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Nintendo VS. System

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VS. System
A VS. Dr. Mario arcade machine
TypeArcade video game
Release dateJanuary 1984; 40 years ago (January 1984)
  • JP: Late 1985 (Late 1985) (Nintendo)[2]
  • WW: July 31, 1992 (July 31, 1992)[1]
Units sold100,000
MediaROM chips
CPURicoh 2A03
Best-selling gameVS. Super Mario Bros.

The Nintendo VS. System[a] is an arcade system that was developed and produced by Nintendo. It is based on most of the same hardware as the Family Computer (Famicom), later released as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). As Nintendo was planning to release the NES in North America, they were aware of the video game crash of 1983 and its effects on the home console market. However by March 1984 the arcade industry recovered enough for a plan to introduce NES titles there, with the VS. System later being a presentation to players who did not yet own the console. It became the first version of the Famicom hardware to debut in North America.

Most of its games are conversions from the Famicom and NES, some heavily altered for the arcade format, and some debuted on the VS. System before being released on the Famicom or NES. The system focuses on two-player cooperative play. It was released in three different configurations: upright VS. UniSystem cabinets, upright VS. DualSystem cabinets, and sit-down VS. DualSystem cabinets. Games are on pluggable circuit boards, allowing for each side to have a different game.

The VS. System did not have lasting popularity in Japan, leading to Nintendo's departure from arcade game development. In contrast, it was a commercial success in the United States, with about 100,000 arcade cabinets sold, becoming the highest-grossing arcade machine of 1985. The system's success in arcades proved the market for the test release of the NES in North America in 1985. The final VS. System game was released in 1990.


In 1980, Data East had introduced the concept of a convertible arcade system board, or arcade conversion system, with the DECO Cassette System, but it was not a major success. The first successful arcade conversion system is Sega's Convert-a-Game system in the early 1980s. Its success led to several other arcade manufacturers introducing their own arcade conversion systems by the mid-1980s, including the Nintendo VS. System in 1984.[3]

The Nintendo VS. System is important in the history of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The VS. System is the first version of the Family Computer (Famicom) hardware to debut in North America during 1984, the success of which proved the market for the official release of the NES console.[4][5] Following the video game crash of 1983, the North American home video game market had collapsed. Nintendo's negotiations with Atari to introduce the Famicom in North America failed due to Atari's collapse, and Nintendo of America's market research garnered warnings from retailers and distributors to stay away from home consoles, with US retailers refusing to stock game consoles. Meanwhile, the arcade game industry also had a slump as the golden age of arcade video games ended, but the arcade industry recovered and stabilized with the help of software conversion kit systems, such as Sega's Convert-a-Game system, the Atari System 1, and the Nintendo-Pak system. Hiroshi Yamauchi realized there was still a market for video games in North America, where players were gradually returning to arcades in significant numbers. Yamauchi still had faith there was a market for the Famicom, so he introduced it to North America through the arcade industry.[4]

Nintendo based the VS. System hardware on the Famicom, and introduced it as the successor to its Nintendo-Pak arcade system, which had been used for games such as Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong 3. Though technologically weaker than Nintendo's Punch-Out!! arcade hardware, the VS. System was relatively inexpensive. The Nintendo-Pak and Punch-Out!! hardware also have a limited game library, whereas the VS. System accessed a wider variety of games, by easily converting Famicom games. Nintendo of America hired Jeff Walker from Bally to help market the VS. System in North America, where it debuted at the 1984 ASI show along with Punch-Out!! in February.[4]


The VS. System was designed primarily as a kit to retrofit Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, Popeye, and Mario Bros. cabinets, so they require the same special monitor. These monitors use inverse voltage levels for their video signals as compared to most arcade monitors.

Almost all VS. System cabinets have identical hardware powered by a Ricoh 2A03 central processing unit (CPU), the same in the NES, except for special PPUs or video chips.[6] Each chip contains a different palette that arrange the colors in different configurations chosen apparently at random. Most boards can be switched to a new game simply by swapping the program ROMs and the appropriate PPU or the game will have incorrect colors.[7] Several of the later units employ further copy protection by using special PPUs which swap pairs of I/O registers or return special data from normally unimplemented regions of memory, and games are not interchangeable with these models.

