Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer (ニンテンドークラシックミニ ファミリーコンピュータ)

Finally a mini Famicom has been released!

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Hmm not that one, one that plugs into your TV and plays Famicom games!

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No? How about a high quality production made by Nintendo themselves?

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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.

famicomminisp1    famicomminisp2

But here’s the latest mini Famicom – the Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer.

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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.

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The box is identical in size to that of the Nintendo Classic Mini NES

The thirty built-in games cover the entire run of the original Famicom, but there is definitely a focus on earlier titles.

  1. Donkey Kong
  2. Mario Bros.
  3. Pac-Man
  4. Excitebike
  5. Balloon Fight
  6. Ice Climber
  7. Galaga
  8. Yie Ar Kung-Fu
  9. Super Mario Bros.
  10. Zelda no Densetsu
  11. Atlantis no Nazo
  12. Gradius
  13. Makaimura
  14. Solomon’s Key
  15. Metroid
  16. Akumajou Dracula
  17. Adventure of Link
  18. Tsuppari Ozumo
  19. Super Mario Bros. 3
  20. Ninja Gaiden
  21. Rockman 2
  22. Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari
  23. Double Dragon II
  24. Super Contra
  25. Final Fantasy III
  26. Dr. Mario
  27. Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku: Soreyuke daiundoukai
  28. Mario Open Golf
  29. Super Mario USA
  30. Kirby’s Adventure

Right from the start this one is a classy affair, with the packaging and presentation matching up to the original as perfectly as possible.

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Even the manual is a tribute.

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Without context, a photograph of the device itself could be confused for an 80s Famicom even by a fan.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Round buttons, but a minor incorrect detail – they are convex compared to the original buttons which were concave.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

My mini Famicom collection:

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Nintendo Color TV-Game Block Kuzushi (Block Breaker) (カラーテレビゲームブロック崩し)

The Color TV-Game 6 was Nintendo’s first console. But there were four other single game Nintendo consoles before the Famicom. This is the second last one, the Nintendo Color TV-Game Block Kuzushi (Block Breaker). It plays several variations of Breakout.

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Unbelievably, despite not being advertised as such, the one I bought was actually brand new.

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It’s pretty much the most 70s looking device ever made.

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It’s a really great looking device, and that may have to do with the fact it was designed by a new Nintendo recruit – a freshly graduated industrial designer named Shigeru Miyamoto! Block Kuzushi and Color TV-Game Racing were Miyamoto’s first two jobs at Nintendo.

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Was the Color TV-Game Block Breaker designed here? (Most likely not as this was their 60s headquarters).

Nintendo Color TV-Game Block Kuzushi is also the first 100% Nintendo console, since Color TV-Game 6, 15 and Racing were co-developed with Mitsubishi. On a related point, it’s also the first Nintendo video game with the Nintendo name displayed prominently on the console.

The top of the device allows selection of the game, with a handy picture of each Breakout arrangement.

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In order from 1-6 they are: Standard Block Kuzushi, Easy Block Kuzushi (with a line missing), Safe Block Kuzushi (with a safety net on the bottom of the screen), Block Through (a time based score game where the ball goes right through the blocks), Block Flash (where you have to get the middle blocks hitting as few of the others as possible), and Block Kill (a combination of Block Through and Block Flash, with a new block arrangement).

ColorTVGameBB_11   ColorTVGameBB_12

ColorTVGameBB_13   ColorTVGameBB_14

ColorTVGameBB_15   ColorTVGameBB_16

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Game explanations in the manual.

It’s powered by an external adapter, available separately for 1500 Yen. The same adapter powered all of the Color TV Game series consoles, so you only needed to buy one if you didn’t already have one (sounds familiar, New Nintendo 3DS owners?). It has the same specs as the Famicom power adapter, so can be powered anywhere with a local Mega Drive adaptor.

The adapter plugs into the right side of the console, which is also where the RF output cable is attached.

ColorTVGameBB_6   ColorTVGameBB_10

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Pricing for the previous models in the manual, with price update stickers! Looks like the CTV Game 6 was discontinued between this manual’s printing and release.

Overall it’s a really cool device, and the breakout games are very tightly designed and fun. CTV 6 and 15 are kind of basic pong clones, but this one is a really classy product.

