Why are there 5 screw NES games

Why are there 5-screw NES games?

When you look at the back of your NES cartridges you may notice that almost all of them are held together by 3 screws. But if the game is old enough you might just have another NES cartridge variant called the 5-screw cartridge. You may also notice that the 3-screw cartridges have tabs at the top while 5-screw NES cartridges do not have the tab.

Why did Nintendo switch to 3 screws?

3-Screw cartridge vs 5-Screw cartridge (back view)
3-Screw cartridge vs 5-Screw cartridge (back view)

The more recent cartridges use a 3 screw design with tabs on the top to hold them together. It is widely believed this was done for two reasons. 

The first reason is a reduction in manufacturing costs. Most likely an engineer was tasked with saving money to mass produces game cartridges and said if they could reduce the number of screws it would make the production costs go down.

3-Screw cartridge vs 5-Screw cartridge (top view)
3-Screw cartridge vs 5-Screw cartridge (top view)

The second reason might have been for security reasons. The 3 screw design doesn’t use a standard screwdriver bit. If you want to take apart a 3-screw cartridge you need a special security bit or a screwdriver with a special security bit head to unscrew the screws.

The 5 screw cartridges simply used standard screws. Although if you notice carefully Mike Tyson’s Punchout!! had the old-style screws and is a 3-screw cartridge with tabs.


What makes the 5-screw NES cartridges desirable?

3-Screw cartridge vs 5-Screw cartridge (front view)
Can you spot the difference?
3-Screw cartridge vs 5-Screw cartridge (front view)
Can you spot the difference?

The 5-screw cartridges are mostly older variants of the games. The design change happened around 1987 and some games were caught in the middle of the changeover.

One of the factors that make the 5-screw more desirable is scarcity. Depending on when the changeover happened for that game depends on how many 5-screw variants are in the market. Just like any other collectible rarity drives up the price.

Another reason the 5 screw variants are in higher demand is some of them contained a Famicom to NES converter. Before 1987 there was an oversupply of Japanese PCBs so they used them in the American version of the cartridges. But in order to do so they had to include a converter. 

3-Screw cartridge vs 5-Screw cartridge (inside view)

This was a cheaper way to get a converter but now you can simply find converters for dirt cheap online.

Not all 5-screw cartridges are desirable. Some have more 5-screw variants in the market so the pricing on those versions is less than the 3-screw version of the cartridge.

What is the most well-known 5-screw cartridge?

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! 

Mike Tyson’s punchout is a desirable NES game for several reasons. It is considered one of the best games ever made on the NES, it was basically a puzzle game disguised as a sports game, and it featured Mike Tyson who is one of the best and most well-known boxers of all time.

The reason it is so valuable compared to other 5-screw variants is it was released right at the tail end of the conversion from 5 screws to 3 screws. This means there were very few 5-screw variants of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! ever made. But it still isn’t the most expensive 5-screw cartridge.

What is the most expensive 5-screw cartridge?

Mega Man

Mega Man is a desirable game for most Nintendo enthusiasts. But the rarity of a 5-screw Mega Man NES cartridge is hard to ignore. Looking at historical sales there has only been a handful ever sold. And the last one to sell was over $10,000! 

If you find a 5-screw Mega Man NES cartridge you may have just won a mini jackpot. But for me, I would have to keep it for myself.


List of all 5-screw cartridges made

10-Yard Fight
3D WorldRunner
Alpha Mission**
Athletic World
Balloon Fight
Chubby Cherub*
Clu Clu Land*
Deadly Towers**
Donkey Kong 3
Donkey Kong Jr Math
Donkey Kong Jr
Donkey Kong
Double Dribble
Duck Hunt
Elevator Action
Ghosts ‘n Goblins
Hogan’s Alley
Ice Climber
Ikari Warriors
Karate Champ
Kid Icarus
Kid Niki Radical Ninja
Kung Fu
Legend of Kage
Legend of Zelda
Lode Runner
Lunar Pool
Mach Rider
Mario Bros
Mega Man**
Mighty Bomb Jack
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out**
Ninja Kid
Pro Wrestling
Rad Racer
Raid on Bungeling Bay
Ring King
Rush’n Attack
Sky Kid
Solomon’s Key
Spy Hunter
Star Force
Star Voyager
Super Mario Bros
Super Pitfall
Tag Team Wrestling
The Goonies II**
Top Gun
Track and Field
Urban Champion
Wild Gunman
Winter Games
Wizards and Warriors
Wrecking Crew

* Only a 5-screw variant exists

** 5-screw variant is worth considerably more than the 3-screw variant

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