Nintendo's 8-bit console is home to a plethora of exceedingly rare and expensive games. Despite their age and archaic nature, there are more than a handful of titles that can cost loads more than the modern, flashy games of the modern era. Thanks to its seasoning and its plethora of often strange, obscure games, NES is one of the consoles of choice for collectors looking to show off their rare gaming artifacts.
Much like the software embedded within the plastic cartridges, many of these carts themselves come with some rather interesting backstories which often help explain how they became so scarce and so valuable.
Let's take a look at 10 of the rarest NES games out of the more than 700 titles in circulation, as well as the story behind them.
10 TMNT: Tournament Fighters
Before the Smash Bros knockoff that was TMNT: Smash-Up, there was this charming fighter that bore many of the hallmarks of Street Fighter with a Turtles overlay.
This NES game had the misfortune of being released well after the Super Nintendo had been launched, and was somewhat overshadowed by the brawler classic Turtles In Time. On top of this, there were a variety of skews for Tournament Fighter, in addition to varying regional releases. In a rare role-reversal, Japan never got a release of this particular NES Turtles game, further adding to its scarcity.
9 Snow Brothers
It's a shame this converted arcade game has been relegated to obscurity, as it actually contains some simultaneous co-op that's quite enjoyable.
Yet, apparently most gamers in 1991 didn't quite think so, as the game never really took off; getting lost amidst a sea of quality NES games. It was also followed by the much-hyped SNES around the time of its release, and overshadowed by the very similar Bubble Bobble games. These factors, coupled with developer Toaplan filing for bankruptcy and closing its doors in 1994, led to a pretty short, limited run of the NES version of Snow Brothers.
8 Bonk's Adventure
Like a number of others on our list, the rarity of Bonk's Adventure can mostly be attributed to the several versions and ports that make each skew more scarce than it otherwise would have been. The original platform, and really, the main focus for Bonk's was the TurboGrafx-16 console. By the time it was ported to the NES, the odd Mario imitator which starred a cave boy with a massive head, was sort of an afterthought, and never widely distributed.
It did see something of a renaissance, however, as it was one of the first games to kick-off Nintendo's Wii Virtual Console in 2006. This port more recent port ironically seemed to give it far more exposure and players than its original NES release.
7 Panic Restaurant
It's perhaps easy to see how a tricky platform game featuring a kitchen crawling with food monsters might not exactly light the sales charts on fire. Though, there's more to its rarity other than its lack of appeal.
This Taito-developed title also had the misfortune of releasing on the aged 8-bit console from Nintendo several months after their flashier SNES was released, making them a bit late to the dinner party. This translated to sales (or lack thereof), and stands as the main reason so few carts were produced.
6 Bubble Bobble Part 2
While the original Bubble Bobble was a relative hit on the NES when it released shortly after the console's US debut, the sequel was sort of a case of "too little too late." Not only was the gameplay not quite up to par, but the cart was also one of the last to be made for the NES before developers started shifting their focus to SNES. Thus, it was unlikely you got your hands on a cart, unless you visited a rental store that happened to be selling them; as Taito's games were reportedly more abundant at these outlets.
This sucker can net you around $400 even without its box or manual. If only a certain writer of this article was aware of that before rushing to pawn his copy for just a fraction of that price...
5 Little Samson
Ah yes, look who it is - our friends at Taito, once again! Boy, you'd sure have hit the jackpot if you happened to be a fan or collector of this Japanese publisher! Yes, apparently, getting your hands on a Taito-published game produced near the end of the NES's life almost guarantees you've scored a pretty rare cartridge.
Unlike some others that make our list, Little Samson actually was given an official wide release, but simply didn't manage to find an audience. Its late 1992 release date and utter lack of promotion by the publisher probably didn't help, nor did the uncanny similarity to the far more successful Mega Man.
4 Cheetahmen II
This odd sidescroller could be considered a failed "off-brand" Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knockoff that's pretty much only known today by older NES diehards. The Cheetahmen franchise is more of a curiosity in gaming history than a functional video game. The programmers behind this bizarre game were reportedly in over their heads when developing it, and it comes across in its barely functional mechanics and countless bugs.
The original flop can be found as part of another rare NES game known as Action 52. A sequel was planned and partially developed, but never carried to completion. In fact, no official finished game carts exist; with the roughly 1,500 in circulation housing the incomplete game and a simple gold sticker with the title slapped on. And good luck finding the box, which is even rarer!
3 Stadium Events
It's funny to think that a sort of spiritual predecessor to Wii Fit, one of the most successful games of all time, would exist as one of the rarest, most obscure games on the NES - and possibly in gaming altogether. So why is it that this cheesy, archaic sports game and its cheap dance pad cost over $10,000, and is one of the most coveted treasures by NES collectors?
Well, the credit (or blame?) lies with Nintendo themselves, as they essentially poached the Bandai-made original and rebranded it as World Class Track Meet. It's virtually the same game, but with a new name, and a far more common printing.
2 Nintendo World Championship
This cart, which features a hodgepodge of timed stages from different NES games, was made for the sole purpose of a single event; hence why this is one of the all-time most sought after artifacts for collectors. In 1990, a Nintendo-based contest was held, where fans could compete in various game events and be awarded some pretty impressive prizes, including a flashy new convertible and a gold-painted Mario trophy.
These game trials were then housed in carts and produced in extremely limited numbers as part of future contests. There were only about 400 of the grey carts manufactured, while the gold Zelda-themed carts are even more scarce and have sold for a whopping $15,000!
1 Nintendo Campus Challenge
It's tough to get rarer than this, considering there exists only one cart that's accounted for. Similar to Nintendo World Champions, this strange cart was made for the singular purpose of playing segments of Nintendo games used for a special event. This occasion, named the Nintendo Campus Challenge, was a Nintendo-sponsored competition held in '91 and '92, in which the Japanese developers toured dozens of college campuses throughout the US.
One lucky gamer managed to score the only known cart at - of all places - a garage sale, after which he took advantage of its utter exclusively and flipped it on Ebay for over $20,000!