7 things you didn’t know about the original NES

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Nintendo’s NES Classic mini is the hottest video game item of the holiday season (if you could get your hands on it), and excitement over the nostalgia-heavy mini-machine had many gamers reminiscing about their original game systems.

Of course, a lot of information about the NES has been forgotten amid the 30 years of glowing memories. Below you’ll find a few facts about the system and its release that you may have never heard before. For more on the retro gaming machine, check out how much the NES Classic mini actually saves you, as well as our ideas for an SNES Classic.

1) The very first ad

Frank Cifaldi, a prolific video game archivist and creator of the Video Game History Foundation, has spent years tracking down the marketing materials behind the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Earlier this year, Cifaldi discovered one of the earliest prototypes for the game boards, worked on by Satoru Iwata. Even more recently, Cifaldi tracked down a copy of Computer World ‘s January 1985 issue, featuring the very first ad for the NES. The console is concealed beneath a curtain, teasing the world of the gaming juggernaut to come later that year.

2) Famicom peripherals

In Japan, the Nintendo Entertainment System was released as the Famicom, with a white and red color scheme. Though the systems’ hardware was mostly the same, there were a few key differences between the global releases. Early prototypes of the controller featured square buttons, which were quickly changed to the iconic circles we know today. Famicom controllers also featured a microphone, a design element that never left Japan and that was hardly used by any of the console’s software. In Japan, the Famicom also supported the Family Basic Keyboard (seen above) and a Disk System that supported extra storage.

3) R.O.B.

Although he might not be the most iconic Nintendo hero, this friendly robot character recently made appearances in Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. In fact, R.O.B. was created as a way to sell the NES during its initial run in North America. The Robotic Operating Buddy’s design marketed the NES as an advanced toy rather than a risky video game console, following the industry’s crash in the early 1980s. However, the flashy light-up toy only supported two games ( Gyromite and Stack-Up) and didn’t survive on store shelves for very long.

4) Devil World

One of famed designer Shigeru Miyamoto’s earliest projects for the Nintendo Entertainment System never made its way to North America. Devil World played very similarly to Pac-Man but featured a significant twist. Players controlled a noble dragon creature who decided to wage war on the land of the devil. The player needed to collect crosses and bibles to avoid the devil who controlled enemies in the game’s maze. Due to Nintendo of America’s aversion to any religious iconography in games, this project was only released in Japan and Europe.

5) Tips hotline

Before most players had the internet easily at their disposal to solve a tough puzzle in The Legend of Zelda or advance in Super Mario Bros, the only way to move forward was with help from another player. Luckily, Nintendo offered the Powerline, a call-in telephone service hosted by players recruited for their Nintendo gaming skills. The service ran through the early ’90s, and Nintendo resurrected it earlier this year for the launch of the NES Classic.

6) Tengen cartridges

Nintendo fans are often critical of the company’s problems with third-party support on their systems, but the history of that relationship is more complicated than many realize. During the NES days, Nintendo controlled how many titles other companies could publish for their console in a year as well as how many copies they were permitted to sell. Publishers such as Namco weren’t satisfied with this, so they sought out other game manufacturers, like Atari’s company Tengen. The unlicensed cartridges they produced worked with the NES, though they looked quite different, and Nintendo ended up suing almost every company involved.

7) Manuals and guides

To commemorate the launch of the NES Classic, Nintendo has revived many of the materials that came with some of the original games, as well as some never-before-seen items, like the original Legend of Zelda map featured above. In fact, Nintendo launched a website recently that hosts the original manuals for all 30 of the games included in the NES Classic. It’s worth going through these pamphlets, as they hold plenty of secrets and forgotten facts about these nostalgic games.