Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Buying Guide: The Nintendo Entertainment System

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

Most of us that are over 30 and grew up gaming had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) at one point or another in our collection, so it’s not that common to have a reseller screw you over with a used console.  Still, I think it’s best to know exactly what you need to look for in your NES so here’s the official list of items that should be included in a used console:

  • NES Console: The big grey box is quite resilient to damage, so don’t fret a crack, scratch, or defect if you just want to play games.  On the other hand the internal components are more brittle than you would assume from tech that premiered in the mid 80s, so you’ll want to be a little careful.  If the console rattles or the springs in the cartridge slot seem sticky or off, make sure to thoroughly test the console (or get a return policy) before taking it home.  With the replacement of 72 pin connectors (the connection spot on the console for cartridges that would get bent up and cause the infamous blinking effect), many botched jobs try to get sold off in “as is” condition with the damage being everything from simple re-attachment to complete destruction of key components.
  • AC Adaptor: This is more important than it may seem because the NES ran a voltage and amperage that was common for the time but not among most other game consoles.  My official AC was 9V at 1.3 Amp (Important: this info only pertains to US NES consoles), which is probably your best bet and shouldn’t cost more than $10 to replace.  On the other hand as long as you can find the exact specs (I understand that near specs will probably work just fine, but I’m playing it safe) and a plug that works at places like RadioShack or MicroCenter, you should be good.  Many online retailers offer 3rd party AC adaptors as well, which all will probably be fine as long as they are within spec and a Google search doesn’t respond with endless burnout or damage complaints on message boards.
  • RF Adaptor: Better known as “the grey box that screws into the TV” in my house, this was an RF adaptor for coaxial analog connections on the back of almost every TV in the 1980s.  It’s a common and reliable way to hook your console up to your TV although I personally prefer using RCA cables for a more shielded (but still analog) signal.  My video below demonstrates both ways to hook these up.  If your NES has to come without a specific cable, this is the cheapest.
  • Nintendo Controller: Since 3rd parties weren’t that popular back then and Nintendo kept a close seal on the market, you’ll probably find that official NES controllers are all most people have for sale.  Avoid the 3rd party knockoffs from nowadays, they’re just trying to make a quick buck and $5 is about all I’ll spend on a controller in great shape.  Since they can get expensive when you desperately need them, I recommend securing two controllers with your console purchase.

These are the required components when purchasing an NES, which should run you about $40-$50 in most areas and potentially up to $70 used in cities, but I wouldn’t recommend paying much more.  If you desire the NES Model 2 (vertical game loading and dogbone controllers), those start at about $100 and can run you up to $200 in some areas.  If you require boxes, instructions, good condition, and certain packs (like Power Pad or Zapper pack), you can expect to pay whatever the buyer is asking (expect around $100 if not more depending on condition and accessories).  For those just looking for a working console, here are a few other suggestions when looking for a console:

  •  Look for one that has been refurbished with a new 72-pin connector to assure you don’t have that blinking problem.  It’s an easy fix and many reputable locations and online retailers will do it automatically, but usually with a $20-$30 premium attached.  I still feel this is worth it because the connectors will run you $10-$20 online and installation requires basic electronics skills (no soldering) and the risk of damaging your NES.  Consoles with this refurbishment will most likely retail between $50-$100 depending on other factors.
  • Zapper: I love light gun games and many of the classics (which I will soon cover) got their start on the NES.  Not only that, but they’re dirt cheap for the most part because the Zapper (and other light guns) will not work on non-tube televisions (almost every HDTV on the market) so the demand has dropped to all time lows.  If you still have a tube TV, though, there’s no reason not to pick this up for Duck Hunt and Hogan’s Alley alone.
  • NES Max or Advantage: These are purely for those that need a little help with the button mashing of old games or want that arcade feel when playing titles like Gauntlet or Donkey Kong.  The Max is a controller with turbo buttons so that games like Mega Man require that you only hold down a button and shoot a million bullets at once, although the analog d-pad is quite annoying.  For the Advantage you get a tough joystick and big candy-like red buttons that look and feel similar to an arcade, which is always ideal for the purists.  There are several other add-on peripherals for the console, which I’ve covered here, but none that I feel are “must haves”.

Alright, you’re ready now to go hunt down an NES, take this buying guide and supplemental video below and happy hunting!  Please note that all prices and market values change on an hourly basis, so the numbers of what a console should cost here may not hold up even a year from now.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm

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