Submitted by: Phill Burton
The Nintendo PlayChoice 10 is one of those exquisite Nintendo items that have firmly remained the stuff of myth and legend in the minds of most retro gamers and collectors. Due to its formidable size and weight it’s far beyond the reach (read ‘spousal acceptance limit’) of most collectors. Unless you’ve got an unused garage or dedicated games room then sadly you’ll probably never have the pleasure of owning one of these majestic giants. You may be surprised to know though that the PlayChoice 10 is currently holding a big secret: it’s neither expensive nor rare! Chances are you won’t find a complete and working machine on eBay but, if you know which forums to sign up to, you’ll find one within a few months and, what’s more, it’ll cost half as much as an Xbox One or PS4. Think of it as an attainable M82 with more bells and whistles (for the ignorant that’s not a motorway).
What is the PlayChoice 10?
As any quick web search will tell you it’s a dual-screen arcade cabinet that can hold up to 10 Nintendo NES games, monetises play by means of a time limit and gives the player the ability to change to any game mid-play. The games are modified NES carts laid out like mini PCB boards. Due to their shape and size they are not directly compatible with the NES home console although they can, and often do, share identical ROM chips. By design, the PlayChoice 10 cannot play regular NES carts (more on that later). The big difference between the arcade games and the home carts is the inclusion of an additional ROM that stores the display information for the top screen. This information is usually a basic description of the game and a few hints and tips for the player.
Why do I love the PlayChoice 10?
This arcade machine is all kinds of awesome wrapped in a single over-sized cab. The icing on the cake is that the internal hardware is just as intriguing as the gorgeous Nintendo-themed outer shell. There’s no real artwork to speak of but when you see the iconic Nintendo logo splashed across the side of a dedicated arcade machine then you know it needs nothing more.
I’ve some great childhood memories playing a PlayChoice 10 inside the family room of a pub in Kent. I remember that a single £1 coin got you about 10 to 15 minutes play and I usually spent it on a few rounds of Punchout, a quick spin in Rad Racer, a very short run with Arthur in Ghouls and Ghosts, wading through the first level of Contra with Bill and Lance and finally the remaining time was spent giving Luigi and the Princess an outing in Super Mario Bros 2 (the USA version ripped from Doki-Doki Panic). An uninterrupted 15 minutes with mates eagerly peering over shoulder giving advice and usually urging you to play the 2 player games so they could join in (with no need to insert extra coins). It was also a good 30 minutes where my Dad could sit at the bar and enjoy a pint in quiet with only the half-time interruption of supplying another pound. Fun for all the family!
As hinted at earlier, the PlayChoice 10 has some great associated mysteries and lesser-known facts. Firstly ‘The Goonies’ was only made available in Japan on the Famicom, and later the Disk System, but it’s readily available on the arcade machine. There is of-course ‘The Goonies II’, but that’s a totally different game; a few people have put together custom carts to hold the ROM of ‘The Goonies’ and play it on a NES console (or you can use an emulator). For those of you in a PAL region and lived with the tragedy of Probotector, the PlayChoice 10 was the only place to find Bill and Lance shooting real people instead of being replaced by robotic counterparts (no really – Nintendo actually did that!).
Alongside the game differences there’s the legendary PPU (Picture Processing Unit). Without going into too much detail, you can pull this chip from the PlayChoice 10 motherboard and stick it in a NES home console to give it true RGB out (a VGA / monitor cable). Given this great feature, it’s easy to see why PlayChoice 10 PPUs are going for silly money on eBay and why some arcade motherboards are being sold without the PPU.
Finally, there’s the NES Zapper. Soon the likes of Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley and Wild Gunman will be beyond the reach of a generation thanks to the popularity of the flat-screen TV. The PlayChoice 10 may prove to be the last stand in the fight to save these great light gun games. Unfortunately, The PlayChoice 10 has it’s own unique but gaudy handguns in pink and blue but it is at least possible to alter the iconic Zapper to work with it too (phew!).
How did I get my PlayChoice 10?
A year or so ago I came across the picture of a PlayChoice 10 in a forum post and immediately recognized it as the cab from my childhood. That was enough for me to know that I had to own one and after very little persuasion I was given the green light (I know – I was surprised too). I joined a couple of arcade related forums and within a month someone shared a link about a badly advertised PlayChoice 10 on eBay that was only an hours drive away (it was listed as a Sega PlayChoice!). I put in a reasonably high bid and got it for under £150. There were only 2 minor catches – it wasn’t fully working and it was in the basement of some guy’s home. I turned up on the day and then spent about 2 and a half hours lugging the hefty beast out of the cellar (the guy was fortunately a bit of a bruiser and did most of the heavy lifting), scratching all the walls, ripping the carpet and then finally dumping it in the back of the van. In the end I was exhausted and more then a little bruised… but it was well worth it. After some extensive tinkering I guessed the capacitors on the main monitor needed replacing and called out a professional arcade monitor repair engineer for £50. Sorted!