Ever since the 1989 launch of the Game Boy ushered in the era of portable gaming, it was the dream of NES owners worldwide: a console that would let them play their beloved home games on the go, in vivid color. Sadly, it never happened, mostly due to technological constraints, the price of portable hardware, and the fact that the NES carts were just so darned big as to make any possible form factor a total failure from a design standpoint.
But that hasn’t stopped other companies from giving it a go and trying to pack the Famicom hardware into a portable shell. In this hack, I explore a few different systems that allow you to play Famicom and NES games portably. Bear in mind that none of them are perfect, but you may find one solution that strikes your fancy.
If you jump ahead to Chapter 2, you’ll find hacks that discuss the two ways Nintendo has devised thus far to let you play certain NES titles on your Game Boy Advance. The GameCube title Animal Crossing lets you download certain emulated NES games to your GBA’s memory [Hack #19] , and a line of NES Classics cartridges [Hack #16] has been released on the GBA. Read those hacks to find a list of the games that are available.
This first attempt at a portable Famicom was released throughout Asia as early as 1995. It was gigantic, even exceeding the size of giant portables like the Sega Game Gear and NEC Turbo Express. It drained six AA batteries in two hours and on top of that the LCD screen was awful; it scratched all too easily and colors were severely washed out. Game Axe Color is most likely no longer being made, and that is to your benefit. I found one on eBay selling for around $150, far less than what the system used to sell for, but considering what can be had for far cheaper it is hardly worth it.
Sporting one of the clumsiest product names ever devised, the Game Theory Admiral sprung onto the retro gaming scene a year or so ago. It featured a form factor quite similar to that of the Game Boy Advance and was much smaller than the Game Axe Color. In fact, it was so small that Famicom games could not even fit into the unit’s cartridge slot! A special adapter (included) fit into the unit and held the cartridge at a 90 degree angle protruding towards the player, hanging over the system like an awning.
The GTA (note the familiarity of the abbreviation—coincidence or carefully crafted marketing?) also featured A/V output; cables were included in the box. Thus, you could hook the unit up to your television set. When online retailer National Console Support (http://www.ncsx.com), who sold the units for a time, tested one, they found the television display to be “perfect.” The bright, backlit TFT screen was also found to be much nicer than the Game Axe’s.
And the price was right at just over $50. The only drawbacks were that Mystery, the company that released the system, apparently didn’t stick around long enough to release an AC adapter or an adapter to run NES cartridges. You might try using the adapters found on Lik-Sang [Hack #5] , but because of the way the cartridges hang over the system, this setup would be unstable at best. Most of the retailers who carried the GTA are long out of stock, although I found some on eBay selling for between $50 and $75.
The PokeFami is a portable Famicom-compatible system from the makers of the NeoFami [Hack #5] . This is the newest such system, having been released in 2004 by GameTech. It is sold in most major Japanese hardware stores and is generally made of tougher stuff than the Admiral. It features a 2.5” LCD screen and takes 3 AA batteries. Of course, it costs more: I found different retailers selling them for anywhere between $70 and $130.
Like the systems mentioned earlier, the PokeFami includes A/V output to a television screen. Its cartridge slot is far better than the Admiral’s, since Famicom cartridges slide into the unit—although some reports indicate that the slot is too wide, thus enabling the player to accidentally shake a cartridge free during gameplay. An adapter is required for NES gameplay. At the time of this writing many different online retailers, including Lik-Sang (http://www.lik-sang.com) and Play-Asia (http://www.play-asia.com), stock the Pokefami.
You might imagine that the PokeFami is your best bet for portable Famicom/NES playing, and you might be right. But if you own a Game Boy Advance SP system, you might want to consider the AdoFami, also called the Time Machine by English-language retailers. It plugs into the GBA SP’s bottom half, overlapping a little on each side.
In layman’s terms, the AdoFami contains the same hardware as a PokeFami, but uses the GBA SP’s screen. It does require its own set of 4 AA batteries, and outputs sound through its own speaker and headphone output. You can change brightness, hue, and saturation by hitting the GBA’s Select button while a game is in progress. A slot on the bottom of the unit allows you to play GBA cartridges while the device is attached. NES-to-Famicom adapters do work with the system, which is available for about $50 from most stores that sell the PokeFami.
If this hack has taught you anything, it’s that it will almost assuredly be out of date by the time it is printed. Perhaps the PokeFami will be replaced with another, more compact portable Famiclone. Perhaps an AdoFami-style device that draws its power from the GBA SP’s rechargeable battery will be developed. And perhaps one day a system will run NES games without the need for an adapter.
Well… maybe two out of three.