Some dedicated double cabinets look like two games butted together at an angle, with a single motherboard. The Red Tent, a steel sit-down cabinet for the VS. DualSystem, allows play for up to four players simultaneously. It has the same motherboard as the double cabinet.

Because the VS. System has the same CPU as the NES, its games can be ported to the NES with modifications to the console including extra memory banks and additional DIP switches.[8] Some games differ from their home console versions. For example, VS. Super Mario Bros. is considerably more difficult than Super Mario Bros.; some of the levels were reused in Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels for the Famicom Disk System.[9] Some games' graphics differ, such as VS. Duck Hunt having more details and animation sequences.


Upon release, the VS. System generated excitement in the arcade industry, receiving praise for its easy conversions, affordability, flexibility, and multiplayer capabilities.[4][10] Eddie Adlum of RePlay magazine said Nintendo had suddenly become "the big guy on the block" in 1984 due to the VS. System, which "not only meant interchangeable games but interaction between players on dual-monitor games".[11] For Play Meter magazine, Roger C. Sharpe called it a "highly attractive and open-ended interchangeable game system featuring excellent graphics and realistic on-screen visuals" in 1984[12] and Gene Lewin gave the system a rating of 10+ out of 10 in 1985.[13] Others[who?] criticized the system's graphics as technologically weaker than more recent rival arcade systems, and than Nintendo's own powerful Punch-Out!! arcade hardware.[4]

In Japan, VS. Tennis topped Japan's chart for table arcade cabinets in April 1984[14] and May 1984,[15] and VS. Baseball topped the chart in June[16] and July 1984.[17] By 1985, however, the VS. System had declined in Japan, which led to Yamauchi deciding to withdraw Nintendo from the Japanese coin-op industry in late 1985[4][2] and Nintendo focusing more on the Famicom.[18]

VS. Super Mario Bros. is the highest-selling unit in the series.

In North America, by contrast, the VS. System became a major success.[4] Following the arcade success of sports video games such as Konami's Track & Field (1983), Nintendo capitalized on this trend with sports games Punch-Out!!, VS. Tennis, and VS. Baseball with great success in the US arcade market; Sharpe considered Nintendo "a force to reckon with" based on this strong performance.[12] The VS. System was declared an "overwhelming hit" by Play Meter, attributing its success to "good games and low price".[19] Between 10,000 and 20,000 arcade cabinets were sold in 1984,[20] and individual VS. games were top earners on arcade charts.[5] VS. Tennis topped the arcade charts for software conversion kits in July 1984 (on the RePlay charts)[21] and August 1984 (on the Play Meter charts),[22] and VS. Baseball topped the charts from September[23] through November 1984.[24][25] Hogan's Alley and Duck Hunt then became even more popular in American arcades, popularizing light gun shooter video games.[11] By 1985, 50,000 cabinets had been sold, establishing Nintendo as an industry leader in the arcades.[26] In November 1985, five VS. games were on the US RePlay top 20 arcade charts, with Hogan's Alley holding the top spot.[27] Duck Hunt was also popular in arcades at the time.[4] The VS. System went on to become the highest-grossing arcade platform of 1985 in the United States,[28][29] and Hogan's Alley and Excitebike became the top two highest-grossing arcade system games that year.[30]

The success of the VS. System gave Nintendo the confidence to repackage the Famicom for North America as the NES. Nintendo's strong positive reputation in the arcades also generated significant interest in the NES. It also gave Nintendo the opportunity to test new games as VS. Paks in the arcades, to determine which games to release for the NES launch. Nintendo's software strategy was to first release games for the Famicom, then the VS. System, and then for the NES. This allowed Nintendo to build a solid launch line-up for the NES. Many games' North American debut was on the VS. System before being released for the NES, which gave players the impression of being "amazed" at the accuracy of the arcade "ports" for the NES.[4]

Within a few months of its 1986 release, 20,000 VS. Super Mario Bros. arcade units were sold, becoming the best-selling VS. release, with each unit consistently earning more than $200 (equivalent to $560 in 2023) per week. Its arcade success helped introduce Super Mario Bros. to many players who did not yet own an NES.[31] By the time the NES was launched in North America (from late 1985 to 1986), about 100,000 VS. Systems had been sold to American arcades.[32][33][34] According to Ken Horowitz, the VS. System "was perhaps the most vital catalyst in the rise of the NES to the top of the home video game market".[4]

