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The North American NES-001
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The Nintendo Entertainment System, commonly known as the NES, is one of the most famous video game consoles in history, having ushered in The 8 Bit Era Of Console Video Games and saved video games in North America from The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. It provided Nintendo with its oldest and longest-lasting entrant in the Console Wars. It was the initial console for many of gaming's oldest franchises, introduced the modern third-party licensing model for video games, and set the standards for game consoles' control pads. It's still very much an icon of video games, even if its hardware may seem a little quaint by today's standards.

The NES went by many names around the world. In Japan, it was the Famicom, short for "Family Computer". This, technically speaking, is the console's original name. It's also not exactly the same as the NES, as the latter is a bit of a Product Facelift for the North American market. In South Korea, it's the Hyundai Comboy (in Hangul 현대 컴보이), made under license by Hynix. In other countries, it was not made under license; Eastern Europe, India, China, and the Middle East all had their own clone versions, with the most famous being the East Asian "Micro Genius" and the Soviet Dendy. But "NES" is its most iconic name, at least among English speakers.

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NES graphics have a distinctive "blocky" look, because the system's graphics use 8x8 pixel blocks known as tiles; all the graphics system understood were tiles, tilemaps, and sprites, and it implemented them directly in the video output hardware. This imposed limitations that even the Atari 2600 didn't have to deal with — but it also freed developers from dealing with the minutiae of graphics, leading to some interesting-looking games. Although the NES was far from the only 8-bit video game system, pretty much the entire "8-bit aesthetic" comes from the way the NES looked.


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History

Launch in Japan

Nintendo had long been a major player in the Japanese game market. The longstanding pachinko parlors morphed into Arcades, and in 1981 Nintendo had its Killer App for the arcade: the original Donkey Kong. Nintendo soon decided to jump into the home console market and developed the Famicom. Although Nintendo was not very experienced in making that kind of hardware, they were pretty confident in their game lineup. Indeed, America was in the throes of a console gaming boom, and one of the most popular games there was a licensed port of Donkey Kong on the ColecoVision.

Nintendo launched the Famicom in Japan in July 1983. But initially, it wasn't all that popular. Nintendo's inexperience was evident, as the console was poorly put together and didn't always work correctly. But there also wasn't really an appetite for home consoles in Japan, as consumers there preferred the social aspect of the arcade or the power and versatility of the PC. Nintendo could, however, take solace in the fact that nobody else was really doing very much with home consoles in Japan either.

Nintendo looked across the Pacific to see if they could take advantage of the American console craze. But by then, The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 was taking hold over there. Nintendo almost had an agreement with Atari to develop an American distribution of the Famicom, but Atari pulled out at the last minute for a number of reasons.note  By the time Nintendo could figure out what the heck Atari wanted to do with the Famicom, Atari had basically cratered under the weight of the Crash.

But Nintendo wasn't discouraged. In 1984, a revised version of the Famicom was released in Japan which fixed many of the problems with the launch version. Once the hardware started working right (and this version of the Famicom was remarkably robust, lasting for a good 25 years), Japanese gamers quickly picked up on the console's strengths. One of them was its innovative "D-pad", a series of four directional buttons that were far more robust than a joystick (especially the fragile Atari 2600 version of it). Another was simply the game library; not only was Nintendo offering home console ports of some of the country's most popular arcade games, it was also strict in preventing Shovelware and initially offered only first-party titles.

The failed distribution deal did end up shaping Nintendo's history in an important way. The deal stipulated that Nintendo would program Famicom ports of some of Atari's biggest games. Nintendo would outsource the development of these ports to a then little-known upstart company named HAL Laboratory, to be coded by their star programmer Satoru Iwata (names that would become very important to Nintendo later in the Famicom's life, and beyond).

By now, Nintendo was galvanized, and it sought to make an impact across the Pacific on its own.

Launch in America and worldwide

Nintendo was well aware of the effects of the Crash in America, and they knew they had to work hard to sell the American public on a video game system.note  But they kept pressing forward, and they came up with several innovative solutions for the US market. They revamped the Famicom into the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES.

