It was on my birthday, October 18th, 1985 where console gaming changed forever. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) hit North America and the consoled world has never looked back.  Millions of NES consoles were purchased, and ten of million number of NES carts were sold. The most popular ones at launch were Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Stack-up and Wild Gunman among others. The design of the original NES was cool looking at first glance. The square shaped console with the grey and black.  The red Nintendo Logo on the front. Even the controllers were, and still are in my opinion, the best-looking controllers in the market.

The NES-101 model of the NES, or called the NES 2, the top-loading model, or simply the Top Loader, is a compact, top-loading redesign of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) released by Nintendo in 1993. I have been wanting a top loader NES for a while now. I see how gamers can test and play there NES carts without issues or concerns. Being a collector of NES games recently, I wanted a system that could play the NES carts I Am collecting to test them and clean then if need be. There are RetroDUo machines that can play them and portable ones as well, but I wanted as close to the NES console as I could to be authentic. This was a US released console, so it is a close to the original retro feel as can be. I finally found one recently at a good price, with the “dogbone” controller.  I personally do not use that, I use the original NES controller, but it was nice to have to display with it.

The new design offered many improvements over the original Nintendo, most notably eliminating the common problems such as blinking, flashing screens. The main difference is what you already touched on: the NES-101 (aka NES top loader) is RF (coax cable) only. After first glance, it was exactly what I wanted and in good condition.  I was excited to play a game and see if it indeed doesn’t crash or freeze up as the original always did. Then I saw one thing that was a bummer in my opinion, the connector to the TV was only a coax cable. There is not an A/V option for this system.  When plugging it in and seeing the games, you can notice a difference in the quality of the graphics. With notice horizontal lines and some colors distorted I quickly notice the quality difference. I am very surprised a console that came out 8 years later, with a NES original having AV hookups, that this was only a coax connection. So, for testing games it is perfect, but playing then does not give me the same experience as the 8-bit tube TV image I was looking for.

Then there is the controller, or what they call the “dogbone” controller. Reason being the controller literally looks like a bone. This is the first times I’ve really held the dog bone controller in my hand for extended periods of time.  I think it comes down to the individual and you will either like them or not.  IT looks and feels similar to the Super Nintendo (SNES) controllers, but they feel bulkier due to the rounded edges. The NES Tope Loader can utilize the original NES controller as the controller port is the same configuration as the original NES.

Since everything is on the internet, I decided to ask around to others about an option. Sure enough, there are gamers out there who have ‘modded’ there top loader to have A/V and even HDMI hookups. Of course, there is a price and if you wan them to do it, shipping costs. I have not decided to do that as of yet, but eventually I think I may. There are kits that I can have mailed to me, but the one thing I am not great at in the retro gaming world, is modding and taking apart consoles and putting them back together properly.

I would recommend getting one if you are an NES collector or fanatic. I would try to find one in the 100-130-dollar range, for the console and controller only.  Some higher priced models have the box and more controllers as well as games with it. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love the original NES and the memories that come with it, but it is a difficult machine to keep clean and running properly at all times. At the end of the day the NES top loader is without flaws, it is perfect and beyond criticism. The NES is already the most iconic home consoler in the history of gaming, and this is the most reliable version of the NES.

Plus, if you just want to play NES games, you can sign up for the Nintendo Online service on the switch and play them, or the Nintendo Shop on many of the previous consoles, or on retro mini arcade, or smartphones, or, well you get the idea. NES games are everywhere.


Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (396 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the retro gaming community and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit in Chicago, IL for the past 16 years. He also has published 2 books and written for various different gaming magazines including Old School Gamer.