Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Famicom to NES Converter

by Thomas Mellott

As you may be aware, Japanese Famicom games use a 60-pin interface while American Nintendo Entertainment System games use a 72-pin interface. While these differing interfaces obviously make it impossible to use a Japanese game on an American console there is not actually any region coding on the cartridges themselves.

By using an adapter to get around the interface difference you actually can play your imported games, however these third-party adapters can be somewhat difficult to come by and vary greatly in price, but did you know that there is actually a first-party adapter made by Nintendo? This “official” adapter is actually built into the cartridge of some of the earliest games released in the United States.

The NES was released in the US in October of 1985 and ended up being the hot new toy that everyone had to have that holiday season, making it an astoundingly good seller in the first few months of the system’s life. Nintendo did not expect the console to be as successful as it ended up being, and as a result they had a serious problem supplying the demand. In an effort to meet this demand Nintendo started using their overstock of Famicom games in conjunction with a Famicom to NES adapter built into the cartridge. In theory any first-party Nintendo game released in these first few months has the potential to house one of these adapters, however ‘Gyromite’, ‘Excitebike’, ‘Stack-Up’, ‘Hogan's Alley’ and ‘Urban Champion’ are the only games confirmed to have used it, with ‘Gyromite’ being the most common thanks to it being overproduced in Japan only to have R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy, not meet sales expectations and leaving Nintendo with a lot of unsold cartridges.

So how can you tell if a game has this adapter inside? Well, from just looking at it you can’t, but there are subtle ways to tell. First of all, make sure the game is a 5-screw cartridge, as it is impossible for a 3-screw version produced after 1987 to contain one. Once you know there is a chance of the adapter being present there are a couple ways to verify it. One method is feeling the weight of the cartridge; the adapter inside results in a slightly heavier cartridge. Another method is to lightly tap the center of the cartridge; a standard cartridge is mostly hollow inside, but when an adapter is present the center of the cartridge where it is located is nearly solid plastic and will result in a slightly different sound than one without. The only way to be absolutely certain that you have an adapter is to remove the screws and take a look inside.

One last thing to keep in mind once you have one of these adapters is that it is highly recommended for you to only use it in a top-loading system. Be it a NES Model 2 or some other third party console; make sure it is top-loading. It is not a very comfortable fit trying to get the adapter with a Famicom game into the original model NES, and if you do manage to get it to fit then it would be difficult to remove without first removing the top portion of the of the console’s plastic case.