo of Japan revealed their own version of their 8-bit icon: the Famicom Mini. This one has all the same features as the NES Classic Edition, but features hardwired controllers and a slightly different game lineup.List (exclusives in bold)  On May 2018, Nintendo of Japan announced a special Shonen Jump edition of the Famicom Mini for the magazine's 50th anniversary, hitting the shelves on July 7. This edition features gold plating, packaging resembling an issue of the magazine and an exclusive lineup of 20 games, 19 being licensed games based on Shonen Jump manga properties and the last one being the debut installment of a video game series that had a spin-off manga running in the magazine.List (grouped by license in bold) 

Notable Games/Series:

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NES and Famicom Accessories

  • NES Controller
  • NES Zapper (The Light Gun - Japanese version is not interchangeable with US and European version due to the accessory plugging into the DB15 port instead of the Joystick 2 port)
  • NES Advantage (Arcade controller with Slow Motion)
  • NES Four Score (Used for 4 Player games)
  • NES Max (Wing controller)
  • NES Cleaning Kit (The cleaning accessory to clean the gamepak and console)
  • NES Powerpad
  • ROB The Robot
  • The Power Glove
  • Famicom Disk System
  • Famicom BASIC keyboard and cartridge
    • Famicom Data Recorder (requires Famicom BASIC keyboard to function).
  • Famicom Sewing System (sort of a sewing machine; aimed at girls which are learning how to sew while using the Nintendo Famicom).
  • U-Force movement controller (released by Broderbund Software).


