Friday, May 14, 2010

Square Button Famicom: My new paperweight

I took a little ride out to "Hard Off" today. Hard Off is a nationwide chain of used goods stores that sell books, clothes, electronics and of course old video games.

In my experience there are two types of shops that sell used Famicom games. There is one type of shop where they know exactly what everything is worth and they charge exactly that much, no exceptions. You can go through a massive rack of games and you will not find a single discrepancy. If they have 20 copies of "Super Mario Brothers" and one of them is priced at 1,000 yen, you can be absolutely certain that the other 19 will also be priced at 1,000 yen.

In the other type of shop, the people running the shop exercise very little control or supervision over what prices get put on things. There is no apparent system to it and the prices seem to be decided by whichever member of their staff happened to be on duty when the stuff came in. So if they've got 20 copies of Super Mario Brothers and you find one copy for 1,000 yen you know that if you just keep looking through their racks you'll probably find one priced for 500.

Far and away I like the second kind of shop better and Hard Off is one such shop. To be sure, some of their stuff is ridiculously overpriced, but at the same time you can sometimes find insane bargains simply because the right person had the price sticker gun when the game you wanted came in. So I like to go there once a month or so to see what they have.

On looking through their pile of Famicom games today, I knew that "employee number 3" (I number them) must have handled their latest pricing activity because all the new games they had gotten in since my last visit were way overpriced. "Oh, Employee Number 3, who on earth do you think would be willing to pay 525 yen for F1-Race?" I though to myself as I walked away somewhat bemused.

I decided to check out their game hardware section too as I had gotten some good deals there on the past, including my Vaus Controller. They had a big pile of Famicom consoles on sale for 525 yen each, which is a pretty good deal. I didn't need another Famicom (I have 3 already) but this one - horrendously dirty and yellow - caught my eye:
I believe this Famicom had spent the majority of the past 27 years on the surface of Mars.

Anyway, it wasn't the dirt and yellow that caught my eye. "My god, could it be?" I thought to myself, "Yes, a square button Famicom in the middle of a junk pile!! Employee Number 3, I take it all back, you are cool in my books!"

Yes, I had found a square button Famicom - the rarest Famicom out there and every collector's dream. For those of you who don't know, the very fist Famicom released had square buttons. The square ones, which were very prone to wearing out quickly, proved problematic and so when Nintendo recalled the Famicom to fix something else they replaced them and subsequent versions all had the standard round buttons.

So I was pretty excited when I saw that for a mere 525 yen I could score a square button Famicom. My excitement was quickly dashed however when I got a closer look at the player 1 controller:
Yup, a missing "A" button. Guess that is why they recalled them.

That, combined with the general filthy condition of the unit made me have second thoughts, but then I decided "screw it, I'll regret it if I don't get it" and bought the thing.

I plugged the thing in right away and, not surprisingly, it didn't work at all. Undeterred, I cracked it open and about 12 pounds worth of dust fell out - which may have been part of the problem:
I also took apart the controllers and switched this tragedy from the player 1 to the player 2 controller:
Just breaks my heart.

Anyway, after about an hour of cleaning I had the whole thing looking pretty good, except for the really yellow upper half of the outer casing. I had a non-functioning round button Famicom that had a really nice white casing so I decided to switch them (Edit - the new one isn't quite the same as the Square button Famicom doesn't have the "FF" Famicom Family logo on it. Thanks to DSX in the comments for bringing this to my attention). It gave me the chance to compare the guts of the square and round button Famicoms, they are actually quite a bit different:
The Square one is on the left, it is much less logically wired than the round button one on the right and a real pain in the ass to take apart and put together for that reason. I guess these are among the other things they changed after the recall. (Edit - This isn't quite correct. The one on the right is actually a post 1989 revision. Pre-1989 Famicoms, including round button ones, had similar wiring to the original square button Famicom. Thanks again to DSX in the comments for pointing this out).

Anyway, after getting them put back together my new square button Famicom looked pretty good:
Ah, look at 'em buttons:
I then plugged 'er in to enjoy some good old "Spartan X" and was greeted with a solid green screen. Curse. I won't bore you with the details but about half an hour of cursing and doing everything humanly imaginable to try to get the damned thing to show something other than green screen produced no results so I gave up. As things currently stand, my square button is nothing but a paperweight.

