Browsing through the recycle shops of rural Japan, I get a regular lesson in old school Japanese gaming consoles and games. I would have considered myself an expert in the North American sense, but after a couple rounds through the Dopos and Hard-Offs (actual name), I have never felt so clueless. I knew of a few of the more offbeat Japanese exclusives as far as consoles went, but occasionally one manages to fall into your lap that has you both cursing your ineptitude as a scholarly retro gamer and thanking your lucky stars that no one else spotted it first:
The Sharp Twin Famicom was a monster of a console released in 1986 and included both the Famicom and Famicom Disk System built into one console. This was back when Nintendo wasn't so afraid to license out its hardware, so you had a number of other Famicom-like systems that floated around the discount bins for the entirety of the console's run. All of these consoles still plague the junk shelves of the major Japanese recycle shops. Often when you think you've found some new and obscure system, you've merely found yet another cheap Famicom clone. However, Sharp's Twin Famicom was a much more official-looking system, complete with the Famicom logo gracing the top of the system. The look of the console is pretty great, looking less like a third-party piece of crap and more like an authentic, major console. Among its greatest features, it featured an AV connection with RCA cables that could work on televisions overseas, which certainly tickled the fancies of the one or two freaks in North America that longed to play the same titles they already had on cartridge, except with loading times (which sounds basically like me, who confuses this sort of retro obsession with some semblance of 'hip').
It's worth mentioning the loading times, as this thing was basically a primitive zip drive for your Famicom. This meant that every screen change in Zelda took a little longer, as the data took longer to read off a floppy disk than a cartridge. On the plus side, they saved data right onto the disk, a feature lacking in cartridge ports at the time.
It's easy enough to forget that Nintendo even released a disk system in the 80s when the failures of the more recent Nintendo 64DD and Sony debacle override the company's past with re-writable formats in terms of interest. North American gamers didn't miss much with the absence of disks, as the marquee titles were ported with watch batteries in cartridges to save game progress. Nevertheless, they were still a huge hit in Japan for the few years they were around. Eventually, you could achieve more with a cartridge in terms of graphics and sound, and video game piracy was becoming a real threat for the first time with the introduction of the blank disk (to be loaded with whatever game you liked at official Nintendo retailers, all for a fraction of the price of a cartridge game). Nintendo scrapped the disks and manufactured cartridges exclusively for the remainder of the Famicom's life-cycle.
As popular as they were, finding these disks is a rather difficult task in Japan today. Typical recycle shops will be lacking in supplies, as the functional disks are rather collectible for Famicom enthusiasts. Seeing as how the trendiest old system to play at the moment is the Famicom, that puts these disks in the farthest corners of the most hardcore gaming recycle shops, and very few elsewhere. They're also far more fragile than Famicom carts to boot, so finding a working disk is a lot more trial-and-error than most can afford. And I didn't even mention the fact that the old belts in the systems break down faster than compost, so you're lucky if your current working system will last the entirety of a single play session.
All Famicom Disk Systems are pretty rare these days, especially if they still function, so outside of the specialty shops in Akihabara, you're going to have a difficult time tracking one down. The Sharp Twin Famicom was really just a sort of miracle that it appeared on the shelf when it did. Machines this inexplicably hip disappear from the shelves all too quickly in Japan, even in the rural parts where I live. Considering that most places don't test their systems (usually because no one has the disks anymore), you're likely to pick up a brick anyhow. All of this adds up to a very shaky investment that I wouldn't wish on anyone, all save for the craziest motherfuckers (like me) who see a big, shiny yellow Disk with the word NINTENDO scrawled across the bottom and are willing to go to the ends of the earth and the depths of their wallet to figure out what the hell the Triforce on the front label is all about.
Besides, I got lucky. Mine was just five bucks.
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