Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nintendo's PlayChoice-10 - The Arcade Advertisement

Nintendo created the PlayChoice-10 arcade cabinets in order to show off its NES games.  These cabinets would let you select a game from a menu with up to ten slots and let you play any of the games for a certain amount of time, typically 300 seconds per quarter.  In this blog entry, I will be talking about notable aspects of this system.

Game List :

This site and Wikipedia includes Shatterhand and RBI Baseball in the canonical list of PlayChoice-10 games, but there are no pictures of their PCBs and their ROMs are not in GoodNES or MAME.  MAME has an entry for a prototype of Bases Loaded, but the prototype does not include the instruction ROM.  Here is a list of games that have been verified to have been released for the PlayChoice-10 units :

Game Title Publisher/Developer
NES Release Date
1942 Capcom 11/01/86
Balloon Fight Nintendo 06/01/86
Baseball Nintendo 10/01/85
Baseball Stars SNK 07/01/89
Captain Skyhawk Milton Bradley/Rare 06/01/90
Castlevania Konami 05/01/87
Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers Capcom 06/01/90
Contra Konami 02/01/88
Double Dragon Technos 06/01/88
Double Dribble Konami 09/01/87
Dr. Mario Nintendo 10/01/90
Duck Hunt Nintendo 10/01/85
Excitebike Nintendo 10/01/85
Fester's Quest Sunsoft 09/01/89
Gauntlet Tengen 06/01/88
Golf Nintendo 10/01/85
Goonies Konami Not Released
Gradius Konami 12/01/86
Hogans Alley Nintendo 10/01/85
Kung Fu Nintendo/Irem 10/01/85
Mario Bros Nintendo 06/01/86
Mario Open Golf Nintendo 09/01/91
Mega Man 3 Capcom 11/01/90
Metroid Nintendo 07/01/87
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!! Nintendo 10/01/87
Ninja Gaiden Tecmo 03/01/89
Ninja Gaiden 2 Tecmo 05/01/90
Ninja Gaiden 3 Tecmo 08/01/91
Nintendo World Cup Technos 12/01/90
Pinbot Nintendo/Rare 04/01/90
Power Blade Taito 03/01/91
Pro Wrestling Nintendo 03/01/87
R.C. Pro Am Nintendo/Rare 02/01/88
Rad Racer Square 10/01/87
Rad Racer II Square 06/01/90
Rockin' Kats Atlus 09/01/91
Rush 'n Attack Konami 04/01/87
Rygar Tecmo 07/01/87
Solar Jetman Tradewest/Rare 09/01/90
Super C Konami 04/01/90
Super Mario Bros Nintendo 10/01/85
Super Mario Bros 2 Nintendo 10/01/88
Super Mario Bros 3 Nintendo 02/01/90
Tecmo Bowl Tecmo 02/01/89
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ultra Games/Konami 06/01/89
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II : The Arcade Game Ultra Games/Konami 12/01/90
Tennis Nintendo 10/01/85
Track & Field Konami 04/01/87
Trojan Capcom 02/01/87
Volleyball Nintendo 03/01/87
Wild Gunman Nintendo 10/01/85
Yo Noid Capcom 11/01/90

Statistics and Game Choice :

The statistics for these 52 titles (less than 10% of the NES's licensed library) are interesting.  Nintendo leads the pack with 18 (or 21) titles, followed by Konami/Ultra with 10 titles and Tecmo and Capcom with 5 a piece.  Capcom was far more prolific than Tecmo with NES cartridge releases, but Capcom appeared to be rather conservative when it came to Nintendo's less mainstream hardware like the arcade machines and the Famicom Disk System and advanced cartridge memory mapping hardware.

Even though it was not a publisher, Rare has 4 games on this list to its credit.  Half of Square's non-Japanese NES library is here.  There are no titles from NES stalwarts Bandai or Jaleco (unless Shatterhand was really released) and no entries from Namco.  Atlus was not a very prolific publisher, but it has an entry.  Tengen also has an entry, perhaps two if you count RBI Baseball (which is really a Namco game).  Gauntlet was originally released as a licensed cartridge before Tengen/Atari Games went the unlicensed route.

