Nintendo got their start in games in 1889, selling playing cards. Later on it would
transform to the serious gaming company it is today thanks to Gunpei Yokoi and the introduction
of electronic games. Times before the NES were all well and good, when Nintendo produced arcade
consoles, handheld mini-games, and with the home systems by Atari and Intellivision.
However, the console gaming world really came to life with the release of the NES.
A top-loader NES and a standard NES.
NES stands for Nintendo Entertainment System, which is only slightly more
descriptive than its original name in Japan, Family Computer (abbreviated Famicom).
The larger ROM size, more powerful CPU, and better graphics made it a huge success with
game developers, and those games made the system a huge success in the market. The
controller was also special; while the competition had gamers controlling their game with
a one-button joystick or a telephone keypad, Nintendo established the standard with the
NES controller, with its simple but versatile D-pad, Start, Select, A, and B. (Select would
prove to be used very infrequently, as has been the case with Select buttons on every game
Nintendo did not stop with the NES controller, though. They produced
numerous accessories, and some of them were weirder than others. The regular
controllers saw numerous variations, my favorite being the NES Max (pictured).
The NES Max had two turbo-fire buttons. The NES Advantage created a standard for
quality arcade joysticks; later on a SNES Advantage was released in similar fashion.
One popular bundle came with a light gun (called a "Zapper" in the USA due to
anti-violence propaganda) and a Power Pad. The Power Pad resembles a soft DDR pad
of today's gaming world; its uses were far more creative, though, such as a
mole-smashing type game Eggsplode and World Class Track Meet
where you would simulate running by alternating left and right.
Left to right: NES Max, NES Advantage,
Dogbone controller, standard controller,
Arkanoid Vaus controller.
One of my favorites, the Arkanoid Vaus controller, is just a
potentiometer and one fire button. It controls the movement of the ship
from left to right not unlike the paddle controller for the Atari 2600.
This accessory is as valuable to the game Arkanoid as the stylus
is to many Nintendo DS games. It may be possible to play with standard
controls, but it is much harder and clumsier.
There are so many other NES accessories that I do not have
much credible information on, so I will only say what I know. If anyone
has links to resources on some of the odder NES accessories, E-mail me. One example is R.O.B. the Robot.
This robot interfaced with only two games for the NES, and not very
well. For more information on R.O.B. see this site.
The American NES came in two versions. The first version,
which loaded from the front, was around for the vast majority of the
NES's life. Games loaded from the front into a tray, which then snapped
down into place, resting against a sideways cartridge slot inside. The
only problem with this slot is that it is very fragile, and all it takes
is one bent pin to stop games from loading. Also, dirt on the connectors
would cause just enough resistance to cause the game to fail the NES's
finicky bootstrap process; often times, if the problem was slight enough
you would see the game load fine but the system would still "blink" on
and off trying to reboot the game. My advice to anyone who still owns an
NES: Look before you... insert! I have been playing the same NES that I
got in 1990, and I had never had any major problems with my original
connector. It was flawless, thanks to my due care (not for any lack of
use; I played it frequently). However just a few years ago I bought some
cheap games on eBay, and I didn't bother to clean one of them before
I inserted it. If I had, I might have noticed a piece of carpet fuzz
that was stuck on the connector, but I only noticed that after I had
inserted the cartridge and irreparably damaged my connector.
Fear not, if this story sounds familiar to you! There
is an easy answer to this problem. It seems that the design of the
connector was good enough that it can be replaced with no solder;
you just snap in a new one. For reasons unknown to me, Lik-Sang does not sell
these connectors (possibly they ran out of stock and never re-ordered).
However, they are readily available on eBay.
Don't pay extra for "gold" or "silver" or "copper" connectors - they are
all made of materials that have sufficient conductivity to work, and
if anything, gold, silver, and copper are more flimsy and corrosive,
so you're better off with one made of steel (as I believe mine is).
An alternative, which is very collector-friendly, is
the revised top-loader NES, released in 1993. As you can see, I own
both - I play my front-loader more frequently, but I would be no
NES fan without my top-loader! The controller included with it
is shaped like a dog bone, thus its eternal nickname, but because
of its hard, convex buttons, I find it much less comfortable than
the standard controller. One annoying problem with the top-loader
is its lack of composite A/V out jacks, it only has an RF jack.
There is an A/V
mod that will get them back. I performed this mod on my top
loader and it works great; the picture quality is so much better,
even for the NES.
The NES has an excellent selection of
controllers, and a controller design that has endured (Mad
Catz made a controller for the PS2 called the "RetroCon" which
was very similar to a NES controller). Despite this, controller adapters
are not available for NES to PC play. Hope is not completely lost, though;
it is possible to build an NES-PC interface. Unfortunately, the only method
I have ever done that has worked is fairly complicated.
First, I built the SNES-PC interface (see SNES page for details, plans from the PSXPad website) and installed
the PSXPad drivers. Then, I built a converter that goes from the
NES to the SNES (since both controllers use the same circuitry, you
can do this - see here).
The only problem with this converter is that the remaining
buttons from the SNES controller register as pressed by default, so you
have to make sure they are not mapped to anything. This only works with
the PSXPad interface, not the Super SmartJoy. It is important to note that
in my testing, my parallel port did not supply exactly 5 volts, so the
SNES controller worked, but the NES controller didn't. When I connected
the power leads to a USB port (see my Saturn adapter
for details) the problem was solved and most NES controllers work fine.
Unfortunately, the interface does not support the Power Pad, Zapper, or