Ultimate Guide to Restoring the NES

NES

Some things are ultimate, and if you’re ready to take the time to fix your broken old NES, then this might be the most ultimate NES guide you can find. In this guide I’ll help outline everything you need to not only make the actual NES work like new, but also take those nasty old NES games and turn them to gold. These techniques have made games I thought were broken work like new. All it takes is a bit of time (a lot of time) and a couple of dollars. I promise that once this is done you won’t need to blow in a NES game ever again.

As you might know, I have a strange obsession with trying to clean and fix classic video games. Since I still purchase and play my NES on a regular basis, I really wanted to figure out the best methods to get the thing working great again. In this guide I’ll cover two main topics, both replacing the 72 pin connector (such old news I know) and also polishing games. I’ll also show you how to disable the NES lock out chip, and a few quick tips on shining up those gray cartridges.

First, why not go over the items we’ll need to do all this stuff?

Tools

72-pin Replacement Connector for 8-bit Nintendo NES System Repair

Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish & Microfiber Cloth Kit

Steel 3.8mm Screwdriver Security Bit Open NES SNES Nintendo 64 & Game Boy Games

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, Original, 4 Count

Roadpro RPS1020 3″ x 6″ Phillips Head Screwdriver with Magnetic Tip

Q-tips Cotton Swabs, 500 Count (1 Pack)

Expo 2 Low-Odor Dry Erase Markers, Chisel Tip, 4-Pack, Assorted Colors (80174)

Some cloths or old white t-shirts

Now it’s time to go through the whole process. I’m not going to treat you like a total fool and point out exactly where each and every screw is and all that jazz. I believe that you are a smart individual and can do some of these steps on your own. I mean hell, if I can do it, anyone can do it.

Installing the 72pin Adapter

Okay, we have our brand new 72 pin adapter ready to install. This is a cheap piece of hardware that goes a long way and is the magic key to making the NES work again. I have read some guides that advise against buying these adapters, and to instead fix the old one already in there. There are all sorts of crazy processes that involve bending all the pins back since they believe the main issue with the NES is the contacts. It’s all a bunch of malarkey really. I mean, that’s true to a degree, it is all about the contacts and the cartridge being able to make contact with the pins, but when the pins have 20 or so years worth of dirt on them, it really doesn’t matter how bent they are. You will never be able to properly clean the pins on your original adapter, so don’t waste your time with that method. Just order a new adpater, it’ll save you trouble in the end. I actually ordered myself a gold pin adapter, it’s a little more pricey (a whole 3 dollars or so) more than a silver pin, but it has slighty better contacts. It’s up to you really.

Okay, so our adapter showed up in the mail, hooray. So first up is opening the NES to install this thing. First, make sure you hit the power button to let out that bit of power left in there, and don’t forget to ground yourself (you don’t want to short out anything). Nothing fancy here, just take your screw driver and pop the hood off the NES. You’ll be greeted with this.

NES Open

The next step is really easy too. You want to pop off the metal hood that is holding the whole thing in place. There’s a bunch of screws to get out of there, it’s all a piece of cake. One nice thing about this is that every screw in the NES is exactly the same, so you don’t need to worry about mixing them up or anything like that. Once we get that piece off you’ll see this.

NES Open 2

At this point you’ll be able to lift the NES out of the plastic, sort of. Now you can do either of these next two steps out of order, it’s up to you. You’ll want to unscrew the cartridge dock (the black part) from the board, which is held in place by about 6 screws. Take the whole board out of the plastic case and flip it over.

NES flipped over

As you can see, the board is attached by three wires, two are for the controllers and one is for the power button. In order to detach the metal plate (picture here) on the board, you need to remove these wires. This part is slightly a pain in the ass as these things are jammed in there pretty damn good.

NES open 3

I highlighted the three areas you’re going to have to deal with. The way I removed these was with the aid of a very tiny flat head screw driver. I was able to wedge it in there slightly in order to help push the packs out of there, and then pulled it out with my fingers after it was loose. Don’t forget which of the two smaller packs go where, or else your controller ports will be mixed up. Once you have those off of there, you can remove the metal and you’ll have just the board left. Now we’re finally getting close to installing the 72 pin adapter.

NES Installing Adapter

So you’ll slide the game dock (the black piece) forward, which I’m showing with the yellow arrow. To remove the old adapter, just pull it off the back of the board, which I’m showing with the red arrow. Once you have that thing off, replace it with your brand new one. Make sure it’s all lined up with the screw holes to know you have it on there properly.

Disabling the Lock Out Chip

This next part is totally optional. What we’re going to do here is disable the lock out chip on the NES. According to legend, the lock out chip is the LONE reason that your NES isn’t working. Apparently when the contacts are dirty and the NES has a hard time reading the game, it assumes that you’re either playing something illegal or from another region, so the screen then flashes purple in an attempt to stop you from playing the game. In theory, by disabling the lock out chip, you’ll no longer get the flashing screen and your games will suddenly work again. Now, I disabled the chip and I’m not totally sure I buy this whole thing. Even though I have the NES working great, one game did give me the flashing screen AFTER I disabled the chip (which I did get to work after hitting the power button on and off). So who really knows, but if you’re in the mood then by all means, knock this sucker out. At the very least you’ll get to play some PAL games, like the Bible game Konami made.

So the chip is located right here…

NES Lock Out Chip

What you need to do next is snip the 4th pin from the left on the chip.

