Developed and released as a solution to both the storage and functional shortfalls of the Famicom’s native cartridge medium, the Disk System mostly delivered on Nintendo’s promise of the next evolution in their home video game invasion. Mostly.
Rather then a follow-up to the Famicom, the Disk System was created as an add-on to Nintendo’s home console. It connected to the Famicom via the cartridge slot and rather then increase graphical fidelity the Disk System added several welcome features to Nintendo’s three year old machine.
The Disk System’s proprietary media, the Disk Card, vastly increased the storage capacity over that of the cartridges of time. In addition the Disk Card afforded the ability to rewrite game data. This allowed for both complete game overwrites (at special Disk Writer kiosks in retail stores across Japan) and the ability to save game data directly onto the disks, more closely aligning the Disk System with the rising tide of Japanese home computers than with Famicom contemporaries such as the Sega SG-1000.
It wouldn’t be long until the chip and memory advancements on cartridges outstripped those of the Disk Card, making it clear that Nintendo’s quirky disk drive would not be leaving Japan.
Released on February 21st 1986, the Famicom Disk System initially launched with a library of 7 titles. Interestingly only one of these games, The Legend of Zelda, was developed specifically for the Disk System and took advantage of the Disk System’s increased capabilities.
The other 6 launch games; Baseball, Mahjong, Tennis, Golf, Soccer, and Super Mario Bros. were essentially identical copies of their previous cartridge incarnations. The Legend of Zelda alone would prove to be a ‘system seller’ and make the Disk System a must-have for rabid Japanese video game fans.
The launch line-up for the Disk System was sports heavy, with 4 of the 7 games representing the most popular first party sports titles from the past 3 years. Mahjong, based on the immensely popular tile game of the same name was the lone puzzle offering. Add to that the deep adventure in Zelda and the rock solid platforming of Super Mario Bros., and you end up with a relatively strong, although not entirely diverse selection of games.
Games would trickle out for the Disk System at first, with releases steadily hitting store shelves towards the end of 1986 and into 1987, as the install base grew and third party developers began to take advantage of Nintendo’s feature-rich new platform.