Box protectors for games started popping up around 20 years ago, and are a great way of keeping vintage games protected but still accessible and playable. However it has taken a very long time for certain box sizes to get protectors that fit properly, particularly Japanese box sizes.
In my previous post on the topic, I looked at some (at that time) newly available sizes for Japanese Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, as well as some custom protectors I had produced for Japanese Sega games, plus some suggestions I had used for certain other types.
Well, progress marches on, and there are even more sizes available today. Better yet, Chinese producers have gotten in on the game, meaning cheaper prices direct from China, versus resellers in various countries all over the globe with big markups and sometimes very expensive postage.
Custom protectors for Famicom medium and small boxes
Previously I’d been using Japanese Game Boy Advance protectors for my ‘mid size’ Famicom boxes. They had a bit of room to move, but it was the best option at the time.
But now there is a custom snug fit option.
Similarly, previously I’d been using protectors designed for Nintendo 64 cartridges for small box Famicom games.
They were not the greatest as they were a bit tight width wise, but worked okay due to being taller. But now there’s a custom snug fit for these too.
It’s hard to tell from the front, but you can see the better fit more clearly from the side.
Sega Mark III
This one had me quite excited. I’d previously had some custom boxes made for my Sega Mark III and SG1000 games of various sizes, as no other sizes were close enough for an adaptation. These custom ones were quite expensive!
But now there’s a regular commercial option, at least for the most common Gold Cartridge size.
It also has a small upgrade, a circular cutout to help open the box flap with less risk of damage.
That’s about it for now. I’m still waiting on custom sizes for the SG1000 small box, Sega My Card SG1000, and Sega My Card Mark III. They may be too obscure to ever get any, but hopefully one day!
I keep an early 80s colour TV for that classic vintage video look.
‘Rank Arena’ was a local badge for NEC screens in the 70s/80s, presumably because ‘Nippon Electric Company’ may have put off some buyers due to xenophobia or outdated ideas about Japanese products being unreliable.
It could be questioned why would one use a low-end older screen when there are much better, higher quality, RGB equipped alternatives available. In my case only a few inches to the left.
But this screen in particular is great for a period-perfect look when watching VHS tapes.
It’s also a great screen to play old games with the proper vintage look. But most of my consoles are NTSC, which means a rolling black and white picture.
Luckily, televisions this old still had manual vertical hold adjustment knobs, right on the front in this case.
And so a stable black and white picture is easily attained with a quick adjustment, if squashed due to PAL TVs having 576 lines instead of the 480 of NTSC (or 288 instead of 240 in this case due to old consoles running a 240p signal)
But what about the colour?
There are various cheap NTSC to PAL digital adapters available these days. They work, but they add lag and judder, as they’re essentially buffering frames and rebuilding the analogue signal to display 60hz images in standard PAL 50Hz.
What I really needed was a pure composite colour transcoder. Luckily there was a situation that created demand for such a thing.
In the early 90s, a pseudo-standard called ‘PAL60’ was developed to allow people to watch NTSC video tapes. Compatible VCRs would output in PAL colour, but at 60Hz. Most TVs from the mid 90s onwards could handle a PAL60 signal.
This was fine for a VCR, and the standard was utilised by consoles like the Dreamcast and Gamecube which had PAL60 modes for 60Hz gaming. But if you imported an NTSC console, your PAL60 compatible TV would play at the correct speed – but in black and white, because the TV could not understand the NTSC colour.
Enter composite colour transcoders.
It leaves the signal completely alone apart from analogue transcoding the NTSC colour to PAL. Here’s it running on my NTSC NES.
Voila! Stable full colour 60Hz Castlevania on a very old PAL TV.
The picture remains squashed of course. This could be adjusted via the TV’s geometry controls, but it’s also exactly what PAL games looked like back in the day anyway. Only now they play full speed!
Sure it’s got nothing on playing it via RGB.
But this look has historical value, since it’s what these games looked like for 99% of people in the 80s.
