3 Screw and 5 Screw NES Cartridges
Grab one of your favorite NES games off the shelf. Go now! Got it? Ok, turn it over and look at the back. How many screws do you see on the back?
You should see three or five screws around the back of the cart. Chances are your cart has three screws as it became standard issue production for Nintendo after a few years of launching the NES on the market. It is most commonly believed that Nintendo changed from five screws to three screws in manufacturing in order to cut costs. If you are familiar with any of Nintendo's stringent practices, this theory will come as no surprise.Some of the earlier games produced began with 5 screws until later models were created with the 3 screw standard. Perhaps you have a few copies of Donkey Kong Jr. or Mario Bros. Although the same game, the carts may be different.
In addition to the number of screws in the back of the cartridge, take a look at the top of the cartridge near the top label. Do you see two small notches? When producing the new three screw design, Nintendo still needed to make sure the cartridges would hold together and match that nearly-indestructible standard that consumers came to expect with Nintendo products. In order to maintain the same level of sturdiness while reducing manufacturing costs, the three screw carts received two notches that locked together when each half of the cart was assembled. If you are looking at the top of the cart, you will easily see these on each side. This is the quickest way to determine how many screws the cart has on the back.
As you may assume, the five screw carts are less common since they were in production for less time and fewer total SKU's were made compared to three screw carts, making certain versions of our classic favorites more rare than others. For example, finding a five screw version of Mega Man is much more difficult than a three screw version. For you collectors out there, make sure to spot these indicators as you search online and in person.
It is debated as to how many NES games were produced with five screws but 86 seems to be the safest calculation. Many of the original black box games began as five screw carts and transitioned to three screw models by 1988. The debate among NES cartridge canon lies with of the most valuable games in existence: Stadium Events. Shortly after its release in the US (NTSC) in 1987, Nintendo issued a recall for the game in an attempt rebrand the Family Fun Fitness series, causing many of the original copies of the game to be recycled or destroyed. The game was relaunched as World Class Track Meet with a new accessory called the Power Pad. With so few games still in circulation, lest confirmation of carts with five screw format, many collectors disregard this game as part of the collection and stick with the more common belief that 86 games are attainable to find.