Links included are to videos examples of tape drive in action unless noted
I do not have access to an actual data recorder, but I have extensively used a generic tape deck with both the Famicom, and more Recently, an NES using a slightly modified Enio Expansion board.
Tape Deck loading works with 6 Japanese Famicom titles. Those are Family BASIC, Excitebike, Wrecking Crew, Mach Rider, Lode Runner, and Castle Excellent. In the United States, support was preemptively left in Mach Rider, Excitebike, and Wrecking Crew. Data recorder support can be added to any NES console with this circuit, or with use of a Family Keyboard attached to a modified Enio Expansion Board.
PAL released games are compatible! (same titles as USA) Testing was done using an AVS set to PAL video mode, and an everdrive running PAL ROMs of Excitebike, Mach Rider, and Wrecking Crew. All save data is region free between PAL and NTSC. For Castle Excellent and Lode Runner, Testing was done on an American NES using an Everdrive N8 and again, a generic tape recorder, I see no reason why it would not work on a Famicom with original cartridges.
The Famicom/NES cannot control the position of the tape. Everything is controlled manually by the user. Technically, you don’t even need the tape deck to load. Any audio device with a 3.5mm jack should be compatible. Saving is far more complicated and I have yet to do it successfully with anything other than a tape deck. It is definitely possible to do though because various other people have done it.The Famicom Data Recorder does not include a counter. However, the prototype of the American version shown with the 1984 AVS does include a counter. That would have been very helpful.
What is saved?
The following is a list of what each game saves to the Famicom Data Recorder
Family BASIC - Save Programs/ Background data
Excitebike - Saves 1 user made track and the best time associated with it.
Mach Rider - Saves 1 user made track as well as high scores for all 3 modes
Wrecking Crew - Saves up to 4 user made levels at one time
Castle Excellent - Saves all in game progress. Essentially a save state.
Lode Runner - Saves 1 user made level.
Users are able to save as much information as they’d like to any given tape. The amount of data that each tape can hold is dependent on how long the tape is. It seems as though Different games save in different formats. Family BASIC uses a completely different method than Wrecking Crew for instance.
Position Tape to where you want to save your data.
Press Record on the Tape player
Select Save Option from Game menu:
FAMILY BASIC- Type SAVE Command. You can follow it up with quotation marks to give your program a name [Example : SAVE “PROGRAM NAME”]
Excitebike - Select “SAVE” From “DESIGN” menu.
Mach Rider - Select “SAVE” from “DESIGN” menu.
Wrecking Crew - Select “SAVE” from “DESIGN” menu
Castle Excellent - Press A or B on Controller 2 to open the “MENU”. select “SAVE”
Lode Runner(Japan only) - While in “EDIT MODE” Press Select to enter the menu, Press it again to show “SAVE” press START button to save.
It is crucial that you press Record BEFORE you save your game, otherwise, the recording will not pick up everything needed to load the file later.
Position Tape to location of previously saved data
Select LOAD Option from Game menu:
FAMILY BASIC- Type LOAD Command. You can follow it up with quotation marks to load a specific program by name [Example : LOAD “PROGRAM NAME”] FAMILY BASIC will skip over all other programs before it on the tape until it finds the program with the name you specified
Excitebike - Select “LOAD” From “DESIGN” menu. “N101” will appear on screen once it detects the tape data
Mach Rider - Select “LOAD” from “DESIGN” menu
Wrecking Crew - Select “LOAD” from “DESIGN” menu. “N102” will appear on screen once it detects the tape data.
Castle Excellent - Press A or B on Controller 2 to open the “MENU”. select “LOAD”
Lode Runner(Japan only) - While in “EDIT MODE” Press Select to enter the menu, Press it twice to show “LOAD”. press START button to load.
Press Play on the Tape player
It is crucial that you press play on the tape player AFTER you tell the game to begin loading data. This is to ensure the entirety of the data is properly read. It doesn't need to be immediate. The game will patiently listen for data until it hears a header telling it to bump into action.
I don't know why these are here or why Mach Rider doesn't do this. Presumably, Excitebike is the first game to utilize this, Wrecking Crew is the second, and by the time Mach Rider came along they ditched it. The order of these games japanese release dates supports this theory. Nevertheless I find it extremely fascinating.