Of course it also works great on the Sega Mark III.
And any console all the way through to the end of the analogue era. Playing Silent Hill on this screen works beautifully, looking even more like the pulpy VHS experience it was always designed to be.
Following my popular Goonies for Famicom Disk ‘retail’ release reproduction, I grabbed a separate copy of the other Konami Disk Writer Kiosk exclusive release, Twinbee, with an eye to making similar packaging for it.
As with Goonies (and most Disk Writer Kiosk releases), it came with a proper printed disk label and fold-out paper manual. The manual sheet is in much nicer condition than my Goonies one, having been more carefully folded 30 years ago.
As such, the original box is quite boring, design wise. For more interesting design and logo ideas I looked at the MSX release:
As well as various flyers for the game.
I opened up my Goonies project and whipped up a Twinbee cover in that style.
But it looks a bit fancy for such an early release. Twinbee is old enough that its original cartridge release even had the old Konami logo, so looking so bold didn’t really fit. Instead I looked to its sequel, Moreo Twinbee, which was originally released on Famicom Disk System as one of Konami’s first games with their new logo.
This style would be more period-appropriate, given this edition of Twinbee on FDS was released in 1988.
Pretty soon I had it done and the result back from the printers.
At the same time and on the same sheet did a minor update to the Goonies print to adjust the size slightly, and remove Twinbee’s name from the spine.
Cut to size
Scored for the disk holder
And the end result, for both disc and outer box:
The two retail release reproductions together:
And Twinbee FDS with the sequel Moreo Twinbee.
Now both can be home with their Konami Famicom Disk brethren.
I’m a great believer in game box protectors. With vintage games only getting older, anything that helps them (and their related paraphernalia) to stay in great condition without being fully archived is a great investment.
I recently got some box protectors for my Japanese Game Boy/Game Boy Color games. There are two sizes for Japanese Game Boy games, the original size which are very small, and a later size which is about 4/5 of the ‘standard’ Famicom box size. This later size continued through the Game Boy Color era too.
Previously I had stored my small Japanese Game Boy games in Japanese Game Boy Advance protectors, which were okay in one direction, but way too big in the other two.
Similarly, I kept my larger Japanese Game Boy games in Famicom box protectors, which was a closer fit but still quite a lot of room at the top.
It’s great to finally have my Game Boy games secure in snug fitting protectors.
Adaptations for less common sizes
I was glad to find these Japanese Game Boy sizes, as a good fit is important for protection. It’s hard (or impossible) to find decent box protectors for less common box sizes, so here are some adaptations of sizes designed for other purposes that I use. While usually not perfect, they are good enough for solid protection without too much internal movement.
Japanese Game Boy Advance size works very well for the ‘mid size’ Famicom boxes
Only a small amount of room to move.
Western Game Boy protectors obviously work perfectly for Virtual Boy boxes.
NES protectors work nearly perfectly for the large size Konami Famicom games.
The unique Gun Sight box is nearly an exact match for Euro NES size protectors.
Famicom protectors work okay for small SG1000 games. It’s not really the right size in any direction and is very tight, but protects okay.
Large SG1000 boxes are a perfect match for an older style ‘too big’ NES protector size I found.
And these new small Japanese GB work very well for Famicom Mini GBA games
The fit is not perfect, much like the SG1000 games in large box Famicom protectors, they’re too tight in thickness, but too large in other directions, so they fit, but are somewhat tight. Until there is a better option, it’s a decent solution.
I had customs done for all these SG1000/Mark III box sizes. It’s a fully one off for Alex Kidd BMX (it’s the only box of that size), but a few each for the two card game sizes and big box Mark III gold.
Unfortunately the producer of these customs has quit the business, so I’m on the lookout for a new producer, if anyone knows of one!
After a few years of working toward it, I’ve finally collected all the first party ‘small box’ Famicom games.
This is the first ever line of Nintendo console games, covering the Famicom’s 1983 launch through most of 1984.
