Welcome to RGB’s OT for arguably the most iconic and important piece of hardware in videogame history: the Famicom/NES. First released in Japan as the Family Computer (or Famicom for short) in July 1983, the console was launched in the United States in October 1985 and in Europe and Australia in 1987. The system is credited with reviving the home home console market in North America and setting the stage for industry growth worldwide. It turned Nintendo into a juggernaut. And it is home to a library of unparalleled classics that still influence the medium today, both directly and indirectly. In short, if you’re on this board then you need to be on board with the NES.
Because the NES is so well known, I’m posting links to lots of great background info below and will focus the OT instead on the most useful info for today’s retro AV enthusiasts and the latest developments in the NES hardware scene which, it turns out, is more robust today than ever.
NESguide.com - The easiest way to look up a game by publisher, developer or year. Comprehensive yet superficial; info on each game is lacking depth.
NES Wikipedia entry - Duh.
HELPFUL HARDWARE & A/V INFO:
If you’re new to all this and don’t want to go through those links, here’s the thumbnail sketch. The iconic, front-loading NES is easy to find and although it has a reputation for being finicky, it’s actually quite easy to get to work reliably if you know what you’re doing. Cleaning inside the deck and feeding it only properly cleaned carts is a start. A refurbished OEM 72-pin connector (my recommendation) or aftermarket connector (or a Blinking Light Win) also helps. The single best thing you can do is disable the 10NES chip, which is very simple even for non-modder types like me. The top-loader NES is more reliable, and more expensive, and is RF only by default; so you’ll really only want this if you’re going to mod it.
For many, basic composite output works pretty well if you’re using a CRT. The NES doesn’t have the greatest composite output, but it’s not the worst, either. You’ll have to deal with some blurriness and dot crawl. Avoid RF output if at all possible.
Unlike many retro consoles, the NES and Famicom are not natively capable of outputting an RGB signal. So if you’re entering the rabbit hole then you’ll need to mod the system, secure the right cables, and of course, have a display capable of making the most of your investment. NES games in RGB on a CRT look killer. If you’re using a Framemeister or other upscaler with a modern TV, you’ll want to feed it the best possible signal, and that means RGB. Refer back to the links at the top of this section for the full scoop. Component mods are also possible, but less popular.
A WORD ON THE FAMICOM:
If you’re truly into the NES or 8-bit games in general, the Famicom is a must-own platform. It has a number of great games that didn’t come to the US or EU, and a not-insignificant number of games that did come West actually saw better versions on the Famicom. The Famicom has expanded audio channels not found in the NES and also works with the Famicom Disk System, opening up hundreds more titles to play. Some people love the iconic look of the original Famicom, but the biggest downsides are hard-wired controllers and RF-only output. I personally use an RGB-modded AV Famicom with an NES converter. It plays games from all three libraries and accepts controllers and peripherals from all models and territories. As forum user D.Lo has put it: It’s the “best NES.”
THE NES TODAY:
The last few years have brought a ton of new hardware options for playing NES. It’s actually quite insane how robust this scene is, from controllers and adaptors to new console hardware – including an option from Nintendo itself (if you can find it).
NESRGB - For many years, the only way to get RGB from an NES was to harvest a picture processing unit from a Nintendo PlayChoice arcade machine. Not a great option for people who really care about preservation. Then along came modder etim working with people on the NESdev forum with a board that could extract sweet, sweet RGB goodness from the console. Thus the rabbit hole was opened.
AVS - An FPGA clone from RetroUSB, which has received good marks from the community. Plays FC and NES games at 720p output for less than $200.
Analog NT Mini - The luxury choice for those living the Lifestyle of the Rich and Retro. It’s a $450 FPGA device that outputs both analog RGB signal at 240p and HD outputs up to 5x 1080p, all lag free and encased in a solid-body aluminum shell. Plays NES and FC games and works with the FDS. Bonus: compatible with cores for more than a dozen other 8-bit-era systems.
NES Classic - Nintendo re-released a mini version of the NES in 2016 with 30 classic games. Excellent quality emulation with real-deal controllers (on a really short cord) that you can easily play on modern TVs. Good luck finding one for now. It will supposedly be re-issued in 2018.
FDSstick - The FDS is super cool if you’re into retro tech: proprietary 3-inch diskettes that are loaded into a RAM adapter via an oh-so-80s style disk drive. But the magnetic media and moving parts means you’ll likely to get lots of those error codes if you’re playing today. Thankfully the FDSstick can emulate the disk drive and store tons of your ROMs, and it’s the size of a thumb drive, really cheap, and simple to use. You’ll need the RAM adaptor to use it.
8bitdo Famicom/NES wireless controllers - Wireless bluetooth controllers that can be paired with an adapter for use on original hardware. They kinda look the part but they have four face buttons and two shoulder buttons, so it’s not exactly like the real McCoy.
Wireless gamepad from RetroUSB - It’s not much to look at on first glance, but this controller from the makers of the AVS has received good marks from users. Despite having a different form factor, the button layout exactly matches the original controllers. Also features a micro-switched d-pad (rather than rubber membrane) for “clicky” feel/action.
What to say? I’ve been playing NES since 1987 and collecting since the late 1990s and I am STILL finding hidden gems. The library is massive, and great fun. The biggest downside is price. Since 2012 prices have skyrocketed for many desirable and rare games, and have more than tripled on average. Many popular, plentiful games are more expensive due to demand, too. And you won’t find many at yard sales or thrift stores any more. Ebay is, unfortunately, the simplest way to score games these days. Some useful links:
NES library at Ranker.com - All 700+ games ranked by 11,000 voters. Wisdom of the crowd, although the crowd says there are 150 games worse than Donkey Kong Jr. Math. Hmmm…
Chrontendo - If you really want to deep dive into the Famicom library, you can watch dozens and dozens of hours of Dr. Sparkle’s chronological walkthrough of the FC library.
NES Works - A much more comprehensive, insightful, and entertaining chronological video walkthrough series by Jeremy Parish of Retronauts, this time focusing on the U.S. NES library only. Very much worth your time.
Satoshimatrix’s Top 100 Fami/NES games - I just think this a darn good list, even if I disagree with several top placements.
A 2005 NES Guide GAF post - One poster’s insanely thorough list of every NES game sorted by genre and quality tiers. Good at-a-glance reference if you’re looking for new games to play in specific genres.