Nintendo previewed NES in the United States in 1984 by way of the Nintendo Vs. System, arcade cabinets that played modified versions of popular Famicom titles like Duck Hunt. The arcade market was in much healthier shape than the home console market, and the Vs. System cabinets proved to be a smash hit with American gamers. The success of these cabinets at the arcades convinced Nintendo that their plans to localize the Famicom were Crazy Enough to Work.

One of the things they tried to emphasize was the lack of Shovelware, which was a major reason for the Crash. Nintendo not only kept its Japanese practice of keeping everything first-party as much as possible, but the NES would incorporate the 10NES lockout chip as a way of preventing unlicensed games from running on the console. Every game developed for the NES came with the "Nintendo Seal of Quality", which allowed consumers to easily tell what was legit and what was not. The cartridge design was kept strictly proprietary, to prevent what happened to Atari during the Crash; no one could make one unless Nintendo gave them permission.

Another thing Nintendo did was try to disguise the console. First, unlike the top-loading Famicom, the NES was designed like a VCR, with the cartridge loading on its side and a lid that closed on top of it. Second, it was marketed with a couple of interesting peripherals — the Zapper Light Gun and the Robotic Operating Buddy. That way, it wouldn't look like all those older video game consoles that everyone thought was a Flash In The Pan Fad and instead resembled a toy. Finally, they used very particular terminology when talking about the system and its peripherals to further obfuscate its identity as a video game console; there's a reason it's called the "Entertainment System" and the cartridges are "Game Paks." Although nobody was fooled, it was good enough to convince toy stores to order stock and people were intrigued. With the Zapper and R.O.B., Nintendo launched the NES in a couple test markets in October 1985. Although only a few games actually worked with the peripherals, Nintendo offered a few other games that could be played "traditionally".

But it was in February 1986 that the NES got its full North American launch. And with that launch came the system's killer app: Super Mario Bros.. Designed by up-and-coming designer Shigeru Miyamoto, it was the culmination of all of Nintendo's work in pushing the console to its limits. And the result was one of the most iconic games of all time — innovative, fun, extensive, and just weird enough to get your attention. Nintendo followed it up with several more big hits, like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Konami's third-party title Castlevania. They had more than one Cash Cow Franchise, and they were starting to rake in the money. For this first year of full sales, Nintendo would partner up with toy company Worlds of Wonder, riding off the success of their own toylines, to help distribute the system in the US, and Mattel for the Canadian market. The deal with Worlds of Wonder ending in 1987 due to multiple factors, including the console's success, the decline of W.o.W's proprietary toylines, and the failure of its own console, the Action Max.

Nintendo may have gone a bit overboard with its protectionism. Although it allowed third-party games, the terms it imposed were pretty strict. First, third-party developers had to pay Nintendo the license fee in full before any cartridges could be produced. Second, they were required to sign a contract that would oblige them to develop exclusively for the NES, order at least 10,000 cartridges, and make no more than five games per year (developers worked around that last one by forming dummy corporations, like Konami's Ultra Games arm). Nintendo called all the shots, and they could effectively blacklist any third-party developer who worked for a competitor. Unlicensed developers such as Wisdom Tree and Tengen discovered ways around the lockout chip in 1988, note  though Nintendo would ease up on their terms by 1991 after receiving legal pressure from the US government. This caused the NES library to balloon with hundreds of games of varying quality. But by then, Nintendo had cemented its reputation, and consumers knew how to find the good stuff, so that didn't really hurt them in the long run.

The one place where the NES didn't make a major dent was Europe, specifically Western Europe. The Crash did little, if anything, to the European video game industry, which left no room for Nintendo to slide in since it still had a healthy PC market to compete with. The NES was especially obscure in the UK, as Nintendo partnered with Mattel for distribution and it turned out so badly that few British kids even knew the NES existed. It fared much better in Nordic Europe due to home computers not being as popular in that sub-region, where Nintendo products were distributed by Bergsten Bergsala Trading Co. Ltd., who were very aggressive in marketing the consolenote . However, the division of the European region into Nordic and Western Europe (the latter which includes the UK) created a mess that also factored into the console faring poorly in the latter part of the region- the Western Europe region version which saw the console distributed by Mattel had a different 10NES lockout chip from those sold in Nordic Europe by Bergsten Bergsala. Meaning if a game shop had tried to get their games from the Nordic region instead of through Mattel for whatever reason, said game wouldn't play (and this has happened - either by accident or by ignorance of the shop).