Interestingly, Metroid and Rygar are on this list. These Metroidvania games are not typically well-suited to the arcade, which lends itself to fast-paced games.  They also tend to take longer to beat than your average arcade game unless you know where to go already.  TMNT is similar in that it is as much of an exploration as an action game.  TMNT was incredibly popular and Metroid was no slouch in the sales either.  Sports games were also popular on the NES, thus they had a decent share of the total.

Most of the games on this list are very well-known and not particularly hard to find in cartridge format. There are a few more obscure titles like Yo Noid, Power Blade and Solar Jetman, but nothing particularly exotic.

Except for the Black Box NES games, which are products of their time, most of the games included on the Playchoice 10 are very good.  There are classics like Castlevania, Contra and Super C, Mega Man 3, Metroid, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, the first two Ninja Gaiden games, all three Super Mario Bros and Tecmo Bowl.  Most of the rest of these choices are solid, with really only Fester's Quest and TMNT being the high profile games that just aren't very good.

Interesting PlayChoice-10 Versions :

Double Dragon - No Tradewest logo on title screen.

Gradius - Has the old Konami logo on title screen and no Licensed by Nintendo of America text, which would suggest that it is identical to the Famicom cartridge.  1942 by Capcom also does not have the Licensed by Nintendo text, but neither does the NES cartridge version either.

The Goonies - This game was never released in a home cartridge outside Japan, so this and perhaps Vs. The Goonies is the only exposure western NES fans had to the game.  The Goonies II was released fairly early in the NES's life, which made its predecessor look rather simple.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!! - This game's PlayChoice-10 board is unique because it has battery on PCB and an SRAM chip which the cartridge editions never had.  This extra hardware allows the game to save the time and round where you beat each fighter.  There is a special screen where you can enter your initials when you start a new game and you see your time in relation to others when you beat an opponent.  Some other NES sports games did have battery backups, but typically they stored more information than just high scores or best times.

Some other material from the cartridge versions has been cut, there are no crowd noises when the game loads and the training cutscenes between circuits cut all animation, only showing the password.

Mario's Open Golf - This is the PlayChoice-10 version of NES Open Tournament Golf.  There is no save battery, so the Club House option where all the stored settings can be accessed, has been removed from the main menu.

Rad Racer - No Anaglyph 3D mode, pressing select does nothing other than make noise.

Arcade Cousins :

Many of the PlayChoice-10 games were arcade ports and must have paled in comparison if the real arcade machine was present in that arcade.  1942, Double Dragon, Gauntlet Gradius and TMNT II would have looked very weak next to their popular arcade counterparts.  The two Contra games, Kung Fu (as Kung Fu Master) Rush 'n Attack and Trojan also came from arcade machines.  Rygar had an arcade namesake and Castlevania had a loose arcade translation, but they were quite different from the PlayChoice-10 games. Obviously, Pin Bot would pale in comparison to a real Pin Bot pinball table, widely recognized as a classic table.

Nintendo also had several standalone Vs. System arcade cabinet machines.  Balloon Fight, Baseball, Castlevania, Dr. Mario, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, The Goonies, Gradius, Hogan's Alley, Super Mario Bros and Volleyball all had a Vs. System equivalent.  For the early games, the Vs. System versions would often have new features and more graphics compared to the PlayChoice-10 or NES versions.  The Vs. System versions were always harder.

Note that the PlayChoice-10 has a reasonable selection of games throughout the NES's lifespan.  The biggest years of the NES, 1987-1991, are very well represented.  By contrast, the Vs. System had very few games released for it that were released on the NES or Famicom after 1987.  Of course, the PlayChoice-10 had several advantages over the Vs. System.  The PlayChoice-10 PCB could hold ten games, a Vs. System Board could hold a maximum of two.  The PlayChoice-10 offered arcade owners a lot more bang for their buck.

Other Official Previewing Options :

People coming into an arcade would look at a PlayChoice-10 machine and knew it was an arcade NES.  Perhaps they owned some of the games on the menu.  The PlayChoice-10 was intended to give gamers a preview of all the hot new games that were going to be released.  It was an effective advertisement, but because video game rentals became hugely popular in the NES era, it was not as effective as it otherwise may have been.

