Do you own an NES? Do you love your NES? Are you all about those 8-bits? That 6502 processor? That majestic grey slab?
It’s hard not to. Just look at all those great games. From Super Mario Bros., to Castlevania, to Mega Man, to Wheel of Fortune: Family Edition, it was a library packed with bright stars and hidden gems. Maybe you’ve played them all. Maybe you’re thinking that the system just doesn’t have anything more to offer.
What if I told you there was a whole different world of NES games that you may have never even heard of or considered? Such a place exists. It’s called Japan and they kept a lot of good stuff to themselves. Only their console of choice was a bit different, it was called the Famicom and it only differed in small ways from our familiar NES.
The main differences merely come down to form factor. The Famicom looks entirely different from the NES to the point where you wouldn’t recognize the two are basically the same system. The Famicom has a toy-like appearance, with a brighter red and beige colour scheme and a prominent eject button. The controllers are hard-wired in and their cords are ridiculously short, better accommodating a Japanese living room.
In terms of technology, the Famicom is practically identical to the NES with some minor differences. The one change that prevents you from sticking a Famicom cartridge into your NES (without an adapter) is the addition of the 10NES lockout chip, which Nintendo used to prevent developers from releasing games on their own cartridges. The result is the NES cartridge uses a 72-pin connector, whereas the Famicom only has 60 pins.
So why not just use an adapter to play all your Famicom games on an NES? You can do that, but there’s a few differences to be aware of.
The Famicom includes a microphone on the second player controller. While the technology is too limited to really do much with it, it is utilized in such games as The Legend of Zelda and Ganbare Goemon. Most prominently, it’s usage is found in Takeshi no Chousenjou in a puzzle where you must sing karaoke. However, you probably don’t want to play that particular game, as it was designed specifically to make players miserable.
Then, of course, there’s the Famicom Disk System, an add-on that allows you to play various games off specialized floppy disks. This little corner of the Japanese library never received a comparable attachment in the west, but some of its more prominent games, including Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, and Metroid, all found their way to their own grey slabs of plastic.
One sacrifice that had to be made in porting them, however, is that they lose access to one special feature; an additional sound channel. A casualty in the switch to a 72-pin format, this extra sound channel allowed for more depth to be added to soundtracks like Metroid’s. Konami, in particular, would also release custom cartridges with added sound chips that again added extra sound channels. The most prominent example of this is the Japanese version of Castlevania 3, Akumajou Densetsu.
Those may seem like minor differences that can easily be overlooked, and really, they are. However, there’s still the matter of the games that didn’t cross the pond to North America. As part of their licensing deal, Nintendo of America limited publishers to only 5 releases a year. This meant prominent publishers like Konami withheld such titles as Getsu Fuuma Den and the Ganbare Goemon series in favour of licensed games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
There are a lot of games that remained locked in their country of origin that are entirely worth playing, even for monolingual gamers. You can even find games by Nintendo themselves like Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally and Joy Mecha Fight never crossed the pond. Personal favourites like Crisis Force and Challenger, are somewhat unheard of over here, but are completely worth playing.
So maybe check out a Famicom when you have the chance, and if you already have, are there any games that you consider your favourite?