While the NES didn't officially release in Russia or mainland Asia, Nintendo still ended up having a strong indirect presence thanks to bootlegs. Russia had a famiclone known as the Dendy, which launched in 1992. It was very successful due to the lack of competition in a post-Soviet Russia, lasting for 6 years and singlehandedly creating the country's video game market. Nintendo didn't really do much in mainland Asia until the Wii era (and are still absent in several parts of the continent to this day), but numerous famiclones, the most famous being Micro Geniusnote , dominated regardless. However, since The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, Captain N: The Game Master and Video Power also aired in the region, most people just collectively called the famiclones Nintendos, regardless of actual brand of console — if it plays Super Mario Bros. (a staple on many pirate multicarts), it's a Nintendo.

Upgrades

From the beginning, Nintendo was interested in upgrading the system from cartridge to floppy disk. In 1986, Nintendo released the Famicom Disk System, an add-on to the Famicom in Japan that accepted a proprietary form of floppy disk. It didn't last long; rampant piracy and improvements in cartridge construction rendered it moribund by 1990. But it did attract a lot of development as the "future" of the system. Several prominent NES games, like The Legend of Zelda (its first title), Castlevania, Doki Doki Panic (which later became Super Mario Bros. 2), Kid Icarus, and Metroid, were all originally released as Disk System games. Nintendo's unpleasant experience with disks led it to stick with cartridges for a long time — indeed, until the GameCube.

Nintendo also planned to release a version of the add-on for the NES, but this was harder because the front-loading design of the NES didn't accept the already complicated hookup of the Famicom Disk System. Nintendo's workaround was to reroute two pins on NES cartridges from the motherboard to the expansion connector, thereby preventing those NES games from using those pins for enhanced sound. In the end, the American disk add-on never happened, and the NES cartridges were stuck with inferior sound. They never quite gave up on it, though, talking about a NES adapter for it as late as 1986.note  Most of the big Disk System hits like the Zelda games, Metroid and Castlevania would still make the jump to the West, albeit with the aforementioned sound downgrades and the save feature replaced with passwords, battery backup or removed entirely.

In 1989, Nintendo worked with Sharp in Japan to release a television with a built-in Famicom, known as the "Game Television" or "My Computer TV C1". Nintendo had long had a working relationship with Sharp, who was a major hardware provider. This partnership would later result in the "Twin Famicom", a combination Famicom and Disk System (they later made another with turbo buttons); and then the "Famicom Titler", which used the Famicom hardware to allow users to superimpose rudimentary subtitles on VHS tapes.note  Nintendo of America was much more circumspect about third-party licensing after what Atari went through, but they did allow Sharp to release the Game Television there, this time looking like a VCR-TV combo unit with an American NES. Those had a very limited run, and nowadays they're seriously rare collector's itemsnote .

1993 saw the release of the NES-101, also known as the "New-style NES", a top-loader styled after the next-generation Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It not only used a 2-pin version of the original 60-pin connector, it also lacked the 10NES chip. It also accepts the peripherals for the Famicom Disk System that wouldn't fit on the original NES. It was released in all Nintendo markets simultaneously, and thanks to the lack of a 10NES chip (which often refuses to run legit NES games) they go for huge money on the secondary market these days.

Into the next generation

The NES discontinued its run in the West in 1995; the last officially licensed release in North America was Wario's Woods in December 1994, while the last one overall was a PAL-exclusive port of Virgin Interactive's The Lion King. Unlicensed games continued to trickle out for a little while longer, though the difference between "unlicensed game" and "bootleg" is really a matter of opinion, and many consider them one in the same. Sunday Funday — a Christianity-themed ROM hack of a different game, Menace Beach — is generally considered the "last one" due to having a retail presence, though homebrew games are still being made today. The Famicom, though, kept going strong in Japan; new units were produced until 2003, sales were recorded until 2004, and repair support continued until 2008, only stopping when Nintendo of Japan finally ran out of parts. The Famicom lasted 20 years, two months, and ten days, the longest lifespan of any video game console to date.note 

In 2016, Nintendo brought back the NES in the form of the "NES Classic Edition", a Plug N Play Game console with 30 built-in games.List (exclusives in bold)  It also came with a controller, and you could buy more separately.note  It had a limited run until 2018 and was unexpectedly popular, selling 2.3 million units during its short lifespan.

