VS. System

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A UniSystem model VS. System.

The VS. System is an arcade cabinet developed by Nintendo and sold from 1984 to 1990 which uses interchangeable game boards. It was released in Japan and the USA and predated the national US release of the Nintendo Entertainment System by about two years. The arcade cabinet's motherboard was essentially a Famicom and could play games released on the Famicom (and later the NES), but the games needed to be altered slightly to handle the pay-for-play system, although, in some cases, the games were modified extensively.

Two years after the release of the VS. System, Nintendo released the PlayChoice-10, which was another example of NES games being put into an arcade format, but, in the PlayChoice-10, players played for time rather than credits, so the games were often completely unaltered.

Personal

I only have two memories of the VS. System in the arcade. The first was from playing VS. Super Mario Bros. on a UniSystem when I was around 6 or 7 years old. Up until that point, I had only played the Atari 2600 and I had no idea what Super Mario Bros. was, but it looked interesting enough for me to use a precious quarter. I didn't understand how to play the game, so I avoided the question mark blocks and ran straight into the first goomba. I'm confident I never even beat 1-1. The second memory was a little later when I was around 8 years old and some older kids playing Vs. The Goonies, again on a UniSystem. I thought the game looked very interesting and would have loved to have played it, but I never had any money.

Models

The cabinet was released in three form factors, two "VS. DualSystem" cabinets, one upright the other sit-down, and a conversion of earlier NES arcade titles into a "VS. UniSystem" cabinet which featured a single system with a dual control panel. Each DualSystem had with two CPUs, two game slots, and two dual control panels. The upright model had the screens angled away from each other a little which made the cabinets difficult to place in a row, while the sit-down model, also known as the "red tent," had the monitors facing opposite directions.

Contents of a VS. System game kit (minus the ROMs).

Arcades had to purchase the cabinets from Nintendo, and then could buy a game kit for around $300-$400 which included the game's ROM cartridges, (later titles were shipped on daughter boards), marquee, manual, and instruction decal for the cabinet.

Technical

The VS. System uses the same Ricoh 2A03 CPU and APU as the Famicom/NES, and, like a Famicom, had a slot into which a game board could be inserted. However, instead of relying on the Famicom's single PPU, several different RGB PPUs were made for the system. Each PPU was essentially identical, but had a different color palette in ROM. Using the wrong PPU would still allow the game to run, but all the colors would be off. It seems Nintendo purposely did this in order to sell more hardware and prevent piracy. Namco was able to bypass this demand by adding dip switches onto their game boards which would allow their games to swap palettes to match the various PPUs.

The VS. DualSystem had a special bus which allowed the CPUs and PPUs of a handful of games to communicate. This allowed players to play the same game at the same time, but each looking at their own dedicated monitor. This would only work if both game slots had the same game, and if both were coded to handle this feature. If this feature was not incorporated in the game, the cabinet would work as just two different cabinets.

Games

In total, 42 games were published for the VS. System, however many games were planned to be released but were never realized due to arcade waning in popularity over the 1980s. The top four developers to release games on the Vs. System, in order of game count, are: Nintendo (20), Namco (9), Konami (4), and Sunsoft (3). Much like with the NES and PlayChoice-10, Nintendo developed most of the launch titles and then relied on third party developers to push the system along. Sunsoft would have outstripped Konami, but several of their games were never finished. As a late adopter, they must have learned quickly that there wasn't any money left in the VS. System and cancelled their planned releases.

The original release dates for VS. System are not accurately known, so the years in the table below are based on dates found in advertisements and copyright years in the games, neither of which are particularly accurate. The game count released in each year shows a few years of steady development, then a rather sharp decline: 1984 (11), 1985 (9), 1986 (12), 1987 (6), 1988 (4), 1989 (0), 1990 (1). Nintendo had pretty much canceled first party development in 1985, but pushed three more US-only titles to try and keep the system alive in North America.

Nintendo released the bulk of their first generation Famicom / NES titles on the VS. System except for those which already had dedicated arcade cabinets, needed R.O.B., or just didn't fit arcade play, like educational games or board games.