NES Lock Out Chip

As you can tell, I’m not much of a photographer. The arrow is pointing to the EXACT pin you need to snip. The highlighted yellow area is what I’ll refer to as the Area of Doom. That is your working space to knock out this pin, in other words, it is tight as hell. If you go poking at that pin with a screw driver or whatever else, there’s a huge chance you’re going to damage something. Just looking at it gives me bad nerves all over again. It’s like diffusing a damn bomb. The way I did it was by taking a really tiny flat head screw driver (the same one I mentioned before) and put it behind the pin. I was able to pull the pin out of the chip, bend it a few times and break it off. Some guides suggest that you ground the damage you just did by running a wire some place, but you don’t need to worry about that if you pull the pin out of the chip like I did. Be careful though, seriously, I don’t want to be the reason you ruined this whole project.

Now that we have that done, it’s time to reassemble this whole mess. Fully functional NES is now operational.

Polishing and Cleaning NES Games

Since we have a restored NES, we need to restore the games. Here’s the rub folks, and it sucks. If you insert a dirty game into your new connector, you’re just going to dirty the thing up quicker than normal. Sure, you can get away with it here and there, but eventually all this work will be for nothing. And believe me, your games are absolutely filthy, I know it.

In my N64 Restoration guide I wrote up about a year and a half ago, I mentioned creating a solvent that you can use to clean out your games. Well it’s time to throw that idea out the window. We don’t use diluted alcohol anymore, we’re manning up, buying a 3.5mm Gamebit, and we’re going to take these suckers apart and polish them the way they deserve to be. The Gamebit is key to opening up your NES games because (for the most part) it’s the only way you can open them. Older NES titles (seems like many of the first gen ones) are held together with regular old screws, so you don’t need anything fancy for those. You can recognize those types of cases easy, because they only have 3 screws and are missing the hinges at the top of the game pak. Once you take apart the GamePak, you’re going to find out that Nintendo wasted a shit ton of plastic, because the chips inside are tiny.

Look how dirty that thing is. I actually chose one of the dirtiest games in my collection, just to show how nice it’ll look when all is said and done. Now that you have the chip out, it’s time to grab the Mothers polish and some cloths or old smelly t-shirts you don’t want to wear anymore. This is a little tricky, you’re going to wrap the garment around your finger, dip it into the polish and then smear it all over the contacts.

NES game with polish

Don’t worry about getting some of it off the contact area as it’ll wipe right off. So once you apply this stuff, slowly work it (buff it) in a circular or back and forth motion. The stuff says you don’t need to rub too hard, but that’s up to you too. Whatever it takes to clean the thing, right? This process is going to take a while, and you’ll probably have to reapply the polish once you buff the first round of it off. You also need to do the other side of the contacts as well, so don’t forget about it. As you buff it, you’ll find that your cloth is turning completely black, this is good, because it means it’s working. Buff that thing until your cloth no longer has black on it. You’re going to go through a ton of cloth because you’re going to keep using clean areas to make sure the black is coming off. Like I said, this can take a while depending on the damage. This game actually took me close to 20 minutes to clean, but that involves the next step to. Now check out the pay off.

NES Game Cleaned

EDITOR’S NOTE 2/27/2016: I’m really happy to see people still use this guide after all of these years, but I wanted to touch on this polishing technique a bit. At the time I wrote this guide I was super into the idea of polishing games. I did it to tons of them, and to this day they still work great. That said, I think this method is a little harsh and should only be reserved for games that truly are giving you a hard time. To be honest over the years I’ve found spritzing a bit of a Windex onto a Q-Tip and rubbing it along a game (and then drying it off quickly with a dry Q-Tip) does the job just fine. Everyone has their methods and everyone seems to cringe at a method that they don’t use. I’ve come to find that over years and years of keeping retro games working that there really is no one way that trumps them all. All I know is that using the tricks I do have kept my games working for decades now. Thanks again!

Since we have your disgusting game open, we should probably take care off all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches shoved into the plastic. In this case, I’m going to use a copy of GI Joe I have.

NES Joe Dirty

I guess Dave was a slob, because there is brown crap all over the front sticker, and on the opposite side is a metric ton of gunk that doesn’t belong in your nice, new NES. It’s time for the Magic Eraser, Windex, and some Q-Tips. Dip the Q-Tips in some water and rub all along the edges of the plastic. You’ll find that it turns brown, because the people who owned these games were animals. Use the Magic Eraser to knock off the permanent marker this dude used in case someone stole his copy of GI Joe. The cover sticker is tricky, because we don’t want to get it wet, but we want it clean. Spray a tiny bit of Windex onto a cloth and then wipe the sticker down. Be sure you don’t drench the cloth because you will screw up the sticker. Make sure you dry it off with another dry cloth when you’re done. If you’re game is covered in stickers and all that crap, head over to the N64 Guide for a few more tips on that.

EDITOR’S NOTE 2/27/2016:I wanted to bring up a note on using the Magic Eraser on the Game Pak itself. If you use the Magic Eraser too much, it will tend to knock the glossy coating off of the plastic. I’ve found that over the years that the best way to remove permanent marker from a game is to simply go over it with a Dry Erase Marker. Have a paper towel with cleaner (like Windex) on hand to quickly pick up the Dry Erase marker before it dries. The Magic Eraser is great for extremely tough situations, but try using the Dry Erase first.

Check out the cleaned up game pak.

NES Game Cleaned

So there we have it. You can now put your polished game into your newly restored NES and play some classic games, like GI Joe, a game that teaches us that licensed games used to be pretty damn cool if done right. You won’t even need to do any weird tricks to get the game to work properly. You MAY need to give the game a slight jiggle (to the left and right) once it’s in there, but other than that, it should work fine. As stated before, I cleaned games that otherwise didn’t work before, and now they work perfect.

I hope you enjoyed this guide, and hopefully it’ll help get you back into some classic gaming. It’ll take a bit of money, lots of time and plenty of patience, but it’ll pay off in the end.

Have questions or comments? Don’t be affraid to ask.

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Phil