Nintendo of Japan released their own Famicom Mini in 2016 as well; this one had hardwired controllers and a slightly different game lineup.List (exclusives in bold)  While it was similarly short-lived, in 2018 they announced a special Shonen Jump edition with 20 games;List (grouped by license in bold)  19 of them were Licensed Games based on Shonen Jump manga properties, and the other one was the debut installment of Dragon Quest, which had a spin-off manga running in the magazine. (And also the system was gold-plated and packaged like it was an issue of the magazine.)

Design quirks

The Famicom had a few quirks when it was launched in Japan:
  • The controllers had square buttons with very soft rubber, not unlike a cashier machine or the ZX Spectrum. The rubber deteriorated quickly with use; this was so common that many controllers wind up in used markets with buttons missing. Nintendo needed a soft rubber to make contact with the board without stressing it out; in the second revision, they used a soft membrane with hard plastic on top of it, a style which remains the industry standard today.
  • The controller cables were infamously short, just under two feet long. They were also hardwired into the console, so you wanted to extend them, you had to open up the system, cut the cables, and solder them up to extensions. It wasn't a huge deal in Japan because living spaces in the country tend to be tiny, but it causes issues for Import Gaming. Several companies made third-party controllers with longer cables (among other things), but not all games work with them.
  • The system launched with RF out only. This allowed for the widest possible compatibility with TVs at the time, but over the years, RF was quickly replaced by RCA composite or RGB SCART. The Famicom became increasingly cumbersome to set up on more modern TVs, and near-impossible outside of Japan without extensive moddingnote . It wouldn't be until a decade later, and six years after the NES, that the AV Famicom would be released with RCA composite out.
Then came the Famicom Disk System:
  • The soft rubber belt used to drive the mechanism was so sensitive to the heat the system generated that it would rot or melt over time. And the system couldn't run without it. Replacements aren't too hard to find, but cleaning the old belt out of the clunky drive could be a long, arduous process.
  • Unlike a standard 3.5-inch floppy disk, most Famicom disks had no protection for the magnetic film inside; the only ones that did were special-edition disks, which were pretty rarenote . This made Famicom disks far more vulnerable to dust and temperature changes, leading to the infamous "Error 22" message. Games were shipped with thick plastic cases and a slip of wax paper to store them, but they didn't always help.
  • The disks were laughably easy to pirate. The format they usednote  had only one form of protection, a check of a series of notches inside the molding pressed on each disk. You could effortlessly fool it by carving the notches yourself in a pirated disknote . Bootlegs were rampant and quite creative; you could chain two Disk Systems together and make a disk copier, you could use special cables to copy a PC game to the Famicom's RAM adapter, and even use homebrew tools and hacks like "Tonkachi Mario", the Ur-Example of console ROM-hacking (predating the likes of Super Mario World's Lunar Magic by a decade).

Even the improved NES had its share of bizarre design issues:

  • It was designed to look like a VCR so as to not evoke the previous consoles. This included a front-loading cartridge, like a VCR, which had the extra perk of reducing the risk of electric shock that existed on the top-loading Famicomnote . However, the cartridge had to be held in place with a "zero insertion force" mechanism — i.e. a fancy lever. That mechanism put so much force on the cartridge pins that they bent a little every time it was used, and it also had a tendency to shove the ROM board slightly back into the cartridge.
  • The materials were pretty cheap. The pins in the cartridge and the connector were also pretty cheap, which is why they bent so easily. They were made of simple ungilded copper and tarnished easily when exposed to moisture. This caused problems which Nintendo originally misdiagnosed as dirt intrusion, leading to the popular tactic of blowing into the cartridge or the system to clear dirt. Although this was actually counterproductive (there's moisture in your breath, after all), veteran gamers swore by this technique.
  • All NES cartridges required the 10NES lockout chip, which was designed to prevent unlicensed games from working. Only problem was that it required a constant connection; if that was lost, the system could restart or prevent even licensed games from playing. And the side-loading cartridge was trickier to keep a connection than the top-loading Famicom, which never had the 10NES chip to begin with. And to make things even worse, as noted above, Europe had two versions of the chip due their division of Europe into two sub-regions: Nordic and Western.
  • The NES cartridge slot had more pins than the Famicom version. However, the extra pins turned out to just be for show; they weren't really connected to anything. They weren't even used for the 10NES chip — those were connected to the Famicom's co-processor pins. This made it impossible to include co-processors on a NES cartridge, which was necessary for better audio on some Famicom games (like the Japanese version of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, which made use of a special mapper).note 
  • The NES removed the Mic on controller 2 and the DB15 peripheral port. This made the NES incompatible with many Famicom hardware peripherals. It also meant that if you wanted to use the Zapper, you had to swap it with controller 2.note  The mic's removal also meant that several games' features had to be changed for the American release (like defeating the Pols Voice monster in The Legend of Zelda by screaming into the mic).


