15 NES Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

NES facts
NES facts

It’s hard to believe that over 40 years have passed since the release of the NES in its original Famicom form. The console had a fascinating launch and early success in Japan, before going through a series of dramatic changes for a gradual release to other markets like the U.S. and Europe in 1985 and 86 respectively. By the end of the decade, the NES was a powerhouse that dominated the market throughout much of the world. It turned Nintendo into a giant of an industry that had nearly crashed into oblivion in 1983, and the company remains to this day one of the key players in the endless console wars.

At this point, with more seniority in console manufacturing than anyone else going today, let’s take a look at some surprising facts about the Nintendo Entertainment System, including some fascinating tidbits about the original Famicom.

True Nintendo fanatics may know some of these, but we doubt that everyone knows all of these facts about the NES, so let’s dive in.


1. The French Version of Zelda II

The French version of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is an interesting artifact from an era in which games would not be localized into a country’s language, despite being put out there.

Released in 1988 in France, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link gave players a completely translated manual. This would naturally be helpful for learning the basics of the game, but the manual obviously doesn’t have the mass of text the game offers as Link chats with various villagers in his adventure. To address this, Nintendo decided to also include a booklet containing all the game’s text, dialogue and all, translated into French. Awfully nice of them, although this wasn’t something they did very often, if at all.

Was the translation for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link perfect? Apparently not, with missing dialog and weird choices made in translating the dialog, but that didn’t seem to stop the game from being successful in France and elsewhere.


2. The NES Tetris Showdown


The story of Tetris making it to the west is already infamous for its twists and turns, influenced by the political landscape of the time, but did you know there’s a chapter that also involves Atari?

By the end of the 80s, Atari was developing computer and console games for other systems under the name Tengen, including games for former rival Nintendo. Part of the extremely complicated negotiations that would eventually take Tetris out of Russia, turning it into a global phenomenon, included Atari believing they had the rights to a console version.

As it turns out, they didn’t. Nintendo would eventually have the console rights to Tetris, releasing it for the NES and most famously their new portable Game Boy system. However, for approximately four weeks, Tengen’s version of Tetris was available in stores. When the announcement came through that Nintendo had the rights, Atari pulled their version from shelves, making it quite a valuable collector’s item in today’s retro gaming collector’s market.


3. Atari Could Have Released the NES?

Things could have been different for Atari, who found themselves struggling but hanging on in the wake of the 1983 crash. At one point there was even talk between Atari and Nintendo about bringing the Famicom to the west. The system had been doing exceptionally well in Japan, and Nintendo was ready to see if the rest of the world might be interested. North America was naturally part of that, but there was concern about being a virtually unknown Japanese company trying to market a product no one had ever heard of.

Deciding they had nothing to lose, Atari nearly finalized a deal with Nintendo to release the NES under Atari’s name. “It was a done deal,” Nintendo of America President Howard Lincoln would later say. Unfortunately, the resignation of Atari CEO Ray Kassar ground the deal to a standstill, and perhaps luckily for all of us, Nintendo eventually decided to go it alone.


4. The Original Famicom Was Very Different


Featuring a predominantly white exterior with dark red trim, one of the first things you’ll notice about the original 1983 Famicom when comparing the system to its evolved NES form is that it doesn’t load its cartridges, which are also smaller than NES carts, in the same way. The Famicom featured a top-loading slot for your games, as well as grooves along the sides to hold your hardwired controllers.

While the Famicom and NES are fundamentally the same system, there were some differences. There was a unique port for add-ons. Even the controllers for the Famicom were very different initially, before going through redesigns that ended with the iconic look we know and love today. For example, did you know the original Famicom 2nd player controller included a microphone? Even the storage potential of the original Famicom evolved before it came to the United States and the rest of the world. More on that later.


5. Marketing the NES As a Toy

Nintendo would have to play a patient game to get the Famicom, renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System in its bid for universal acceptance, into U.S. stores and beyond. The market had only just crashed a couple of years prior, making everyone from parents to retailers wary. The very rebranding of the console into the Nintendo Entertainment System reflected the company’s emphasis that no, this wasn’t a video game system. Absolutely not. It’s a toy. It’s just a toy that happens to also play these cartridges that contained video games.

Careful messaging was key. The NES was a toy that included a light zapper gun, and even a robot who would play games with you. The system was billed as an “entertainment system.” Even the games themselves were called “game paks” as opposed to “video games.” Eventually, their efforts paid off, as you may have heard the name “Nintendo” mentioned once or twice over the years.