This set as a whole is often confused with the slightly smaller ‘pulse label’ games line, which features the pulse motif for the cartridge label on each game.
This confusion is common because unfortunately everything doesn’t quite line up perfectly, design-wise. The small box set includes all pulse label titles except one (Devil World, which came in the later standard Famicom larger box). And all small box games are also pulse label titles, except for the three gun games – Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley and Wild Gunman, which have the cover illustration on the cart.
So there’s the pulse line set, and the small box set, which almost completely overlap but unfortunately (for those with OCD) not 1:1.
Of course, this is not all small box Famicom games, as many third parties’ initial lines came in the same size. Here’s my Hudson, Taito, and Namco games added to my Nintendo set.
Interestingly, while Konami were there on the Fami in this era (1984), and they followed the initial Nintendo box design motif closely, they skipped the small box size and went straight to a medium size for their initial set of games, the Konami ‘orange box’ line. I charted the rest of the Konami Famicom box design evolution in this article.
So what’s next? I guess I should get around to picking up Devil World to complete the pulse label set, for one.
You’ve likely heard the story of R.O.B. ‘The Robotic Operational Buddy’ for the NES. The story usually goes like this: when Nintendo wanted to bring their successful Family Computer console to America in 1985, the stores wouldn’t take it because they were afraid of losing money on video games, as there had just been a big video game market crash. So in order to get toy stores to stock the console, Nintendo initially bundled the NES with a toy robot and marketed it as an electronic toy instead.
Some of the story might be true, but R.O.B. was actually released in Japan first, as the Family Computer Robot.
Nintendo was a toy company before they were a games company, and there were many existing examples of the company combining electronics and toys before this. Among the most notable are the original electro-mechanical light gun games: at home (Electro Safari and Electro Bird) and in the arcade (the original versions of Wild Gunman and Duck Hunt).
So really, the robot and its accessories were just part of a long toy/game continuum that continued throughout the Famicom era with peripherals like the Power Pad and all the way through to today with Amiibo and Labo.
The games that were compatible each came with a veritable toybox of additional parts, and are essentially complex mechanical games that use the robot as a central item. Only two games were released, Robot Block and the more elaborate Robot Gyro.
The Family Computer Robot uses pretty much identical technology to the light guns of the day, but in reverse, so instead of the screen responding to the peripheral, the peripheral responds to the screen. Like light guns it relies on the screen scanning display technique of a cathode ray tube, and so will not work on modern fixed pixel screens, even via a scaler.
So for robot games, a CRT is required, luckily I keep one on hand for just such an occasion.
Essentially the robot needs to be positioned so he can see the screen clearly in order to respond to the commands he is sent.
The robot can receive commands from the screen and execute a simple movements based on them. He can move his arms up and down, left to right, and can open and close his grip. This movement set allows him to pick up and move objects.
The two games approach the concept of ‘robot which can pick up items’ differently. Robot Block primarily makes the physical element of the game the primary one, integrating the Famicom software into the mechanical game. Robot Gyro is essentially a regular video game which includes the robot (and gyro) functionality as a physical gimmick.
Robot Block (ロボット ブロック)
Robot Block is the simplest of the two games, in both set-up and software. It comes with a series of attachments which are slotted into the robot’s base, some discs which sit in these attachments and can be stacked on each other, and some hand attachments which can grip the discs.
The physical game involves manoeuvring the robot to pick up the discs and stack them in a particular order.
The game itself features a robot testing tool, and three game modes: Direct, Memory and Bingo.
All the games involve a little professor jumping around the interface. Direct is the simplest, you have to stack up the discs in a certain order as shown on the screen.
In Memory you must set up a series of moves for the robot to execute in order to achieve the required physical result. Bingo is a one or two player game where you have to fill in rows or columns in order to execute commands.
Essentially the software is useless without the accessories, since it’s really just a tool that is used to play with the robot and pieces. It’s also not very fun beyond the 80s robot novelty.
