Nintendo’s Famicom Celebrates Its 30th Birthday

Japanese NES

Nintendo Famicom

Nintendo has been the forefather for many of my, and I’m sure many of your, childhood memories. While the recent Wii U release was not as spectacular or beloved as the Super Famicom’s (Super Nintendo) back in the day, Nintendo still receives a ton of love from the gaming community.

This Nintendo love needs to be harnessed to the fullest today, since July 15th, 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo ¬†Famicom (a.k.a. Family Computer) (a.k.a. the NES) release. Yes, that is 100% correct! The Famicom in all its red and white glory has officially, and rather silently, reached its 30’s! (It’s nearly over the hill)

Nintendo first released the Famicom in Japan back in good old 1983, and the system was an instant success. It wasn’t until 1985 that Nintendo threw the western world our own, slightly grayer, version of the system, dubbed the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). Unfortunately for owners of the NES, the little grey system was not given the same number of sound chips as the Famicom. This meant that the NES was incapable of playing the music in its games the way they were meant to be played (Lucky Famicom gamers got the full dose of the Dr. Wily’s Castle theme.).

Japanese NES Cartridge

Colorful Famicom Cartridge

The Famicom’s colorful 8-bit graphics were a nice step-up from those found on the Atari systems or the Commodore 64. With the additions of the amazing sounding tunes, thanks to the Famicom’s hardware, and the instant insane popularity of Super Mario Bros., the system quickly climbed to the top of the charts (All praise Miyamoto).

The game cartridges were also a great part of the Famicom experience. While the US was receiving their giant grey cartridges (With the exception of the amazing golden Zelda 1), Japan was being given much more compact cartridges. These were also sold in a massive variety of colors that seem to scream out “Play me!” even today. And did I forget to mention the microphone built into the controller? Pretty useful in The Legend of Zelda.

NES owners really seemed to have gotten shafted when it came to hardware. At least we were given R.O.B. the Robot! (Oh, wait. Japan eventually got him too. Hmm…)

NES Disk

Famicom Disk System

After the system’s initial success, Nintendo threw all it had into innovating the video game market. The Famicom Disk System, a not so well-known peripheral for the Famicom released in 1986, is a great example of this. The attachment was not released outside of Japan, but (With the exception of its quickly deteriorating belt!) it was a great addition to the system.

The Disk System was directly attached to the Famicom and allowed players to play games through brightly colored floppy disks. These games were not only capable of saving but also the disks themselves could hold more data than a cartridge. Add this to the fact that the Disk System came with a built-in audio channel for FM Synthesis that gave games a much nicer sound and you have yourself one great add-on for a great system. Sharp even worked with Nintendo later on to create the amazing Sharp Twin Famicom, which is a system that has both a Famicom and Famicom Disk System combined into one badass looking console that should make the Xbox One more ashamed than it already is!

NES Modem

Famicom Modem

Following the Disk System were numerous upgrades to the Famicom that mainly attempted to update the basic performance and look of the system itself. Although they did tinker around with a number of online features through the use of the Famicom Modem, but that never really never got the support it needed to get going strongly. The feature can most closely be compared to much less successful Nintendo eShop.

So there you have it. That is the end of your history lesson for the day, children. Hard to believe it has been 30 years since that little red beast of a console was gifted to the world. Nintendo really was a powerhouse in its heyday, and that only increased during the rise of the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo). Nintendo may be in a bit of a rough patch now but I’m hoping to see them eventually rise back up and get their bearings again.

Until that day comes, I think I’ll be enjoying myself some Dragon Quest IV. Happy 30th birthday Famicom. Here’s to another 30 years of enjoyment!

If you now have a growing curiosity for the Famicom then be sure to head on over to Famicom World. They have everything you would ever want to know right on hand and the forum is great fun.

Please share your best memory or game of the Famicom (NES) in the comment section below.


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Written by Jonathan Parsons

English teacher and freelance writer Jonathan Parsons is a longtime gamer working abroad in Japan. He spends his free time swimming through the Akita winter snow to his car and playing classic PC and Famicom games.