Hardware Classics: Nintendo AV Famicom

Give the dog a bone

The Nintendo Entertainment System — or NES, for short — is arguably the console on which Nintendo's current lofty status was built. Launched in Japan as the Famicom, the 8-bit platform is home to an almost endless list of solid-gold classics, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania and Kid Icarus. However, both the Japanese and Western editions of the hardware were far from perfect; the Famicom had hard-wired joypads and could only output an RF signal, while the NES was saddled with the infamous 'Toaster' cartridge mechanism which would become unreliable over time. A hardware revision was in order, and came in the shape of the AV Famicom, which was dubbed the "NES 2" in North America.

Although the Japanese and American editions of this updated system look cosmetically similar, there are some significant differences. The Japanese console lacks the "bump" on the cartridge slot which is present on the NES 2, thanks to the fact that Famicom carts are shorter than NES carts and also because the system needs to offer support for the Famicom Disk System RAM Adapter Pack. Another big difference is the lack of AV output on the US model — something which is rather odd when you consider that the original NES offered this connectivity. In direct contrast, the AV Famicom offers a composite link to the TV — one of the big advancements over the first Famicom. The introduction of pads which plug into the console is another improvement for Famicom fans, although it does mean that the little-used microphone function that was present on the original console is absent.

The model we're looking at here is the Japanese AV Famicom, which is the smart choice if you're looking to pick this system up today. The AV output really does make the world of difference when it comes to picture quality, and although it's a matter of personal preference, those Famicom cartridges boast some amazing artwork which puts their North American and European counterparts to shame. The use of coloured plastic on the carts themselves is another visual bonus for collectors, and by using a special bridge adapter, you can actually play NES games on the AV Famicom — allowing you to experience the best of both worlds.

The revised hardware comes with a updated controller in the shape of the iconic "Dog bone" pad. Although the boxy NES pad is something of a gaming icon these days, those sharp edges were hell on the palms. The overhauled pad has rounded sides which make it similar to the SNES controller, meaning you can use it for longer periods without wincing in pain. Because these pads have the same connectors as the NES, you can use them on your original system — or plug the old-style NES pad into the AV Famicom, if you prefer.

AV Famicom consoles aren't rare these days, but they usually cost more than the standard Famicom system. You can pick one up loose online for a reasonable price, although if you're after a mint boxed version then expect to pay a lot more. The incredible popularity of the Famicom in its homeland means that software is, for the most part, cheap and easily obtainable. Certain titles were are fairly common in North America and Europe — such as the original Double Dragon and the first Castlevania title (which was originally released on the Famicom Disk System under the title Akumajō Dracula) — fetch very high prices, both in boxed and unboxed form. Speaking of which, picking up boxed titles can be an expensive business, so unless you're especially keen to have a collection which looks good on a shelf, we'd recommend you initially aim to buy just loose carts.

Nintendo's 8-bit console may be a relic from the past for many modern players, but it hosts some of the best games ever made. Gameplay never goes out of fashion, and you simply can't beat experiencing these classic titles on authentic hardware — even if it is a slight revision on what many of us played on back in the days of our misspent youth.