Title Japan Release US Release Developer Notes
VS. Mahjongg 1984-02-?? Unreleased Nintendo DualSystem support.
VS. Tennis 1984-02-?? 1984-03-?? Nintendo DualSystem support.
VS. Baseball 1984-03-?? 1984-07-?? Nintendo DualSystem support. Japanese and American games are different.
VS. Pinball 1984-07-26 1984-10-?? Nintendo
VS. Stroke and Match Golf 1984-07-26 1984-10-?? Nintendo Re-titled version of Golf.
VS. Ladies Golf 1984-07-26 1984-12-?? Nintendo Reskin of Golf.
VS. Wrecking Crew 1984-07-26 Unreleased Nintendo DualSystem support.
VS. Balloon Fight 1984-10-03 Unreleased Nintendo DualSystem support.
VS. Clu Clu Land 1984-12-05 Unreleased Nintendo
VS. Excitebike 1984-12-05 1985-02-?? Nintendo Significant changes to game.
VS. Urban Champion 1984-??-?? 1985-??-?? Nintendo
VS. Ice Climber 1985-02-01 1985-03-?? Nintendo
VS. Ice Climber 1985-02-01 1985-03-?? Nintendo DualSystem version.
VS. Duck Hunt Unreleased 1985-05-?? Nintendo Requires Zapper. Adds a new stage of play.
VS. Hogan's Alley Unreleased 1985-05-?? Nintendo Requires Zapper.
VS. Mach Rider 1985-??-?? 1985-11-?? Nintendo
VS. Battle City 1985-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Soccer 1985-??-?? 1985-11-?? Nintendo
VS. Star Luster 1985-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Raid on Bungeling Bay 1985-??-?? 1985-??-?? Brøderbund Software Requires the second CPU of the DualSystem, but doesn't feature multiplayer.
VS. Ninja JaJaMaru-kun 1986-04-?? Unreleased Jaleco
VS. Super Mario Bros. Unreleased 1986-04-?? Nintendo Uses some levels from Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japan).
VS. Mighty Bomb Jack 1986-12-?? Unreleased Tecmo
VS. Pro Baseball: Family Stadium 1986-12-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. The Goonies Unreleased 1986-??-?? Konami
VS. Gradius Unreleased 1986-??-?? Konami
VS. Gumshoe Unreleased 1986-??-?? Nintendo Requires Zapper.
VS. Slalom Unreleased 1986-??-?? Rare
VS. Super Chinese 1986-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Super Xevious: GAMP no Nazo 1986-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Tower of Babel 1986-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Valkyrie no Bōken: Toki no Kagi Densetsu 1986-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Atari R.B.I. Baseball Unreleased 1987-??-?? Atari Games
VS. Castlevania Unreleased 1987-??-?? Konami
VS. Family Tennis 1987-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Sky Kid 1987-??-?? Unreleased Sunsoft
VS. T.K.O. Boxing 1987-??-?? Unreleased Data East
VS. Top Gun 1987-??-?? Unreleased Konami
VS. Freedom Force Unreleased 1988-??-?? Sunsoft
VS. Platoon Unreleased 1988-??-?? Sunsoft
VS. The Quest of Ki 1988-??-?? Unreleased Namco
VS. Tetris Unreleased 1988-??-?? Atari Games Has weaker graphic art.
VS. Dr. Mario Unreleased 1990-??-?? Nintendo
VS. Football Unreleased Unreleased Nintendo
VS. Great Tennis Unreleased Unreleased Jaleco
VS. Head to Head Baseball Unreleased Unreleased Nintendo
VS. Helifighter Unreleased Unreleased Nintendo
VS. Lionex Unreleased Unreleased Sunsoft
VS. Motocross Unreleased Unreleased Nintendo
VS. Nintendo 500 Unreleased Unreleased Nintendo
VS. Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi Unreleased Unreleased Sunsoft
VS. The Wing of Madoola Unreleased Unreleased Sunsoft

Media

Cabinet Art

Documentation

Videos

Pat the NES Punk.

Links

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