Robot Gyro (ロボット ジャイロ)
Robot Gyro is both the better game, and has the better toys. It also has a much more elaborate set-up. First of all there is a bracket on which the Famicom player II controller sits, with a levered mechanism which can hit the A and B buttons.
There is a powered gyro spinner which gets two tops spinning at high speed.
The robot can pick up the tops from the spinner…
…manoeuvre them over the button levers…
…and release, which presses down on the matching button on the controller.
There’s also a slot over on the right to keep the second top when not in use.
Here’s a closer look at the mechanism to hit the buttons. The mechanisms are coded in blue and red, which ties into the game.
The set up is actually a pretty fun toy in and of itself, due to the spinning tops being pretty fun and the whole set-up being nicely done. But what about the game?
Well it’s a pretty standard 80s puzzle action platformer (think Lode Runner or Crazy Castle), where the same professor character from Robot Block has to collect all the dynamite in the stage while avoiding the critters.
The gimmick is that the stages are full of red and blue pipes which move up and down when the red and blue switches have been hit. In order to get the robot to do this, you essentially pause and issue instructions. It can often take several moves for the robot to slowly get the top to the right button.
Actually playing with the robot is tedious, but the game itself is a decent puzzler if played without it in two player (with the other player hitting A and B). So while the robot toys are fun to play with, and the game is decent, together they are less than the sum of the parts.
Overall, while not being the most fun games to play on the Famicom, the Family Computer Robot games are fun pieces connecting Nintendo’s toy and video game eras.
Another update on this article on my now never-ending quest to collect a series of Konami Famicom character cards from the 80s.
Recap: at some point starting in 1987, Konami decided to include a collector card with all their Famicom titles. Each card had an illustration related to the game; some cards featured screenshots or pieces of screenshots, others had artwork of scenes in the game.
But one lucky day I found a regular small boxed game with the card. And now I have a card for all twenty of the games that came with one!
On top of this, I picked up a beautiful near mint copy of Dragon Scroll (ドラゴンスクロール) in Ikebukuro, which came with a different card to the one I had, so now I have entered the murky waters of collecting multiple cards per game.
Dragon Scroll also came with these great advertisements for various Konami games and sountracks. Pretty cool when you have almost every item on a vintage ad!
This Japanese site (which I found because it flatteringly used this site as a source) has nicely collated most of the available cards, so this journey may go for many more years. Another great site Video Game Den also has good info on the available cards.
Unfortunately for Sega, Nintendo well and truly won round 1, and not having a great income stream from their consoles, Sega allowed their games to be released on competing systems like Nintendo’s Famicom and NEC’s PC Engine. The games were published by third parties, but nontheless there were several official Famicom/NES releases where the Sega logo could be seen on a title screen.
By the late 80’s everything had changed however. Sega’s third console the Mega Drive was doing very well, and was eventually a solid competitor to the Famicom/NES and later Super Famicom/SNES. As a result, the concept of Sega on Nintendo (or vice versa) faded from memory as a possibility.
But by the late 90s, Sega was in a bad position again. All their Mega Drive add-ons had failed to gain decent marketshare, as had their Game Boy competitor the Game Gear. And their latest main console, the Saturn, had been a borderline disaster. While it managed to establish a decent niche in Japan (even outselling the Nintendo 64), their previously strong marketshare in the west had crashed. Their entire legacy rested on the hopes of the new Dreamcast console.
As a result, their publishing rules started to relax again, and they allowed other non-competing platforms to see their crown jewel property Sonic. In 1997 a terrible version of Sonic Jam was released on the Game.com, a terrible console by Tiger Electronics. More notably, Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure was released on SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color in late 1999.
On March 31st, 2001, the battle was no more. Sega discontinued the Dreamcast, and started developing games for the remaining platform holders, including Nintendo. The first release was a port of Chu Chu Rocket to Game Boy Advance. The end of the very same year the previously unthinkable had already happened – An official Sonic game on Nintendo.