6. NES Games Are Still Being Made

Alwa’s Awakening
Alwa’s Awakening

Wario’s Woods is generally considered to be the last official NES game released in North America, and that was over 30 years ago. However, death is seemingly not the end for some consoles, as new unofficial NES games are still being developed and released, sometimes in physical media form.

But thanks to a feverish interest in all things retro gaming, particularly ambitious fans are going to the trouble of releasing brand-new games that can be played on your NES console as though the 80s never ended, and your parents never decided to get a divorce on your 10th birthday. Hooray!

And how do these games play? By all accounts, games like Alwa’s Awakening and Full Quiet are fantastic reminders of why this era is still so special to so many people. Both have reviewed and seemingly sold well, so it’s not impossible to imagine further unofficial NES physical media releases could happen.


7. The Sega Origins of Adventure Island

It’s a shame Adventure Island isn’t readily available for players to relive the adventures of Master Higgins, or Wigins if you want to go by the U.K. version, because at one time these were one of the most popular franchises on the NES. There were three sequels on the NES and Famicom alone, as well as games for other consoles like the SNES and Game Boy.

It’s interesting to note that the original Adventure Island has a connection to Sega that some people may not realize. The game originally began as a direct port of Sega’s massively popular arcade smash Wonder Boy. However, as Hudson Soft would discover, the rights had already been sold away. This forced the company to create an entirely new protagonist for the game, and thus Master Higgins was born, with a character many remember fondly to this day.


8. The NES Launched an Iconic Magazine (And They’re Worth a Lot Now)

Nintendo Power
Nintendo Power

Part of the success of the NES came down to player feedback. A mailing list was built on this feedback, culminating in the release of a special free newsletter known as Nintendo Fun Club that began appearing in mailboxes in January 1987. Combined with the birth of their advice hotline, which was also free, Nintendo was right there to help kids understand and get the most of their Nintendo cartridges. It worked, with the newsletter having 600,000 subscribers by the time it ended.

By 1988, Nintendo was on track to sell 7 million consoles in that year alone. To meet this enthusiasm, the Nintendo Fun Club newsletter was transformed into a full, gorgeous color magazine known as Nintendo Power, launching in July/August 1988. The first issue promoted Super Mario Bros. 2 heavily and was given to newsletter subscribers for free. This gesture paid off, too, as Nintendo Power would have 2 million readers by the end of 1989.

These days, graded copies of the earliest issues of Nintendo Power can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.


9. The Origins of Survival Horror on the NES

Resident Evil and Capcom didn’t invent survival horror, but their groundbreaking 1996 hit cemented the genre with tropes and gameplay and atmosphere that are not only still hallmarks of the franchise, but formulated the standards of the genre itself. But when we talk about the influences on Resident Evil, suddenly the original NES (specifically the Famicom) comes into the picture.

One of the most important influences on Resident Evil, Capcom’s own Sweet Home was released in 1989 as a horror movie about a film crew being trapped in a haunted mansion with its very own tie-in game. Nothing unusual about that in itself, although a horror RPG with heavy emphasis on inventory management and careful strategy made for a relatively unique game on the Famicom, which unfortunately was never released here in the west. What’s unusual is how influential the game would be years after its release.

Directed by the great Tokuro Fujiwara, director of Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and producer of an obscure series called Mega Man, the Sweet Home game would live on well past 1989. In fact, when Resident Evil originally went into production, with Fujiwara as its producer, the game was originally planned as a remake of Sweet Home.


10. Miyamoto’s First Console Game Wasn’t Released Stateside Until 2023

Devil World
Devil World

Shigeru Miyamoto would direct Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda almost back-to-back, and those are two of the bricks that built the success of the NES in no uncertain terms.

However, his first work on a console game didn’t even make it to the United States. Released in 1984 for the Famicom, Devil World benefitted from Miyamoto’s work as a designer, and tasked players with traveling through a maze filled with demons. The game is basically a Pac Man clone with crosses, Bibles, and the actual Devil himself, and those three elements are why Nintendo never thought to release the game in the west.

Given Nintendo’s strict policies on religious content in their games, it’s hardly surprising that Devil World didn’t make it over here in the 80s. But the fact that it didn’t get a North American release until it came to the Switch in 2023 is pretty shocking, considering who worked on it.


