Like most cheapskates, I grit my teeth just a little bit when I walk into a retail store and shell out $59.99 for a brand spanking new game. I almost don’t want to remove the shiny shrink wrap, knowing it will drop in value just like a car being driven off the lot. But, can you imagine purchasing a video game for a hundred, several hundreds or even thousands of your hard earned dollars?
The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1983 in Japan, selling over 61 million copies worldwide and has since released 714 licensed games. Some good, some bad, and some just plain bizarre in the most magical way. For all you kids out there, back then games were sold as plastic cartridges in a paper box with a dusk sleeve and a little, crudely stapled book.
When the NES video game console was discontinued in 1995, all of its video games began climbing in worth based on their rarity and condition. Within moments of the death of the Nintendo, little stores began popping up offering you top penny for your “old” games that they would in turn jack up the price and sell to the next person in line.
What classic NES games are the rarest or most expensive? The answer to this question just may surprise you. Read on to find out if you have a gold mine sitting on your shelf right next to Resident Evil 5.
15 Dragon Warrior III
Dragon Warrior III, whose name was eventually changed to Dragon Quest III, has found a home on six consoles spanning 26 years thanks to ports and remakes. Originally released in Japan in 1988, it sold nearly 4 million copies on release day and 1 million in America four years later, spiking a rise in elementary school truancies. It was the first Dragon Warrior to offer a job system for the players to make it more exciting.
Changing its name always makes something worth just a little bit more, much like imperfections do. Despite the fact that it is the third episode of a seemingly generic RPG, the unopened, shrink-wrapped product fetches over $700. So you say you’ve got an opened one with the box, book, and little black sleeve? You’re sitting on a couple hundreds for that.
Estimated Value (new): $700+
14 Snow Brothers
If they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Snow Bros. is a real brownnoser. In 1990, Snow Bros. was released in arcades and centered around two snowmen (who were once princes) in overalls that would throw snowballs at little goblin-like creatures as you climbed upwards to the next level; like a cross between Bubble Bobble and Ice Climber. A year after its release, it was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System with dumbed down graphics and a new opening sequence.
The NES version did just okay as far as sales go, but what really gives the worth to this game is that the company that designed it went bankrupt while releasing its sequel. The sequel never made it to the arcades, but there are a few copies of the NES port out there somewhere. However, it’ll run you $4,300 to add the sealed copy to your collection, over $250 for game with a box, and around fifty just to play it.
Estimated Value (new): $4,300
13 Wrecking Crew
Everyone’s favorite plumber has had many jobs over the years: princess rescuer, astronaut, water conservationist, etc. But one game few know about is Wrecking Crew, in which you play as the famed plumber (or Luigi in co-op) and you must destroy objects in a building with bombs and a hammer for 100 levels while avoiding enemies. The game was released with the console in 1985 and spawned a sequel only available in Japan.
The game didn’t do extremely well because only three months later, Mario got his big break with Super Mario Bros. and left his old job (and hammer) behind. The lackluster success of Wrecking Crew makes it a pretty rare game and will cost you upwards of $4,600 to own still in the slick cellophane; or three Benjamins for a used copy.
Estimated Value (new): $4,600
12 Little Samson
From the creator of Ghosts and Goblins and Strider comes a game known as Holy Bell Legend Lickle in Japan. Americans know it simply as Little Samson, a side scrolling adventure in which you control a cute little kid that can take the form of various animals and shoots projectiles. The playing style and health meter are quite reminiscent of Mega Man. The tone of the game changes in boss fights thanks to their incredible details and gargantuan size.
Little Samson was released relatively late in the console's life, so it was rather advanced for a little NES game. Even today, the game gets great reviews for both difficulty and level design. It sold well, but you wouldn’t know it based on today's sticker price. Little Samson brand spanking new in the package will run you over $30,000 or just the little grey cartridge for $3,000; $650 for just the paper box.
Estimated Value (new): $30,000
Who doesn’t remember Paperboy from the mid-eighties? It’s a classic tale of a young kid just trying to keep is customers happy by delivering their papers to either their mailbox or the front door. The game was highly repetitive, but you can’t deny that its fun factor is through the roof thanks to ornery dogs, grumpy old ladies, and the occasional Sunday driver. Paperboy had great controls, especially in the arcade where you would use actual handlebars.