ColorTVGameBB_7   ColorTVGameBB_5

Ninja Princess/The Ninja (忍者プリンセス) – SG1000/Mark III

Ninjas were everywhere in the 80s, and Japanese game developers were happy to fulfil the international demand for martial arts action. Nintendo’s console had Kung Fu, Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Turtles, The Legend of Kage, Shadow of the Ninja and many others. Sega had their Shinobi and Dragon Wang series, as well as their shortlived Ninja series.

Much like the Dragon Wang/Makai Retsuden series, Sega’s Ninja series is a somewhat convoluted progression of the same basic game template over a couple of generations of hardware.

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Ninja Princess/Sega Ninja – Arcade

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Ninja Princess (released in the west as Sega Ninja) began as a Sega System 1 arcade game in 1985. It’s an overhead run-and-gun game, one of a batch released around that time, such as Capcom’s Commando and SNK’s Ikari Warriors. Swapping out a warzone and slow moving bullets for Sengoku-era Japan and throwing knives, Ninja Princess is one of the first ever examples of an action game with a female protagonist, a whole year before the highly celebrated Metroid.

The game stars titular princess Kurumi, whose castle has been overrun by bad guys. She escapes a kidnap attempt in a cute animated intro, and sets out to take back the castle with her ninja skills.

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It’s a truly great example of the genre, with tight gameplay, great graphics and sounds, and some nice gimmicks. You have two fire buttons – one fires knives (or via a power-up, ninja stars) in the direction you are facing, and the other always fires directly up, no matter which way you are oriented. This innovation completely fixes the clunky feeling the genre can have, as you can actually fire at enemies while retreating. The third button activates a temporary ninja-vanish to evade enemy attacks.

On top of this, Ninja Princess mixes up the gameplay with gimmick/event stages, including a stage where you avoid falling boulders, another with stampeding horses, one set on logs floating on a river, and two stages where you climb castle walls.

The graphics are fantastic, especially for 1985, colourful, detailed and stylish, and Kurumi herself is a particularly cute and nicely designed sprite.

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NinjaPrincessArcade0101   NinjaPrincessArcade0054

The original arcade version is available on the Saturn, included in the compilation package Sega Ages Memorial Selection Volume 2.

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It has a slightly squashed aspect ratio to fit in the Saturn’s resolution (but with no detail loss), and the graphics have been slightly retouched, mostly for the better. But it is a great way to play the game. One of the menu options allows you to play with infinite lives, which is a godsend, as being an 80s arcade game, it’s brutally difficult in the later stages.

Ninja Princess (忍者プリンセス) – SG1000

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Sega’s first contemporary home port was for the SG1000 in 1986. As you’d expect, the graphics have taken a fairly big hit, and with only two buttons the ‘ninja vanish’ function has been mapped to hitting both action buttons at once, but it’s otherwise as faithful a port as could really be possible on the hardware.

NinjaPrincessSG1000.000   NinjaPrincessSG1000.003

The event stages are gone, but otherwise pretty much the entire game is intact, including the climbing stages. It’s actually quite fun to see some of the set-pieces from the arcade re-created in a more primitive form, and while the enemy ninjas are mostly single colour sprites in this version, their single colour often matches the primary colour of that enemy type in the arcade – you can see the designers of the port really tried to make it resemble the original.

The dinky SG1000 graphics have their own charm, and assuming you’re using a decent controller it plays really well for an SG1000 game. In an attempt to prolong the life of the title for home gamers, it introduces a ‘secret scroll’ system, and you have to collect all the secret scrolls to access the last level. They’re basically randomly located in the levels, so this is probably the most frustrating part.

NinjaPrincessSG1000.008   NinjaPrincessSG10000.022

While it had no chance of living up to the arcade original, it’s still very fun, and is one of the best games for the SG1000.

Ninja Princess 1 Mega Han (忍者プリンセス1メガ版) – Mark III

When Ninja Princess finally made it to hardware that could do it full justice – in the form of Sega’s newer Mark III console – it was ostensibly in the form of a sequel. Ninja Princess 1 Mega Han.

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In what was assumedly an attempt to make the game more ‘serious’ (and perhaps appeal to console gaming’s primarily young male audience), the graphical style has been changed completely, removing any hint of the original game’s cutesyness. And instead of starring Kurumi the Ninja Princess, it stars a goofy looking dude named Kazamaru, who now must save the princess.

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I wonder if Archie and Veronica will like my outfit?

Despite the long-winded title on the box, the title screen shows simply ‘The Ninja’.

