We all have one: that old, dusty Nintendo Entertainment System sitting in a box somewhere, unplayed, unloved. Sure, we opened it for a holiday or a birthday circa 1989 in the classic Action Set box—complete with the red (not gray) Zapper light gun, two controllers, and a copy of Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. Top that, modern systems!
And sure, you played the daylights out of your Action Set, growling—or maybe crying, I won’t judge—as Duck Hunt Dog giggled at your failures. Maybe you supplemented your game collection with such classic chestnuts as The Legend of Zelda or Mega Man II or The Blue Marlin (maybe you wished you had a chance to read my 2015 guide as you struggled to reel in that trophy marlin).
But then, you noticed strange things happening with your games. That well-worn copy of Faxanadu suddenly wouldn’t want to boot up, the system flashing on-and-off as it struggled to load the title screen. Maybe you tried to fix the problem with a good blow into the cartridge—probably after drinking a half-gallon of Ecto Cooler and stuffing half a box of Teddy Grahams into that face of yours. This seemed to work for a while, but the flashing got worse, and soon, all that powering on and powering off caused a loss of your save file in Final Fantasy—”NO! I just earned enough gold to buy the Silver Sword in Elfland!”
Other tricks involving pennies, Game Genies, and physically slamming the game into the system all worked with just as much success, and by the time the Super NES landed on our shores in 1991, the wheezing old-timer was all but forgotten and cast away either to Basement Boxville or Garage Sale Gulch.
Thankfully, retro nerds looking to breathe new life into their old systems have found the solution to many of the first-generation American NES’ problems: the replacement pin connector and real, non–Ecto Cooler cartridge cleaning gear. These complete kits are available from several online retailers, and include everything you need to spruce up your system and your filthy old games until they shine and run just like they did for you on Christmas morning.
Install your new 72-pin connector
One of the most common failures of the push-down style of NES was the awkward angle of cartridge insertion; the action of pushing down on the game pak put unnecessary stress on the copper pins connecting the cart to the NES board. After years of hard use, many of these pins bent and lost their firm contact with the cartridge contacts. (This is why wedging the cartridge down into the body of the NES with pennies or other foreign objects was a temporary fix that ultimately made the problem worse.) With my heart set on playing more than the 30 games to be offered on Nintendo’s just-announced NES Classic Edition, here’s how I replaced my own 72-pin connector.
I removed the screws on the base of the unit, separating the top from the base and exposing the guts of the system—pretty cool on first sight, if I’m being honest.
Once inside, I continued disassembling the guts of the system with the radio shield—the shiny plate covering the interior components that insulates the NES from radio-wave interference—and then the black, spring-loaded cartridge holder.
With these out of the way, I got my first look at the connector and the NES board. The pin connector is attached to the board with only friction, so after removing the screws of the A/C and RF adaptor outlets, I could pull out the board and remove the pin connector with some firm jiggling. (I noticed with some concern some corrosion on my NES board.)
After sliding off the old and sliding on the new, I reassembled the interior bits. (Getting the black cartridge holder, or “sled” off and back on was a bit tricky because of the awkward angle.)
Not wanting to stick a filthy game cart into my brand-new connector, I decided to operate on my Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge. To remove the security screws, I used the 3.8mm bit—common in most NES cleaning and repair kits these days—to expose the board and contacts of the cart.
Yuck! Thirty years of dirt and grime coated the once-shiny copper contacts. I scrubbed away at the dirt with the gentle cleaning cream, reapplying and reapplying as more and more lint-free paper cloths came away a dark, disturbing black.
With a fresh pin connector and a game with sparkling contacts, I rigged up the system and fired it up.
See you in Videoland!