The Nintendo Entertainment System (abbreviated NES), released in Japan as the Nintendo Family Computer (Japanese: Famiri Konpiyuta, often shortened to Famicom [Famikon] or simply abbreviated as NFC), is a Nintendo console that is considered the successor to Nintendo's Color TV Game series, and is Nintendo's first home console with interchangeable cartridges. It is an 8-bit console that introduced various franchises to the world from The Legend of Zelda to Final Fantasy. Nearly 62 million units were sold worldwide, making it the second best selling Nintendo console of all time (the Wii being the first). The best selling game on the console is Super Mario Bros., though the total number of units sold includes those bundled with the console (which consists of a majority of the units). The best selling stand alone title on the system is Super Mario Bros. 3 at 18 million copies sold worldwide. The Nintendo Entertainment System has been sold to retailers in a majority of Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia. Its successor was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1991.

History and Development

The NES is an iconic system that consisted of vast advancements, impressive video games and the industry's most lucrative franchises. Its importance to video games is arguably unparalleled having saved the US industry from collapsing following Atari's infamous crash in the early eighties. The NES propelled video games to new heights when it came to game design, save functions, story involvement, and character control. With the NES came the modern model for third party developers on video game consoles and licensing of video games.

Nintendo had made a name for itself by releasing games such as Donkey Kong, the Game & Watch series and the Color TV Game series. Mario had become one of the best known video game characters and Nintendo was well on their way to becoming the industry leader. After the arcade boom companies went onto creating home consoles that would let consumers play their favorite games at home, among other games made exclusively for the consoles. Nintendo had licensed their popular video games to other systems, and Donkey Kong rose to become one of the most popularly ported video game of the early eighties, appearing on ColecoVision and Atari systems, among others, in the North American market. Nintendo soon announced plans to release a console of their own in Japan titled the Famicom, or Family Computer. The project was headed by Masayuki Uemura of Nintendo R&D2 who had wanted to initially give the console a 16-bit CPU with a floppy disk drive, though because of the complicated technology they settled for an 8-bit CPU. According to Uemura, Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was then president of Nintendo, called him and told him that the sales of the Game & Watch would not last, and that they needed to start work on a new product. Yamauchi made several requirements for the new product including the need for it to be a console that connects to the television and the need for it to have interchangeable cartridges.

Nintendo would eventually launch the system in 1983 in Japan. It was Nintendo's first console with the capability of playing different games. They released it on July 15 of that year, and it ran for ¥14,800. In order to generate early sales, Nintendo recreated their popular arcade hits Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. on the platform. They also created a game that sported the Popeye license that was titled Popeye. Interestingly, Shigeru Miyamoto had originally wanted Donkey Kong to have Popeyecharacters but couldn't obtain the rights to it. After Nintendo gained popularity it was no wonder that they managed to get the license, though Miyamoto was ultimately not involved in the project.

NES mockup

A mockup of the NES.

The first batch of Famicom consoles were glitchy and caused the consoles to crash. Nintendo immediately issued a recall on all of the Famicoms they sold, and replaced them with new hardware. Following this, the Famicom became a best selling console and launched to the top of people's most wanted lists. Countless successes spurred Nintendo to eye a new region across the pacific. Nintendo had already opened the doors to success in America with games such as Donkey Kong becoming the second best selling arcade game of all time. Game & Watch units brought on moderate success but come 1983, the year the Famicom was released, the industry wasn't in its best shape. Atari, the most well known name in video games, crashed this year when they lost all of their reliability. The games that were being released on the console were no longer generating interest among consumers, and most of them, such as the Pac-Man port and the game based on the, were downright terrible. Atari soon enough had to dump their inventory, and soon thereafter brought the entire video game industry down when it inevitably collapsed. All good things come to an end, and this was especially true for Atari. Bad business choices and too many third party publishers wanting to get a piece of the pie would lead to the downfall, and there seemed no way out when the consumer lost interest.


