Back in the mid-1980s, nobody could have imagined that the Nintendo Entertainment System would be able to bring the video game industry out of the funk that came with the market crash, but that's exactly what it did. Another thing nobody could have predicted was that any of those amazing little gray cartridges could be worth more than the money people paid for them, but time makes fools of us all.
These days, some rare NES games are so coveted that they often sell for hundreds, if not thousands (and even hundreds of thousands) of dollars online. Random eBay auctions routinely go up with versions of games that were either never opened or are so rare, it doesn't matter if they were opened or not, and collectors outbid one another in a mad dash to finish their collection. While most of us probably had a few of these games lying around at one point, the most valuable NES games really start to skyrocket in price when you include the box and the instructions, and even more if the game's never been opened.
Not all NES games are worth a ton of cash, but these stand out as the rarest and most sought after, and are now considered some of most expensive NES games ever produced.
Back in 1990, Nintendo held its first World Championships, which was a competition that toured 30 American cities. There wasn't another until 2015, marking the 25th anniversary, but the real money comes from the first NWC. For the event, Nintendo produced a custom NES cart of the same name, and for the event, 90 grey copies were given to finalists. Another 26 carts were made in gold (like the original Zelda), and those were given out as prizes held by Nintendo Power magazine.
Nintendo World Championship is the rarest and most valuable NES cart ever made. There are only 353 known copies of the grey carts to have been produced based on their serial numbers, and the gold carts were limited to 26. If (and that's a big IF) these carts come up for auction, they sell for insane amounts of money.
A Grey cart will sell on average for around $15,000 to $25,000, but a gold cart... That's something entirely different. The last time one sold for more money than most people see in a year came in an eBay listing back in 2014. An opened gold cart sold for $100,088, and factory-graded listings like the one above are asking for a milion dollars.
- Release: March 8, 1990
- Developer: Nintendo
- Genres (Video game): Competition
These days, gamers fondly remember Contra as one of the hardest games ever made, but that's not usually an issue, thanks to it also being the first game to debut the Konami Code. Entering that would net a player 30 lives, making the game beatable, and far more fun to play. If you held onto your copy, you might be able to score around $25 if it's loose, and around $90 if you still have the box, sleeve, and booklet.
If you got the game back in 1987, and for whatever reason, never opened it... you're looking at something far more valuable. On June 29th, 2020, a brand new, still in the pristine box and shrink wrap copy of Contra sold on eBay for an astounding $20,001.01. The box still had its hanging tag, and it was truly in pristine condition.
- Release: 1987
- Developer: Konami
- Genres (Video game): Shooter game, Shoot 'em up, Action game, Run and gun
If you owned an NES back in the day, you had a copy of Super Mario Bros., as it was the game that came with the system — back when games still came prepackaged with consoles. As a result, everybody had a copy, and it's anything but rare. A loose cart will sell for around $12 to $15, and even one with the box, sleeve, and booklet will only fetch around $120.
Of course, that's for what 99.99% of people have in terms of the first Super Mario Bros. game. For the gamer who never bothered to open theirs, and managed to keep it safe and protected for 35+ years, that cart can be worth as much as $13,200, like one that sold in mid-June 2020 on eBay. That cart came new, sealed in the box looking exactly as it did when it was pulled off a shelf more than three decades ago.
While this list isn't about the graded copies, it would be criminal not to mention that the most money ever paid for an NES cart was $114,000 in July 2020 for a sealed and graded copy of Super Mario Bros. The game was graded to 9.4, and was sold via Heritage Auctions.
- Release: 1985
- Developer: Systems Research & Development Co., Ltd., Nintendo, Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development
- Genres (Video game): Platform game, Action game, Adventure
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is one of those games most NES owners had in their collection, so it stands to reason it wouldn't be worth a whopping $10K at an auction. Of course, this was no simple item listing, as the description and photos showed a mint-condition unopened box, and that's something the collectors definitely swoon for.
Sure, you can find an old cart out of the box for a few bucks, but this one was pristine! It sold in June 2020, for $10,000, and the item was described as being ungraded, but somewhere between an 8.5 to a 9.0, which is about as high as anything can typically be graded. Admittedly, this was a high price for this item, as even a graded copy doesn't typically sell for this much money.
- Release: 1987
- Developer: Nintendo Integrated Research & Development
- Genres (Video game): Sports game, Fighting game