Technical Specifications:

Processors

  • Central Processing Unit: The Ricoh RP2A03, a custom MOS 6502 with a few extras added on like a sound generator. It runs at 1.79 MHz. The PAL region based NES consoles use a Ricoh RP2A07 clocked at 1.66 MHz.
  • The system's sprites are generated by the Ricoh RP2C02 Picture Processing Unit, which is a lot faster. Its speed is 5.37 MHz. PAL region NES consoles use the slightly different Ricoh RP2C07 clocked at 5.32 MHz. This processor allows it to lay a lot of sprites at once, and render huge backgrounds compared to the pre-crash systems.

    • Due to the chip differences between NTSC & PAL consoles. Games made for one region may have compatibility issues if ran on the other. This is because programmers had to modify their code to run on the PAL consoles to compensate for timing differences and features that are only present in the RP2C07 PPU.

Sound

  • The NES had sound circuitry built into its main CPU. It was capable of generating 5 channels of sound: two (largely identical) pulse waves, with 16 volume levels, hardware sweep, and 4 duty cycle settings; one triangle wave channel; one noise channel, with 16 volume levels and 2 sequence settings; and one 7-bit delta modulation channel capable of rendering primitive samples. The delta channel was used mostly for drums and sound effects and occasionally for bass.
  • Famicom cartridges (but not NES cartridges) could have extra sound circuitry:
    • Famicom Disk System sound chip: 1 wave table.
    • MMC5: 2 extra square waves and 1 8 bit DPCM channel.
    • Sunsoft 5B: 3 square waves, really a AY-3-8910 chip built into a variant of the FME-7 mapper.
    • Namco 163: 8 wave tables, same (if not similar) chip found in many Namco arcade games (like with Mappy and The Tower of Druaga). Roughly comparable to Turbo-Grafx 16's audio and Konami's SCC and SCC+ chips' audio.
    • Konami VRC6: 2 square waves and 1 saw wave.
    • Konami VRC7: 6 FM channels, based on the YM2413. Only one game makes use of it, Lagrange Point.note 
  • The NES is capable of audio output in mono only. However, some "famiclones" boast having stereo output, by splitting the four internal audio channels into pairs of two (something only possible on unlicensed clone CPUs).note 

Memory

RAM: The NES had 2 KB (2048 bytes, 0x800 in hexadecimal) of on-board main memory, although chips on the cartridges could expand that. The system can read a ROM size of up to 32 KB, but like the Atari 2600, it used bank switching; you can make the banks bigger using mappers. The smallest cartridge, at just 16 KB, was Galaxian; most other games from 1983-4 are 24KB. The largest cartridge, at 1MB, is 1991's Metal Slader Glorynote . To put everything in perspective, SNES launch title Super Mario World'' was 512 KB.

Sprites

The NES could display sprites of 8x8 or 8x16 pixels. Anything larger is actually two or more sprites acting as one (e.g. Super Mario in Super Mario Bros. 3 is four sprites) or a background object made to act like a sprite (e.g. the dragon boss in Mega Man 2). The choice was global; all sprites on the screen were the same size, unless one carefully timed the code to change the setting mid-frame.

The picture processor could generate up to 64 sprites per screen, but no more than 8 sprites could be displayed on a single horizontal line (easiest to see when firing the machine gun in Contra). Games dealt with this limitation by cycling which sprites were visible in alternating frames, resulting in a well-known "flickering" effect. Other games dealt with this with really small sprites, especially ports of games from more capable platforms.

