Fun projects for your NES

Make a USB NES game controller

What you’ll need:
NES controller
USB Retro Kit
Soldering iron
Wire cutters
Wire strippers
Hot glue gun
Phillips screwdriver
Isopropyl alcohol

Don’t have an old NES? You can still enjoy classic games on your PC by turning an old NES controller into a USB gamepad. NES controllers are easy to find online and run for about $5.00 on eBay. For this project, you’ll also need a USB kit. We got ours from RetroZone for about $17. There’s a great tutorial video on the site. But since some of you may not be familiar with how to use a soldering iron, we figured we’d run you through the steps in further detail with lots of pictures.

Above: We’re going to mod this controller so you can play classic games on your PC properly 

If this is the first time you’ve used a soldering iron, or if you’ve just put on a new tip, you’re going to want to coat your tip with a thin layer of solder. This process is called “tinning” and will help transfer heat between the tip of your soldering iron to the components you’re about to solder together.

Step 1: Get some cardboard or aluminum foil for your work area. This will protect your table from any solder that drips while you’re tinning your iron. You’ll also want a damp sponge nearby. This is because after you’re done tinning your tip, you’ll want to wipe it down to prevent the melted solder (or flux) from drying. If you allow the flux to dry, it will turn into a crust that will prevent your tip from conducting heat properly.

Step 2: Heat up your soldering iron and apply your solder to the tip until it’s completely coated.

Step 3: Wipe your tip off on the wet sponge to prevent the flux from drying up. Now, you’re ready to solder. Before you jump right into this job, practice over your cardboard or aluminum foil. It’s easy to apply too much solder, creating a giant glob that bleeds over to other parts on the circuit board and ruining your work. So apply the solder to the soldering iron tip and watch how it melts and drips. If this is your first time soldering, you'll be glad you did.

Above: A typical soldering iron kit like this can be found at your local hardware store for about $10 or $15 

Step 4: Unscrew the six screws on the back of your controller and remove the board. Flip over the board and clean the connectors with your Q-tips and rubbing alcohol. Remove the button connectors and buttons below the board and clean the top and bottom shells of your case. You can use Q-tips or some cotton balls with alcohol to wipe down the buttons and button connectors too.


Step 5: Stretch the controller's cord out and snip the wire with your wire cutters just past the point where the board gets skinny.


Step 6: Use your wire strippers to remove the tips of the casings on all your wires and apply a tiny dab of solder to each wire tip. Soon, we’re going to solder each of these wires to the connectors on the board that came with your USB kit.

Step 7: Now it’s time to apply some solder to the board that came with your USB kit. Look at top side of the board from your USB kit in the image below. You’re going to want to add a tiny drop of solder onto each of the two middle connectors on the left. Eventually, you’re going to solder the brown and white wires from your NES controller board to these two connectors. A clamp to hold the board steady will be extremely helpful, but isn’t necessary.

Step 8: Now flip the board over. Add a drop of solder to each of the three middle connectors on the right in the image below. Soon, you’re going to solder the orange, red, and yellow NES controller wires to the connectors on this board.

Step 9: Now, take the brown NES wire and hold the tip to the appropriate connector. Press your iron tip against the connection for just a moment to soften the solder. Let it dry, and continue soldering each wire to the appropriate connector on the USB kit board.

Step 10: Use your glue gun to put a dab of glue on the black part of the USB kit’s board, and fasten it your NES controller board just below the part where the wires come out. Now, all you have to do is reassemble your NES controller and put all the screws in. When you’re done, it should look like this.


Or just buy an adapter

Modding your NES controller into a USB gamepad is a rewarding project. But if you don’t already have all the tools you’ll need, it can be a bit pricey. You might want to consider ordering a USB adapter for your classic gaming controllers instead. We got one from RetroZone for $22.

Above: We tested it out, and this adapter from RetroZone works great 

We’ve heard that you can search for terms that sound like “bemulator” and “BROMs” on google, and find all kinds of interesting programs and files that’ll work well with your new USB compatible NES controller. But instead, we’ll recommend that you visit GameTap, where you can play classic games like Pac-Man for free.

Above: Get your waka-waka on with your new controller 

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  • nyef - November 9, 2009 2:52 a.m.

    another way to get your nes working is to open it up until you reach the 72 chip, but instead of taking it out and replacing it... just take a soft bristled toothe brush and some rubbing alchohol and start scrubbing. thats what i did with the one my friend gave me that was in his closet for 10 years and it works fine
  • chinesesoldier - November 6, 2009 5:18 a.m.

    My old tech teacher was doing a project on turning his NES into a computer. He told us all he needed was a smaller motherboard and a way to change the controller ports to USB ports. I don't know if he ever got it done.
  • waynski1457 - November 3, 2009 4:11 a.m.

    I am lucky enough to own a second, broken NES. I turned it into a PC. It's pretty decent just for messing around on.
  • Tatts4Life - November 2, 2009 2:06 p.m.

    I'll have to try this out when I can get a new pin connector. My system has been harder to get to work and it's been sitting in my closet for years now.
  • Cyberninja - November 2, 2009 11:57 a.m.

    can you do one of these for my broken dreamcast please
  • matt588 - October 31, 2009 5:01 a.m.

    hmm.. maybe I should find and dust off my old NES, and the first game I'll play?? ABADOX
  • iluvmyDS - October 31, 2009 4:35 a.m.

    I'm going to say thank you in advance, my NES was being temperamental, and we had a flood that might have killed it completely. I will use this to bring it back.
  • Sidnapolis - October 31, 2009 4:29 a.m.

    I never owned an NES, but I might have to open up my SNES sometime and give it a good cleaning. Also, I'd love to recommend to you guys, which is a Java-based, online NES "bemulator" that is actually legal. They were able to work around the copyright law by not allowing people to download the games (only play them in your browser) and by only hosting games that they legitimately purchased. Much better than GameTap, and it works with the NES-USB adaptor.
  • Styrophoamicus - October 31, 2009 3:57 a.m.

    The last time I hooked up my NES it didn't work, and the last time I hooked up my SNES the only game that would play was Mario Kart. For some reason, I forsee the Wii sharing the same fate
  • JoeMasturbaby - October 31, 2009 2:27 a.m.

    i have 3 NES's that dont work. and like 30 games too. thanks!
  • Amnesiac - October 31, 2009 12:18 a.m.

    Clean cartridges? Feh. Real men just blow into the carts.
  • NotBraze - October 30, 2009 10:24 p.m.

    I never had and NES but I do have a SEGA Genesis sitting in my parents basement. I'd love to take a spin on Aladdin on Sonic 2 again but I can never get it to work properly. You should do a cleaning guide for the Genesis so I can take the old 'broken' system off to my dorm room.
  • kissmeimgreek - October 30, 2009 10:19 p.m.

    Great read! i however dont have a nes... but i do have a barely working n64 and would love an n64 cleaning guide... hintity hint hint
  • Brutus - October 30, 2009 10:07 p.m.

    hm, I think I'll give this a try, I picked up an old nes and 20 something games at a yardsale for $12 and it didn't work, been sitting in my room for months.
  • iKOemos - October 30, 2009 9:59 p.m.

    This would be great!.... if I had a NES.... Still a fun read though, thanks Tyler.
  • Dawlish - October 30, 2009 9:45 p.m.

    ACE WHY WHY WHY? move with the times
  • IIIIIACEIIIII - October 30, 2009 9:34 p.m.

    Hehe my NES, SNES, Megadrive and Master System all work fine and I use them near enough every day :P
  • Nin10DOH - October 30, 2009 9:27 p.m.

    thats cool, i should try these out

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