Remember being able to go to a garage sale and having your pick of just about any NES game on hand for like a quarter a piece? The Gamer remembers. Now, even one of the most common video games of all time— the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cart— one that almost every human being on earth who was born before 1995 has owned at least one copy of in their lifetime, can be found going for upwards of 20 or 30 bucks at retro shops.
Yes, we all have to accept the reality that retro game collecting has become a costly hobby, and anyone who doesn't just want to go the pirate route in reliving classic games should expect to pony up some serious cash to amass any sort of sizable retro collection.
What constitutes a game's "value" is a combination of various factors— how many copies exist, the demand for the game, if it's on a platform people want to collect for, and so on— and prices on old games can fluctuate on an almost-daily basis. It also matters what condition the game is in, if it does or doesn't include the packaging, and of course, whether or not it's still factory sealed. Ultimately, though, games are only "worth" what you can find someone to pay you for them, so it's all a bit subjective anyway.
For this list, we looked at the current market value as stated by online pricing guides, considered the mid-range of what each game is typically actually sold for, and went with the value of a complete-in-box (when applicable) but not brand new copy.
30 Metroid Prime And Wind Waker Combo — GameCube ($400)
On their own, Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for GameCube aren't especially valuable, and certainly aren't rare. But put them together into this extremely limited-edition combo pack, and it's a whole different story.
Combined for a special GameCube bundle for just one particular Christmas season, the Metroid Prime/Wind Waker combo disc is a tricky and expensive proposition for GameCube completionists, who are really the only ones who will even think this release is special in the first place.
29 Hyrule Warriors: Limited Edition — Wii U ($500)
Both Hyrule Warriors and Mario Kart 8 got special limited edition sets that were sold exclusively at the Nintendo World Store in New York City. And in both cases, they were sold out in no time thanks to long lines that formed for hours in advance.
The Hyrule Warriors set is the more valuable of the two, currently fetching around 500 bucks in the after market. Of course, with extremely limited numbered items like this, half the battle is finding someone who even wants to part with theirs in the first place.
28 Earthbound — SNES ($700)
The SNES used to have a number of games that could easily fetch hundreds on eBay, and in most cases, their resale value dropped significantly when the games— typically RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III— eventually got ported to and re-released on other platforms.
Earthbound, however, has seemed to largely retain its value, despite now being available on both the Wii U and the SNES Classic. The cart-only version doesn't sell for as much as it used to, but complete with box and hint book, you can still expect to pay handsomely for the SNES original.
27 Panic Restaurant — NES ($900)
Many of the priciest NES games are titles that were released very late in the system's life, and therefore only saw a small print run before being discontinued as stores at the time were more eager to give that shelf space to SNES and Genesis games.
Panic Restaurant got strong reviews and is considered one of the best-looking games on the NES. But alas, it was a weird-looking game released in 1992 which meant most people didn't pay attention to it. As a result, few copies were made and the ones that do exist are fought over by retro collectors.
26 Batman Forever Woolworth's Box Set — SNES/Mega Drive ($900)
There are a lot of really rare, really valuable games that aren't very good, and only command top dollar due to their scarcity. However, some of history's most expensive games are downright terrible, as is the case with Batman Forever for SNES and Genesis.
But the game itself isn't rare— what collectors are looking for is this exclusive, limited-edition PAL set that was sold at now-defunct retail chain Woolworth's. Why such a terrible game got such a fancy gift set is a mystery worthy of The Riddler.
25 Star Fox "Super Weekend" Competition Cartridge — SNES ($1,000)
One theme that will recur throughout this list is games that were part of competitions and were either given out to participants, or were never meant to enter public rotation at all. Among the cheaper of these competition cartridges is the version of Star Fox that was used for Nintendo's Super Weekend event in 1993 that was meant to promote the game's release.
One of the reasons this competition cart is cheaper than most is it was actually available for sale to the public for a limited time following the event via mail order catalog. Remember those?
