It’s a pretty well-known fact in the Nintendo arcade scene that the original Donkey Kong game boards were originally Radarscope and were repurposed by Nintendo after poor US sales. It has come to light more recently, that this wasn’t the only occasion Nintendo recycled game PCBs to make other games.
In my early collecting days, I was always amazed at Nintendo’s ingenuity with its arcade cabinets and the conversion kits it released. A brilliant way for Nintendo to get more games into the arcade scene without having to charge operators for full arcade cabinets (wasting money and floorspace!). As I began to research further into my favourite game (Donkey Kong), I discovered the origins of the game and how Nintendo ended up turning a potential financial disaster (poor Radarscope sales in the US) into the massive success that was Donkey Kong. Nintendo sent all of the Radarscope game boards back to Japan and they were repurposed and reprogrammed as Donkey Kong. This is identified by the usage of small stickers covering the original silk-screened game code, to show the new game code:
Above is my Radarscope-to-Donkey Kong conversion board set. Under the small “TKG2” sticker is the Radarscope code “TRS”. This I believed was the only instance of this ‘conversion’ process, and certainly the only one that had been documented.
The next instance I saw of the recycling process was with the famous Sky Skipper! A few collectors discovered some early Popeye boards that had the “TPP1” code stuck over a code of “TNX”. They discovered that Nintendo made a very small number of Sky Skippers (12), but they didn’t test well so the game was shelved.
Now I have a different belief about the “TNX” boards themselves. I don’t believe they were Sky Skipper boards, but more development boards that Nintendo built. I’ve read that someone has been working their way through the schematics of a “TNX” board and have found a lot of similarities with the Vs. boards. My thoughts aside, this is another example of boards being recycled.
Now a couple of weeks ago, I was browsing eBay looking for my next purchase and came across a listing for a Nintendo Sheriff cocktail. This cocktail was unique in that it was advertised as a “Japanese prototype” and going by the pictures of the game boards, their claims appeared reputable:
This isn’t as neat as the Donkey Kong conversion, but then again, further validates the “prototype” quote.
Now you can see in the first picture the small sticker covering the original game code and on another of the boards has the same, but helpfully stuck offset:
Now the Nintendo code that ends in “F” would be “TSF”, which is Space Fever, which again sits nicely with the information on the listing claiming the board set was originally a Space Fever (oddly a B&W Space Fever, making this most likely the only black and white Sheriff!).
So cut to this week and a conversation with a fellow Nintendo collector and enthusiast, turned up some more examples of this process. He’d stumbled upon a Nintendo ‘gold-mine’ and had purchased a large number of boards (and a gorgeous Space Demon cocktail!) from an old operator. In amongst his purchases was a holy-grail “TNX” board (which I’m still trying to convince him to sell to me…) along with a couple of Sheriff and HeliFire boards. He posted some pictures asking for any information as the Sheriff boards he had were recycled Space Fever boards (Just like the eBay listing I’d come across, but much neater and in colour!), but more interestingly, the HeliFire boards were recycled Sheriff boards! This immediately got me digging through my photos (as my HeliFire board is currently off for repair) to find a picture of my HeliFire. This is my boardset:
I couldn’t believe it! I don’t know how I’d missed this when I was diagnosing my HeliFire. In my defence, I wasn’t looking for this sort of thing and I packaged it up and sent it off a while ago for repair. So I now know the code that is sitting under that sticker is “TWG”, Sheriff.
So from everything I’ve come across in the last few months, we know of the below examples of Nintendo boardset recycling:
- TRS > TKG2 (Radarscope > Donkey Kong)
- TNX > TPP1 (Sky Skipper/Development > Popeye)
- TSF > TWG (Space Fever > Sheriff)
- TWG > TUB (Sheriff > HeliFire)
(If you know of anymore than the above, please get in touch!)
It still never ceases to amaze me how much Nintendo recycled and repurposed game boardsets in the early days, but it makes complete sense considering the financial troubles Nintendo were encountering in their initial entry in the arcade market.