Today, flash cartridges are common tools used by lots of people to fuel their retro gaming habit. These devices are designed to play ROM files from writable memory, usually an SD card, on your original console. Giving you the power to play pretty much anything released for that particular system. Thanks to enterprising engineers like Krikzz you can easily buy a flash cartridge for just about any popular cartridge based video game console. Owning an Everdrive N8, the NES flash cartridge by Krikzz, has been an invaluable tool in my collection allowing me to play unreleased games, translated games, homebrew games, as well as run test ROMs to test consoles, controllers and calibrate CRT geometry.
Thinking that flash cartridges are a relatively new phenomenon I was surprised to learn that Nintendo had already put this concept to use, releasing not one, but two flash cartridges to the Japanese market. They simply called it Nintendo Power, naming the service after their extremely popular magazine. The service launched in 1996 with a Super Famicom cartridge, followed by a Game Boy cartridge in 1999. I managed to snag a Super Famicom Nintendo Power cartridge in auction on ebay, shown below.
Consumers in Japan that owned one of these cartridges could take their game to one of the many Nintendo Power kiosks Nintendo spread across the country, where they could download new games to their cartridge memory for a fraction of the cost of buying a new game. This service was very similar to the Famicom Disk System download kiosks Nintendo had released in the late 1980's, where gamers could actually overwrite their disks with new games for a fee. The cost of using Nintendo Power kiosks varied based on what game was being purchased. Older titles were cheaper than new titles, and the service even got a bunch of exclusive titles, way too many to list. When I won my Super Famicom Nintendo Power on ebay I was excited to find out what games would be on it. "Maybe it will have some weird Nintendo Power exclusive game on it", I thought. Much to my chagrin, the only game that was on there was Super Mario All Stars.
Modern flash cartridges can hold hundreds of game ROMs, even thousands, but flash memory has come a long way since 1996. The Super Famicom Nintendo Power had 32 megabits of flash ROM memory for games and 256 kilobits of SRAM memory for save files. 32 megabit Super Famicom games existed in those days, so it was possible to fill the entire Super Famicom Nintendo Power with just one game. In that use case there is not even enough room for the user interface seen above and the cartridge would boot directly to the stored 32 megabit game. The Game Boy Nintendo Power on the other hand had only 8 megabits of of memory for games, but it had a whopping 1024 kilobits of of SRAM memory for saves.
Today, these cartridges are collector's items with not much use beyond that, though they can be rewritten if you are determined enough. I enjoy a good project, but the process for rewriting my Super Famicom Nintendo Power is too much hassle for even me to take on. They are an interesting piece of Nintendo history that I am happy to have in my collection, and I plan on getting a Game Boy Nintendo Power some day, but I am even happier that I have modern flash cartridges to turn to when I need them.