24 Amazing Tater — Game Boy ($1,000)
You might have never heard of Amazing Tater, but you're likely aware of the game it's a sequel to: Kwirk, whose character was part of the short-lived Video Arcade TV series. In fact, both games are in the franchise known as Puzzle Boy in Japan.
Amazing Tater is a reasonably fun little game, but it's not one that anyone would've thought about much after 1991 if it weren't for how rare and valuable it would become to Game Boy collectors a decade later. Another game in that series just might show up later in this list...
23 Bonk's Adventure — NES ($1,000)
Not to say that the TurboGrafx-16 didn't have some great games, but for the most part, NES owners didn't really have much reason to be jealous of its library beyond the added graphical horsepower. Bonk's Adventure was one of the few games that made NES kids feel like they were missing something by not having a TG-16.
As the TG-16 faltered, Hudson decided to share Bonk with other platforms— but 1994 was a little late for an NES game. Again, this meant a low print run and a high resell value for future collectors of the technically-impressive port.
22 Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch, Special Edition ($1,000)
Nintendo existed as a company for almost 90 years before it tried its hand at electronic gaming. And it first made a name for itself in the "video game" space with its series of Game & Watch devices that are exactly what they sound like.
Collectors are happy to get their hands on any of the old Game & Watch titles, but one in particular is definitely the most desired. Only given away to participants of a contest in Japan, this rare variant of Super Mario Bros. is only this valuable if it still has its special character case.
21 Snowboard Kids 2 (PAL Version) — N64 ($1,100)
Though it has settled a bit after its outrageous peak a few years ago, collectors are currently paying top-dollar for complete-in-box N64 games, making it perhaps the most overall expensive to collect for mass-market console at the moment.
Among the games that are hardest on the wallets of those looking for complete PAL N64 sets is Snowboard Kids 2, which can set you back over a thousand bucks. The North American version is much cheaper, but still typically sells for around $150 complete. All for a game that isn't half as good as 1080 Snowboarding.
20 Shantae — Game Boy Color ($1,100)
While developer WayForward Technologies is most well-known for licensed games and retro-style revivals of classic franchises, they do have their own IP— most famously, a series of 16-bit-style action/adventure games called Shantae.
Nobody seemed to care much for Shantae until the Game Boy Color original began fetching four figures on eBay from retro collectors trying to complete their libraries. The renewed interest caused WayForward to revive the series and its purple-haired protagonist in 2010, and its now on its fourth installment and going strong.
19 Cheetahmen II — NES ($1,300)
It's always sketchy to include unreleased games on a list like this, but there are a few reasons why we felt Cheetahmen II should be an exception. For one, the copies that collectors cough up almost fifteen hundred bucks for were found in a warehouse for eventual sale and aren't just aftermarket cartridges built around downloaded ROMs.
The other is that it is a spin-off to the infamous Action 52, a mini-game collection for the NES (and Genesis) that was legendarily terrible and, at times, literally unplayable— but in and of itself, is a prize for hardcore collectors.
18 Hagane: The Final Conflict — SNES ($1,400)
Hagane: The Final Conflict is a stylish action/platformer that has drawn comparisons to Strider and Shinobi— though it doesn't come close to either of those games quality-wise. Once again, this is the kind of game that would've just blurred into the background of a million other forgettable C-tier action titles of the era had it not shot up in price years later.
A lot of the people who have paid hundreds— if not thousands— for Hagane in recent years have felt the need to sell it as some underrated gem. We would too if we paid that much for it.
17 Virtual Bowling (Japan) — Virtual Boy ($1,400)
We mostly stuck with Western releases for this list as things get complicated when trying to determine the rarity and value of Asian titles, but Virtual Bowling is worth discussing for a few important reasons. The game is often mistaken for Nestor's Funky Bowling, also for Virtual Boy, but the two titles are completely separate.
Virtual Bowling's cost also makes it an especially expensive proposition to get a complete worldwide Virtual Boy collection, which many collectors attempt thinking it an easy pursuit given its small library. Small, yes...but including a least one game that'll set you back a grand.
