Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Famicom Fort

I celebrate a small milestone recently with the acquisition of my 500th Famicom cart. I am now just short of half-way there (526 carts will mark the official halfway point).

Out of curiosity I piled up all my carts, including duplicates, in our extra room. It ended up looking like a bit like a fort wall, so I called it Fort Famicom.

Doing this reminded me of the logistical nightmare that this collection has become. I have no really effective way of sorting them and they just tend to pile up here and there. I segregate the doubles and put them on one shelf, and then I have another shelf for all the games I really like which is easy to get to, but other than that nothing. With over 500 carts (plus 200-300 duplicates) it is now officially "unmanageable." I feel like Lloyd Bridges in "Airplane" whenever I deal with them: "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue".

Anyway, Fort Famicom looked kind of cool.
Related Posts:
- Wall of Famicom
- The Aesthetics of the Famicom Cart
- The Collection
- Famicom Cart Storage: My Long Nightmare is Finally Over

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