The NES was obviously incapable of vector graphics, sprite scaling, or sprite rotation — but with clever programming and a lot of sprites, it could successfully imitate it and still run fine (e.g. Elite, The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner, and the opening of Battletoads).

Parallax scrolling was also not a default option on the NES, but clever programmers could imitate it, and several games took advantage of it when they got the chance. Super Mario Bros. 3 copied it during the sky sequences by having the cloud sprites moving at different speeds. Several more ambitious games have scenes with separate background layers moving at the same time — Totally Rad had one scene with three backgrounds, Ninja Gaiden III had one with five, Joe & Mac had one with six, and Vice: Project Doom had one with eight.

Display

  • Total palette of 64 colors (with several duplicates, reducing the effective count to about 53) with up to 25 on-screen at once (potentially more using special tricks). Up to eight different tints could be applied to the screen, or to horizontal strips of the screen using carefully-timed code. From the programmer's point of view, the NES palette had 32 entries. This was divided into eight 4-color palettes, four for the background and four for the sprites. The first palette entry was shared between all eight, giving a maximum of 25 colors per screen.
  • Screen Resolution: 256x240 pixels, though NTSC televisions would often crop it to 256x224. PAL consoles use the full 256×240 but have extra borders around the display that are hardcoded to be a single black color. It also lacks the short line dot at the end of each scanline render which produces slightly worse video quality compared to it's NTSC counterpart.
  • Backgrounds: The NES supported only one background layer. In the absence of cartridge-provided expansions, the PPU in the NES has enough memory for two screens' worth of background. Each background or "nametable" is a matrix of 8x8 pixel tiles, with each byte in the table being an index into a bank of 256 tiles.
  • The NES has support for up to four nametables; without cartridge expansions, only two of these are usable, and the other two are duplicates. The background can be scrolled horizontally and vertically. Color information is stored separately in an "attribute table"; one 4-color palette can be selected per 16×16 pixel block. This might be why 16×16 pixel blocks are pretty much a universal feature of NES games.
  • The Nintendo MMC5 chip provided extra memory which could be used as extra attribute data, allowing for each 8x8 pixel block to get its own palette and bank number.
  • The NES connected to the TV via RF coaxial. It came with an automatic switcher box that allowed the user to connect a coaxial cable from the wall, allowing a cable TV signal to pass through when the console was turned off. While the Famicom only had an RF output signal, the original NES model also had composite ports on the side, allowing for a generic composite cable to be used to connect the NES to a TV. This was omitted from the NES Mini (NES-101 revision), but some models replaced the Coaxial port with the Multi Out port used on the SNES, Nintendo 64, and GameCube. Unfortunately, these models only came as replacement units from Nintendo and are exceedingly rare.

Peripherals

These weren't the same between Japan and North America. The Famicom used a DB-15 connector that plugged into the front of the console, while NES peripherals used the proprietary 7-pin connector typically connected to the port that's also used for Gamepad 2. This makes Famicom peripherals incompatible with the NES and vice-versa by design, but the NES does have an expansion port on the bottom that can be modded to allow compatibility with Famicom accessories.

Famicom peripherals (Japan only):

  • The Famicom Disk System. We kind of went over this already; it was introduced in Japan in 1986 and never released anywhere else, and it was moribund by the late 1980s.
  • The Famicom keyboard, a compact MSX-style keyboard bundled with Family BASIC. It's actually a required peripheral to operate the Famicom Data Recorder, as the latter works by hooking up to the keyboard, which has modulator and demodulator circuitry.
  • The Data Recorder, a cassette tape recorder intended mainly for storing programs created with Family BASIC, but some games also used it for saves. Essentially just a standard portable mono tape recorder with line-in/line-out jacks and the necessary cables. You either need the Famicom keyboard or a third-party accessory to hook it up, because the keyboard has modulator and demodulator circuitry. Said third-party accessory, the Hori S.D.Station, also duplicates the audio-out pin to a headphone jack and amplifier, allowing you to connect headphones directly to the Famicom.
  • The Famicom Modem, an adapter to take your Famicom online. It uses its own card-based format (like NEC and Hudson Soft's PC Engine), and the only games made for it were ports of cartridge games (like Super Mario Bros. 3) adapted for online play. The cards themselves are quite rare nowadays.
  • The Fukutake StudyBox, an unusual tape-player that plugs into the Famicom's cartridge slot, allowing you to load games from tape. The company only used it to distribute educational titles. The tapes are partitioned such that the stereo track is split into a data track and an audio track (similar to the Teddy Ruxpin’s story tapes where one track contains audio and the other contains code that controls the bear’s animatronics), and the device passes the audio track back to the Famicom using the audio passthrough pin on the cartridge slot, making it possible to play back pre-recorded audio and allowing the Famicom to provide otherwise unthinkable multimedia experiences in that era.