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NInjaJ.010   NInjaW.008

It’s set up as a sequel story-wise, but is actually another, more faithful, port of the arcade game. All the arcade event stages are back (in re-drawn form), including the falling boulders, stampeding horses, and river. Controls are identical and the scroll system is back from Ninja Princess SG1000, so you have to collect all five scrolls, then perform a particular task at a particular place to access the secret basement level and rescue the princess. There is also a new speed power up scroll.

NInjaW.017   NInjaW.004

It plays about as well as the arcade, but the new graphics are kind of badly drawn (especially the main sprites, including Kazamaru who looks as awkward in-game as he does on the cover), and the limited cartridge space meant there is much less detail and animation than the arcade game. Apart from the odd nicely drawn section, it’s not a particularly good looking Mark III game. There are more musical tracks, but they’re pretty bland, especially when your knives are powered up to ninja stars and you hear the same tune over and over.

The Ninja – Master System

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Another Master System cover art ‘masterpiece’

Ninja Princess 1 Mega Han was released in the west under its title screen name The Ninja. While many Mark III/Master System games contain a universal ROM with both English and Japanese versions of the game onboard, The Ninja was actually ‘upgraded’ for its release outside of Japan. The western release gets a scrolling text intro, a new title screen, and an extra image on the splash screen when you collect all the scrolls.

NInjaW.000   NInjaW.019

Unfortunately the entire second level is missing, no doubt sacrificed to make space for the above. Which is a shame because it’s actually one of the better looking levels. Two of the secret scrolls have also changed location, one in particular makes a heck of a lot more sense in its Mark III location.

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No village level for you, US/PAL Kazamaru!

And here the Ninja series ended. One fantastic arcade game, a very good SG1000 game, and a decent-but-nothing-special Mark III game. They’re worth a play through, but probably the best experience of the series is to be had on the Saturn port of the arcade game.

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NinjaPrincessArcade0093   NinjaPrincessArcade0120

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NinjaPrincessSG1000.001   NinjaPrincessSG1000.014

NinjaPrincessSG1000.008   NinjaPrincessSG1000.020

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NinjaPrincessArcade0002   NInjaW.010

NInjaJ.017   NInjaJ.012

NInjaJ.018   NInjaW.024

NInjaJ.022   NInjaW.028

1983 Face Off: Donkey Kong (Famicom) vs Congo Bongo (SG1000)

It is July 15, 1983.

Two new consoles have been released by two prominent Japanese arcade developers – the Family Computer from Nintendo, and the SG1000 from Sega.

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The big game in the arcades is still Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, featuring future superstar-to-be Mario. But the bigger name in arcades right now is Sega, whose Turbo and Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom are doing incredible things graphically. And Sega now have themselves an answer to Donkey KongCongo Bongo. Essentially a conceptual clone of Donkey Kong (and in the later stages Konami’s Frogger)Congo Bongo differentiates itself with an innovative and incredibly impressive isometric 3D perspective.

Donkey_Kong_arcade    CongoBongoArcade

In turn, both companies’ new consoles have launched with home ports of these killer titles.

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Of course, this isn’t the first time Donkey Kong has been made available at home. Aside from a variety of home console ports (including the solid Colecovision version), there is the fantastic Donkey Kong Game & Watch from Nintendo’s smash hit line of handhelds. The Family Computer itself has taken many design and packaging cues from the little handhelds, and this, along with Nintendo’s earlier Color TV Game series has given them valuable experience in the retail space.

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DKvsCB_6256   DKvsCB_6199

So how do the two ports hold up compared to their arcade originals? Sega is taking the lead in the arcades, but are they up to the task of meeting Nintendo’s challenge in the home space?

Donkey Kong

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First up is the original. Firing up DK on the Famicom, the first thing that’s apparent is that the game has transitioned quite well from the arcade’s 3:4 aspect ratio to the regular television 4:3 aspect ratio.

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It’s a little squished, but overall it works and is a very faithful port. Gameplay is replicated near perfectly, if anything it plays more smoothly, though it may have to do with the Famicom controller being more suitable for platformers than arcade joysticks.

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The ‘secret’ safe spot to avoid the spring

The major omission is the third ‘cement factory’ stage, so DK on Fami has only three stages before looping.

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There’s even the ending screen where Mario is reunited with Pauline (briefly).

