NES
NES
A top-loader NES and a standard NES.
  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.

  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 console since.)

NES controllers
Left to right: NES Max, NES Advantage,
Dogbone controller, standard controller,
Arkanoid Vaus controller.
  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.

  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.

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PC Adapters
  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 Vaus controller.

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