Early concept art for the Advanced Video System.

Although the Famicom and Nintendo was doing great in Japan, the same couldn't be said about Nintendo of America. Nintendo wasn't making many arcade hits and the Game & Watch sales were dwindling. NoA president Minoru Arakawa had to make a bold move, and decided to try and release the console in America. They attempted to get a deal with Atari, where they would release it under the name Nintendo Advanced Video Game System, though this fell through. Looking back on this Arakawa remarks that "it was the best thing to happen to Nintendo", and that "if Atari had taken the product, it's doubtful that Nintendo of America would exist today." Various attempts of releasing the system to the market always failed, and Nintendo would eventually start to release Famicom games as arcade titles under the Nintendo Vs. series, which contained similar hardware to that of the Famicom. At CES in June of 1985, however, Nintendo would unveil that they would release the Famicom in America under the name of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo tried to differentiate their console from Atari's as much as they could, knowing full well that retailers would be weary. And they were: very few agreed to purchase them, so Nintendo made a risk free deal where they would purchase back all unsold units. They released the first batch at a sole retailer in New York who reluctantly agreed to purchase it. Nintendo managed to convince some retailers by saying it was more of a toy than a video game system. The inclusion of R.O.B. the robot supported this. On October 18 of 1985, Nintendo would release the system to a few retailers and would bundle the video game Super Mario Bros. with it, which would heavily bolster sales. An estimated 9/10th of the 100,000 shipment were sold. By February in 1986, after the incredible success, Nintendo would release it to various other retailers in America and would expand their reaches to Canada. Nintendo had a much larger launch lineup than for America than they did with Japan - eighteen games compared to a measly three. {C

NES document

The final design of the NES.


The Nintendo Entertainment System did fantastic in America. Hits were being regularly released and after making their mark on two prominent regions, Nintendo set their sights on Europe and Australia. Nintendo would not actually distribute the consoles in these regions, and would enlist the help of Mattel to distribute it in various countries. The NES didn't do phenomenally well, and underperformed compared to the more advanced Sega Master System (excluding in Australia). Hyundai Electronics distributed the system in South Korea, who marketed it as the Comboy instead of the Famicom or Nintendo Entertainment System. By 1987, Nintendo would open a European branch and would distribute the system themselves in that region.

Upon the arrival of the nineties, the consumer's interest in the system started to diminish. Nintendo had released the Game Boy by now, and was planning to release the NES's successor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo had plans beyond the NES, and expected for this to occur. They would continue to distribute the NES as it was still profitable, though they had newer and bolder plans for the SNES, or Super Famicom in Japan. In the nineties Nintendo released an updated NES called the NES 2, which corrected some of the problems with the first one. Come the mid nineties, Nintendo would discontinue support of the console in America, with Wario's Woods being their last game for the system in that region (it should also be noted that Wario's Woods was the only NES game that sported an ESRB rating). By 1995, Nintendo stopped distribution of the NES, and a year later they were set on releasing the SNES's successor, the Nintendo 64. In Japan, however, Nintendo continued to sell the Famicom until September of 2003, when they stopped production of both the Famicom and Super Famicom. Due to the shortage of parts necessary for repair, Nintendo of Japan stopped repairing Famicom systems in October of 2007. They had stopped doing so years prior elsewhere. With the release of the Wii in 2006, Nintendo started to redistribute NES games online through the system's Virtual Console. The prices of the games varied, though were typically 500 Nintendo Points, or $5.

Video games

First party titles


A collection claimed to be every NES game ever released.