I did get a glitter of hope though. After putting the ugly yellow case onto my broken old round-button Famicom I decided to plug that one in too just for the hell of it. I had bought that one about a year ago and spent a huge amount of time trying to get it to work, but every time the image on the screen was too distorted to play. When I flipped the switch this time though, it worked perfectly!

So the lesson is: if you ever get a Famicom that doesn't work, instead of trying to fix it just try to make it worse by stripping it of parts for another system. That, apparently, works like a charm!

And oh yeah, if anyone has any spare square Famicom controller buttons laying around let me know!

Postscript - October 7, 2011

I sold the old square button Famicom in this post last month to jpx72 in Slovakia, where it now resides. You can see pics of it in its new home here.

Related Posts:
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Another Square Button Famicom
- Famicom Console Wars


  1. Awesome man! Grats on the square button beauty!

  2. Thanks! It is now my mission to someday actually play a game using those square buttons!

  3. Lol that's right, I heard they hurt your fingers.

  4. The case is instantly wrong: The square-button FC never had the FF (Famicom Family) logo plate. Look at the yellow case again carefully.

    You compared the inside to a VCCI redesign Famicom from 1989. The internal logic boards are the same between the round-button and square-button Famicom from 1983-1988, although there are seven revisions to the mainboard over that time. You can swap out the mainboard Rev-05 and be more authentic, as this was the first revision after the system mainboard recall.

    What revision is the mainboard in your system and what is the serial number?

    The system recall is for the Rev-01 to Rev-04 mainboards: The controller swap was a separate option given by Nintendo in 1984 and was available through 2003.

    Too bad about the button: I see many like that and I have restored those that have only had loose, but not entirely missing buttons, but when it is completely gone there is little to do to reconstruct it. I'll eventually get around to making reproduction buttons.

    The square-button controllers that I’ve used have never had the problems attributed to them in common lore. You need to be very rough with them to cause problems, and I couldn’t force one to jam-up. Of course, being made of a soft acrylic, they dry out over time and the very thin seams crack, just as the button-pads on other controllers do the same and need to be replaced. In this case, the buttons are the button-pads, so you need to restore or replace them in entirety.

    At some point I should have new replacements available for them...

  5. Hi DXS,

    Thanks for making those very informative points. Actually I've been meaning to revise this post for a while as in the past year I've opened up a lot of Famicoms and came to realize that a lot of round button Famicoms had the same wiring as the square button one. Your comment actually fills in all the blanks in the timeline for me, many thanks.

    Thanks also for the point about the "Famicom Family" mark on the newer consoles, I had never noticed that difference before! I'll have to switch them back!

    Not too sure about the revision and serial number on mine, I'll open it up and post that sometime soon.

  6. No worries, I just like to ensure that factual information is being spread about these buggers, as there is a great deal of mis-information and rumour become truth floating around on the Internet.

    I'm still curious about the grey wires on the other unit as well.

    If you're curious, the FF logo does appear on Pre-VCCI era Famicoms, but only after a certain date: I need to verify it more extensively before publishing a precise date, and on what product it first appeared, but it was after the REV-07 mainboard was already in use. Thus, it was 1985 or later--far too late for any square-button units--which is a dead giveaway to collectors that the top was switched.

    I have something close to a serial number split that identifies roughly where it starts. As a final point, it would be better and possibly simpler to treat and restore the yellow case if you wish to keep it original.

    Other than that, what seems to be wrong with it?

  7. Thanks! Actually I was curious and took a look at my other Famicoms (I have 11 of the red and whites) after your comment. I noticed that about half of them have the "FF" and half don't. I might just choose one of the nicer ones without an "FF" on it to switch it back to! Interesting to know that they made the switch in 1985 or later. If it helps, at some point I plan to take apart and catalogue the serial numbers and mainboards on each of my Famicoms. I'll put that data up here sometime.

    In terms of what is wrong with it, basically it just doesn't load games. When turned on it just give a grey or green screen. I cleaned it pretty thoroughly, but it didn't help.

    Since I acquired my second Square Button Famicom, which is in great condition, I haven't actually given this one much thought. It would be nice to fix this one up, but its one of those projects I just keep putting off and off.