Feature

History Lesson: The rarest, most expensive games

The $100k Mario Bros. cartridge and other rare games

This article is provided by Tired Old Hack.

Video games can be an expensive hobby. The pastime gets particularly pricey, however, when the video games in question are ‘retro’: especially for collectors who regularly eye up the more elusive games.

Sometimes a game is so scarce that its value rockets to an absurd level: it’s these games that separate your common-or-garden collectors from the die-hard maniacs who have to own absolutely everything, no matter the cost.

Naturally, because none of these games have set prices, we can only estimate their value based on what people have been willing to pay for them in the past. With that in mind, here are a selection of the rarest games ever made. If you own any of these, you’re sitting on a small fortune…

World of Warcraft: Collector’s Edition

“Eh? But loads of people play World of Warcraft,” we hear you say. Yes they do, but often a game’s rarity isn’t based on how many copies were sold, but how many copies of a specific version were sold: in this case, the limited Collector’s Edition.

This special version launched with the game back in 2004 and cost $80 at the time. Included in the box was the CD-ROM and DVD-ROM versions of the game, a 280-page art book, a CD soundtrack, a cloth map, a DVD with behind-the-scenes footage and an exclusive pet that could accompany you in your adventures through Azeroth.

If you want to buy one of these today you’re looking at around $750 for a used copy. As is always the case with retro collecting, though, sealed copies can go for many times that: upwards of $4000, in this case.

Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally & Speed Racer

The most dedicated collectors are the ones who insist on owning every game on a system, even if that game is just a compilation consisting of titles they already own. When this happens, you sometimes get situations where two games cost a lot more together than they do on their own.

The best example of this is Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally and Speed Racer, both of which were released on the SNES individually and neither of which are particularly rare. You can expect to pay about $50 and $35 for each of them respectively.

However, both games were compatible with the Life Fitness Exertainment System, an exercise bike with a built in SNES and TV: the faster you pedalled, the faster you’d go in the game. The bike came bundled with a two-in-one cartridge containing both games: since hardly anyone bought the bike, this cartridge with two fairly common games on it can sell for around $5,000.

King of Fighters 2000

When your console sells poorly, its games become rarer by default. That was the case with the Neo-Geo AES, which launched in 1990 and sold less than a million units worldwide.

By the time the millennium approached, the system was clearly dead. However, SNK continued to release games for the system in limited numbers: very limited numbers, that is. Take the English language release of King of Fighters 2000, for example, of which only 100 (yes, one hundred) copies are said to exist.

What does that mean? Well, if you want to buy a copy you’re talking around $6,000. Mind you, if you’re a Neo-Geo collector you’re probably already a millionaire so another five and a half grand will be nothing to you.

NBA Elite 11

When your rival is booting your backside on a yearly basis, a real shake-up is needed. That’s the decision EA came to when – struggling to compete with the NBA 2K games – it decided to scrap its NBA Live series after the dismal NBA Live 10 and completely revamp everything.

NBA Elite 11 promised a completely reworked control system designed to greatly improve the basketball experience. The problem was, when a demo was released right before the game launched, players mocked it for being bug-riddled and glitchy.

Realising its shiny new rebranded series was going to suffer the same fate, EA pulled NBA Elite 11 at the eleventh hour (appropriately enough), but not before a single box of copies left the warehouse. Only 15 copies are known to have made it to the wild, making it the rarest PS3 game ever. The last time one went up for auction, it sold for $9,515.35.

Red Sea Crossing

In 1983, programmer Steve Schustack created Red Sea Crossing, an Atari 2600 game about Moses crossing the Red Sea. The clue’s in the name, you see. The game wasn’t promoted in games magazines: instead, it was aimed at religious publications.

For a while Red Sea Crossing was believed to be a hoax that didn’t actually exist, because nobody had seen a copy in the wild, even though Schustack was sure at least 100 were manufactured. Then, in 2007, someone stumbled open a copy – just the cartridge, without its box – in a garage sale.