Nintendo was the leading provider of video games on the Nintendo Entertainment System as would be expected. Their video games were among the best that the system had to offer, and few compared in quality at the time. Naturally Nintendo's games sold the best. The first batch of games were generally remakes of arcade titles including the likes of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong 3. Eventually, though, Nintendo would start to develop original titles such as 10-Yard Fight, Clu Clu Land, Excitebike, Ice Climber, Mach Rider, Balloon Fight, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, and Wrecking Crew. Various titles made use of Nintendo accessories. For example, Duck Hunt, which came with the NES, used the NES Zapper while Gyromite and Stack-Up made use of R.O.B. The best known title on the NES is unarguably Super Mario Bros. Launched with the NES in America, it is credited for the system's success. Sequels to the game were made, though some were region specific. For example, after the success of Super Mario Bros. Nintendo immediately made a successor titled Super Mario Bros. 2, which never made it to America until 1993 because Nintendo thought it was too challenging. Instead, Nintendo opted to recreate the game Doki Doki Panic with Mario characters and released it as Super Mario Bros. 2. Soon later Nintendo would release Super Mario Bros. 3, which would become the system's best selling standalone game.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the mastermind behind Super Mario Bros., would go on to direct, produce, and design the video game The Legend of Zelda. The game was an open ended adventure where you could make your own choices as to which dungeons to explore. It wasn't a sidescrolling game like Super Mario Bros. but was less inviting. Nonetheless, it sold over six million copies worldwide and is widely regarded as one of the greatest games of the eighties. It should be noted that it was the first game to have a battery save pack, meaning you didn't have ti input a code in order to play the game. A sequel, titled Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, would later be released, but it isn't as highly regarded as the original. Meanwhile, Gunpei Yokoi and the rest of R&D1 would help create the phenomenal Metroid and Kid Icarus games, which shared many similarities. Ultimately, Metroid would become the better known franchise. Gunpei Yokoi would also spearhead the Fire Emblem and Nintendo Wars franchise, which both got their start on the Famicom. Unfortunately, neither of those games were released in America or Europe.

Third party support

Nintendo wasn't the only one supplying retailers with video games for their system, as would be expected. Over the years Nintendo would gradually gain the support of companies, some new, and some who were dramatically hurt by the crash of Atari. Hudson Soft would be the first third party company on board for the Famicom, and would release their first game, Lode Runner, soon thereafter. A few months after Hudson Soft was deemed the first third party developer, Namco jumps on the cash train in September of 1984 and would release Xevious a month and one day later.

In July of 1985, a few months before the system would make its way to America, the company known as Enix was founded on the sole basis of creating games for the Famicom. Enix's first game would be a little known title named Door Door, though they would go on to create the insanely popular Dragon Quest series on the franchise. By December of that year, both Capcom and Square would join the fray and would later make start the Mega Man and Final Fantasy series on the NES, respectively. Eventually American and European developers would also start making games when the console was released stateside. Games by American and European developers for the NES include titles such as Battletoads, A Boy and His Blob, Smash TV, Ballblazer, and Wizards & Warriors, among many others.

THQ was one of the many publishers for the console, though their video games weren't considered high quality. They consisted of many licensed video games such as Where's Waldo, Swamp Thing, James Bond Jr., Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and Home Alone.

Top 10 best-selling games

  1. Super Mario Bros. (40.23 million)
  2. Super Mario Bros. 3 (18 million)
  3. Super Mario Bros. 2 (10 million)
  4. The Legend of Zelda (6.51 million)
  5. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (4.38 million)
  6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (4 million)
  7. Dragon Warrior III (3.8 million in Japan)
  8. Dragon Warrior IV (3.1 million in Japan)
  9. Golf (2.46 million in Japan)
  10. Dragon Warrior II (2.4 million in Japan)


In North America, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment Systems in bundles. The bundles may be the reason why the system became so popular with consumers. Initially retailers thought that the accessory known as R.O.B. would be the big selling point of the console, and was included in the Deluxe Set. It ended up being Super Mario Bros., however, which was bundled with the Control Deck set, that made the console so popular. The Control Deck was one of two bundles that Nintendo released for the NES in the beginning of the system's life-span. At $199.99, it was also the cheapest route, but it didn't contain as many accessories and games as the Deluxe Set, which ran for $249.99, $49.99 more than the Control Deck. The Control Deck came with the console, two Nintendo Entertainment System controllers, and the video game Super Mario Bros. The Deluxe Set, on the other hand, had the console, R.O.B., an NES Zapper, Duck Hunt, and Gyromite. Super Mario Bros.was not included in the Deluxe Set.


