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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. Gumshoe||Unreleased||1986-??-??||Nintendo||Requires Zapper.|
|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. 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. The Quest of Ki||1988-??-??||Unreleased||Namco|
|VS. Tetris||Unreleased||1988-??-??||Atari Games||Has weaker graphic art.|
|VS. Dr. Mario||Unreleased||1990-??-??||Nintendo|
|VS. Great Tennis||Unreleased||Unreleased||Jaleco|
|VS. Head to Head Baseball||Unreleased||Unreleased||Nintendo|
|VS. Nintendo 500||Unreleased||Unreleased||Nintendo|
|VS. Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi||Unreleased||Unreleased||Sunsoft|
|VS. The Wing of Madoola||Unreleased||Unreleased||Sunsoft|