Two Sonic games were released on December 20 2001. Sonic Advance on Game Boy Advance
And Sonic Adventure 2 on GameCube. In a strange twist of fate, Sonic actually beat Mario to a new Nintendo console, as it would be another six months until Super Mario Sunshine.
It went on from there, and the next Sonic game, while multiplatform, was designed primarily for the Nintendo GameCube.
But for long term fans of both companies, it really really hit home when in 2003 Sega developed a Nintendo game.
This splash screen blew my mind the first time I saw it.
The game? F-Zero GX. And it was one of the greatest games of the generation, and still a killer looking and playing title today.
Technically that was about it for Sega. In 2003 they were taken over my Pachinko company Sammy and have continued as an upper-mid-tier third party developer. And over a decade later, despite varied game quality, Sonic is a strong seller on Nintendo.
No? How about a high quality production made by Nintendo themselves?
Okay so the concept of a ‘mini Famicom’ isn’t exactly unique. There have been quite a few ‘mini Famicom’ systems released over the years by Nintendo and others, including two Famicom versions of the Game Boy Advance SP, the fancier one on the left being a super-exclusive run of only 200.
But here’s the latest mini Famicom – the Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer.
It’s a tribute console, built as a small Linux computer running an emulator with thirty pre-installed classic games. It powers via USB and outputs a 1280×720 pixel picture, upscaling the original 256×240 resolution of the games. It’s the Japanese counterpart of the Nintendo Classic Mini NES, and much like the western equivalent appears to have been a huge hit.
The thirty built-in games cover the entire run of the original Famicom, but there is definitely a focus on earlier titles.
Right from the start this one is a classy affair, with the packaging and presentation matching up to the original as perfectly as possible.
Even the manual is a tribute.
Without context, a photograph of the device itself could be confused for an 80s Famicom even by a fan.
Nintendo has done some vintage style television commercials for the new console
It’s not quite as small as the NES Mini, at around a 2/3 scale of the original.
The obvious reason for this is that unlike the NES Mini’s full size replicas of original controllers, the Mini Family Computer controllers are also scale models.
It’s a take on the mid-period Family Computer, as it has round controller buttons, but lacks the Famicom Family ‘FF’ branding on the left of the front faceplate that Nintendo introduced to the console in 1988.
While the controllers are tiny they remain perfectly usable – the directional pad and buttons are identical in size to those of a Game Boy Micro.
From the front the system is almost identical, but it is missing the instruction stickers for power and eject buttons and expansion port cover. Which begs the question: did Nintendo mean for owners to remove these stickers on the original models?
Of course the major change is the back of the system, with new micro USB power and HDMI video output replacing the ancient original selections.
Just like the original, it is designed for the players to sit near the console to play since the controller cords are very short. The reset button is used to switch games on the mini, so it makes sense here to use long HDMI and power cables and sit near the console.
Like the western NES Mini, games are selected from a menu, and boot pretty much instantly. There is a save state feature, allowing saving at any time into four slots per game with various cute animations. A brand new mid-80s style 8-bit tune plays in the menu, it’s the same one as the NES Mini and will get stuck in your head.
There are three scaling options for the games, all of which have issues. 4:3 is the default and displays the games in the correct aspect ratio, but you end up with minor scaling artefacts when scrolling. A pixel-perfect mode allows for no scaling artefacts, but the graphics are stretched vertically.
And there’s a ‘vintage’ mode which applies a scan line effect as well as approximations of various composite/radio frequency noise that you would experience on original hardware. The vintage mode is actually very well done, but more of a novelty since half of the point of a new device is to get a cleaner picture.
There are some minor emulation issues such as sound lag (and a couple of frames of overall lag), but the presentation is pretty solid overall. It’s not going to replace an RGB modded Famicom and Framemeister combo for dedicated retro enthusiasts, but is still very well done for the price.
Here’s the original Nintendo trailer, which covers most of the basic features in depth.
It’s a very cool toy, and a great collectors item. However in my opinion the classiest ‘mini Famicom’ ever remains the Famicom Game Boy Micro, as that thing is a work of art.