The NES port didn’t suffer much despite having a much weaker system, since the game’s controls were flawless and you didn’t have to pop quarters in every time you got run over. You could just toss papers through windows willy nilly if you felt evil on that day. Paperboy is a fan favorite and even made a cameo in the Disney film “Wreck-It Ralph.” However, if you want a brand new Paperboy in your home, it will cost you $1,250 or $500 used.
Estimated Value (new): $1,250
Some games are known for their great stories or extremely fun gameplay, but some others are known as simply being a novelty. During the Nintendo Entertainment System’s release, they also sold a peripheral to use with the console as well as two games and his name was R.O.B. One of these games, and one of the rarest NES games of all time, was called Stack-Up. In Stack-Up, you and R.O.B. must stack little colored discs on the platforms that surround your robot friends while you move Professor Hector within the game on little tiles while fighting glitches or just organizing the discs.
The game itself sounds odd and that’s because it definitely is. The game is extremely rare because of its lack of copies; it was outsold by Gyromite for heaven’s sake. But, if for some reason you happen to have it, it’ll fetch you around $1,750 for the sealed game with all its colored discs; $450 for lightly used.
Estimated Value (new): $1,750
9 Contra Force
Nobody can forget the classic side scrolling shooter Contra. Simply reciting its name, bestows fear in all little brothers. However, it had a spinoff called Contra Force in which you pick one of four players with different weapons at their disposal before starting a level with such a high difficulty it would make Ghouls and Ghosts blush. The game received mixed reviews, but the developers thought it was liked enough to include one its levels in Contra III on the SNES.
This game was a weird beast in that everyone played it at least once in the early 90s, but nobody liked it one bit. The controls were awful, it was much too hard on the first level, and the graphics should have been better for the time. Taking all this into account, a sealed version of Contra Force will surprisingly cost you $4,000 and up. An opened copy will still be just shy of $400.
Estimated Value (new): $4,000
8 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
What do you do when your franchise has gotten a little stale and boring? That's easy; completely change the genre to appeal to a newer or curious audience. Konami wanted to go out with a bang when the NES was nearing the end of its life. so they released TMNT: Tournament Fighters for three consoles: Mega Drive, SNES, and NES. In this Street Fighter II clone, you control heroes and villains alike from the famous Ninja Turtles universe.
In both 16-bit versions, you are treated to great controls and beautifully drawn fighters. The NES version, on the other hand, is far inferior despite having the addition of power-ups showing up mid-fight. But, the mediocre is always worth more and TMNT: Tournament Fighters is $2,000 brand new while a used, boxed copy is a 1/10th of the price.
Estimated Value (new): $2,000
With over 700 titles under its belt, the Nintendo Entertainment System has some odd and rare games that didn’t really get noticed by the mainstream audience. One such game is Uninvited, which was originally released on the Macintosh as a dark mystery for young adults. In Uninvited, you travel through a haunted house in a first-person view as you click items in each room in search for your sibling.
This game is infamous for its NES port changes and, in some ways, doesn’t even seem like the same game. At the time, Nintendo didn’t want anything to do with anything offensive or off putting; I think we all remember the bloodless Mortal Kombat of 1992. They took out any mention of “666” and even made the puzzles simpler. But, this all makes the port an original in a sense and thus it fetches $400 for new version and half that for a used copy.
Estimated Value (new): $400
Upon the launch of the NES, we were treated to a motorcycle racing game that would later be known as a classic. Excitebike was developed by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto (of Zelda fame) and offered three different modes to play: solo, race, and track creator. Despite its simplicity, the game thrived with players and was found in nearly every home with a Nintendo. It even spawned multiple sequels, spinoffs, and ports.
Excitebike was even found in arcades on a few occasions in the form of an NES turned into a large TV cabinet for those of you that remember those. You’d think that with so many copies out there, that it wouldn’t be worth so much. But alas, if you want a shiny version of this classic racer, then it will cost you between $1,000 to $2,300 depending on how attached the owner is; you can get one “like new” for $800.