NES peripherals:

  • The Power Glove, a standard controller made into the form of a glove. It used rudimentary motion-control technology by measuring finger and hand movements. While usable with multiple games, only two titles were ever designed for it. It's also not an official Nintendo accessory, instead being made by Mattel. Made famous (or infamous) by its Product Placement appearance in The Wizard. ("I love the Power Glove. It's so bad.")
  • NES Advantage, an arcade-style controller with a slow-motion effect, achieved by constantly pausing and un-pausing the game. As you'd expect, it had very mixed results. Once used to pilot the Statue of Liberty.
  • NES Four Score, a multitap that allowed for four-player games. The similar NES Satellite did the same but doubled as a wireless transmitter-receiver for controllers, using infrared like a TV remote (but without the need to aim them).
  • NES Max, a wing controller for flying games.
  • NES Cleaning Kit, for cleaning the cartridge and console. But again, most gamers swore by blowing into them to clear the dust.
  • The ENIO EXP, a third-party devices that makes use of the NES expansion port to provide a DB15 connector — allowing you to plug in Japanese accessories. It also connects the two unconnected pins from the cartridge slot so that Japanese games with external sound chips will have a working sound output. It even provides an interface connector with the common ESP8266 networking co-processor, allowing you to put your NES on the Internet.

Peripherals for both:

  • The Zapper Light Gun. It detected brightness only; it worked by having the screen go black for one frame after pulling the trigger (to make sure the player wasn't aiming at an outside light source) and then lighting up one target at a time, frame by frame, to see which one the player was aiming at. The original Famicom Zapper resembled a realistic-looking revolver; the NES Zapper was redesigned to make it look less like a real gun. The NES version was one of two peripherals packaged with the system at launch and was gray like the rest of it; later versions were bright orange due to changes in US regulations concerning toy guns.
  • The Power Pad, a floor mat with buttons used for track-and-field games.
  • The U-Force, a third-party peripheral from Broderbund Software; similar to the Power Glove, it uses rudimentary motion control.
  • The Robotic Operating Buddy, or R.O.B. Known in Japan as the "Family Computer Robot", or F.C.R. One of the two originally packaged with the NES to get American gamers to think it was more of a toy than a video game console. It only worked with two games, Gyromite and Stack-Up. Its real purpose was as a Trojan Horse to get an American distribution deal with Worlds of Wonder (the builders of the Teddy Ruxpin line of animatronic dolls) — ironically, they figured out what was up and pulled out of the deal, but by then the console was a hit and Nintendo didn't need R.O.B. anymore.


Games/Series:

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Tropes:

  • Bad Export for You: Nintendo's redesign of the Famicom into the NES introduced several flaws into the hardware that weren't present in the original.
    • PAL regions got the short end of the stick. Not only was the region divided by two region lockout chips meaning games were not cross compatible but PAL consoles use slightly different hardware compared to their NTSC counterparts. This would require developers to modify their games to accomodate for the timing differences and features only present in the PAL PPU. Most developers never optimized their games for this and so not only do they run slower, they also have extra borders around the display area and even music would sound off key or at the completely wrong tempo.
  • Boring, but Practical: The hardware was dated almost as soon as it was released, paled in comparison to arcade hardware 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, and knowing the kind of trouble Atari got into in America (the lack of Copy Protection on the Atari 2600 left them powerless to stop the release of games like the notorious Custer's Revenge), Nintendo enforced strict censorship policies, even when going from Japan to North America:
    • Blood and gore were explicitly verboten, and violence had a lot of restrictions. Beating up or shooting robots, aliens, or zombies was okay, 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, but Nintendo forced it to be removed.
    • Using the words "death", "die", "kill", or "killed" was not allowed.
    • Sexual references weren't permitted. Maniac Mansion had a scene where a message written on a wall said "For a good time, call Edna"; Nintendo had them remove the first four words.
    • References to touchy topics such as religion and or hate groups like the Nazis were also not allowed. They were okay with neutral religious terms like "sanctuary" or "shrine", but nothing too associated with a particular religion. This led to some interesting edits:
    • 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 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 similarly 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. This is likely the reason why the game Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill, where you control President Clinton's cat and fight caricatures of Republicans, never got released for the Super NESnote .
    • Overly realistic weapons weren't allowed. Even the Zapper accessory was changed in North America to look less like a real gunnote .
  • Early-Bird Release: Numerous early games were first released in the United States as Vs. System arcade cabinets. Later, Super Mario Bros. 3 was first made available stateside as a Playchoice-10 cabinet.
  • Follow the Leader: Sega's Master System console tried hard to play catch up with the NES in the West. Its controllers were very similar to the NES pad. The tie-in game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, was an obvious attempt to ride the Super Mario Bros. bandwagon. While it tanked in the U.S., unable to overcome Nintendo's market share and third-party support, it actually managed to outsell the NES in other countries.
  • Light Gun Game: 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. It was the era of the arcade game, which was designed to be hard so as to extract quarters from less skilled players; many NES games were based on such arcade games. Nintendo was also wary of gamers being burned by games that were too short or too easy (they were spending $50 on those things), and when they didn't have much content, they upped the difficulty factor.
  • No Export for You: Too many examples to count. Some general trends include
    • Nintendo planned to release a version of the Famicom Disk System in the USA, but these plans never came to fruition. The most popular titles (i.e. The Legend of Zelda and Metroid were converted to cartridge release, while others never left Japan.
    • The Famicom Data Recorder was also planned for localization, but never saw release. Westerners had no way to save they levels they created for a handful of games with Level Editor features (i.e. Excitebike, Wrecking Crew and Mach Rider).
    • By the time the NES made its belated rollout in the USA and Europe, many games from early in the Famicom's life (i.e. Nuts & Milk) were considered too archaic graphics-wise and gameplay-wise to release in those regions, and lacked the star power of franchises like Pac-Man and Lode Runner.
    • Games released later in the Famicom's life (i.e. EarthBound Beginnings and Joy Mech Fight) were released well into The 16-bit Era of Console Video Games. Publishers declined to release them in the West, fearing low sales compared to more advanced games on competing 16-bit platforms.
  • 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 New-style NES 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 a fear of Shovelware, something that did in Atari and its competitors in The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. Nintendo made sure they were on the "quality" side of the divide, and in doing so did all of their Copy Protection shenanigans.
  • Region Coding: Several factors prevented region interoperability. Japanese consoles do not have a 10NES chip, meaning they can't work through the NES's Copy Protection. And their cartridges are shaped differently; Famicom cartridges can't fit in a NES, and vice-versa. And that 10NES chip had different versions in North America and Europe (and indeed, two different ones in Europe, meaning Europeans had to be careful of which version of a game they bought). Nor can Famicom consoles take NES peripherals or vice-versa; the Famicom used the DB-15 expansion port, while the NES used the proprietary 7-pin port. And to top it all off, for whatever reason, European NES consoles will not operate with an American controller, even though they use the same port (although an American NES can use a European controller just fine).
  • Regional Bonus: The Famicom's controllers were hard-wired into the system, but the NES used controller ports, allowing you to just swap them out instead of digging into the console or replacing the whole thing outright. The NES also had composite built into the console, which was seen as a big improvement in video quality over RF (Which was the Famicom's only output option). Both of these changes would later see the light of day in Japan in the form of the AV Famicom system refresh.
  • Revenue-Enhancing Devices: The R.O.B. toy was initially packaged with the first release of the NES as a way of getting the console's foot in the door. Since the American 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 lineup, but it had served its purpose well.
  • The Wiki Rule: NES Wiki.

"WE ARE NINTENDO. WE CHALLENGE ALL PLAYERS. YOU CANNOT BEAT US."

Alternative Title(s): NES, Famicom

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