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The arcade intro and interludes are missing, and there are a few sound effect and animation omisions, but it looks and sounds great overall. It’s a clear step above the already excellent Colecovision version, and Donkey Kong on Famicom is likely the most advanced game available on any home platform to date.

Congo Bongo

Congo Bongo has a very interesting history, directly linked with Donkey Kong. It was developed for Sega by a software engineering company called Ikegami Tsushinki – the same team that did the programming work for Donkey Kong. While Donkey Kong was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo assumedly didn’t yet have the software development pipeline to make a top arcade game in 1981, and hired external software engineers. Sega grabbed the same team for their answer to Nintendo’s smash hit.

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As soon as you hit start on Congo Bongo‘s title screen, the disappointment begins. Where is the isometric 3D? As a 2D game Congo Bongo is very much a poor man’s Donkey Kong.

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What’s even more disappointing is that the Colecovision, a console with basically identical hardware to the SG1000, managed to have a port which maintained the isometric perspective.

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The Colecovision version is very impressive

And unbelievably, a port to the ancient Atari VCS somehow did too!

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This should not work but it somehow does…

But the poor SG1000 got a 2D version. There are only two stages, the Donkey Kong style stage plays from a side view, and the Frogger style stage from the top.

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Despite all this, it still plays okay, if a little awkwardly, and in the grand scheme of things it’s not too far below the Famicom version of Donkey Kong. It’s not helped by the terrible SG1000 joystick, but even if you get around that by playing on an SG1000 II pad, controls are a bit loose.

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I’ll take the one on the left please.

The SG1000 hardware could have done much better, and Sega proved it in 1985 when their isometric 3D shooter Zaxxon (which was also programmed by Ikegami Tsushinki and used the same arcade hardware) was ported to SG1000 with the 3D effect intact.

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It’s little wonder the Family Computer took off. Donkey Kong was a premium product. Congo Bongo for SG1000 is decent enough fun and about as good as most games before that point, but is just an interesting artefact now.

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Famicom games with insane packaging: Relics: Ankoku Yosai (レリクス暗黒要塞)

Quite a few Famicom games, in particular Famicom Disk games, came in very fancy packaging. Many came in large boxes with extra stuff like figurines, cassette tapes, large format manuals, and in some cases even more outrageous things, like Exciting Boxing‘s giant inflatable controller. These are not like modern special editions, as in most cases these were the only release of the game.

For classy packaging, it’s pretty hard to go past Bothtec’s Relics: Ankoku Yōsai.

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Inside the huge PC-game style outer slip is a metal case.

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And inside the case, you have a large full colour manual, a sticker sheet, a disk-sized full colour monster manual, and the disk itself.

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The disk case and monster manual fit inside foam slots, presented as valuable items.

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The case allows removal of some of the foam, so if you want you can use the metal case to store 4-6 FDS games in style.

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The monster manual gives every character in the game in a two page spread.

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And the large manual is even nicer. Beautiful artwork is used throughout the presentation, and it does its job of making you excited to get into the game.

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The game itself is almost as ambitious as the packaging. A Metroid-style sprawling action-adventure, it features huge sprites (for the time), large environments and a huge list of enemies and items. Set in a post-apocalytic world where dark forces have enslaved humanity, in the game you play as some kind of robot spirit guy who can possess the bodies of the dead. You must defeat all the enemies in a ‘sun fortress’ to free the good spirits (as well as the ubiquitous princess) to save humanity.

Relics.000  Relics.001

The graphics are pretty good for the time, and the music is catchy. Despite the immediately noticeably clunky controls, it is not hard to be impressed early on, as the world of Relics is intriguing.

Unfortunately the game doesn’t live up to its ambitions. Bothtec’s roots were in PC games (including some predecessors to this game) and it Relics plays very much like a home computer game of this type, it’s quite rough around the edges. Controls are not only clunky but glitchy, and it’s very very difficult to outmanoeuvre many enemies. It gets better as you power up later on, but getting to that point is a huge slog.

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Worse than this are the load times. This game is always loading, I have not experienced any other FDS game like it. It does big loads every time you change screen, but there are small loads even within a loaded scrolling area when a new type of enemy appears. It’s really quite horrendous.

Despite these flaws, the adventure and exploring elements work quite decently in the traditional ‘try every direction in every order with every item’ classic 80s kind of way. Finding keys and power-ups in order to progress and remembering paths is always kind of fun when the world looks this mysterious, it’s just that it’s buried under layers of clunk.