In Europe, the VS. System was also a success in arcades by early 1986, before the launch of the NES there. At London's Amusement Trades Exhibition International (ATEI) show in January 1986, David Snook of Play Meter magazine listed VS. Super Mario Bros. as one of the top five hits of the show, along with Space Harrier, Halley's Comet, Gauntlet and Tehkan World Cup.[35]

Nintendo of America announced on July 31, 1992 that it would stop making arcade machines. The announcement included the last upcoming titles for the NES-based PlayChoice-10 and the SNES-based Nintendo Super System, but none for the VS. System.[1]

List of games[edit]

Unknown prototypes of VS. System games may have been either unreleased or released briefly for market testing.[36][37] The launch game is VS. Tennis, released in January 1984.

Title Distributor Released (JP) Released (NA) Ref
VS. Tennis Nintendo January 1984 March 1984 [38][39][40][41]
VS. Mahjong Nintendo February 1984 Unreleased [42]
VS. Baseball Nintendo May 1, 1984 July 1984 [43][40]
VS. Wrecking Crew Nintendo July 26, 1984 September 1984 [44][45]
VS. Pinball Nintendo July 26, 1984 October 1984 [46][47][40]
VS. Stroke and Match Golf Nintendo July 26, 1984 October 1984 [47][40]
VS. Ladies Golf Nintendo July 26, 1984 December 1984 [47][40]
VS. Balloon Fight Nintendo October 3, 1984 September 1984 [46][45]
VS. Clu Clu Land Nintendo December 7, 1984 Unreleased [48]
VS. Excitebike Nintendo December 7, 1984 February 1985 [48][40]
VS. Urban Champion Nintendo December 1984 January 1985 [49][50]
VS. Ice Climber Nintendo February 1, 1985 March 1985 [51][40]
VS. Raid on Bungeling Bay Nintendo April 1985 Cancelled [52][42]
VS. Hogan's Alley Nintendo Unreleased May 1985 [40]
VS. Duck Hunt Nintendo Unreleased May 1985 [40]
VS. Mach Rider Nintendo August 1985 November 1985 [53][40][45]
VS. Soccer Nintendo December 10, 1985 November 1985 [54][40]
VS. Battle City Namco 1985 Unreleased
VS. Star Luster Namco 1985 Unreleased
VS. Super Mario Bros. Nintendo Unreleased February 1986 [42]
VS. Ninja JaJaMaru-kun Jaleco April 1986 Unreleased [55]
VS. Gumshoe Nintendo Unreleased May 1986 [42][45]
VS. Slalom Nintendo Unreleased October 1986 [42][45]
VS. Gradius Nintendo Unreleased November 1986 [42][45]
VS. The Goonies Nintendo Unreleased November 1986 [42][45]
VS. Sky Kid Sunsoft Unreleased November 1986 [56]
VS. Atari R.B.I. Baseball Namco (JP)
Atari Games (US)
December 10, 1986 1987 [57][42]
VS. Super Chinese Namco 1986 Unreleased
VS. Super Xevious: GAMP no Nazo Namco 1986 Unreleased
VS. Tower of Babel Namco 1986 Unreleased
VS. Valkyrie no Bōken: Toki no Kagi Densetsu Namco 1986 Unreleased
VS. Castlevania Nintendo Unreleased April 1987 [58]
VS. Family Tennis Namco December 1987 Unreleased [59]
VS. T.K.O. Boxing Data East Unreleased 1987 [42]
VS. The Quest of Ki Namco 1988 Unreleased
VS. Top Gun Konami Unreleased March 1988 [60][61]
VS. Freedom Force Nintendo Unreleased March 1988 [62]
VS. Platoon Sunsoft Unreleased November 1988 [63]
VS. Dr. Mario Nintendo Unreleased August 1990 [64]
VS. Motocross Nintendo Unreleased Cancelled [65]
VS. Nintendo 500 Nintendo Unreleased Cancelled [65]
VS. Football Nintendo Unreleased Cancelled [65]
VS. Helifighter Nintendo Unreleased Cancelled [65]
VS. Head to Head Baseball Nintendo Unreleased Cancelled
VS. Mighty Bomb Jack Tecmo Cancelled Cancelled [66][67]
VS. Great Tennis Jaleco Cancelled Unreleased [68]
VS. Lionex (prototype) Sunsoft Cancelled Unreleased [42]
VS. The Wing of Madoola (prototype) Sunsoft Cancelled Unreleased [42]
VS. Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi (prototype) Sunsoft Cancelled Unreleased
VS. Tetris Atari Games Unreleased Cancelled

