How to Fix NES Not Loading Games

You’re set up nice and cozy with a stash of your favourite snacks and drinks, prepared for a full-fledged marathon of retro gaming, pop in your best game cartridge when disaster strikes: your game doesn’t load.

The NES is not showing any video, the image and sound are all messed up or the game crashes as soon as you hit start. Your gaming night seems to be over already, but don’t worry, we have you covered. Check out or guide on why your NES isn’t loading games and how to fix it!

First Steps: Find The Problem

The first thing you need to do is identify what’s actually wrong. Try changing the channel, turning the system off and on again, and press the reset button several times, as it might be just a software glitch and no reason to panic. However, if none that seems to work, you should start checking for hardware problems.

You’ll need to check the cables, connectors, the game cartridge and finally the NES itself, even going as far as opening it up and checking its components, if nothing works until then. A good place to start is trying 2-3 different cartridges, jiggling them left-right and up-down, to see if there is any improvement. If not, you’ll need to go ahead and start looking at components.

Check the AV cable

If nothing’s wrong with your TV, you should check the AV cables going out of your console. Run your fingers along its length, checking for broken bits, bumps, or rigid twists. If you can’t find anything, move to checking the connector pins at each end. If nothing seems out of order, it’s worth trying a different cable, to make sure this isn’t the source of the problem.

Check your NES

If the power light is flashing red, then it’s most likely a problem with the 72-pin connector, the component which makes your system read the data on the game cart. The arch enemies of old systems are dust and rust, which often affect the metallic pins. The most common problems with NES games are caused by dust building up on the connectors of the console and cartridge.

Start off by cleaning your cartridge – blow on the connectors through a piece of fabric to get the bulk of the dust out of the way, then take a dry cotton swab and run it along the pins. Don’t use any type of alcohol on it, as this might eat into the protective covering and invite rust to set on your game.

The next step should be dusting the NES cartridge slot. Start off by blowing on it through a piece of fabric, then use a fine brush to gently dust off the pins. If this doesn’t work, then it’s time to open your console and take out the connector for further troubleshooting.

How to Fix the NES not loading games

While we recommend taking your NES to a certified service center, you can also try to fix it by yourself. Turn your system upside down and use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the six screws holding it shut, then simply remove the cover.

Remove the seven screws holding the RF shield, then take it out of the device. You’ll find the cartridge tray on top of the motherboard, held down by two silver and two bronze screws. Unscrew them, then slide off the tray to reveal the console’s motherboard assembly.

Proceed by removing the three screws that hold the motherboard it in place, then gently lift it out of the console and disconnect the three cables connected to its back. Finally, simply slide the 72-pin connector off the motherboard.  

This is also a good time to clean your console and take a look at the motherboard. Wipe off the dust inside using a damp cloth and allow it to properly dry before assembly. Check the motherboard for cracks, signs of power surge, whether the AV outputs show any visible damage and look for rust on its connector plates. If you find any signs of major damage, you might have to replace it, or buy a new console.

How to repair the NES 72-pin connector

Once you’ve removed the connector, use a bright light and a magnifying glass to inspect it closely. Check for any dust bits, rust or bent pins. Dust can be easily removed with a fine brush or by cleaning with water – just make sure to thoroughly dry it before putting the part back into the NES.

If you find rusty spots, try cleaning them very gently with a piece of sandpaper, then get the fine particles out of the way with a soft brush. However, make sure you don't apply too much pressure. Small layers of rust will scrub off easily, and you don't want to further scratch the plates - that will only invite more rust to settle in.

Due to the way cartridges are inserted into the NES, some of the pins on the connector are subject to pressure and movement, which causes them to move out of their original layout and disconnect from the motherboard. If when inspecting it you find any pins that are bent out of shape, you can try bending them back. Find a thin, pointy item that you can use for the task. Sewing needles or safety pins tend to work well. Bend their tip so you can reach behind your pins, then gently pull and push them back into the original position.

If you find that your 72-pin connector is completely irreparable, with serious rust or missing pins, you should either search for a new system, or try buying a new connector. There are several available online, and now you know how to assemble the console as well! Changing it will most likely make your old NES run like it’s brand new.

Buy a new system

You’ve changed your connector, but the system still isn’t playing your games. Sadly, the only thing left to do now is say goodbye to it. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll never play your games again. Go ahead and buy another console, and embrace that glorious retro action! Check out our consoles and bundles. All of them are clean, tested and fully functional, waiting for you to play.

Once you’re all set. However, a very important thing to keep in mind is that you should make a habit of cleaning your games. Consoles and games from the NES era are aging, and years of dust building up inside won’t do you any good. Once in a while, give your entire collection a good cleaning, so you’ll be able to enjoy them for several years to come. And on that note, why don’t you take a look at all the NES games we have for sale? It’s never too late to extend your library!

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