Why do my original NES games need such frequent cleaning?

I don’t know if it’s really cleaning, or removing static, or something, or exactly what is happening, chemically-- that’s actually me question-- but I needed some word for the thread title.

I have an original NES console. My brother got it for his birthday in 1983 or 84, and then gave it to me around 1990, when he had moved up a couple of steps, and never used it anymore.

I still have it. I dug it out of storage a couple of years ago, and found the last trove of games after the pandemic set in. I’ve got quite a few. We have other consoles, but I think this is actually my favorite.

Anyway, a lot of the games don’t play when I put them in, even if they were playing fine the day before. I just get static of the screen.

If I get a Q-tip with a little alcohol on it, and wipe off the connectors on the game cartridge, it will play just fine.

What am I doing? and is it harmful in the long run? am I cleaning, and if so, how does it get dirty so often? or does the alcohol improve the connection ability of the worn connectors, or something? or remove static?

If it’s going to be harmful in the long run, what can I do instead?

The connections on both the cartridge and NES console wear thin after frequent use. That and regular corrosion make it harder to get a good connection.
Yes, cleaning the connections does strip them. I think the connections on the cartridges can be restored. I know there are cheap replacements for the connection slot in the console itself.
Try snugging up the cartridges in the console if they’re not working. I used to shove a baseball card or 2 between the top of cartridge and the dock in the console.

Also, when you blow on your cartridge, you’re not so much dusting it off as you are adding a thin layer of moisture, making the connection better.
If your controllers are old, they probably don’t work as well as they could. I just bought new sega genesis controllers. My Ms. Pacman game has markedly improved.

as someone who worked for one of the first 3 people that knew how to repair a nes system in southern California what your doing is fine just make sure with some sort of magnifying glass that there is absolutely no hairs or fuzz on it …

What kills a cartridge based system is carbon …which is that sticky crud that forms when dirt is left on something for weeks/months and possibly years

what works the best these days ? get a spray bottle of cd/dvd cleaner or monitor cleaner … its all the same diluted alcohol … if your uneasy about using q tips … get a pencil with a hard eraser and use it after spraying the cartridges becuase the spray breaks it down and the heat from the friction takes it off … t

hats the same method nintendo its self uses for cleaning wiis and wiiu’s and probably a smaller one for the switch since its cartridge based except their cleaners have a strip you spray with a handle of it (sort of like the old commercial NES cleaners) but you push it in and out very fast . … Now one of the electronic places had a spray for circuitboards we used to clean the inside of the system … my god the things ive seen in video game systems would give you nightmares …

It was that way even for a brand new system. Back in the day, what I often found would work would be to stick the cartridge all the way in, but then pull it back out about a millimeter. That, or of course blowing on it.

And of course, once you got a cartridge working, you’d leave it in until you were sure you wanted to change games, rather than taking it out to put it away and maybe having to get it working again when you put it back.

Oh, and remember to hold RESET while you turn the power off! If you don’t… well, probably nothing bad will happen, but I never tried, because I was too afraid of ruining something.

I have wipes for electronics that I use for cleaning laptops, TVs, and my pinball machines. Also, the outsides of consoles. Those would be good for wiping off the connectors?

Hmmmm. I never leave games in, because I have the original instructions, and they say not to do that.

You can replace the connector inside the NES for $13 with just a screwdriver.

When you push the cartridge down, it angles up and contacts the pins inside the console. The problem is that over time, the force of that contact bends the console pins. In addition, they get dirty and corroded. So there’s no longer as much physical connection.

A Q-tip with alcohol on it should not cause any long-term damage, but it’s probably easier to not have to do it all the time.

Thank you-- this is for the console, right? not each game?

I did buy the tool to open the games, because when I pulled the console and games out of storage, where they’d been for about 12 years (packed with lots of silicon packs saved from pill bottles and new shoes), I replaced all the batteries in the games with memory.

yeah, that should work also…you shouldn’t have to clean anything more than once to every few months or so really … depending on how dusty you get

here in the desert, it was twice a month tho

Already ordered it. It should be here Thursday.

Yep, for the console. It’s been years since I did it, but there are a handful of screws to open the case and then I think 2 that hold the adapter on. When you take it off, you may want to clean the NES board pins where the connector attaches with alcohol (if it needs it) before putting on the new one.

This reminded me of when, in college, we didn’t have a replacement adapter, but we did have a soldering iron, and the end of the connector that grabs the NES board is the same as the end that grabs the games, so I cut the connector in half, threw away the bad side, soldered the pins directly to the board, and FrankeNES was born. It wasn’t pretty, but it lasted for years.

That’s cool.