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Japanese: 任天堂VS.システム, Hepburn: Nintendō Buiesu Shisutemu


  1. ^ a b "Nintendo Stops Games Manufacturing; But Will Continue Supplying Software". Cashbox. September 12, 1992. p. 29 – via the Internet Archive.
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  3. ^ "The Replay Years: Video Systems". RePlay. Vol. 11, no. 2. November 1985. pp. 128, 130.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Horowitz, Ken (July 30, 2020). "The Vs. System (1984)". Beyond Donkey Kong: A History of Nintendo Arcade Games. McFarland & Company. pp. 119–28. ISBN 978-1-4766-4176-8.
  5. ^ a b Stark, Chelsea (October 19, 2015). "30 years later, Nintendo looks back at when NES came to America". Mashable. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  6. ^ "Nintendo Vs. UniSystem/DualSystem Chipsets". pc-10.com. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  7. ^ "Nintendo Vs. Unisystem Nintendo Vs. Dualsystem Arcade Manuals, PPU, PCB info, daughter board info, Nintendo Vs. Instruction Cards, game info". www.johnsarcade.com. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  8. ^ Assenat, Raphael. "Modding a NES to run Unisystem VS arcade games (1/14)". www.raphnet.net.
  9. ^ McLaughlin, Rus (September 13, 2010). "IGN Presents: The History of Super Mario Bros". IGN. p. 3. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  10. ^ Cognevich, Valerie (November 15, 1984). "Nintendo presents new Paks at distributor showing". Play Meter. Vol. 10, no. 21. pp. 24–5.
  11. ^ a b Adlum, Eddie (November 1985). "The Replay Years: Reflections from Eddie Adlum". RePlay. Vol. 11, no. 2. pp. 134-175 (168-71).
  12. ^ a b Sharpe, Roger C. (December 15, 1984). "1984—Every Which Way But Up". Play Meter. Vol. 10, no. 23. pp. 39, 49–51.
  13. ^ Lewin, Gene (June 15, 1985). "Gene's Gudgements" (PDF). Play Meter. Vol. 11, no. 11. pp. 38–9.
  14. ^ "Best Hit Games 25" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 233. Amusement Press, Inc. April 1, 1984. p. 27.
  15. ^ "Best Hit Games 25" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 235. Amusement Press, Inc. May 1, 1984. p. 29.
  16. ^ "Best Hit Games 25" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 237. Amusement Press, Inc. June 1, 1984. p. 29.
  17. ^ "Best Hit Games 25" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 239. Amusement Press, Inc. July 1, 1984. p. 25.
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  20. ^ Horowitz, Ken (July 30, 2020). Beyond Donkey Kong: A History of Nintendo Arcade Games. McFarland & Company. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-4766-4176-8. More than 10,000 VS. System units were sold by the end of 1984 alone (some put the figure as high as 20,000)
  21. ^ "RePlay: The Players' Choice". RePlay. July 1984.
  22. ^ "National Play Meter". Play Meter. August 15, 1984.
  23. ^ "RePlay: The Players' Choice". RePlay. September 1984.
  24. ^ "RePlay: The Players' Choice". RePlay. November 1984.
  25. ^ "National Play Meter". Play Meter. Vol. 10, no. 21. November 15, 1984. pp. 28–9.
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  27. ^ "RePlay: The Players' Choice". RePlay. Vol. 11, no. 2. November 1985. p. 6.
  28. ^ "AMOA Expo '85: Award Winners". RePlay. Vol. 11, no. 3. December 1985. p. 44.
  29. ^ "Springsteen Sweeps JB Awards" (PDF). Cash Box. November 23, 1985. p. 39.
  30. ^ "1985 Operator Survey: This Poll Says Go Gettum!". RePlay. Vol. 11, no. 2. November 1985. pp. 91-102 (93-4).
  31. ^ Horowitz, Ken (July 30, 2020). Beyond Donkey Kong: A History of Nintendo Arcade Games. McFarland & Company. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-4766-4176-8.
