What's the deal with those expansion ports on Nintendo's older systems?
In a day and age where USB ports are prevalent on our game systems, expansion ports on video game consoles definitely harken to a gaming yesteryear that players can only look back on in awe. What once used to be a staple on many console releases is now a thing of the past.
In previous Nintendo consoles, these expansion ports were portals to improve hardware, open up new possibilities for gameplay, and even to give the hardware additional features that were just not possible with the original release. Now we look back on past Nintendo hardware and not only examine how Nintendo used these mysterious ports, but also the kinds of devices that utilized them. From this, we have a picture of the company's past as well as some insight on where Nintendo are taking their hardware in the future.
First up is the Famicom and NES. Unlike the NES, the Famicom came with hard-wired controllers. Any extra controllers and peripherals could be plugged into Nintendo's first expansion port, which was located at the front of the machine. This port was used to host light guns, 3D shutter glasses, keyboards, extra controllers, and other items. Many system expansions plugged directly into the cartridge slot, such as the Famicom Disk System and the Famicom Modem. The Sharp Twin Famicom, a system that combined the Famicom and Disk System into one machine, added an additional three expansion ports, but these remained unused.
The NES shipped with an expansion port on the bottom of the console. On multiple occasions, modems were planned to be connected there. However, the NES expansion port never received a commercial application. Originally, the port was covered by a snap-in cover, but later model systems actually had a plastic tab covering the port completely. The port was still there, but the plastic actually had to broken off to access the port. The lack of expansion port utilization outside of Japan was an ongoing trend that started with Nintendo's first system.
The Super Famicom takes us on a story of CD drives and further connectivity. Like the NES, the Super Famicom and SNES designed included an expansion port marked EXT. The well-known SNES CD would have used this port, and the Satellaview did make use of it, but only in Japan. The SNES did see a very limited use of the port as a connection point for the Exertainment exercise bike.
The Nintendo 64 brought us the Expansion Pak and the Disk Drive, one for each port. Continuing the trend, the EXT port, which resides on the bottom of the N64, would only be used in Japan for the N64DD, which was cancelled early and never saw a worldwide release. The memory expansion port on the top was necessary for certain games that needed the extra power, and this saw worldwide use.
The GameCube upped the number of expansion possibilities to three. Featuring two serial ports and a hi-speed port, the GameCube had the most expansion possibilities, though one serial port remained unused. The options were limited, but this time, all expansions were released worldwide. The Hi-Speed port was home to the Game Boy Player attachment, while the larger serial port could house a modem or LAN adapter.
With the advent of the Wii, Nintendo decided to standardize their hardware connections, including two USB ports and an SD card slot. The Wii U includes the same interfaces, indicating a likely end of Nintendo's mysterious ports.
Next, we take an in-depth look at all of the system expansions. We will cover one system each day.
Photos provided by Danny Bivens, James Charlton, Nicholas Bray, Minoru Yamaizumi, Aaron Kaluszka, Uncle Bob, and 64DDFan