The NES Action Set.

Nintendo would continue to distribute bundles in North America and faze out old sets when the games and accessories got out of date and when newer, more advanced games and accessories, took their place. In 1987 Nintendo released the Basic Set which contained just a console, two NES controllers, and The Official Nintendo Player's Guide, a book which had information on all of the then-released video games for the NES. The NES Action Set was released in November of 1988 for $149.99. With the new bundle came the omission of the two that introduced the console. The Action Set contained the Nintendo Entertainment System, an NES Zapper, two NES controllers, and a cartridge that contained Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt known as Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. It was Nintendo's most popular bundle and a month later Nintendo would release yet another one titled the NES Power Set that contained everything in the previous bundle with the addition of the Power Pad and a multi-cart game that contained Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and World Class Track Meet which became known as Super Mario Bros. + Duck Hunt + World Class Track Meet.

In 1990 Nintendo would cater to the sports fans by releasing the Sports Set which contained one Nintendo Entertainment System, the NES Satellite multitap adapter which would allow for four players to play at once instead of the traditional two, and a cartridge featuring Super Spike V'Ball and Nintendo World Cup. To coincide with the release of Super Mario Bros. 3, Nintendo released the Challenge Set which had the console, two NES controllers and Super Mario Bros. 3.

Controllers and accessories

NES Controller


Nintendo has always been known for manufacturing accessories for their video game consoles, and to this day do so. The NES and Famicom were chock-full of accessories and peripherals, many of which were bundled with the console (in select sets). Some of the accessories weren't even created by Nintendo, but instead by third party publishers. Some companies that created accessories included Acclaim, Camerica, and others.

Nintendo of course earned the most profits from accessories since the ones they created were arguably the most useful. Bundled with the console in the Deluxe Set was R.O.B. (Family Computer Robot in Japan). The accessory looked like a robot, and stands for Robotic Operating Buddy. It was used with only two games, which included Gyromite and Stack-Up. Neither games were particularly successful, and thus Nintendo quit developing games for the accessory. R.O.B. could interact with the games because he had a sensor in his head which could detect when the television flashed in different ways, which would trigger R.O.B. to perform various actions which would benefit the player. While not particularly successful, R.O.B. went on to become a Nintendo icon, appearing as a cameo in various titles and even a playable character in games such as Mario Kart DS and Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Nintendo DS and Wii, respectively.

NES Zapper

The NES Zapper.

Nintendo's second big accessory was the NES Zapper. Nintendo got started in the video game industry with light gun peripherals, so it came as no surprise when Nintendo announced a home console version. This light gun was sold in some of the bundles Nintendo released, though players would also receive it when they purchased the video game Duck Hunt. With the NES Zapper you would point at the screen and shoot the targets. It worked a little differently from its arcade counterparts, presumably due to keeping costs low. Like R.O.B., there is a sensor on the NES Zapper. Whenever you press the trigger on the gun, it causes the screen to go black, though every possible target will be white. The sensor on the gun senses light and dark, and will know whether or not you hit a target if it spots a white sprite. There were quite a few games that were made specifically for the Zapper, including many Nintendo published titles and third party games.

Nintendo created a variety of other accessories too. The Power Glove is an infamous controller that you placed on your hand. It was made to look cool to the player, though it didn't work very well. It is perhaps most famous for appearing in the film The Wizard, in which it was introduced to the world. The NES Satellite allowed four players to play a game opposed to just two. The Power Pad can be considered the predecessor to the Balance Board. It was even advertised as a fitness product, perhaps due to the overwhelming media reports that video games weren't healthy. Various first and third party publishers created games for the accessory, though the most popular games were still the ones that used a standard controller. Some games used both, like in the game Street Cop, though they weren't very successful.

