Friday, September 23, 2011

Double Trouble Donkey Kong Jr. Style: Pulse Line versus Box Art

One of my recent Famicom purchases was another copy of Donkey Kong Jr. I`ve had the pulse line version of this game for quite a while, but I didn`t have the other version. on the right in the above photo.

The subject of today`s post is this duality exemplified in my Donkey Kong Jrs. Most of the Famicom Pulse line carts were released in two versions - the original pulse line version and the other version with the picture from the box art, which were released later.

As a point of nomenclature, I`m not actually sure how to refer to these versions. `Pulse line` is a convenient and descriptive term that is hard to mistake for something else. But what to call these other carts? `Picture carts`? That is short, but not very specific as most Famicom carts have pictures on them. `Box art carts`? Same problem.

Anyway, since I need to refer to them as something in this post, I`ll use the phrase `box art carts` to refer to the versions of the pulse line carts that have box art instead of the pulse line on the cover. Everybody clear on that? Good.

From a collector`s point of view, I`ve noticed some variations in the relative scarcity of the pulse line and box art versions of some of these carts. I think they can be divided into three categories.

1. Pulse Line Carts that have no Box Art version

To the best of my knowledge, the following pulse line carts never had a box art version released:

Donkey Kong 3
Donkey Kong Jr Math
Popeye English

I could be mistaken and if anyone knows of box art versions of these carts, please let me know. I have never seen one myself though.

2. Pulse Line Carts that have Box Art versions which were released in roughly equal numbers

For some games that had two versions released, each version seems to have been released in roughly the same quantity and neither is harder to find or more expensive than the other. I would include the following games in this category:

Devil World
Mario Bros.

There is a bit of variation. The box art version of Mario Bros. seems to be slightly harder to find than the pulse line version, for example, but not too much harder and most shops charge the same price for each if they have them.

3. Pulse line carts that are much easier to find than their box art versions

For some reason a number of carts have box art versions that are significantly harder to find than the pulse line versions and most stores will sell the box art version for a much higher price. These include:

Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong Jr

At Mandarake in town here, for example, they have both versions of Popeye available loose. The Pulse line version they are selling for 630 yen (about 9$), while the box art version they are selling for 2400 yen (about 30$). I`m guessing that the reason for this relative scarcity of the later box art versions is that the popularity of those games declined quickly between 1983 and 1985 and thus fewer of the newer versions were sold.

4. Gomokunarabe

This is the one cart which I can`t say for certain which category it belongs in. I have one copy of each version, so I can say that it belongs in either group 2 or 3, but I just haven`t seen enough copies of it in stores to know which is harder to find than the other. Anybody out there know?

Anyway, just thought I`d put this info I had rattling around in my head out there for reference if any of you are trying to collect both versions of these games!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. SO!

    Every Nintendo published game including and prior to Hogan's Alley had both a "small box" version and a "reissue" (grey box) version. You can see examples of many of those here ( Donkey Kong 3 is the only small box game that never got a grey box reissue.

    As far as rarity... Devil World is "the hinge" game as far as the different box styles go. With Devil World they officially stopped selling their new games in the "small boxes" and released grey box reissues of all their old games (except Donkey Kong 3, there is no grey box or box art cart release of DK3). With Devil World the first run of the game were pulse-line carts, even though the box only had one type of release (grey box). These were likely produced before they had made the decision to use the "grey box" for Devil World, so they put them in the first so many units and then put new labels with the box art on the rest, selling them all in the same grey box.

    I only collect boxed Nintendo published, so I can't speak about the carts specifically, but grey box versions of early games like Popeye, Donkey Kong... these are pretty hard to find. I assume because they released the grey box re-releases in smaller numbers for the really old games. (One example, a boxed Popeye English small box version is on ebay for a rather inflated 90 bucks, while a grey box version sold through Mandarake a while back for 45,000 yen).

    Personally I stick to the original releases. Small box releases for every game up to DK3, and after that (except for the Devil World cart weirdness), there's only one version.

    (edited for clarity)

  3. Thanks for the great comment, Brandon! That link is extremely useful.

    Interesting that Devil World came out in that transitive period between box styles and cart cover styles, which did not quite coincide.

    I love the original small boxes. The only one I have is Hogan`s Alley, which is a beauty. At the Mandarake in Fukuoka here they have the grey box Wild Gunman going for something like 40,000 yen or so, it is quite expensive.

  4. I should add that every Hogan's Alley cart is the same, I believe, even though there are two different boxes, and every Devil World box is the same, even though there are two different carts.

    These two games were definitely the hinge as far as cart/box changes go in the Nintendo camp. There is basically the "small box" era, the "grey box" era, with the boxes slightly larger (Clu Clu Land, etc), (then the two weird ROB sets) and then finally the "modern" era, starting I believe somewhere around either Excitebike/Mach Rider/Spartan X, where the boxes got larger still and used color instead of just grey.

  5. Very interesting post and comments. Thanks, guys! Anyway, although I'm a 'pulse line' cart kinda guy myself, I also like the "grey box" games, as Brandon calls them. Specifically, I've love to own the grey box versions of Donkey Kong Jr. and Mario Bros. at some point -- mainly because I've always loved the art that appears on their boxes. Other than all of that, though, welcome back, Sean! You've been missed :)

  6. Brandon - that is a really interesting historical narrative of the development of the boxes. I kind of wish they had kept the box size small throughout the Famicom`s lifetime, those little early ones really are the best (along with the early Namco boxes).

    Bryan - yes, I like them both too. And thanks for the welcome back! Selling off my duplicates has consumed way more of my time than I envisioned so my blogging output has collapsed this month. I`ll try to get it back up to at least one post a week:)

  7. They did something similar with a few NES games, no? Nintendo changed the art, for whatever reason, for a couple of titles later in the era. I could be wrong, but I want to say they were Zelda II, Metroid, Punch-Out and maybe one more. I can't quite remember.

    Anyways, I love those Pulse Line cartridges. I guess it certainly is more 80's design heavy and I'm sure for a lot of people, the one with the cute characters is going to age better, but I like the uniformed early-Famicom equipment and games.

  8. Could be, I`m not as familiar with the NES carts!

    I`m with you on the Pulse Line carts. I like the fact that if the Famicom had been a commercial failure, the pulse line carts would have been the only games ever made for it. Not sure why I like that fact, but I do.

  9. Blimey, sounds like Famicom collecting is a complicated business! Do you have all of the box art versions? :)

  10. Complicated indeed!

    I dont have the Popeye or Donkey Kong box art versions, they are a bit harder to come by. Hopefully I will find cheap ones someday though!