Relics.011  Relics.014

It still feels like a somewhat genuine retro experience, playing a game like this with the large manuals and packaging in front of you. But I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone except 80s adventure fetishists.

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First Edition Square Buttons Famicom (ファミリーコンピュータ)

Paying attention to eBay auctions can get your some cool stuff. This Famicom was listed with just a picture of the box as the main image. One tiny detail stood out to me, so I bought it (for a quite low price).
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It’s an original model of the Family Computer from either 1983 or possibly early 1984.

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It features square ‘squishy’ rubber buttons for A and B on the controllers, much like the start and select buttons, and the action buttons on an early Game & Watch.

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The other difference of note is a shiny finish on the bottom, compared to the textured finish of all later models.

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I’ve done some restoration and cleaning including a peroxide treatment, and it turns out after the yellowing is removed, the console itself is a slightly different colour to other Famicoms, it’s got a slight red tinge. This solves the mystery of the reddish Famicom on the front of all Famicom boxes not matching the whiteness of later models – they changed the plastic around the time of the button change, but didn’t update the picture.

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As far as I can tell, the early models didn’t feature an expansion port cover or arrow sticker on the front right – hence them not featuring on the box either. So these are not ‘missing’ here, they were never there.

Nintendo recalled all early consoles because of a bug that could cause it to crash, and because the square squishy buttons damaged easily and could get caught on the corners. After playing a few games with these controllers for a few minutes, they’re quite solid, but definitely inferior as buttons the the hard round ones with membrane switch that replaced them (Nintendo also phased out this button style in later Game & Watch releases. They have a long travel distance, and while they work fine for holding or pressing sporadically, if you have a game that requires hitting a button in quick succession (e.g. a beat em up), it feels ‘slow’ as you have to do a more substantial press each time.

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The manual has square buttons featured as well, so this set is all-original.

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Here are the three generations of original Famiom. Square button, round button, and round button with Famicom Family ‘FF’ logo. Note the slightly different colors of plastic, my second gen Famicom is the only one I would actually call ‘white’, it makes the ‘normal’ beige colour one on the right look yellow.

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Intesrtingly the console box was never updated to feature the ‘FF’ logo.

A Family Computer portrait.SquareFami_X2

SquareFami_8  SquareFami_9 SquareFami_10  SquareFami_11

How to play NTSC-J RF-only consoles on PAL televisions

Sometimes it’s difficult being a fan of Japanese games when living outside of Japan. If you’re in a PAL country, older NTSC-J consoles cannot ever display properly on your screens. You can usually tune in a fuzzy black and white picture with no sound at best. Even your TV is NTSC compatible via other inputs, it’s extremely unlikely to support NTSC over RF.

You can mod most RF-only systems to output composite video or better, but I am not touching my SG-1000, Color TV Game 6, or some of my original Famicoms, so they simply cannot be used easily.

No modding for you!
No modding for you!

The traditional method was to use an NTSC-J compatible VCR which takes in the RF signal and outputs in composite, but they’re getting hard to come by, are cumbersome, and you also end up with additional artifacting from the composite signal.

I now have a cheap solution. I got myself a $20 NTSC RF to VGA box on ebay. It’s effectively an external analogue NTSC TV capture card. It takes in RF (or composite via side inputs) and outputs in VGA plus 3.5mm stereo jack for audio, with various scaling options.

RF_4231  RF_4234

It can tune in all these consoles, and the output is fantastic. Video is really quite comparable to good composite, and sound is great. The scaling, for what it can do with a fuzzy RF image, is quite solid too. Options are selectable via an on-screen menu, and it even comes with a remote control.

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And here are the results, Turtles 2 on on original Famicom

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The distortion lines are just from photographing the TV, it’s actually quite clean.

I’ve made a video of it running here:

The downside is that the tuner is NTSC-U, so still not 100% compatible with all Japanese consoles. So I couldn’t get the SG-1000 working perfectly, the colours were off. Color TV Game 6 worked great, as did two different Famicoms, and a Super Famicom vis RF.

It seems to have particular trouble getting sync with primarily plain background games. It eventually clicks and then stays in sync however, but this can take a couple of minutes. However, in all these cases, sound is pretty much perfect the whole time.

Overall, it’s a pretty cheap solution to at least test RF consoles, and good enough to play many!