  • Bad Export for You: As noted above, Nintendo's redesigning of the Famicom into the NES introduced several flaws into the hardware that weren't present in the original.
  • Boring, but Practical: The hardware was dated almost as soon as it was released, paled in comparison to PCs of the time, and was quickly outclassed in hardware by the Sega Master System, but it was perfectly capable of delivering aesthetically pleasing tile sprites and it got the job done just fine as a gaming machine. Skilled programmers could really push the hardware further than what one could expect the console to do, as games like Vice: Project Doom show.
  • Bowdlerise: To improve the PR image of their games, Nintendo enforced strict censorship policies in contrast to companies like Atari.
    • Blood and gore were explicitly verboten, and violence had a lot of restrictions; beating up or shooting robots, aliens or zombies was OK, but against real people it was usually discouraged. Any excessive or gratuitious violence, especially against non-enemy characters, was not allowed; Maniac Mansion originally had a scene where you could blow up a hamster in a microwave, and Nintendo forced it to be removed.
    • Using the words "Death", "die", "kill" or "killed" was not allowed.
    • Sexual references weren't permitted either. Maniac Mansion had a scene where a message written on a wall said "For a good time, call Edna.", which Nintendo edited to remove the first four words.
    • References to touchy topics such as religion and or hate groups like the Nazis were also not allowed. In Super Mario Bros., Daimaō Kuppa (Great Demon King Koopa) was changed to Bowser. One of the bosses of Mega Man 1, the Yellow Devil, was renamed to Rock Monster due to this. note  Bionic Commando had all references to Hitler and the Nazis removed, renaming them as "Master-D" and "The Badds" and replacing the Swastikas with eagle symbols (curiously, the gruesome image of Hitler's head exploding was left in). Some other edits were done if it had the potential to be touchy, such as replacing the seals from Ice Climber with Yetis. In the unreleased US port of MOTHER, all references to religion were removed (along with sprites edited to remove references to blood or tobacco).
    • Swearing or obscene gestures were not allowed. The Who Framed Roger Rabbit game had to edit the name of the one of the weasels, Smart Ass, into "Smarty" because of this. Curiously, the Rambo tie-in game got away with a brief use of the word hell.
    • References to drugs, smoking and alcohol were also strictly forbidden, even in the context of portraying it in a bad light. In Punch-Out!!, "Vodka Drunkenski" was edited to "Soda Popsinski" for this reason. The port of NARC removed all references to drugs, even though hunting down drug dealers is the entire premise of the game!
    • Games with "subliminal political messages or overt political statements" were barred from release too. This is likely the reason why the game Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill, where you controlled President Clinton's cat and fought caricatures of Republicans, such as George Bush and Richard Nixon, never got released.
    • The Japanese Zapper gun accessory looks like an actual gun. Realistic gun toys aren't allowed, or are at least frowned upon, in many regions so the accessory was redesigned to look more like a toy intentionally.
  • Follow the Leader: Sega's Master System console tried hard to play catch up with the NES in the West, and the consoles own controller is very similar to the NES pad. The pack-in game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, was an obvious attempt to ride the Super Mario Bros. bandwagon. While it tanked in the US due to Nintendo holding a huge monopoly over market shares and third party support, it actually managed to outsell the NES in other countries.
  • Light Gun: The NES Zapper was the standard light gun for the console and one of the most iconic ever made, used and bundled with games like Duck Hunt. Konami came up with their own unique variation called the Laser Scope, a headstrap that allow you to shoot using its eyepiece by speaking voice commands.
  • Nintendo Hard: Most of the games developed for the console tended to be quite difficult, first and third party games alike. Justified, as this was the era where arcade games were the norm and were purposely designed to be hard so they could quickly suck up quarters from less skilled players, and they were often the basis of certain games on the NES console.
  • Product Facelift: The original NES design was heavily redesigned from the Famicom, and as noted earlier, it was not for the better, so it's quite difficult to find an original NES in good working order. The NES 2 revamped it again into a smaller, much more reliable top-loader format, but it needed an adapter to use a Game Genie, and it only had RF cable support—no AV inputs—so the picture quality took a hit, too. The controllers were also revised from the old rectangles into a dog-bone shape, in order to match the rounded corners of the Super NES controller.
  • Quality Vs Quantity: Part of the reason Nintendo was so strict about licensing in the early days of the NES (and installed a lock-out chip to prevent unauthorized games from playing on the console) was because they wanted to avoid having the consoles game market be swamped with crappy games, a fate which befell the Atari 2600 and its competing consoles during The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. Nintendo required that they be the sole manufacturer of all cartridges, and that the publisher had to pay in full before the cartridges for that game be produced, so they basically called the shots on what could and couldn't be released. Unfortunately, Nintendo went way over the line in this—companies were required to sign a contract by Nintendo that would obligate these parties to develop exclusively for the system, order at least 10,000 cartridges, and only make five games per year (a rule that developers like Konami worked around by forming dummy corps like Ultra Games), meaning they could basically blacklist any third party developer who worked for a competitor. Unlicensed developers like Wisdom Tree found ways to work around the lockout chip anyway, and In 1991, Nintendo's practices were ruled as a monopoly in court, forcing them to become more lenient with third party developers and with what games could be released on the NES. While this ultimately allowed the NES library to balloon with hundreds of games of varying quality, Nintendo's reputation had already been established by that point, so it didn't truly hurt them in the long run.
  • Region Coding: Several factors prevented region interoperability. Japanese consoles do not have a NES-10 chip, but had a different cartridge slot which meant US and European cartridges will never fit. Likewise, for the US and European cartridges, having a different slot from the Japanese version meant that Japanese cartridges will never be accepted without an adapter, plus there’s the added complication from the NES-10 Copy Protection chip, of which there are different versions for US and two different versions for Europe, meaning that the Europeans were especially hit as buying the wrong version (there were two models of the NES in Europe- the Mattel version and the Nintendo of Europe version) actually meant you can't play the game. This went as far as hardware, Japanese accessories used the DB-15 expansion port while the American and European accessories used the proprietary 7-pin port, blocking even accessories from being used across regions.
  • Regional Bonus: The NES uses controller ports and you plug your controller into it, instead of the controllers being hard-wired like on the Famicom, letting you change just the controllers if they break rather than having to have the entire console serviced or take the risky approach of unauthorized repairs.
  • Revenue-Enhancing Devices: The R.O.B. toy was initially packaged with the first release of the NES as a way of getting the consoles foot in the door—since the US game industry crash made retailers wary of anything video game related, they used R.O.B. as a way of marketing the NES as a toy instead of a video game console. It only worked with two games (Gyromite and Stack-Up), but the Trojan Horse tactic worked due to gamers finding another hit game to play on the new console. R.O.B. was soon dropped from the NES line-up, but it had served its purpose well.


Alternative Title(s): NES, Famicom