When I was a teen I took apart a broken Atari 2600 to see what was wrong with it and found the board was getting extremely hot. For awhile I continued to use it by placing a ice pack directly on the board. It’d work for about 45 minutes at a time. When the screen started to get fuzzy I knew it was time to change the ice pack.

The only game I can remember having to do that with was Zelda and IIRC, it had something to do with not screwing up the cartridge’s memory. Did other games that allowed you to save where you were require the same thing?

I have the new mini NES that came out a few years back. I love it. The thing I was really worried about was the controllers. In the past when I’d mention anything about playing NES, people would suggest that I get an emulator for my computer or download the games on my phone. But, at least to me, it wouldn’t be the same. Luckily, the controllers for the mini NES are identical, like it feels like they used the original molds. Now, NES that I have comes with a ton of games already installed on it and you can’t add any more, but if it has the games you like, it’s worth picking one up just so you’re not fighting with the original cartridges/console anymore.
Also, one perk it does have is that you can save your game any time you want. It makes for a nice little cheat. Save your game, advance to the next level, save again etc. Get yourself in a tough spot, save the game and keep going back to the save point until you get past it (then save again).

Even if you don’t use it to cheat. It’s nice that you can finish, for example, SMB without beating 32 levels in one sitting.

Yes, although I never held reset and to my knowledge never lost a saved game, so it wasn’t a large risk.

When power is removed, the NES cpu starts behaving in an undefined way, which could include writes to arbitrary memory that might corrupt the saved data on battery cartridges. Holding reset means it won’t do anything in that state.

I have a still-working NES and some cartridges, so they are not that fragile. Not that I am using it that much these days; last time I turned it on was about a year ago.

But, even if you worry about the exact controller, consider: I recently saw a kid with a colour Game Boy. Except, it turned out it was not a Nintendo at all, rather the case resembled a game boy but the guts of it were a wifi-enabled Raspberry Pi 0 running Retro Pie. So you can put ALL the games you like on it and not clean any metal connectors. I would bet that, with a similar setup and the right adapter, you could even use your original controller.

The power once blinked out for about 5 minutes while I was played Dragon Warrior III, and I lost my whole saved game.

Oh, nothing wrong with my controllers-- they are working great.

As far as replacing the batteries, my Dragon Warrior I would not save at all, and a little Googling suggested that replacing the battery would fix the problem; it did. Since all the games with a save function had batteries that were about 20 years old, I just replaced them all.

If you’re just getting static, this won’t help much, but you ever get the situation the game does seem to boot but then the power keeps flickering off and on, you may also want to look into disabling the CIC chip.

It was designed to make sure the cartridges are legit, but it can be messed up by a dodgy connection to the cartridge, even if the connection is good enough for the game itself to run just fine.

I also note that, if you have connection issues with the part that depresses when when you put in the cartridge, there are ways around that, such as using a Game Genie or just wiring the slots in differently. It was the press down design that led to the NES connectors failing more often than other consoles, as it actually puts stress on the connector.

I see two explanations for why the Reset button prevents cartridge saves from being damaged, and either or both could be true. The first is that it sends an interrupt signal to the CPU that stops it in its tracks, preventing it from firing any more instruction as you cut the power. The other is that it cuts the connection between the CPU and cartridge, so nothing could be written to it anyways.

The power button just literally cuts the power, and that’s never instantaneous, meaning that there is a short period of time where the CPU is still running but without enough power, where it can make mistakes. The chances of such mistakes would be even higher in a power outage, where there is often a period of decreased power (a brown out) before the power goes off completely. So the CPU would have a longer period in which to mess up.

Excellent advice! I did not know about this, and yes, once in a while, I will insert a game, and will get a normal game screen, but it will blink on and off. Usually if I push reset and hold for a count of five, this fixes it, but if this part is going bad it will just keep getting worse, I suppose.

I used to work on desktop computers-- I volunteered in the early 00s for a group that took donated computers, and would basically take 2 or 3 non-working, working poorly, or just obsolete computers, and build one nice one, then we donated then to not profit organizations and low income families.

So I don’t think working on a game console from 1984 is going to be a problem.

However, could you give me a description of exactly where this chip is, what color it is, etc. Does it say “CIC” on it? When you say “disable,” do you mean “remove,” or do you mean unplug, or something else?

Much appreciated.

Unfortunately, I can’t give specific instructions, as I’ve never done it myself. I know it’s a common fix recommended by many if you have this problem. What I meant by “look into” was more to Google it. But I do know it’s not just removing the chip, but bypassing it.

From doing my own Googling, it may not be necessary since you’re already going to replace the entire connector. So I might wait to see if that problem recurs after the replacement before attempting a possibly unnecessary second modification.

If it is necessary, then it would seem this guide shows it correctly. It solders a wire to bypass the chip, not just trying to remove it, which can break things.