Monday, 27 May 2024

40 Years Later, Nintendo’s Famicom Continues to Amaze

In 1983, the future of the video game industry in North America seemed bleak. Poorly made games flooded store shelves, and consumer interest declined rapidly. Arcade pioneers and console developers found themselves in a downward spiral, and the billion-dollar industry was on the verge of collapse.

Meanwhile, in Japan, gaming giant Nintendo released its first-ever home console with interchangeable cartridges. The Family Computer, or Famicom, was a striking red and gold console that brought arcade hits like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. into Japanese homes.

Although the Famicom would later be released as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America and revitalize the gaming market, many of Nintendo’s unique games and accessories remained exclusive to Japan. With the Famicom celebrating its 40th anniversary, now is the perfect time to look back at the innovative and unconventional experiments Nintendo introduced to Japanese players during the console’s celebrated run.



Unlike the NES, the Famicom had its controllers wired directly to the console. This design choice was a cost-cutting measure, but it led to players frequently needing replacements. Nintendo also included a 15-pin connector on the front of the Famicom, anticipating the release of future accessories.

One surprising addition to the Famicom’s design was a minuscule microphone on the second controller, complete with a volume slider. Nintendo’s lead architect, Masayuki Uemura, believed that young players would enjoy hearing their voices through the TV speakers. While the microphone was underutilized by developers, it did feature in a few games, such as The Legend of Zelda, where shouting into the microphone defeated certain enemies.

Other notable examples of the Famicom microphone include Kid Icarus and Takeshi’s Challenge. In Kid Icarus, players could haggle with shopkeepers by speaking to them, while Takeshi’s Challenge used the microphone for various tasks like bringing up a map and singing karaoke.


Famicom Keyboard

Originally, the Famicom was meant to be a 16-bit gaming device with a keyboard, modem, and floppy disk drive. However, due to cost considerations, these features were released as separate accessories in the years to come. The Family BASIC Keyboard was the first of these accessories, released in collaboration with Sharp Corporation and Hudson Soft.

The Family BASIC Keyboard bundle included a black cartridge and software specifically designed for novice developers and casual players. The bundle featured character sprites, backgrounds, controls, and music, and even included a section written by Mario composer Koji Kondo on programming chiptune melodies.

Despite the high price and lack of a saving or sharing feature, the Family BASIC bundle sold well and received an updated sequel, Family Basic V3.


Famicom Disk System

Recognizing the high cost of games and the issue of piracy, Nintendo introduced the Famicom Disk System in 1986. This floppy disk add-on connected to the top of the Famicom and allowed players to download new titles onto reusable Disk Cards. While the Disk System had its flaws, such as fragility and dust buildup, it provided benefits like save features and improved audio.

Notable games exclusive to the Disk System included The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, and Metroid. The Disk System sold 4.4 million units during its four-year lifespan.


Famicom Modem

Contrary to popular belief, the Famicom was the first home console in Japan with online connectivity. In 1988, Nintendo released the Famicom Modem, which allowed users to check real-time stock prices and engage in stock trading. The modem, developed in collaboration with Nomura Securities, connected to an online service called the Famicom Network.

Although the Famicom Modem experienced circuit failures and lacked long-term appeal, it did allow toy and game stores to share an online database. This database helped Nintendo gain insight into market demand and allowed stores to communicate sales information.

Nintendo also explored the possibility of releasing the Famicom Modem in the United States, with Control Data Corporation proposing the idea of using an NES Modem for playing the lottery. However, concerns arose regarding unsupervised gambling on a console aimed at children, leading to the idea being abandoned.


Q: Were any Famicom accessories released exclusively in North America?

A: No, many of Nintendo’s unique games and accessories remained exclusive to Japan.

Q: Did the Famicom Modem have any successful gaming capabilities?

A: The Famicom Modem’s gaming capabilities were limited, and the prototype games developed for it were considered failures.

Q: Were there any other attempts to introduce online connectivity with Nintendo consoles?

A: Nintendo continued to explore online connectivity with subsequent consoles, but the Famicom Modem was the first of its kind.


While the Famicom is remembered primarily for its iconic games, its hardware and accessories also played a significant role in shaping its legacy. Nintendo’s willingness to experiment with innovative and sometimes unconventional concepts brought joy and wonder to thousands of players. Despite the occasional misstep, the Famicom’s influence on the gaming market cannot be overstated.

Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 358 of Game Informer. For more information about the Famicom and its impact on the gaming industry, visit Wqaindia.