Format reviewed: NES/Famicom
Submitted by: Nathan White
Co-developed by Nintendo, Hudson Soft and Sharp Corporation, and released by Nintendo in June of 1984, Family BASIC was an early attempt by Nintendo to sway computer users over to their newly released console.
Famicom BASIC was a programming platform for a version of the BASIC programming language branded HuBASIC which was created specifically for use on the Famicom. The peripheral consisted of a proprietary keyboard unit which, when connected to a Famicom, communicated through the peripheral port of the Famicom with a Family BASIC cartridge that contained the programing language and compiling program.
The Family BASIC cartridge itself was had several different versions; v 1.0 was never released to the public and is presumably the prototype originally created by the development group. v 2.0 was initially sold with the set, and v 2.1 was sold with later versions, also within the set. v 3.0 was a released in early 1985 and was available seperatly as an add-on. Unlike previous version of the cart, v 3.0 was labeled as such and came in a red cartridge. This last version of the software had expanded memory and came pre-loaded with games that were created in the Famicom BASIC language. All versions of the cart required two AA batteries and had a back-up enabling on/off switch.
One of the main draws of the Famicom BASIC set was the ability to program you own games using many of the tiles and sprites from early Nintendo games such as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. You would think that Famicom BASIC would be the perfect fit for the Nintendo Disk System, with the prospect of connecting the Disk System up and writing saved games and programs to Disks. However, the Disk System was still 2 years in the future, and the very fact that the Famicom BASIC cart blocked the cart slot required for the Disk System’s RAM adapter made compatibility impossible.
Instead, Nintendo released the Famicom Data Recorder. The Data recorder was a essentially a tape deck that connected to the Family BASIC keyboard via two 1/8″ connectors. The only way to record saved games and programs created in Family BASIC was by the use of this peripheral. Today, the Famicom Data Recorder is pretty hard to come by with auction BINs as high as $400 for a boxed unit.
Unfortunately, even though the Family BASIC keyboard and programming language is primarily English based, nearly all of the related documentation (including the text-heavy programmers guide that came with the set) is entirely in Japanese.
A complete and boxed Family BASIC set sells for around $100-$150 at auction, and are highly regarded as an interesting, if some-what useless, collection piece by Famicom collectors (myself included).