Famicom Disk System

Main article: Famicom Disk System


The localization of the Nintendo Entertainment System for the western markets brought with it copious regulations enforced by Nintendo of America that caused some developers to think twice before adding something in a video game - even if it is mutually agreed to be harmless. Developers were not allowed to implement any nudity in their video games are sexual references, no religious or political references, no profanity (which included racial or sexual slurs), and no blood or domestic violence. As for religious references, Nintendo did allow games to be based around mythology (such as Kid Icarus was). In Japan many of these regulations weren't in place, save for nudity.

Translation issues

Most of the video games launched for the NES were created in Japan, and the translation process didn't go over as well as some in the industry probably would've liked. There are various reasons for this. One is that the Japanese attempted to translate many of the games themselves, using programs or their limited knowledge of the English language. Second, Japanese characters take up less space than English characters do, and thus the translators were required to shorten the sentences to allow it to fit on an NES cartridge. This often led to humorous, albeit embarrassing, quotes that have become internet phenomenons such as "Congratulations - A Winner is You". While at the time this may have made the developers cringe at their dastardly attempts at localization, these mistranslations have today become cornerstones of the retro gaming world.

Famicom bootlegs


A bootleg version of Rockman for the Disk System. Ninfendo.


Every single Famicom cartridge for the Disk System featured the word NINTENDO at the very bottom. The "I" and the second "N" on the disks were required in order for the system to identify it was a game made for it, though bootlegs managed to bypass this without copyrighting Nintendo's name directly. Other names they used include NinFendo, Ninten, Ninjendo, Intend, Ninendo, Niniendo, Niniendd and others. Eventually the bootlegs managed to find a way to completely rid of a name at all and just had the spaces where they needed to be.

Technical specifications and architecture

Famicom/NES casing

The Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System both have different casings. The color choices and overall design were changed based on the region. The Famicom, the Japanese version of the console and the first one to be released, was white with red segments indicating an important aspect of the console. When the Family Computer Robot (R.O.B. elsewhere) was released in Japan on July 26, 1985, its colors were made to reflect those of the console. The cartridge could be placed on the top of the console . On the left and right side of the console were holders that jutted inwards where you could place two Famicom controllers when the player was not using them.

When bringing the system to America, Nintendo changed the overall design greatly. It had a much more box like appearance and had different colors. Instead of white and red the colors were a light grey and a darker shade of grey. The text, however, such as the logo and the power and reset words, were in red. On the right most side a black stripe would go down the console. There is no holder for the NES controllers as there was in the original Famicom. The controller themselves have different colors as well to reflect that of the console, as does the R.O.B. accessory. A flap could be opened up that sports the logo of the console. Once done, the player can insert their cartridge.

The remodeled New-Style Nintendo Entertainment System, known commonly as the "top loader", uses the same basic color scheme, although there are several subtle differences. The power switch is colored a bright red and slides into the on and off position, similar to the SNES, instead of the original push-button. Also, there is no LED power indicator on the unit. Like the original Famicom, it uses a top-loading cartridge slot. The NES was redesigned after the (also top loading) SNES, and indeed they share many of the same design cues. The New-Style Nintendo Entertainment System is considerably more compact than the original model, measuring 6" by 7" by 1.5". The streamlining of the design and chipset in the top loader made it arguably more reliable than the original NES models, although there was a tradeoff in connectivity and picture quality: the top loader offered only RF outputs instead of the RF and RCA (mono) outputs offered on the original.


Rioch produced the CPU for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which was an 8-bit microprocessor. Nintendo R&D2 had originally wanted to have a 16-bit CPU, though these wishes were unrealistic for the time and they had to cut it by half. The CPU was based on MOS Technology 6502 core. The American and Japanese consoles contained the same CPU (Ricoh 2A03) while the PAL version, which included both Europe and Australia, used the Ricoh 2A07. The differences between the two are negligible, but the American and Japanese version run at a faster clock rate.


