So you want to get into collecting classic games but don't know where to start? Fear not, citizens, for I have come to your aid! I've been collecting video gaming memorabilia for years, and have probably had more collectibles destroyed in moving than most people have on display.
And that brings me to our newest segment, QualityCollections. Each week Every now and then I'll be bringing you a guide on how to build different aspects of your collection, until your display room rivals that of the Raddest Kid in the World™.
Possibly one of the best collections to start with is the Nintendo Entertainment System, known in certain circles as either the Nintendo, the NES, the Original Nintendo, or even by some weirdos (read: Me when I was 8): the Regular Nintendo.
The NES was a revolution when it was introduced, saving the world from the clutches of the Last Great Video Games Crash and bringing us into the glory days of third generation gaming. These days, everybody talks about game changers and industry interrupters, but Nintendo really paved the way for this kind of methodology in electronics. When the NES was released, it literally changed the world of video gaming as we knew it.
(NES Bedding image courtesy of Instructables user rpaxton)
Prior to 1983, gaming was primarily dominated by North American interests. Companies like Atari, Intellivision, and even Magnavox were the players of the day, and to be honest, they weren't very good at it. Most home video games were watered down ports of arcade favorites. There was no such thing as scrolling, and even art didn't exist. And you think third generation games lacked story? At least NES and Master System games (usually) had a story in the manual. Most second generation games were a set of objectives that were either boring or tedious, and led to the bubble-and-burst video game market of the 70s and early 80s. But Nintendo saw the problems, and fixed them, for the most part. They solved the crisis and built it into the $63 billion industry it is today.
The NES makes a great starting point for collecting simply because it was so popular. Selling more than 34 million units in North America, NES control decks are extremely easy to come across. You can often find complete-in-box units on eBay for less than $100! That's a pretty amazing deal considering the age of the system. It's very cheap to get into and adds a lot more retro cred than a PSX collection.
Decide Your Collection's Purpose
Are you collecting games simply to display, or do you want to have a large library of games to play? With the advent of emulators and the Virtual Console, collecting games to play isn't as important these days as it once was, but for some purists, playing on the original hardware is the only way to go. The type of collection you have determines what games you should and can buy.
If your collection is for display only, you can purchase games made for all regions. Of course, your collection is more cohesive if all elements are from the same region, however, a few oddballs here and there--especially games that were unavailable in the US--can make for a truly excellent display.
But if you want to be able to play all of the games in your collection, you need to be more careful. Not only should you only buy games marketed in your region, but you need to take extra precautions to make sure your collection works for as long as possible, including cleaning (covered below), and adding a surge protector to your set up to avoid frying the electronics.
There is no correct choice, it's all up to you. Whatever method of collecting speaks to you is what you should choose. Some would say that a pristine, do-not-touch collection is more impressive, simply because it's a sheer force of will type of thing. This type of collection allows for mint condition, and possibly games still in the wrapper! Others would say playable collection is better, because it's more true to the subject. Video games are made for playing, and if you're not playing them, why do you want them?
Whatever you choose, remember that they're not mutually exclusive. You can have a display only collection, and keep a few of your favorite games for playing. Likewise, just because most of your collection moves through your NES on a regular basis, doesn't mean you can't have a couple of mint-in-box games. Just do whatever feels right to you. Remember, this is your collection, and only you can decide what is right for it.
Choosing a Control Deck
This is possibly the most important part of your collection. Obviously, no NES collection would be complete without at least one control deck, but there are multiple versions, so which should you choose? Like the previous step, the model you buy determines what games you should buy.
There are three different models of the NES control deck, and thanks to regional lockouts, each plays a different set of games. First is the HVC-001, known either as the Nintendo Family Computer, or more often, the Famicom. As an English speaking collector, this would probably be purchased in addition to a control deck from your native region. Although an interesting addition to your collection, you probably shouldn't buy this if you don't already have a control deck to play games on. Having a Famicom is definitely an easy way to add a spark to your collection though, since they can be extremely cheap, and aren't often seen in English speaking homes. If you can afford it, I would highly suggest getting a Famicom, but only as an additional, "Hey look at this" piece.
The most well known deck in the western world was the NES-001, the grey brick that started it all. Even to this day, the NES-001, and more importantly, the NES-004 controller that shipped with it, have become a staple of retro gaming, emblazoned across everything from posters, to t-shirts, wallets and just about anything you would care to buy. Many would say that without this control deck, your collection is incomplete. These are by far the easiest to come by outside of Japan, and are extremely well-documented.
But the NES-001 does have its share of problems. The unique front-loading design incorporates many more moving parts than other consoles of this era, and as such is susceptible to quite a bit of damage and abuse. Notably, the 72-pin connector is very easy to damage, and most non-working consoles can be attributed to this.
There's also one other glaring issue with the NES-001: The 10NES lockout chip. While this helped saving the industry in North America, it created a myriad of problems for players as the system aged. Because of this chip, 001 control decks can only play games marketed for the region the system was released in. And it's even harder for European collectors! There were two distinct models of NES in Europe, a Model A, with the 3197 10NES lockout chip, and Model B with the 3195 10NES chip. If you bought an NES-101 or have disabled the 10NES, you don't need to worry about this, but for you purists out there, this could really put a grey-screen-of-death on your parade.
The 10NES chip can even stop legitimate cartridges from playing on your system if the 72-pin connector is faulty. Luckily, both of these problems are easily fixed if you're confident enough to open your console and tinker a little bit. A new 72-pin connector can be bought very cheaply and easily replaced with nothing more than a single screwdriver, and oftentimes will bring a "broken" NES back to life! Additionally, the 10NES chip can be bypassed completely, allowing bootleg and non-regional games to be played on any NES-001. Whether removing the chip is good for your collection or not is up to you, but I would recommend changing out the 72-pin connector and thoroughly cleaning any games you buy before playing them to keep your system operational for many years to come.
The final (legitimate) version of the NES is the top-loading NES-101. Released in 1993 and designed to look more like the newer Super NES, the NES-101 is an interesting addition to a collection. Lacking the 10NES chip and featuring a more robust 72-pin connector, NES-101 decks were a stylish and functional update to the NES line that solved many of the issues present in the NES-001. These weren't as popular as the original unit and thus are harder to come by and a bit more expensive. Personally, I think they're neat, but I'd rather spend the money on games than an NES-101.
Whatever you choose, the best place to find control decks is eBay, although I've often seen them come up at flea markets and on Craigslist here and there. There are also many sites dedicated to buying and selling retro consoles, which generally have higher-quality consoles, but correspondingly higher prices.
Check back in for more in this series as we explore more aspects of your NES collection, including which accessories to buy, choosing your games, and much more!