Science and Tech
Five Forgotten Famicom Peripherals That Never Escaped Japan

John Markley | 15 Jul 2015 15:00
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The Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Famicom, had numerous peripherals and add-ons that never made it beyond the Japanese market. Some offered incredible convenience, such as The Family Computer Disk System, which provided access to writable media to store saved games, a function that had to be replaced with battery backups or ludicrously long, complicated passwords in the rest of the world. Others offered tremendous utility, like the Family BASIC, which provided a keyboard and software to use the Famicom for programming. The list goes on.

And then there's this crap, which the rest of the world has little reason to regret missing out on. Some of them were failed attempts at incorporating new technologies during a time when they were still too primitive to be worth it (or were too "ahead of their time," if you're being polite.) Some were too specific to Japanese culture to be suitable exports. And some were just bad ideas in any time or place.

Famicom 3D System

Famicon 3DS system

Before the success of the 3DS, before the eye-searing crimson hellscapes of the Virtual Boy, there was the Famicom 3D system. Nintendo made its first ill-fated venture into the third dimension in 1987, with this rather bulky pair of 3D goggles that plugged into the Famicom's expansion port. When used in combination with a small number of compatible games that featured a 3D mode, its LCD active shutter system would turn the 2D images on the screen into stereoscopic 3D.

It didn't take off, needless to say. The glasses were bulky and uncomfortable. They weren't cheap, especially for something that was just a mild visual gimmick - all of the compatible games had a 2-D mode and were perfectly playable without the glasses. Video games are often enjoyed with friends, and anyone foolish enough to look at any of these games running in 3D mode without the 3D System goggles protecting their eyeballs would see only a blurry, eye-straining, nausea-inducing mess.(The Virtual Boy was thus a significant step forward from a humanitarian perspective, restricting its ocular depredations to to the user while avoiding collateral damage to innocent bystanders.)

It was also hampered by a library of all of seven compatible games, none of them must-haves. Three were from Square, designed and programmed by future Final Fantasy creators Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nasir Gebelli with music by Nobuo Uematsu - but, this being the pre-Final Fantasy teetering-on-the-brink-of-bankrutpcy Square, they weren't exactly killer apps. Two of these actually got worldwide releases as Rad Racer and The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner, complete with a pair of cheap anaglyphic 3D glasses standing in for the absent 3D system. Sadly, the results of replacing a piece of sophisticated electronics with a few cents worth of cardboard and colored plastic failed to usher in a new era of three-dimensional gaming graphics in the West.

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