At the time of writing, only two copies of Red Sea Crossing have ever been seen. The garage sale cartridge went up for auction in 2012 and sold for an eye-watering $10,400, making it one of the holy grails of Atari gaming… but not THE holy grail…

Blockbuster World Video Game Championship II

In 1995, video rental store Blockbuster held a competition that took place throughout its various stores in North America. Players could choose to take part in either a SNES challenge – in which they had to reach a certain score in Donkey Kong Country – or a Genesis (Mega Drive) challenge, which instead featured NBA Jam Tournament Edition and Judge Dredd.

When the contest ended, some of the players who took part in the SNES challenge were given the competition cartridges as a prize. The Mega Drive carts, however, were ordered to be destroyed.

Two or three carts managed to avoid the chop, immediately making them extremely rare. If you can find one these days, it could go for anything from $9,500 to $16,000.

Kizuna Encounter

Sometimes a game is only rare in certain regions: nowhere is that better demonstrated than with Kizuna Encounter, a fighting game released for the Neo-Geo.

We’ve already established that the Neo-Geo was a rare enough system in itself, with less than a million sold worldwide. However, the twist is that the vast majority of those console sales were in Japan and the US: the PAL version of the console is rarer still.

The Japanese version of Kizuna Encounter is very common, as far as Neo-Geo games go, at least. The PAL version, on the other hand… well, it’s believed that only 12 copies exist, but only five have ever been seen in the wild. As such, auctions in the past have seen it go for $12,000-13,500, even though the game is pretty much identical to the Japanese release.

Tetris (Mega Drive)

The story of Tetris’s licensing issues is so convoluted that it would take a whole other article to explain in detail. In short, Sega believed it had the rights to publish a home console version of Tetris when in reality only Nintendo did.

Sega was forced to pull its version of Tetris and destroy all copies of the game right before it went on sale, but the story goes that a tiny number of copies – no more than 10 – weren’t destroyed and exist to this day.

If you fancy yourself as a bit of a Tetris fan and have decided you want a copy of the Mega Drive version to add to your collection, you might want to reconsider: it’ll set you back around $17,000.

Nintendo competition cartridges

In the Infamous Nintendo movie, The Wizard, a young boy travels across America with his brother so he can take part in a Nintendo video game competition. Nintendo actually held similar real-life contests in the US for a while, each using special cartridges.

These carts were usually given to finalists, none of whom probably realised at the time that they were essentially being given gold dust. Over the years, these carts have become obscenely expensive since they’re technically official Nintendo releases.

The Star Fox Super Weekend Competition cartridge and Donkey Kong Country Competition Edition are less rare, and ‘only’ go for $900 and $2,800 respectively. The Nintendo Campus Challenge, meanwhile, comes in two flavours: the 1992 SNES cart sells for $4,000, while the 1991 NES one goes for over $20,000.

And those aren’t even the rarest. The Nintendo World Championships, which took place in 1990, spawned 90 grey cartridges, worth around $19,000 each. However, there were also 26 gold cartridges, given away in a Nintendo Power magazine contest, and those have sold for more than $26,000 in the past.

Birthday Mania

In 1984, programmer Anthony Tokar decided to have a crack at making an Atari 2600 game. He advertised it in his local newspaper, the Newark Star Ledger, explaining the game’s unique gimmick: each copy was personalised.

Each copy of Birthday Mania would be programmed by Tokar to show the recipient’s name on the title screen while the Happy Birthday theme played. A lovely touch, but not necessarily a profitable one.

It’s said that only 10-15 copies were sold, and only a couple have surfaced. Although it’s never been resold at auction, its extreme rarity means it’s been estimated that you’d need to cough up anywhere between $15,000 and $35,000 to bag it for yourself.

Stadium Events

Until recently, Stadium Events was considered the rarest NES game, since only around 200 copies were made. It was originally released for the Family Fun Fitness accessory, a floor mat that plugged into the NES and let you control the game by stepping on it.