  32. ^ Horowitz, Ken (July 30, 2020). Beyond Donkey Kong: A History of Nintendo Arcade Games. McFarland & Company. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-4766-4176-8.
  33. ^ "Rx: Nintendo". RePlay. Vol. 16, no. 1. October 1990. pp. 68, 70.
  34. ^ "Positive attitude hit of AMOA show" (PDF). Play Meter. Vol. 11, no. 21. November 15, 1985. pp. 24–43 (27).
  35. ^ Snook, David (February 1986). "Corks pop at ATEI". Play Meter. Vol. 12, no. 2. pp. 32–6.
  36. ^ "other unMAMEd Arcade Games up to 1990". unmamed.mameworld.info.
  37. ^ "Urban Champion - NintendoWiki". niwanetwork.org.
  38. ^ https://www.flyerfever.com/
  39. ^ "Vs. System – Flyer Fever". February 20, 2021.
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  41. ^ "Vs. Tennis (Registration Number PA0000204665)". United States Copyright Office. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
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  44. ^ "Vs. Wrecking Crew – Flyer Fever". February 20, 2021.
  45. ^ a b c d e f g Akagi, Masumi (October 13, 2006). アーケードTVゲームリスト国内•海外編(1971-2005) [Arcade TV Game List: Domestic • Overseas Edition (1971-2005)] (in Japanese). Japan: Amusement News Agency. p. 128. ISBN 978-4990251215.
  46. ^ a b "Flyer Fever - Vs. Balloon Fight / Pinball (Japan)". Archived from the original on July 20, 2018. Retrieved September 2, 2017.
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  49. ^ "ジャブとKOパンチ駆使し素手による決闘任天堂から「アーバンチャンビオン」" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 254. Amusement Press, Inc. February 15, 1985. p. 20.
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  52. ^ "Raid on Bungeling Bay" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 258. Amusement Press, Inc. April 15, 1985. p. 21.
  53. ^ "Mach Rider" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 266. Amusement Press, Inc. August 15, 1985. p. 7.
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  55. ^ "Jaleco Ships New Game For "VS. System"" (PDF). Game Machine. No. 283. Amusement Press, Inc. May 1, 1986. p. 20.
  56. ^ "Cash Box Tours The AMOA Expo '86 Exhibits". The Cash Box. Vol. 50, no. 24. The Cash Box Publishing. November 29, 1986. p. 28.
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  58. ^ "U.S. Video Team Picks The 'Top Games' Of ACME '87". The Cash Box. Vol. 50, no. 43. The Cash Box Publishing. April 25, 1987. p. 34.
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  60. ^ "Konami Intro's 'VS. Top Gun'". The Cash Box. Vol. 51, no. 35. The Cash Box Publishing. March 5, 1988. p. 33.
  61. ^ "VS. Top Gun - Konami (Video Game, 1987) - USA". Museum of the Game.
  62. ^ "意欲示す米国メーカー日本製は開発に余裕も" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 330. Amusement Press, Inc. April 15, 1988. p. 7.
  63. ^ "AMOA '88: Music & Mayhem, Or Songs & Sons of Double Dragon!". The Cash Box. Vol. 52, no. 22. The Cash Box Publishing. November 26, 1988. p. 28.
  64. ^ "Nintendo Bows VS. Dr. Mario Pak At San Diego Distributor Meeting". RePlay. Vol. 16, no. 1. August 1990. pp. 44–46.
  65. ^ a b c d "Flyer Fever - VS.-Pak Library of Proven Best Sellers (U.S.)".
  66. ^ "発想転換したTV機 テクモ" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 294. Amusement Press, Inc. October 15, 1986. p. 16.
  67. ^ "Counterfeiters Squeezed at JAMMA Show". Play Meter. Vol. 12, no. 18. Skybird Publishing. October 15, 1986. p. 73.
  68. ^ "26th Amusement Machine Show" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 343. Amusement Press, Inc. November 1, 1988. p. 8.

External links[edit]