The PlayChoice-10 is a cartridge-based arcade cabinet developed by Nintendo and sold from 1986 to 1991. The arcade cabinet's motherboard contained 10 slots and games could be purchased by arcade owners and placed into the slots. Similar to the way Nintendo created their VS. System, PlayChoice-10 games were essentially NES cartridges, slightly modified to take advantage of the PlayChoice-10's additional features. However, while the VS. System used a traditional arcade approach where players bought a set number of attempts to beat the game (e.g., lives), with the PlayChoice-10, players bought play time. Each quarter would add more game time, and players could switch between games at their leisure.
As a child, I occasionally saw the PlayChoice-10 in arcades, but I never played on one. I rarely had the money to play games in the first place, and, when I did, I usually played the more impressive looking 16-bit games. I have played a couple PlayChoice-10 games using MAME, but, since they're nearly identical to their NES equivalent, I haven't spent much time with the system.
The cabinet's internal hardware is very similar to the NES featuring the same Ricoh 2A03 CPU (a modified MOS 6502), however, it uses a slightly different PPU chip which outputs to RGB rather than the NES's luminance-chrominance system. This allows the system to use RGB monitors resulting in a crisper display than an NES attached to a TV. Since the games are essentially NES games, the cabinet had to duplicate the NES Controller which it does with two sets of controls, each with an 8-way joysticks and a B and A button. The equivalent of the controller's start and select buttons are at the top of the control panel, as is an equivalent of the NES reset button which returns the player to the game select screen when pressed. The cabinet also used a Zilog 80 CPU for internal processing.
The PlayChoice-10's RGB PPU is similar enough to the NES PPU that the two can be swapped out for each system giving an NES true RGB output or a PlayChoice-10 luminance-chrominance output. However, the process is quite difficult and requires a lot of soldering and de-soldering.
An optional light gun can be added to the system to play one of the three games which require it. Hardware-wise, the light gun is identical to the NES Zapper, but is is molded to look more like a .357 Magnum. The original model is molded in black plastic, but later models were molded in bright orange plastic.
Games were shipped in protective Styrofoam cases inside cardboard boxes. Unlike NES games which had protective plastic shells, games boards were sold uncovered with the PCB and chips unprotected. This wasn't much of a problem since the games were housed inside the wooden cabinets. Game boards were similar in design to their NES counterparts and used the same program and character ROM chips, and frequently stored game data identical to the NES game. Game boards also included an additional 8 KB ROM which housed the text that would be displayed on the cabinet's secondary monitor. The boards used a 96-pin connector to attach to the motherboard instead of the NES cartridge slot.
Most of the games are so similar, the PlayChoice-10 ROMs can be swapped out with their NES ROMs and the system will work perfectly. In fact, you can even swap out the ROMs of PlayChoice-10 game boards with completely different NES game ROMs and, provided the mappers are the same, the game will play properly on the PlayChoice-10. In recent years, an adapter has been made which allows you to connect any NES cartridge to the 96-pin connector of the PlayChoice-10 motherboard and play the game on the PlayChoice-10, minus the informative data, of course.
The PlayChoice-10 has its own standard light-up marquee which features its logo, but the cabinet also has space to add up to three toppers. A topper for the PlayChoice-10 is an L-shaped aluminum bracket which can be screwed onto the top of the cabinet. Onto these brackets, you can stick title cards that came with the games to advertise some of the titles in the cabinet. Nearly all of these brackets use the same facing dimensions of 7 3/8" wide x 3 3/4" tall, however, the game Double Dragon used a unique plate and title card which was much larger.
At least four models of PlayChoice-10 cabinets were sold. The original model used a typical upright arcade cabinet layout with two large monitors stacked on top of each other. Top top monitor displayed game information and the lower monitor displayed the game. The PlayChoice-10 "Super de-luxe" used a smaller monitor on top with a regular sized monitor on the bottom. A single-monitor upright cabinet called simply the "PlayChoice" was also made which included a button on the control panel that would toggle the monitor between game and information display. The last model to be released was a condensed countertop model which could be set on a counter or bar.
In total, 52 games were released for the PlayChoice-10, all of which were also released on the NES except for The Goonies, which was only released in Japan. The top five developers to release games on the PlayChoice-10, in order of game count, are: Nintendo (20), Konami (10), Capcom (5), Tecmo (5), Rare (4). Much like with the NES, Nintendo developed most of the launch titles, Konami and Capcom were early third-party adopters, and various other developers began showing up as the system became more known.
The original release dates for PlayChoice-10 games is not accurately known, so the years in the table below are based on the copyright year shown in each game's title screen. Since the cabinet wasn't released until 1986, those games with a 1985 copyright year wouldn't have actually been sold until 1986. The 1985 copyright year is most likely based on when the original NES cartridge was released and were simply left as-is when the title was ported to the PlayChoice-10. The game count released in each year are: 1986 (15), 1987 (10), 1988 (5), 1989 (5), 1990 (13), 1991 (4). 1990 was a bit of an outlier showing a large influx of titles after three years of declining releases.
The cabinets all use a similar red, black, and white color scheme with a line-thickness gradient which I find to be pretty dull. I can only assume the graphic designers didn't want to make the cabinets too complex looking to distract from the wide variety of toppers that could be added to the cabinet.
Nintendo Power article.