11. The Famicom Disk System Never Left Japan

Of the various differences between the Famicom and the NES, the cartridges originally made for the console were far simpler than the sorts of games the NES would begin releasing in the late 80s. You couldn’t save your game, and the storage capacity for the original Famicom games was limited, meaning the games themselves could only do so much. The solution on Nintendo’s part came in the form of the Famicom Disk System.

Developed as an add-on for the Famicom, the FDS was designed to solve several issues simultaneously. Games could now be saved, would be far cheaper than cartridges, and could sidestep things like a chip shortage and assorted production delays. Even the games themselves could be bigger, with titles like The Legend of Zelda being just one of the 200 FDS games released. The peripheral was successful, selling well over 4 million units exclusively in Japan.

So, what happened? Cartridge technology and other factors made it possible to do everything the FDS offered on a cartridge, which was also harder to pirate. Nintendo never had a reason for the Famicom Disk System to leave Japan.


12. 3D Gaming on a Nintendo Console? In 1987?!

Was Nintendo really doing 3D gaming back in the 80s? Sort of.

3D gaming has come a long way in the last decade alone, but it’s not as new a concept as you might think. Dating back to the middle of the 1800s, 3D technology as a concept has been around for decades, and in the past 75 years or so we’ve seen it tried in a variety of forms, often with little-to-no success. Nintendo’s 3D peripheral was called the Famicom 3D System, and as you might guess from the name it was exclusive to Japan.

Nintendo was simply giddy with trying and releasing every peripheral that could be conceivably attached to a Famicom or NES. The Famicom 3D System proves exactly that, and while fascinating, and while it did work with games like Rad Racer, it sold poorly in Japan and never came close to a release in the U.S. or elsewhere. Nintendo would eventually get their wish with the 3DS many, many years later.


13. Three Screws or Five?

Depending upon how many screws are on the back of your NES cartridge, you could be sitting on a game that’s worth a significant amount of money. Why does it matter? If you’re a serious collector or aspire to be one, knowing the difference can be essential because the tiniest details often determine how much a collectable is worth. In the case of the NES, a game with five screws on the back is generally rarer than the 3-screw design the company would adopt just a couple of years into the console’s worldwide run.

Why? No one really knows for sure, but we can guess that Nintendo simply decided that a 3-screw design which also utilized plastic tabs was more cost efficient than the 5-screw method. There are 5-screw games for every NES title released before the middle of 1987.

Again, some of these are worth a lot of money, so feel free to send some of that money to us if this is how you learned about 3 and 5-screw carts.


14. The NES Satellite and Four Score: Early Multiplayer Support

NES Satellite
NES Satellite

Multiplayer is essential for many games in the current gaming landscape, but back in the 80s and early 90s multiplayer was almost exclusively a two-player endeavor.

Nintendo was at least curious enough about four player games to release the NES Satellite in 1989. With a mere six C-cell batteries, up to four players could enjoy any NES game capable of supporting that many people. Which unfortunately was not a huge list of games, but not bad by any means. The “turbo” button feature and wireless capabilities made the Satellite a neat concept.

Nintendo would continue to develop this idea with the release of the Four Score in 1990. And while that doesn’t sound as cool as “Satellite,” it didn’t require a shitload of C-batteries. Also, if you lived in Europe, you could actually buy the Four Score bundled with the console. Neat.

15. Was Doki Doki Panic a Mario Game All Along?

It’s one of the most commonly known Mario stories. Japan got a Super Mario Bros. 2 that was a harder, amped up variant on the first game’s visual style and formula. The Super Mario Bros. 2 that everyone else got was a bizarre platformer that was originally released in Japan with non-Mario characters as Doki Doki Panic. It’s an interesting window into Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto’s desire to do bold things with their new mascot, but again, it’s a story many people already know.

But what if we told you that it wasn’t completely true?

In a 2011 interview with Wired.com, Super Mario Bros. 2 director Kensuke Tanabe revealed that when he came up with the vertical ascension platformer element of gameplay, he first pitched it to Nintendo as a potential concept for Mario. For several reasons, Nintendo and Miyamoto didn’t see the concept working for their side-scrolling hero. It was only later when the concept was reworked into Doki Doki Panic that everyone saw a game that could be combined quite well for Mario and the gang. And as far as most players were concerned, they were right.

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