At World of Nintendo kiosks in malls around the country, Nintendo fans could also sample new NES games from M82 Demo Units without having to pay for time (although the console would eventually reset).  The M82 could hold 12 standard NES cartridges and used a button to select the game and output to a composite monitor.  The Famicom had similar units like the Famicom Box and Famicom Station which used 72-pin cartridges.  Unlike the PlayChoice-10's arcade controls, the M82 used standard NES controllers, so you knew exactly what kind of experience you were going to get.

Instructions :

The PlayChoice-10 cabinets usually used a dual monitor setup like the arcade Punch-Out cabinet. In fact, Nintendo sold a conversion kit to convert Punch-Out or Super Punch-Out into a PlayChoice-10 machine.  These conversions would have two screens of equal size, but there are also dedicated PlayChoice-10 cabinets where the instruction screen monitor is much smaller than the game display monitor.

The lower screen plays the game, the upper screen shows the menu for the machine and, once a game is selected, the instructions are shown and the time remaining for the quarters you entered.  Each game has from one to three screens of instructions.  Pro Wrestling and Metroid use three, but most other games can get the message across in one or two screens.  Ironically, because Pro Wrestling does not tell you which wrestlers use which special moves, it is perhaps one of the least helpful of instruction screens.  Metroid gives you a partial world map (Brinstar and some of Norfair) to help you out.

PlayChoice-10 cabinets also came in an upright and more compact countertop single screen versions.  In these machines, the menu and instructions share the screen with the game.  First you see the menu screen, and when you insert your quarter, you see the time countdown from a 4-digit LED display above the monitor.  You can proceed to play the game.  By pressing the game enter button again you can see the instructions.  This apparently overrides the video from the game or halts the 2A03E CPU's execution.  Hold down enter for two seconds to go back to the game.

Hardware :

The PlayChoice-10 machine uses a standard NES 2A03E CPU but has an RGB 2C03B PPU.  The 2C03 outputs pure analog RGB and has a palette which corresponds roughly to the NTSC-based 2C02G-0 PPU palette.  It does not need to use any color-fringing filtering which gives the NES its 3-line zig-zag pattern with colored straight edges.  The resulting output is much sharper than the home console, but the colors are more garish.  It also loses two gray entries, so games like Paperboy 1 & 2 will be hard to play because you cannot see where the sidewalk ends and the road begins.  Finally, it handles the color emphasis bits in a way that typically turns games that use those bits (The Immortal, Magician) totally white, making them impossible to play.  The PlayChoice-10 also has a Z-80 CPU and additional video display hardware to handle the menu/instruction monitor and the coin mechanism and the countdown timer.

The games themselves come on naked PCBs and connect to the main PCB via a 3 x 32 pin BERG-style connector.  Part of the reason for this large number of pins is because every game has an additional 8KB ROM which contains the game's instructions and a 64-bit serial PROM containing the game's name which also acts as the security device.

The main game hardware is almost always standard and can be found on a NES or Famicom cartridge.  Mappers encompassed are 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 87, 119 and 206, which are used by good 90% of licensed game.  Some games use Mask ROMs and EPROMs, others just one or the other.  Older PlayChoice-10 PCBs may need a mod to make them compatible with Mapper 4 games, which is an issue with other Nintendo game selecting devices.  With an EPROM burner and some tinkering, almost any licensed NES US game (that was any good and you would want to stand up and play for less than an hour) could be made to play in this machine.


  1. Here's slightly more info on the Shatterhand and RBI Baseball situation.

    Shatterhand has reached legendary status amongst Playchoice collectors, and no one has ever gone public with convincing evidence that it exists/existed. Various rumors that such-and-such collector knows where to find one abound.

    RBI Baseball, there is at least the label situation and the rumors seem a bit convincing.

  2. It does look like R.B.I. Baseball was meant to be released, but the poster at the KLOV forum was probably correct about the Nintendo vs. Tengen dispute over the latter's releasing unlicensed cartridges terminated the release.

    As for Shatterhand, only the screenshots at would give credence to the idea that it was released, but with no hardware or instructions, I am not inclined to believe it.

  3. Yes, screenshots for Playchoice-10 are easily faked, that's like 90% of the problem right there.