I brought an NES back to life last night

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Last night I disassembled what I think might be my childhood NES. Much more yellow than I remember, my Dad was still holding onto it and a box of controllers, RF cables and power bricks. I picked it up from him a few months ago but it wasn’t until I set up the new Capture Cart™ this past weekend that I finally decided to see if the thing worked.

It didn’t. I got a series of colorful screens from Super Mario Bros. 2 and Batman looked mostly fine except for a weird ghost layer of pixels, like the image was being partially duplicated. It looked awesome, but not right. So I took to Instagram with a video of Batman and got the suggestion to clean the pins. Then I… wait, which pins? The cartridge? That’s not the problem…

A quick Google search led me to Dan Mahlendorf’s guide on refurbishing an NES. For as many mods and tributes to the NES that I’ve seen over the years I’ve never opened one up and looked around inside. Not surprisingly it’s pretty simple inside, had a few abandoned cobwebs in the corners and was loaded with screws. Screws on the case, screws on the RF shield, screws on the cartridge housing.

Finally I was down to the pin connector which I needed to remove by bending the circuit board ever so gently enough to slide it off. As the guide says, it was a little tricky but I got it off, cleaned it out and started examining the pins. They all look to be at the same height and are still springy but one of them on the left side is maybe missing a prong. I did what I could to bend the rest of it back up, struggled for a while getting the connector back onto the circuit board and dashed upstairs to see if it helped.

It did. Super Mario Bros. 2 works fine now but maybe glitches out hard one out of a dozen times? I only saw it once but it was a glorious moment when Peach hit a Shy Guy and the game world around their sprites deteriorated into a colorful, noisy Hell. I imagine it has destroyed everything they thought they knew about their world but it’s a bonus for me getting to watch the NES circuit bend itself at random.

And now I’ve got an NES that works so I could justify buying some games. I’m only interested in collecting complete packages but the next time I’m at the shops I might pick up some cheap cartridges.

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