Can’t Get A NES? Check Out Your Local Arcade!
Right now most of the nation doesn’t even know what a NES is, as it’s only being marketed in the New York area this holiday season. Still, the hardcore gamers out there are in the loop, but many don’t live anywhere close to a store selling one. The good news is that an arcade near you may already have many of the NES launch games available to play right now.
Some of you wrote in and mentioned that you had already played some of the new NES games at your local malls. I went ahead and dug around, and sure enough, Nintendo has been busy over the past year and a half prepping the U.S. market for the eventual home console releases by infiltrating arcades ahead of time.
As many of you know, the video game market fell off a cliff in 1983 and virtually disappeared last year. This was due to many factors, the most damning of which was the glut of gutter-dwelling software that flooded retailers’ shelves. Promises of arcade-like experiences were straight-up lies and consumers weren’t dumb. All it took was being burned a couple of times before they stopped buying video games altogether. Retailers were left with backrooms overflowing with merchandise that no one wanted. Deep clearances and sell-offs were the new normal. Walk into any department store these days and you won’t see any video game systems or games anywhere. Computers have now taken over, mostly because they are multipurpose, so even if bad games are released the kids can still write up their school reports.
With the market in total disarray, imagine Nintendo’s predicament in trying to get retailers to support the NES’s launch. Remember, the Japanese equivalent, the Famicom, released in July of 1983 and has been on fire across the Pacific. Nintendo has been eager to release the NES in the U.S., but convincing retailers to take a risk hasn’t been easy. So, last year Nintendo devised a strategy to get some of the Famicom’s games onto U.S. soil by packaging them as arcade games. After all, they are very much familiar with the arcade scene and all that it entails with previous hits like Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., and Popeye. A relationship already exists between arcade owners and Nintendo, so it’s relatively easy to convince them to carry a new product.
This new initiative called for a brand new style of arcade machine. Nintendo calls it the VS. DualSystem, which looks like two arcade machines smashed together so that two people can compete head-to-head. The first game released for it was Tennis – the same game released last month for the NES, complete with identical visuals. The only difference is the arcade version has two screens, which adds in an additional multiplayer option to play against each other instead of just co-op like in the NES version. The reason is that with two separate screens, each player gets the perfect vantage point of the tennis court from behind the player. On the NES this is impossible to replicate and I’m sure Nintendo felt whoever was playing in the far court would be at a distinct disadvantage.
A few months later, Nintendo also released a standalone arcade machine with a single screen called the VS. UniSystem, no doubt to fit into arcades more easily and as a cheaper alternative. The beauty of all of the VS. System machines is that the games can easily be switched out via a VS.-Pak, a precursor to the NES’s Game Pak cartridge system. This vastly reduces costs for arcade owners, as they only need to buy the new games (roughly $300 to $400 each) instead of the entire cabinet. Plus, it’s easier than replacing an entire circuit board via a conversion kit. Included are the new software, the name plate, and instructions. When you consider that the NES versions of these VS. arcade games are pretty much identical in graphics and sound and retail for only $20 to $30 a pop, the value proposition of the NES becomes glaringly apparent.
So far we’ve seen many of the NES’s launch games already appear over the past year and a half in the arcades, albeit with the VS. name attached to them. The games released so far are: Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Pinball, Excitebike, Ice Climber, Hogan’s Alley, Duck Hunt, and Soccer. In addition, Nintendo lists VS. Football as coming out this year, which has been renamed to 10-Yard Fight, and of course has already been released for the NES. Nintendo has also just released VS. Super Mario Bros., the best NES game so far, so be sure to check your local arcades to see if it’s arrived yet. VS. Motocross, which has been renamed to VS. Mach Rider, should be hitting arcades this month and is scheduled to come out next year for the NES. If you find any of these games running in your local arcade, check them out and you’ll get a first-hand taste of what’s in store for you next year when the NES hopefully sees a national debut.
There are some games that have been announced for the VS. series that haven’t yet come out for the NES, so perhaps these are a preview of what’s to come soon. The one I’m most excited to see is VS. Gradius, a side-scrolling space shooter from Konami. Another one that just came out is VS. Raid on Bungling Bay, licensed from Broderbund and created by Will Wright. It’s a helicopter game where you must infiltrate enemy airspace and destroy planes and ships with your guns while dropping bombs on facilities. It’s unknown if either Gradius or Bungling Bay will release on the NES, but perhaps Nintendo is testing the waters at the arcade first to see how they perform. Nintendo also lists a few games that I’ve yet to see any information on: VS. Nintendo 500 and VS. Helifighter. Both supposedly released this past summer, but I haven’t had anyone verify their existence as of yet.
Of course, the other question is whether other coin-op games not based on the VS. series will be ported to the NES as well. Games like Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Popeye, and Mario Bros. have been ported to the Japanese Famicom, and they show up on Nintendo’s poster of games that comes packed in the box with the NES, so we know they will be coming sometime in the future. But, what about some of their other arcade games, like Arm Wrestling, Punch-Out!!, Super Punch-Out!!, or (if we go all the way back) Radar Scope? I guess we just have to wait for Nintendo to get itself launched nationwide before becoming too concerned over what’s coming next for the NES.
The NES has only been on store shelves for a little over a month, and only in a small portion of the country. The majority of us will have to live vicariously through reviews and previews, unless of course we have an arcade nearby filled with some of the VS. games waiting to be played. You could always ask your local arcade operator to look into getting a VS. system as well. If you absolutely can’t wait to play the latest NES games, that’s probably your best bet. Although, there might be another solution, short of hitching a plane ride to New York and purchasing one in person. We’ve heard various reports that you may be able to have one shipped from F.A.O. Schwarz in New York. Give them a try at: 212-644-9435 and see how much it would cost to have one shipped to you. Don’t forget to grab a few games with the system. I’d suggest Super Mario Bros. and Pinball!
Let us know if you’ve had any luck securing a launch NES. What games are your favorites? Also, have you played any of the VS. games at your local arcade? What’s available, and what did you think? Hats off to Nintendo for finding a way to Trojan Horse the NES games into arcades to reach a broader audience.
Photo Credits: All arcade flyers are courtesy of The Arcade Flyer Archive. Feature image courtesy of Dragon’s Lair Project.
Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He’s currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.