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November 2013 Retro Gaming Article


November 26, 2013 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

I played arcade ports on my NES, while the Playchoice-10 played NES games at the arcade

I loved the arcade ports on the Atari 2600 and marveled at how much better those old games were when ported to the Nintendo NES. Nintendo Playchoice-10 But imagine my surprise when I discovered Nintendo reversed the model and housed an NES inside an arcade cabinet!

Nintendo's Playchoice series of arcade cabinets appeared in 1986 in a variety of physical formats. Most popular was the standard upright cabinet that looked like most arcade cabinets of the era. There were both single game and 10-game variants as well as a bar-top model. The Playchoice games were identical in play to those available on the NES, although it did not use actual NES cartridges. The interchangeable games of the Playchoice were on boards that contained the game code as well as an 8KB ROM to display game hints.

Nintendo's Playchoice flyer back Playchoice-10 Contra board Most models of the Playchoice had dual monitors - one for game play and another containing game hints/instructions. Nintendo has a long history of dual-screen implementations. On single-monitor models, hints displayed prior to game play. A selection screen allowed up to 2 players to choose any of the 10 games. Rather than playing that game based on lives or other in-game events, the Playchoice worked on a timer and allowed you to play any of the ten games within the time limit. Some players reported 5 minutes per token, but the time was probably operator configurable.

SNK's MVS arcade configurations An interesting facet of the Playchoice is it's ability to play nearly any NES game (although only 54 were released). Although the cabinets maxed-out at 10 games, they often did not contain the same 10 games. It was common to encounter a Playchoice-10 with different games than another cabinet. I'm not sure how the sales channel worked, but it would be a nice incentive to allow arcade operators to choose the games for their Playchoice-10. I'm sure they could buy additional boards to change the game offering of the device.

We recently wrote about SNK's MVS arcade solution that used actual cartridges that could easily be swapped out by the arcade operator. Additional carts could be purchased to keep the cabinet fresh. Unlike the Playchoice model, the MVS and it's home counterpart, the AES, played the same games. The difference was SNK brought the level of the home console up to that of the arcade experience. The AES delivered the identical game playable on the MVS in an arcade. The Playchoice took the home NES and leveraged the popularity of it's game library into arcades. Two approaches to a similar desire to dominate the arcade and home markets with the same game content.

I'd love to know more about the costs of the Playchoice system and it's games back in 1986. Presumably the boards containing games were far more expensive than the title on an NES cart. Like the MVS, they likely wanted a proprietary scenario to prevent the less expensive carts being used in the Playchoice. I believe the MVS games were about $200 each in the early 90's. Currently I've seen the common Playchoice games selling for $20 and the more rare titles can be over $100.

If the Playchoice's success were to be estimated... there was a Nintendo Super System released in 1991 that played SNES games. While the Playchoice had 54 games, the Nintendo Super System only had 12.

It stands to reason that the Playchoice was successful enough to spawn release of the SNES equivalent, but with only 54 games for Playchoice and 12 for the Nintendo Super System, I wonder if either system was able to engage players from home to arcade. It seems as though SNK made the better move by creating hardware for both home and arcade that was powerful enough to bring a superior experience to both platforms.

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