One store on my list for Japan was Super Potato in Akihabara. Super Potato (website) is a retro games store for everything from the Famicom (NES) to some failed CD-era consoles like the PCFX. There was lots of stuff I’ve never seen in person, but two items that stuck out were the FamicomBox and Super Famicom Box by Nintendo.
But first I had to find Super Potato which was harder than expected. It’s one of those stores that are not located on the main street but rather one of the side streets. They also don’t have an open storefront. Everything’s of course written in Japanese, but once I was in front of the sign pointing to the entrance, it was obvious that I was at the right place.
Inside were shelves full of Nintendo and Sega consoles and plenty of MSX computers. While there were computers and consoles successful in both Japan and the West, many systems remained exclusive in one region or were considered mainstream in one region but not the other. Atari VCS, Intellivision and Colecovision were mainstream in the USA but quite exotic in Japan. On the other hand, MSX were very popular in Japan but virtually unheard of in the US.
My first game console was the NES in that „lovely“ VHS-recorder style grey case. I have fond memories of the pack-in title Ice Climber, Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3 and the action-adventure Faxanadu. The NES was a very dominant force in Japan and the US, but had a harder time in Europe, where parents were more sceptic about a system that could only play very expensive games.
At Super Potato, there were various systems setup for playing. One thing that stood out to me where the two Famicom boxes.
This beast is the FamicomBox, distributed in 1986 to stores in Japan. The box doesn’t look anything like the NES or the Famicom and Nintendo even decided to use the NES controllers we know outside Japan. In addition, the NES Zapper light gun is hooked up to the system. This specific system is loaded with thirteen games but has room for 15 cartridges. The FamicomBox isn’t the same as the Famicom/NES though, a special lockout chip prevents the system from taking standard Famicom cartridges.
Some FamicomBoxes even had a coin box, turning it essentially into a multi-game arcade machine. This one didn’t.
It’s interesting to look at the FamicomBox today. Back then, it made a lot of sense: Store managers don’t have to swap games and customers could play a variety of games. When I owned an NES, I relied mostly on game magazines and whether the game appealed to me. I was just lucky that my mother never had to spend money on a game that turned out to be bad.
Nintendo Super Famicom Box
Continuing where the FamicomBox ended, the Super Famicom Box does the same with the Super Nintendo (Super Famicom). Like the FamicomBox, it was available with a coin box and distributed to stores and hotels. The new box was released in 1994 and required specific cartridges. Only four were released for the system, usually containing two games each.
When I visited Super Potato, the system was loaded with two cartridges: The first features Super Mario Kart, Super Mario Collection (Super Mario All Stars) and Star Fox. The second one has a golf and a mahjong game.
PC-FX – the Box next to the Box
Next to the FamicomBox was another box with a unique design: the PC-FX. Developed as a successor to the popular PC-Engine and originally intended for release in 1992, the system ultimately went on sale in late 1994. With no dedicated hardware support for polygon-based 3D games and an already outdated hardware, it struggled to compete with the PlayStation and the switch to 3D graphics.
The system was quite good at playing full-motion video though and many games were based on anime. There’s also a lack of sequels to any great PC-Engine games. Fans of the PC-Engine had no reason to upgrade.