The Hidden Famicom Adapter Episode.012

In recent years, as older video games begin to see rejuvenation in popularity, there has been one clever discovery that can really enhance your hunting at flea markets and thrift shops.  Back in the mid-1980s when the NES was really exploding on the market, Nintendo’s home office in Japan couldn’t keep up with the demand in the U.S.  Up until then, they were rebuilding the cartridges to work on American systems.  For a short run, they came up with a simple adapter that fit inside the game cartridge to convert the Japanese version to work on an American NES.  This adapter was just a rectangle piece of plastic that allowed for the circuit board of the Japanese version to plug into one side and the American board to plug into the other side.  This allowed for the data to transfer over to the output and be read properly.


Surprisingly, no one at Nintendo leaked this information out for years, in fact decades.  It was only in recent years that the information began surfacing on the Internet of the hidden adapter.  The truth was this adapter could be removed from the cartridge and used on most Famicom games, Nintendo Japan’s name for their Nintendo system.  The U.S. board that was attached to the adapter was generic and could be used elsewhere.  So with the two components, one could hook it onto a Famicom game and be able to play it on their own system.  Of course, if the game involved Japanese, it would still be in Japanese.  However, many of the heavy-text games like the JRPGs followed a similar pattern in command menus like their converted followers and could be figured out as long as the story wasn’t important.

Suddenly the race is on among gaming collectors to find a hidden adapter.  Of course, by now you can simply buy one on eBay, but why would you when you are an expert gaming hunter?  There are several ways to discover whether that cartridge for $1.50 in the bargain bin of Goodwill has the adapter or not.


What seems to be the most common NES cartridge that contains an adapter is the 1985 release “Gyromite,” a game involving lifting and lowering pistons as you travel your way through a side-scrolling labyrinth.  This game was particularly well known for its added feature and introduction of R.O.B., a toy robot accessory that played alongside you taking command of one of the controls.  Through the use of gyros, or heavy spinners, the robot would place one on either a large red or blue lever, which in turn would press either the A or B buttons on the controller.  Much like the Zapper gun, R.O.B.’s eyes would detect flashes on the screen to activate its motor skills.

The first time you come across the cartridge, take a look at the label, which will be your first hint on whether or not it has an adapter tucked away inside.  On the label is a small icon depicting R.O.B.’s head.  The older copies that had the adapter had a much bluer icon than the later versions, which contained more purple.  This is not a guarantee as coloration can change over the last 25 years depending on the environment it was in.  Blue will begin fading lighter in the sun over the years, possibly looking more purple or pink.


After inspecting the label, try balancing the game on one of your fingers.  With the adapter, the center of gravity will be more towards the middle since the hollow case is almost entirely filled with circuit boards.  If it’s front heavy, it probably won’t have it.

Now turn the cartridge over onto its back to inspect the screw configuration.  Does it have 5 or 7 screws?  Interesting fact is that the newer NES cartridges had only 3 screws while the Famicom adapter version of Gyromite often had 7, not 5.  You will see the extra 2 screws toward the bottom near the output board because those 2 extras are in place to hold the adapter.  Furthermore, many of the adapter copies have a tiny flathead screw instead of the star-hex screws.


One final clue, albeit tough to spot without sharp eyes, are the connecting pins.  There are a few other video games besides Gyromite that contained adapters (keep in mind not every copy of these games had them).  These included 1942, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr., Duck Hunt, Elevator Action, Excitebike, Golf, Gumshoe, Hogan’s Alley, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, Pinball, Raid on Bungeling Bay, Rygar, Soccer, Stack Up, Tennis, Urban Champions, Wizards and Warriors, Wrecking Crew.  While these are harder to spot, each of the connecting pins should not be symmetrical.  There should be a tiny nib on the tips of each either on the left or ride edge of the pin.  Later versions will be in the center.


For collecting enthusiasts, the adapter is a must although some have modified a Famicom to work in the U.S.  It is a personal preference on how dedicated you want to invest into playing games from Japan.  Either way, even if you have an adapter already or have no interest in playing games you can’t understand what is said on the screen (unless you are fluent in Japanese), it still is a fun way to kill time while roaming the aisles of a flea market or second hand store with Mom or the wife.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.


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