Each Nintendo Entertainment System contains a set amount of RAM, though cartridges may also have RAM to increase the size. The console holds 2 KiB of RAM, as well as the same amount for the use of PPU and 246 bytes of sprite RAM and palette RAM. Game cartridges contain memory management chips. In all there are five different types of memory management chips. The most common chip is the MMC1, which is used in games such as The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. These games would not work without the chip, and allow the game worlds to scroll both vertically and horizontally at the same time and gives the games the ability to feature large worlds. The second chip is used in a game such as Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (American and European version) which allows the game to render larger sprites and let them move around the screen. The chip contains more memory than MMC1. The third chip is the second most used chip, and is used in games where there are split screens (for example, there may be action on the top while on the bottom the statistics of the player are shown, as in Super Mario Bros. 3). This chip is the same size as the second one. Not much is known about the fourth chip other than the fact that it was used in a few games such as the Japanese version of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. The fifth and final chip was MMC5, and was first used in Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse. It had a better battery save feature and would give the game better colors and partial screen scrolling, among other features.

Video and audio

The PPU (picture processing unit), like the CPU, was developed by Rioch. Different models were used for different regions (America used RP2C02 while European and Australian regions used RP2C07). The PlayChoice-10 arcade games used a different model (RP2C03), as did the Nintendo Vs. arcade units (RP2C04 and RP2C05). The NES had 48 color pallets available and five different shades of grey. Twenty five different colors could be used on a single scanline. At one moment sixty four sprites can be shown on screen (each sprite must be 8x8 (minimum) pixels or 8x16 pixels (maximum)). A maximum of eight sprites can be placed on a scanline at once. The sprite count can be increased, though this will usually cause flicker to occur. The picture resolution for the NES is 256 x 240.

The NES had five different sound channels including two pulse wave channels, one fixed-volume triangle wave channel, one sixteen-volume level white noise channel, and one differential pulse-code modulation channel.


There were a multitude of differences between the various regions that the system was released in. The most dramatic changes were those made to cater to the Western audiences opposed to the Eastern audience where the system was made, most notably in the casing design (more information above). There were a variety of peripherals that were released in Japan that never made it to America or PAL regions such as the Family BASIC and the Famicom MODEM. The Famicom contained non-removable controllers whereas this wasn't the case with the Nintendo Entertainment System. The Famicom also had a microphone installed into the second controller, while this feature wasn't present in the NES.

Technical specifications

  • CPU Type: modified 6502 8-bit (NMOS)
  • Clock Speed: 1.773447 MHz (PAL) or 1.7897725 MHz (NTSC)
  • Processor: 8-Bit PPU (Picture Processing Unit)
  • Color: Colors Displayed: 16
  • Colors Available: 52
  • Sprite Colors: 4 per Sprite from the 52 possible
  • RAM Memory: 16 Kbit (2 Kb)
  • Video RAM: 16 Kbit (2 Kb)
  • Game Program Memory: 128K, 32K, 16K or 8K Bytes, 1 Meg, 256K, or 64K Bits
  • Game Character Memory: 128K, 32K, 16K or 8K Bytes, 1 Meg, 256K, or 64K Bits
  • Scrolling: Horizontal and Vertical
  • Sound: PSG sound (2 Square Waves, 1 Triangle Wave, 1 White Noise)
  • Minimum Sprite Size: 8x8 Pixels
  • Maximum Sprite Size: 8x16 Pixels
  • Maximum Sprites: 64 sprites
  • Maximum Sprites per Scanline: 8
  • Minimum Cart Size: 128 Kbit
  • Maximum Cart Size: 4 Mbit
  • Picture Resolution: 256 x 240

See also

External links

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