For as long as the Nintendo Entertainment System has existed, so too have compatible consoles of questionable legality. Commonly referred to as “famiclones” — a portmanteau of “Famicom” and “clone” — these devices were most ubiquitous in parts of the world where official hardware was either unavailable, or prohibitively expensive.
Brazil’s video game industry is perhaps the most famous for being shaped by this sort of geopolitical circumstance (learn more about that here), but South Korea weathered its fair share of knock-off producing, government-mandated video game shortages.
After the end of World War 2, South Korea enacted the Law For Punishing Anti-National Deeds, which, over the course of the decades that followed, prohibited the import of Japanese media until the late 1990s and early 2000s. (Fun fact, it is still illegal to broadcast music with Japanese lyrics on terrestrial South Korean radio.)
Though not expressly illegal under South Korea’s cultural import laws, doing business in Korea as a Japanese company was ill-advised at best, so companies like Nintendo and Sega licensed their consoles to Korean corporations such as Hyundai Electronics and Samsung for distribution in that territory.
This work-around added to the cost of the official consoles by a decent amount. The NES, for instance, wasn’t available in South Korea until 1989, when the Hyundai Comboy was released at a price of ₩139,000. Adjusted for inflation and converted into US Dollars, that’s a price of more than $350 — pretty steep for a six year old console.
Famiclones, on the other hand, more or less ran the same games, but were available at a fraction of the cost, as they could be designed and manufactured inside of South Korea. Let’s take a look at some of the more incredible examples of South Korean famiclones from that period, which have been preserved as part of a conservation effort by Hardcore Gaming 101.
Game Soldier 007
Seemingly from an alternate reality where Sega’s industrial designers made the Famicom, the Game Soldier 007 was released in 1992 by Seoul Tech, for the more-reasonable price of ₩65,000. The GS007 featured dedicated turbo buttons in addition to its standard Famicom controls, and it even maintained the Famicom’s front expansion port. Did it do a good job of playing games? Who knows!
Unfortunately, the Cosmo Tech Game Engine wasn’t some kind of future-predicting/time-traveling piece of engineering — this famiclone was released in 1991, a year after the Super Famicom had debuted in Japan. This thing doesn’t play Super Famicom games though, so we have to imagine that the two extra buttons are turbo inputs. Cosmo Tech sold the Game Engine at ₩63,000 for the standard model, or ₩68,000 for one that came with a fancy plastic briefcase.
When faced with the question of whether to design a knock-off Famicom or a knock-off NES, Acetec decided to split the difference with its Joycom 100 — winner of this list’s Almost!™ award for excellence in being really, really close. The Joycom 100 cost ₩98,000 in 1989 — top dollar for a famiclone — but at least it came with some bundled software.
This is the Golden Bell Joymax, and it looks like what a video game console might look like in a dream, where you understand what you’re looking at, even though it’s, like, wrong. One of those dreams where the harder you try and focus on something, the less distinct it becomes. This console is an incorrect assemblage of parts hastily slapped together by an unconscious mind in the process of defragmenting itself. It cost ₩80,000 in 1991, and I love everything about it.
Whoa, does this thing play Sega Genesis/Mega Drive games too!? Heck no it doesn’t! But it does have a bewildering controller that is way more extra than most famiclone pads, plus a headphone jack and dedicated volume slider, which are rare features even among Sega-modeled famiclones. A company called Clover was responsible for the Super*Boy, which retailed for ₩65,000 in 1991.
MOVE THE HECK OVER SUPER*BOY IT’S TIME FOR THE GAME DUNK!! GAME DUNK LOOKS LIKE A MODEL 2 GENESIS, NOT SOME GRANDPA MEGA DRIVE LIKE THE SUPER*BOY! WE GOT THREE-BUTTON CONTROLLERS FOR FAMICOM GAMES, BABY!! IS THAT A RETRACTABLE ANTENNA?? GAME DUNK!!!!
Continuing the proud tradition of disguising fake NESes as newer systems, Unitech’s ₩98,000 Noriteul put Famicom games in a PlayStation-lookin’ shell in 1995. Call us catty, but we think the actual Nintendo Playstation carries itself with a bit more elegance.
Alright, so technically this isn’t a true famiclone, since it doesn’t work with Famicom or NES cartridges. It doesn’t work with any cartridges, in fact — Unitech’s followup to the original Noriteul was a VCD player, which also came preloaded with a Famicom emulator, as well as a disc that contained 190 ROM files.
Look, up in the sky! It’s a spaceship! It’s a toilet seat! No, it’s the Super Wonderboy! This clone, which wins big points for originality at least, was released in September of 1993 at ₩78,000. Designed by a company called Sieco, the Super Wonderboy featured a digital alarm clock that went off in 30 minute intervals, intended as a safety feature to guard against epileptic seizures — South Korean media in 1993 caused general mass hysteria by purporting home console ownership as a cause of epilepsy.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Frog Computer — the only good video game console ever made. Though it cost a somewhat pricey ₩80,000 in 1988, I would gladly pay $500 today for an operational Frog Computer.
Frog Computer, everybody. Frog Computer.