16 The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Grey "Not For Resale" Version) — N64 ($1,500)
Zelda games have so many variations that some collectors go for a "complete set" of a single title. When you start getting into different colored cartridges, versions that are part of combo packs, "Not For Resale" versions, Player's Choice versions, and so on, it can prove surprisingly difficult.
The specific set of variables for this version of the N64's Majora's Mask— grey cartridge and marked "Not For Resale" as it was part of N64 store kiosk displays— makes it currently the most valuable version of any single Zelda game.
15 Peek-A-Boo Poker — NES ($1,700)
In the early-1990s, a company called Panesian released a trio of unlicensed NES games of a, let's say, salacious nature. Because they weren't approved by Nintendo and due to their content, the games weren't available through normal means.
Sold primarily through mail order and retail stores of ill repute, Peek A Boo Poker didn't have a huge print run and wasn't available for very long. The combination of a small number of copies plus the novelty of this type of game available for NES make Peek A Boo Poker one of the platform's most valuable games.
14 Donkey Kong County Competition Cartridge — SNES ($1,800)
Most famously associated with Blockbuster Video's second World Video Game Championship, this competition cart of Donkey Kong Country was also used in several other similar types of competitions over a period of a couple of years.
Despite printed warnings all over the packaging that the cart was not to be made available to the public, a number of DKC competition carts made it into the wild and they remain the most valuable competition cart that features a single game instead of multiple titles formed into a competition gauntlet.
13 Spud's Adventure — Game Boy ($1,800)
Another renamed Puzzle Boy game release for Game Boy, Spud's Adventure is the most valuable title in that franchise as well as the most expensive on the original Game Boy as a whole.
Oddly, it was released the same year as Amazing Tater in the U.S., suggesting some kind of licensed deal that someone lost interest in after the fact and just shoved these two games out the door to complete a contract and be done with it. That would definitely explain how the games got so rare and valuable later on.
12 Bubble Bath Babes — NES ($2,000)
At least a poker game featuring ladies in various states of undress makes a little contextual sense— a puzzle game that arbitrarily includes those elements, less so. Of course, the "attractive girl as reward for completing puzzles" genre has been popular in Japan for years and remains so to this day, so what do we know?
It's pretty obvious what we had to crop out of this screenshot of Bubble Bath Babes in order to keep this post within our content guidelines. For whatever reason, BBB is the rarest and most valuable of Panesian's risque NES releases.
11 The Legend Of Zelda: Oracle Of Seasons/Ages Limited Edition Box Set — Game Boy Color ($2,200)
Nintendo decided to pull a Pokémon with The Legend of Zelda's first non-remake appearance on the Game Boy Color, simultaneously releasing an "Ages version" and a "Seasons version" of the overall Oracle series. But if any franchise can get players to buy two games at once, it's Zelda.
There was only one opportunity to buy both Oracle games together— this extremely limited-edition collectible set that includes both games and other bonus material. At over two grand, this one is only for Zelda fans with a lot of disposable income (if they can even find it for sale, that is.)
10 The Flintstones: Surprise At Dinosaur Peak — NES ($2,300)
It seems like a lot of consoles have some oddball licensed game that is one of the most— if not the most— valuable title on the platform, usually because it was released late in the console's life and didn't get a very big print run.
Some claim that The Flintstones: Surprise At Dinosaur Peak was a Blockbuster exclusive, but that is generally accepted to a be a myth. Still, it's an extremely rare and expensive game, especially in the U.S.— the PAL version generally goes for half the price, but still fetches about a grand, typically.
9 Myriad Games Six In One — NES ($2,600)
This is an interesting one. Originally, there was a release called Caltron 6-in-1 that was a collection of six separately-sold Famicom games, bundled together as a single cart for release in the U.S. Like Action 52, it is considered to be awful, but also rare— complete copies sell near $300.
When publisher Caltron went out of business, another company called Myriad bought up the unsold stock of the game and re-branded it Myriad Games Six In One. That version is the real collectible, extremely rare and regularly selling for thousands of dollars.
