Last Sunday I was checking out the Buy/Sell/Trade section of one of my favorite Internet communities besides Famicom World – RetroGames.cl Forums. Some guy was selling a bunch of gaming stuff for cheap, and I was fortunate enough to see the post just minutes after it was created, giving me the ultimate lead to snag stuff before anyone else.
Among the stuff that I bought from him, I got this nice looking Famiclone for about $5, system + box + manual, untested.
I like these Famicom-shaped clones, and this one is in fact my very first one. I couldn’t resist getting it even if it was in rough/unknown condition, since these clones have several advantages over the newer ones.
This one is a Family Game, manfuactured by NTDEC. Family Game is a generic term used in Argentina to describe Famiclones, but this unit seems to be manufactured for a NTSC market. Judging by the box and the shape of the console, this Famiclone is very old, from the earlier batches of Famicom clones. Because of its age, it probably uses a discrete design (instead of the System-On-A-Chip ASIC used in modern clones) that clones the entire Famicom motherboard and thus isn’t plagued by the problems that modern clones have, like incorrect colors/sound or incompatibility with certain games. As a Famicom collector, finding one of these is really sweet!
Box is in rough condition, manual is in great shape (it’s in Spanish and it seems to be a blatant copy of the original Famicom manual, down to the HVC codes!) and the system itself is in pretty good condition, just dirty.
This is definitely one of those early Famicom clones which had an exact copy of the original Famicom’s motherboard. The only cloned chips are the CPU and PPU, which in this case bear mysterious markings. Good thing is that the CPU and PPU are socketed, which means that they can be replaced with original chips taken from a NES motherboard for 100% accuracy and compatibility!
Dirty Famiclone was begging to be cleaned, so I took it apart to the last piece and gave every plastic part a good, warm bath and a good scrubbing with a toothbrush dipped in Cif (a mildly abrasive cleaning product), and here’s how it turned out:
Now it’s time to hook this bad boy up to the TV and see if it works. And it doesn’t. It displays a black screen and doesn’t run any games. Closer inspection of the cart slot reveals this:
Talk about abuse! And it was even worse! I took this picture after trying my best to realign every bent pin with a jeweler’s screwdriver. Even after that it wouldn’t boot cartridges. I was suspecting that something else was faulty…
Fortunately when wiggling the cartridge around and repeatedly pushing reset, it displayed a colorful glitchy screen. The fact that it was colored means that the system clock generator is OK, and the random garbage on the screen proved that the CPU and PPU are doing something, which means that the rest of the system is fine and the cartridge slot is the only culprit.
This only leaves one option: Replace the 60 pin cartridge slot. Where to get one? From another Famiclone, of course! These two were excellent candidates as organ donors for the 60-pin transplant:
The clone on the left is completely broken, and the one on the right works fine but it’s really crappy (not that I’d expect much from a Polystation Famiclone…). In the end the Polystation was chosen as the donor just because its cartridge slot was in better condition.
Desoldering a 60 pin card edge slot isn’t terribly hard, but it’s really tedious. You have to suck the solder off those 60 little pins with a desoldering pump, repeat the process for every pin that didn’t loosen up completely, and then do it again!
After goofing around for quite some time I finally got my lazy ass moving and started desoldering the donor cartridge connector.
With a fresh replacement in hand, it’s time to remove the broken slot from the Family Game and install the working one in its place.
It turns out that the black cartridge connector is slightly shorter than the blue one. I know that the Chinese pirates cut corners everywhere they can to mass produce these clones as cheap as possible, but I think this is going a little too far!
Time to solder the replacement connector!
It’s a good idea to solder the four pins on the outermost corners first. That way you can easily fix your alignment before it becomes a potential screwup.
Success! Time to put it back together and fire it up.
It verks! it verks!
Replacing the cartridge connector brought this Famiclone back to life for once and for all!
Now that it’s booting games perfectly, I could do my battery of Famiclone Quality Tests which consist on detecting sound/video flaws and trying to boot the Famicom Disk System and Castlevania III. Unfortunately, despite being a discrete Famiclone with separate CPU and PPU chips, it suffers from incorrect audio registers like every NoAC based clone out there. On the other hand, no video/color flaws were present. Colors are as good as the real thing, and it seems to replicate all of the original PPU’s quirks. Even better, it passes the FDS and Castlevania III tests with flying colors! The vast majority of clones struggle with these two, and the Family Game runs both of them as good as the real Famicom!
Overall, I give the NTDEC Family Game a 4 out of 5 on my Famiclone Quality Rating. It has proven itself worthy on the most rigorous tests, but its incorrect sound registers are a dead and loud giveaway of the system’s unlicensed past. Incorrect sound can be a non-issue or a big turnoff, depending on your tastes.
Fortunately the CPU and PPU chips are socketed which makes replacing them with original Nintendo parts a breeze. In part 2 of the Restoring a Nice Famiclone series I’ll extract the CPU and PPU chips from an authentic NES motherboard and install them in the Family Game to get rid of the incorrect sound and turn this nice clone into an “original” Famiclone!