Scour the furthest reaches of cyberspace and you’ll find blog posts covering just about every video game accessory and piece of hardware there ever was. But one piece of console lore that remains woefully underreported is the Famicon adapter for the NES. Sure, there are certain posts out there on the subject, but few of them offer a comprehensive analysis of what it actually is. So in the interests of remedying the issue, here are answers to five questions that cover everything the habitual gamer needs to know about this throwback bit of tech.
What is a Famicom?
By the time the Nintendo Entertainment System hit American shores in October 1985, gamers in Japan were already familiar with the first version of the system: the Famicom (Family Computer). Released in 1983, it was the precursor to the American NES, and its wild success signaled a rebound from the great video game market crash of 1983. The NES was equally successful in the States, so the Famicom never appeared on the radar of American gamers. Moreover, Nintendo never even sold adapters for the two systems.
It’s probably for the best that American consumers never got a glimpse of the Famicom machine because, honestly, it’s a much cooler-looking console. Compare NES’s grey/white boxiness with the Famicom’s sleek design and red-and-white color scheme and it’s like a pasty middle-aged insurance salesman from Omaha, Nebraska standing next to a bikini-clad Brazilian supermodel on the beaches of Rio.
If the two systems weren’t meant to be compatible, then why are there Famicom adapters in the first place?
When the American NES first shipped, there were 15 launch titles. Certain varieties of these initial games contained 60-pin Famicom boards that weren’t compatible with the NES’ 72-pin connector. To solve this problem, Nintendo simply included the 60-72-pin adapter in the game cartridges. After the initial release of NES games, all titles manufactured contained 72-pin boards. What that means, though, is that some of the 100,000 people who bought NES launch titles during the ’85 holiday season got a free Famicom adapter with their games and didn’t even know it.
So which titles included the adapter?
“10-Yard Fight,” “Baseball,” “Clu Clu Land,” “Duck Hunt,” “Excitabike,” “Golf,” “Gyromite,” “Hogan’s Alley,” “Ice Climber,” “Kung Fu,” “Pinball,” “Stack-Up,” “Tennis,” “Wild Gunman” and “Wrecking Crew.”
Of course not all versions of these games contained the internal Famicom adapter, but these titles are where to begin when searching for the elusive conenctor.
How do I find one of these mysterious Famicom adapters?
By searching the aforementioned 17 launch titles. “Gyromite” is commonly used as an effective example of what to look for, mostly due to its label. There is a purple “Robot Series” logo on the front of the game cartridge, and the Famicom adapter can be found in the “Gyromite” version with the deeper-purple coloring (the cartridge with the lighter-purple logo contains no adapter).
But labels aren’t the only things to look for. Probably the biggest giveaway that a game has an included adapter is if the initial release title has five screws on the back (in each of the four corners as well as in the center), as opposed to those with just three screws (on the bottom two corners and the center), which tells you that the cartridge contains a regular 72-pin board without an adapter. Also, the five-screw adapter cartridges do not have plastic clips on the top corners.
Cartridge weight is the final tell, and some say it’s the most exact signifier that you’re dealing with an adapter cartridge. Those already equipped to make this determination are likely science nerds or drug dealers, because doing so requires a scale that displays ounces. The rule of thumb states that a regular NES cartridge weighs around 3.5 ounces, and an adapter cartridge weighs 4.5 ounces. So, for those without a scale, it’s time to hit up a middle-school science lab or your older sister’s creepy boyfriend.
How does the Famicom adapter work?
As mentioned above, it’s a 60-72-pin adapter, and actually using it is as simple as plugging in the cartridge. Any Famicom game should fit into this rectangular piece of plastic, which is nice since the Famicom had an even more extensive library of games than the NES. However, only those lucky enough to own a second-generation NES can play a Famicom game as is. This is due to the top-loading nature of that particular system. Those with the standard front-loading NES systems will want to use a modified cartridge shell to prevent the adapter from getting stuck in the loader.
Where can I find a cartridge shell mod?
They can be found on most online bidding sites. Or a basic photo example can be found here. Regardless, the adapter is the most elusive component, so if you already have that, then you’re 99% of the way home.
Ultimately, while it’s understandable that only the most hardcore of console collectors will find cause to use these adapters, it’s nice to know they’re out there. They’re like a real-life Easter egg unwittingly left behind by Nintendo, bridging the gap between the east and west of the 1980s gaming world. Now they’re being discovered by dedicated retro gamers looking to recapture some of the magic of a time when consoles first appeared in the home, and a generation of kids got an 8-bit introduction to a future filled with billions of polygons.