Nintendo liked the idea of the Family Fun Fitness and decided it wanted a piece of the action, so just as Stadium Events was about to launch, Nintendo agreed a deal with Bandai to recall the Family Fun Fitness, rename it the Power Pad and re-release it as an official Nintendo product.

Bandai swiftly recalled Stadium Events and it was re-released as World Class Track Meet (which is pretty common and not really worth anything). If you’re fortunate enough to have one of the 200 copies of Stadium Events that missed the recall, you’re sitting on anything from $10,000 (for just the cartridge) to $38,000 for a mint condition boxed copy. Oh, and don’t get excited if you live in the UK and have a copy: the PAL version of Stadium Events isn’t worth much, because they made loads of those.

Superman

At this point, some of our older readers might have leapt out of their chair shouting, “HOLD ON, I’ve GOT Superman on the Atari 2600. I’M RICH!”. Well, you might want to sit down again, because it’s not as straightforward as that.

The standard release of Superman on the Atari 2600 is extremely common. The vast, vast majority of Atari 2600 owners with the game will have this version, and it isn’t really worth more than any other titles in that era.

However, if your cartridge says ‘Superman’ in yellow letters, and it says ‘Sears Tele-Games’ on it, you’ve got yourself a rare one. This version – which was only sold in Sears stores – was produced in far fewer numbers, and unboxed cartridges can fetch around $350 alone. If you’re lucky enough to have a sealed, unopened and boxed copy, though, you could be looking at up to $30,000.

Air Raid

The oddly named Men-A-Vision published Air Raid in 1982, but quickly gave up on the game when it was clear it wasn’t selling. It’s estimated that only 12 copies were created: you know you’ve found a legit one if its cartridge is an odd light blue colour and has a T-shaped handle.

In 2010, a boxed copy of the game sold for $31,600. The following year, a second copy showed up, but it was the cartridge only: it went for $3,575. Then, the year after that, a family uncovered a third copy from their personal storage.

This not only included the game and the box, but also the manual for the first time, making it the first ever complete version of Air Raid. It was sold at auction for $33,433.30. So surely THIS is the Atari holy grail? Amazingly, it isn’t.

Gamma Attack

Here it is: this is the holy grail for Atari 2600 collectors. Gamma Attack is a shooting game created by amateur programmer Robert L. Esken Jr, the owner of a company called Gammation.

Gammation specialised in Atari 2600 hardware add-ons, like the FP-1, which was a mod that attached to an Atari joystick and added an autofire function. In the single ad he ran for the FP-1, Esken added a little line at the end saying: “Special offer: Gamma Attack game cartridge $24.95 or $14.95 with order of FP-1 units.”

Because it was so inconspicuous and the ad only ran once, only a handful of Gamma Attack carts were said to be produced. The only copy known to exist for sure went up for auction in 2008 by a plucky collector called Anthony DeNardo, who slapped a ridiculous $500,000 price tag on it. Naturally, nobody was stupid enough to drop half a million quid on an Atari game, so DeNardo still owns the cart: that said, it’s still believed to be worth between $20,000 and $50,000.

Super Mario Bros

Believe it or not, the rarest video game of all time is actually one that sold over 40 million copies and was one of the most influential titles ever. Don’t go rushing to the attic for your old copy of Super Mario Bros, though: it’s only going to be worth a couple of quid. It’s only a very specific version that’s so valuable.

Before Nintendo launched the NES across the whole of America, it had a short test run in New York and Los Angeles. The games released for the NES during this period were ‘sticker sealed’, which meant that instead of their usual shrink-wrapped they were instead sealed with a small round sticker with the Nintendo logo on it.

Just this year, the only known sticker-sealed copy of Super Mario Bros to exist was discovered, and – even better – it was in practically immaculate condition, despite being nearly 35 years old.

It went up for auction, and a group of collectors combined forces to buy it for a jaw-dropping $100,150, making it the most money anyone’s ever spent on a game by a country mile. Good old Mario, still breaking records after all these years.