Nintendo Entertainment System

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The Nintendo Entertainment SystemThe Nintendo Family Computer
Nintendo Entertainment System
Manufacturer Nintendo
Type Home Console
Generation Third
Lifespan 1983 - 1994
CPU Ricoh 2A03 8-bit processor
Media Cartridge
Controllers 2 Inputs
Release Date JP July 15, 1983
US October 18, 1985
EU 1986
Units Sold 61.91 million
Top Game Super Mario Bros.
Predecessor Color TV Game
Successor Super Nintendo

The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, is the first system that Nintendo released. It has been sold in North America, Japan, Europe, Australia, and Brazil. In Japan, it's known as the Famicom, short for Family Computer.




Following Nintendo's arcade success in the early 1980s, Nintendo decided to create a cartridge-based home system. Designed by Masayuki Uemura, the Famicom was released in Japan on July 15, 1983 for 14,800 yen (about US$122). The launch games included arcade ports of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. During it's first year, many people were critical of the Famicom due to programming errors and freezing during game play. Following a product recall and a new motherboard, these problems were fixed and the Famicom became Japan's most popular console by the end of 1984.


Encouraged by their success in Japan, Nintendo turned it's eye to America. Rather then try to sell in a market they were not familiar with, Nintendo attempted to negotiate a distribution deal with Atari. The Famicom was to be released under the name "Nintendo Enhanced Video System." However, the deal fell through. Later plans to release the console under the name "Nintendo Advanced Video System" never materialized. The Nintendo Advanced Video System was to include a keyboard, a cassette recorder, a joystick, and a BASIC cartridge.

The Nintendo Entertainment System was unveiled at 1985's Consumer Electronics Show. The NES had it's first trial run in New York in October of 1985. Retailers weren't sure about carrying a game console after the industry crashed, so Nintendo promised to buy back every console that didn't sell. The console sold well enough that Nintendo released the system to the rest of America in February 1985. There were eighteen launch titles: 10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan's Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Mach Rider, Pinball, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman, Wrecking Crew, and Super Mario Bros..

The NES was original sold in two different configurations. The Control Deck, selling at US$199.99, came with the console itself, two controllers, and Super Mario Bros. The Deluxe Set, selling at US$249.99, came with the console, a R.O.B., a NES Zapper, Duck Hunt, and Gyromite.

The NES was continuously put in new bundles throughout it's lifespan in North America. In 1988, the NES Action Set replaced the two original bundles. It sold for US$199.99 and contained a console, two controllers, a NES Zapper, and the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt multicart. This was the most popular bundle.

Other bundles included the Power Set(the console, the Power Pad, the NES Zapper, two controllers, and a Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet multicart), the Sports Set(the console, a NES Satellite infrared wireless multitap adaptor, four game controllers, and a Super Spike V'Ball/Nintendo World Cup multicart), the Challenge Set(the console, two controllers, and Super Mario Bros. 3), the Basic Set(the console, two controllers, and The Official Nintendo Players Guide). The redesigned NES 2 reused the bundle name Control Deck and included the console and two "dog bone" controllers.

Europe and Australia

Europe and Australia were collectively divided into two regions: Region A and Region B. Region B, consisting of most of mainland Europe, saw the NES released in 1986 in most countires. Many different companies handled the distribution of the consoles while Nintendo handled most of the games themselves.

Region A, consisting of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand, was handled by Mattel. The NES was released in Region A in 1987.

The NES didn't sell as well in Europe and Australia as it did in America and Japan, but it managed to become history's best-selling console in 1990.

Later Years

In 1990, Nintendo found itself faced with a worthy adversary: the SEGA Genesis (or SEGA Mega Drive, in Japan). The Genesis's success, coupled with Nintendo's release of the Super Nintendo, meant the end of the NES's success. Despite this, it wasn't until 1995 that Nintendo of America stopped producing the NES. The Famicom was still produced in Japan until October of 2003.

In more recent years, the NES has become a favorite of retro gamers, collectors, and modders.



The Famicom was the original Japanese machine. The case's design is significantly different. These included a top-loading design, a 15-pin port on the front for accessories, and a red and white color scheme. The Famicom only used 60-pin cartridges, rather then the 72-pins of the NES. The Famicom also had support for external sound enhancements, which was removed from the NES. However, the Famicom lacked the NES's "lock-out" circuitry.

Interestingly, the Famicom had different controllers than the NES. Hardwired to the system, they lacked the "Select" and "Start" buttons and the second controller featured a microphone.

Also, certain peripherals were only compatible with the Famicom, notably the Famicom Disk System, Famicom BASIC, and the Famicom Modem.


The NES was designed with a front loading design, sometimes called "the toaster." It also had a new, gray color scheme. The NES cartridges had 72-pins rather than 60-pins like the Famicom.

Though external sound support was removed, the NES had "lock-out" circuitry to prevent people from making unlicensed games. The European versions of the NES also had "regional lockout" to prevent Region A games from being played on a Region B console and vice versa.


The NES 2 was redesigned with a top-loading style and a new, ergonomic controller, nicknamed "the dog bone." The NES 2 also lacked the NES's lockout chip.

Third-Party Licensing

Nintendo's near monopoly over the video game market during the NES's heyday meant that they had a lot of leverage with third-party developers. Learning a lesson from the collapse of Atari, Nintendo added a lockout chip to the NES. The chip prevented games from loading unless there was a corresponding chip in the cartridge.

Third-party developers were forced to pay licensing fees, submit their games to Nintendo's Quality Assurance department, buy developer kits from Nintendo, and manufacture their games through Nintendo. Nintendo was allowed to dictate the games pricing, censor any material they thought unacceptable, decide how many of a game would be manufactured, and limit the number of games a company could produce over a certain length of time.

These practices not only gave Nintendo more control over developers, it also let them manipulate the market. Referred to by Nintendo of America's PR representatives as "inventory management," Nintendo would orchestrate game shortages to increase demand. Retailers, who at that time were making large amounts of money selling Nintendo products (at one point, Toys'R'Us reported 22% of their profit being from selling Nintendo products), could do nothing about it. In 1988, Nintendo produced 33 million cartridges though there was a demand for close to 45 million cartridges.

Some companies managed to get around Nintendo's lockout chip. Atari, using a subsidiary name Tengen, managed to create the Rabbit chip, which mimicked Nintendo's lockout chip, using information they got from the US Patents office. More common methods were using a dongle to use a licensed game's lockout chip or using a voltage spike to knockout the lockout chip.

See Also


List of NES Games

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