Ahh the video game cartridge. The medium of choice for home video games, almost since the dawn of home video gaming itself. Everything from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo 64 used the game cartridge, with many handhelds like the Nintendo DS and 3DS continuing the tradition. Sure, they are more expensive to produce and have less storage capacity than optical media, but dammit, they just look and feel great. Can you say that about your latest digital download?
Some of the most iconic video game carts came out of the 8-bit era, and more specifically, from Nintendo. Both the NES and the Famicom have great cart designs, each with their very own pros and cons. But if you know anything about me, you know that I am partial the Famicom versions of this 8-bit classic. So I’ve decided to list them up; the top 5 differences between NES and Famicom carts.
1. Crazy Colour Scheme.
Grey. Grey. Grey. That describes a wall of the NES carts. Sure, there is the occasional black Tengen cart, and who can forget the classic gold Legend of Zelda carts? Those are the exception though and not the rule. At the end of the day, all you see is grey.
Compare that to the Famicom’s vibrant library of multicoloured carts, with all the shades and hues of the rainbow. Bright yellows, fresh whites, punchy oranges, and even juicy purples make a wall of Famicom carts a work of art. The translucent blue of Konami's Salamander (Life Force in North America) has got to be one of my top picks. Who doesn’t need a bit of colour in their life?
2. Cart Size
Ahh, the American dream; work hard, buy much, and live big. Just like they like their cars, North Americans like their NES carts large. Nearly double the size of a Famicom cart, I assume this was done intentionally to allow the cartridges to stand out on the shelf next to some VHS tapes, and feel like a substantial piece of technology. The Japanese, hindered instead with an obsession over all things small and cute, found their Famicom carts to be compact, pocket sized, and easily portable.
3. Cart Shape
Just as the NES cart colour is standardized, so too is the shape of the cart; same ridges, same angles, and same thumb grip at the top. The label is the only way to tell one game from another in a NES library. In Japan, almost every different publisher had its own unique and distinguishable cart shape. Jaleco had big ugly bulbous carts, Taito had very boxy and rigid cart shapes with their name stamped on it, and Konami had one that even incorporated end labels(!!). A lot of times, you can tell who published a game simply by looking at the shape of the cart.
4. Ease of Storage
You may have seen my previous post about storing loose Famicom carts, where I showed how incredibly easy it is to store your collection away from pets and small children for only a couple bucks using cassette cabinets from your local thrift store. Simple, elegant, classy.
5. Label Art
Don’t get me wrong, NES label art isn’t bad. But looking at them side by side, I would have to say that the Famicom definitely comes out on top. Vivid colours, wild characters and that crazy anime style that can only be described as “Japanese” all combine to create some great art. Just check out a comparison of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Kung Fu; so much to look at, so much to see…
And a negative: the lack of top labels
Seriously, how am I supposed to know which game I’m about to play? With so many great looking carts it’s easy to get captivated, but when you are ready for some classic 8-bit action, how will you know which one to pick? By picking each one up one by one and looking at the front of the label. I feel like this wasn’t very well thought out on Nintendo’s part. I guess that’s why kids would scrawl illegible katakana on them in Sharpie. Thanks, Tomohiro-kun; your illegible handwriting has been immortalized on my copy of Excitebike forever.
What do you prefer? The North American NES cart or the Japanese Famicom cart?