Nintendo Entertainment System: Attack of the Clones

Posted on June 21, 2012 - 10:00am by Alpha Unit

TLDR;

 A little editorial on the most influential gaming system...And it's clones.

And be sure to check out the following two blogs since they mean way more to me than this blog.

Link to "Ask Me Anything"

Link to "Childhood Comics #1"

Enjoy.

The Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom is the Father console of modern gaming. It rescued the industry in late 1985 from the notorious Crash of 1983 and brought a renaissance of wonder and joy that has largely left a mark on many people. Gamers, franchises, and even rival game companies fed off what the Big N had begat.

When the 90's came, the game industry was only getting stronger, and more capable hardware on the Genesis(Mega Drive), SNES, and many other consoles and PCs knocked the NES down a notch and pushed it into a spiral of decline. Games were growing increasingly sophisticated visually and audibly, and the mighty river of titles that the NES housed slowly became a mere trickle. The NES was discontinued in 1995 while the Famicom was discontinued in 2003 since the neccessary parts grew scarce.

Despite that, the original Nintendo never actually died. It has the honor of becoming the most cloned and pirated game console of all time due its relatively simple hardware, and the many the flea markets around the world. Websites across the Internet sell cheap NES replacements that try to ape on the original hardware and replicate the original experience, albeit to a poor extent... A poor one indeed.

Somewhere in the early 90's when the system started to fall into the brink of extinction, many markets (usually somewhere in Asia) where the Nintendo was never produced got unofficial variations on the console.

Since the system was behind in the technological race, of course, the system would be rather easy to reproduce, but it was often done cheaply. The clone systems often had compatibility issues with NES or Famicom cartridges if support was given at all. The main hardware and software problems with the consoles are usually:

  • As said before, the build of these consoles is often done cheaply leading to issues with compatibility
  • The most common software-level incompatibility is the lack of CMOS backup memory, which causes certain games to not load or save data.
  • Most clones have the NES emulated on a single chip, thus, all video and audio limitations the original console had are now in place.
  • Most controller pins used by the consoles have Atari 9-pin or PC game ports, which may lead to incompatibility or malfunction to accessories or controllers since they are not proprietary and standard.
  • Many clones don't have RF modulators and may use cheap audio and composite outputs.
  • Note to self: I should quit using the word "cheap", even if that's the perfect word.

 Note to self: I should quit using the word "cheap", even if that's the perfect word.

Around the world, differences of the consoles may vary. Often, they look like Famicoms or NES’, but often, they look more modernized consoles... Such as these.

They could also be disguised as N64 controllers in most parts of North America and Western Europe. I own one of these, and I'm not proud of it.

Or like computers, which I've never seen in real life and I'm not sure why people would buy these since you could always get a Windows PC.

In Brazil, pirates were rampant, but both Nintendo and SEGA eventually released some official versions of the NES and the Master System thanks to deals with local toy companies and distributors.

In South Africa, most NES clones look like the original Playstation, and Nintendo has taken very little interest in legal action, so they're pretty much available in a lot of stores there. SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive clones are also popular

In Poland, the Pegasus console, which looks like a damn Famicom, is the most popular thing they have there. Unfortunately, it's a NTSC console forced into PAL mode, which doesn't sound very nice to the hardware, does it?

Lemme tell you something, Russia's case is probably the most interesting of the bunch:

The Dendy.

Well, in 1992, a company known as Steepler legally imported Famicoms into Russia where they exploded in popularity. They took it up to themselves and created hardware based on the Famicom and called it the Dendy, and a Russian sensation began. Dendy experienced roughly what the Famicom had in Japan and what the NES had in North America, only in a slightly smaller scale. Just as Nintendo became synonymous with children back then, as did Dendy. TV shows and a magazine were based on the console and the console's mascot, Dendy the elephant (an animated movie was to be released, but was never completed). Many stores opened to promote the Dendy as well.

Nintendo had caught wind of the sensation, and had a licensing deal with the Steepler company, meaning the console was now an official Nintendo product, with legitimate and legal game cartridges developed for it. Technically, maybe legally speaking, Dendy is the third official name of the console along with Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System.

Isn't it interesting how a simple clone became an official variation of a well known console? Well, it didn't all end well…

Steepler was later able to distribute the Super Famicom in Russia, but things weren't able to end up well after that. The licensed cartridges sold were much more expensive than the pirated ones, thus, they were no longer profitable and Steepler was no longer able to support itself financially and collapsed... The Dendy console (or the Super Famicom I think) are no longer sold in Russia, but many bootlegs from China posing as Dendy consoles (as well as other pirate consoles) are still sold to this day in Russia...And they were cheaper than the original...Yeah, a pirate console based on a former pirate console....Heck of a story...That's another part of the NES/Famicom history you don't hear often enough....

NES Clones Possibly Worth Your Time

There will never be an NES clone that fully replicates the original experience as intended, but these clones may be worth your time. So if you can't find a decent looking or decently priced NES at your local flea market, then maybe you can give these a little look. ( I found these across retro-sites such as Racket Boy and some randoms ones on Think Geek and Amazon).

Generation NEX

 

A neat looking machine if I do say so myself, but according to many websites, it doesn't have full compatibility with the NES library as much later titles or hardware pushing games in that library run poorly or not at all. The controller was often described as "mushy", and the video and audio quality of the machine seems to be questionable. Despite that, I heard it is okay, and there's Famicom compatibility with the machine. Yes, you can play Famicom games too, but I'm not sure if that's a big plus. So overall, reception is very, very mixed.

Review@VG&C

Review@ArsTechnica

Yobo NES/SNES/Genesis

Review@Amazon

The console, which can play Genesis and Super Nintendo games itself, is regarded as being pretty faithful with the games it plays, but its quality is also regarded as being low. I heard the picture was okay, but I also heard it was pretty grainy. The audio is all right, but the bass is a little heavy on Genesis games. Besides that, the controllers are cheap and taking out and putting in the cartridges is a hassle.

FC Twin

Described as an "okay clone", the FC Twin comes off as just "all right". The quality of controller is all right, the compatibility list like other clones is still rather in complete, and the sound and audio on NES games is just "meh". The SNES games were a slight step-up since sound and picture were feasible, but it seems that they're still not as good as the real thing. With that being said, this machine is geared more towards the SNES than the NES (NES controllers and accessories are also not supported), but it's still recommended you get the old Nintendo duo.

Review@ArsTechnica

Retro Duo

This clone could be seen as the best clone out of the bunch. The compatibility seems high, the controllers aren't too bad, and the quality of the console seems nice. As always, sound and video issues, but I'm sure they're not too bad since this isn't the real thing of course. But I guess besides being able to play SNES games, the console supports most games from North America, Japan, and PAL regions. It's still not perfect since it doesn't support NES accessories, and it's still not technically perfect at emulating the real thing, but hey, it's good enough.

Review@Amazon

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So there you go, more of my informative side. Yes, once again, I do own an NES clone myself, but I regret buying it and have it tucked in my closet, for which I will leave it there forever until I get myself a real NES. 

NES clones aren't perfect, but they're way more common than the real enchilada itself, and by proxy, this could make NES/Famicom/(Dendy) the most played console of all f-censored-ing time. I know some of you might be calling bullshit, but hey, what I have here is a theory, so I could be wrong. 

I hope you enjoyed.

Much love (no homo),

Alpha Unit

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