8 Little Samson — NES ($2,700)
Of all the games on this list (not counting variants and combo packs,) Little Samson is probably the one whose rarity and aftermarket value is most frustrating. It's not only a genuinely good game, but the key people behind its stellar design— Yuka Kumagai and Yūko Satō— have almost no other game credits to their names, as if the game's poor commercial performance soured them on the industry entirely.
Little Samson is the kind of rare retro gem that deserves to actually be discovered and played by people, not just sit on the shelves of a few dozen wealthy collectors.
7 Extertainment Mountain Bike Rally/Speed Racer Combo — SNES ($2,700)
Few games on this list are more bizarre than this one. A company called Life Fitness released a game for the SNES called Mountain Bike Rally to be used with an actual exercise bike (the whole system of which was branded "Extertainment".)
In some baffling marketing deal that must have made sense to someone at some point, Mountain Bike Rally was later bundled with the SNES Speed Racer game in this strange combo cart for nobody that is now among the rarest video games ever released for a mainstream console. And, no, the exercise bike isn't compatible with Speed Racer.
6 Multipurpose Arcade Combat Simulator (aka M.A.C.S.) — SNES ($3,000)
Real-life military entities have long used computer simulations for training purposes, with versions of those sometimes being reworked into retail games— most notably, the FPS America's Army.
Sometime during the SNES era, someone— it's unclear who as the details behind the creation of this "game" remain mysterious— designed a similar type of program that used a light gun modeled after an M16 and was apparently meant for soldiers in boot camp. Somehow, copies of this program made it into the wild, and if you can find one for sale, expect to pay around three grand for this unique collector's piece.
5 Stadium Events — NES ($10,000)
At one time, Stadium Events was considered the poster child for rare, expensive retro games, up to and including a particularly infamous instance where someone paid $10,000 just for the box and no game. The value for Stadium Events has fluctuated wildly, from $50,000+ to as low as a couple grand.
It's no longer the most valuable game of all time, but it's still one of the Holy Grails— you can get lucky if you're patient enough, but $10K still seems to be the average going rate when you take into account all of its sales in the past couple years.
4 Nintendo Powerfest '94 Cartridge — SNES ($12,000)
Nintendo sure was fond of its touring competitions featuring unique configurations of its games. In this case, a special SNES cartridge was made for Nintendo PowerFest '94 that included a six-minute gauntlet of The Lost Levels, Super Mario Kart, and Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball.
It is said that Nintendo produced 33 total cartridges for the nationwide event, with most reclaimed by the company and disassembled for parts. So far, two of those cartridges have been found still intact and were offered for sale at various points. It is currently assumed that those are the only two in existence.
3 1990 Nintendo World Championship Cartridge — NES ($20,000)
Perhaps no video game competition in history is more famous than the 1990 Nintendo World Championships, one of the first high-profile competitions of its kind. This time, the competition featured bite-sized segments of Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris, played through a special cartridge.
During the competition, 90 finalists got to take home the grey version of the competition cartridge. Nintendo Power later held a contest that gave away 26 gold-colored versions. Either way, both versions remain among the rarest and most sought-after games of all time.
2 1991 Nintendo Campus Challenge Cartridge — NES ($20,000)
In recent years, the cartridge from the 1991 Nintendo Campus Challenge has become the trendier NES competition cart for collectors to score— and that's because there is only one copy known to exist in the wild. This weird trio of games on the Campus Challenge cart includes hallmarks Super Mario Bros. 3 and Dr. Mario but also oddly includes the NES port of the classic pinball game Pin Bot. As the current owner paid $20,000 for it when he bought it in 2009, expect it to go for at least that much should he ever decide to part with it.
1 Super Mario Bros., "Test Launch" Version — NES ($140,000)
We had to include this at #1 since it just recently set a new record for most amount of money ever spent on a single video game by a considerable margin.
A rare version of Super Mario Bros. from Nintendo's limited "soft launch" of the NES to select markets before its mass market roll out, the primary characteristic of this particular variation of the iconic game is the special Nintendo sticker seal on the box. This past February, someone decided to try auctioning off their copy and ended up getting an astounding $140,000 for this interesting piece of gaming history.