Estimated Value (new) $2,300
5 Mega Man
Lets jump from one classic to another on the list. Mega Man was released 30 years ago for the very first time and has since made appearances on 36 consoles to date. It follows a blue android as he defeats evil robots and takes their powers with the ultimate goal of defeating the evil Dr. Wily. The first game had only six weapons to gain, but was increased to eight starting in the second installment.
Mega Man was revolutionary as far as gameplay and sound went, intriguing anyone that laid eyes on it. In the late 80s, you could go to the park and see tons of kids just playing Mega Man and referencing Dr. Light and Proto Man. Since there have been so many episodes to this game, it’s no surprise that a brand new first edition copy will cost $2,400 or $200 just for a working cartridge.
Estimated Value (new): $2,400
4 Ninja Gaiden 3: The Ancient Ship Of Doom
Ninja Gaiden’s one through three were nearly identical if you didn’t bother to read any of the story parts of the game. It followed a simple formula: kill lots of baddies, gather power ups, and fight huge bosses. Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom hadn’t really changed one iota from the two previous installments, as it had the same graphics and the same controls; the only added feature of the game was the ability to hang on to pipes from underneath.
The third game was later ported to the Atari Lynx handheld gaming system and then later offered on the SNES as a trilogy on one cartridge. Its ports are the sole reason why this mass produced game’s worth is in the ballpark of $1,000 or $200 for a used copy in the box.
Estimated Value (new): $800 - $1,200
Usually when we see versions of our favorite games from other countries, they have a different language inserted into the identical game, but is this far from the truth for Probotector. Probotector is what the Europeans call Contra and that name has been attached to four of the Contra games, but none as infamous as the first. We’ve all played the original (with or without the Konami Code). Two soldiers run through different stages while shooting everything in sight and fighting enormous bosses until finally facing off with the aliens that threaten our planet.
Probotector didn’t just change the name of the game, but changed nearly everything except bosses and the landscape. Instead of soldiers in the first several stages, you’re killing xenomorphic aliens as a spaceman. The gameplay is completely identical, but the change in characters (both hero and villainous) adds a wow factor to this game and, to no surprise, increases its worth. Probotector will cost you $4,000 to get the EU version of your favorite shoot ‘em up, but only $100 for a used copy.
Estimated Value (new): $4,000
2 Ducktales 2
Who could forget the classic cartoon Ducktales, in which Hewey, Dewey, and Louie go to live with their rich Uncle Scrooge McDuck and get into mischief. The show was incredibly popular, so popular that it spawned a video game by the same name in which you play as the aristocratic mallard and go from level to level reclaiming your fortune. The game did reasonably well too and spawned a sequel aptly called Ducktales 2.
Ducktales 2 was a truly tragic tale for an NES game, since it wasn’t very popular, over no fault of their own. It took a long time to finish and was ultimately released in 1993, but by then the Super Nintendo was in just about every home in America and kids didn’t have any interest in returning to an old favorite. Not many were released and it is a known rarity among even collectors who would gladly pay the $1,500 it takes to win this; a $400 used copy is chump change to the right person.
Estimated Value (new): $1,500
1 Mario Bros.
Back in 1983, when Miyamoto was a young man and Koopas were called Shellcreepers, Mario Bros. was released in arcades. In the first game centered around Mario, and his second game to appear in, you find yourself in a sewer with many enemies trying to kill you (and your brother Luigi in co-op mode). The goal of this game was rather simplistic, just kill all the bad guys on the screen to go to the next level, which will be harder and faster.
Two years later, Nintendo released their console and Miyamoto couldn’t help but port one of his first masterpieces, Mario Bros. As a Nintendo title, it really isn’t all that great, but is nonetheless a precursor to Mario’s warping adventure to save a princess and defeat the mighty King Bowser. This game in its original sealed box with a book and sleeve is a must for any Nintendo collector and it will cost them just a couple hundred less than three grand or $140 for a used one that may or may not work.
Estimated Value (new): $2,800