While the NES was obviously not the first video game console, it’s hardly a surprise that some of the rarest and most expensive games in the world belong to that beloved console’s legendary library.
As it becomes increasingly obvious that nostalgia is driving up prices in the suddenly lucrative collectible video games market, it’s also not a surprise that NES games tend to be among the most desirable collectibles in that world. Not only did the NES ignite a generation’s love of gaming, but the unique state of the industry at the time meant that a lot of games (even good ones) were shipped in small quantities, shipped too late, or otherwise faded into obscurity only to be properly recognized years later. It was an environment that led to a lot of legitimately rare games.
Which NES games are the rarest and most valuable of them all, though? Well, a few of the most expensive NES games in the world certainly won’t surprise anyone, but you’ll be shocked by how much people are willing to spend on some games you’ve probably never heard of.
Before we dive into that, though, here are a few things to consider:
- This list primarily focuses on genuinely rare titles rather than pristine versions of common titles that are prized solely for their condition.
- There are many NES games that sell for the same basic prices, so consider this a sampling of the most desirable and rare NES games on the market in various price ranges.
- The two numbers next to each game represent their “loose” price (meaning “cartridge only” in pretty much any condition) and the highest price they currently sell for if they are in pristine condition.
15. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters – $200 to $1,500
The SNES version of this game was fairly popular on the rental circuit, but did you know that there is an NES version of this licensed fighter that’s incredibly rare due largely to the fact that so few people bought it?
TMNT Tournament Fighters was not only Konami’s last NES game but one of the few “proper” 2D fighting games released for the NES. Unfortunately, its incredibly late 1994 release date (it was also released nearly 6 months after the SNES version’s debut) pretty much guaranteed that most NES gamers had moved on by the time this surprisingly good game dropped.
14. Mighty Final Fight – $250 to $2,000
Not only was there a Final Fight game released for the NES, but this rather strange little experiment includes some features not seen in most other Final Fight titles (including an experience point system). It’s actually closer to River City Ransom than Final Fight in a lot of ways.
Unfortunately, this game’s late release date, weak marketing push, and the simple fact that there are honestly better games in this genre readily available for the NES means that not many people bought Mighty Final Fight the first time around. Fortunately for collectors, that also means this franchise curiosity has only gone up in value.
13. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 – $300 to $1,300
This game is rare and certainly valuable (even if its recent digital re-release has driven down the price somewhat), but the thing that really stands about this one is its inexplicably late release date.
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 wasn’t released until December 1993 in Japan and 1994 in the U.S. and Europe. That’s three years after the release of the SNES and up to four years since the release of the previous game. In the case of the sequel’s Western releases, that’s also the same year that the Sony PlayStation was released. This game is actually quite good, but suffice to say, a lot of NES owners didn’t have this on their radars at that time.
12. Zombie Nation – $600 to $1,500
If you’re anything like me, you might vaguely remember hearing about this game in Nintendo Power but probably didn’t know anyone who owned it. Of course, we now know that’s because this game was incredibly rare even at the time of its release.
While it’s not clear how many copies of this title were initially distributed, bad sales (which were likely the result of mixed critical reception and the fact that this game is incredibly weird) combined with a late release date and somewhat weak word of mouth mean that the relatively few copies of the game that did make it out into the world now cost a shocking amount of money.
11. Power Blade 2 – $700 to $4,000
While the original Power Blade is a respectable enough Mega Man rip-off that you could certainly call underrated, it wasn’t exactly a best-seller that became a staple of NES collections everywhere. It was always somewhat strange, then, that Taito decided to make a sequel to the game in the first place and release it during the NES’ dying days.
Power Blade 2 has always been a collector’s favorite due to its initial rarity, but recent years have seen the game shoot up in price due both to the growing popularity of rare NES games and how hard it is to find a pristine copy of this one in its original box.
10. Bonk’s Adventure – $800 to $3,000
Bonk’s Adventure is a beloved TurboGrafx-16 game (if such a thing actually exists), but did you know that the platformer was also ported to the NES?
Well, apparently no one else did, which is certainly a big part of the reason why this one ended up being a consistently high-value game among collectors. To be fair, this game also isn’t nearly as good on the NES as it was on the TurboGrafx, and the NES obviously featured some considerable competition in the platforming genre. Still, we bet you wish you had purchased this one back in the day.
9. Panic Restaurant – $800 to $6,000
Panic Restaurant is actually little more than a passable Kirby-esque NES platformer that most people probably haven’t devoted a thought to in their entire lives. However, this happens to be one of the most consistently valuable NES titles among collectors.
Panic Restaurant is a great example of the “perfect storm” effect we sometimes see with collectible games. As a pretty obscure title released near the end of the NES’ lifespan, it’s a legitimately rare game that few people ever owned in the first place. As for why this particular game became so valuable years later…well, it might have something to do with its campy box art and generally weird vibes.
8. The Flinstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak – $1,000 to $10,000
Legend has it that this game is so valuable because it was only available to rent at select Blockbuster locations, but that claim has been disputed over the years by reports that suggest it was actually readily available in retail stores. Those same reports suggest that its rarity can instead be attributed to the fact that few people bothered to buy it.
The point is that it was very hard to find this game when it was first released, which means that graded sealed copies of Surprise at Dinosaur Peak now sometimes sell for nearly $10,000. The fact it’s a licensed game released late in the NES’ run has only made it more valuable.
7. Bubble Bath Babes – $1,400 to $5,000
There was actually a surprising number of “adult” games released for the NES over the course of the console’s lifespan, but Bubble Bath Babes has distinguished itself over the years as seemingly the most valuable collectible in that particular category.
So far as that goes, nothing really seems to separate Bubble Bath Babes from that pack (at least in terms of rarity) aside from, perhaps, the fact that its Tetris-like gameplay isn’t actually that bad. This title was even re-released with all of the “erotic” elements removed, though that version of the game is obviously not as rare or popular.
6. Cheetahmen II – $1,500 to $11,000
To make a long story short, the original Cheetahmen was the featured game in the Action 52 collection (a special collection of 52 terrible NES games). While Action 52 is certainly one of the more notable rare NES titles on the market, Cheetahmen II is on another level so far as value goes.
In fact, many gamers once believed that this unofficial NES game was never actually manufactured. However, in 1996, 1500 prototype cartridges were discovered in a warehouse in Florida (go figure). While numerous fake copies have been created since then, securing an “original” copy of this truly terrible game is going to set you back.
5. Little Samson – $2,000 to $17,000
These days, Little Samson is sometimes referred to as one of the NES’ most underrated action-platforming games, but in 1992, a combination of terrible marketing and bad timing all but ensured that this game was destined to fall into obscurity.
That’s what’s so interesting about this game, though. Not only is it a legitimately rare title from a pure numbers perspective, but it’s also a pretty good game that’s legacy has only grown in the years since its release. The price for even “loose” versions of this game keeps going up, so it really seems like this one isn’t going to lose a lot of its value anytime in the near future.
4. Nintendo Campus Challenge 1991 – $20,000 to $30,000
In 1991, Nintendo held a special competition across 60 college campuses to see which students were the best at a series of special minigame challenges based on popular NES titles. For the purposes of the competition, those minigames were ported to special NES cartridges that were never made available to the public via any other official means.
In terms of pure rarity goes, it’s hard to beat that Nintendo Campus Challenge cartridge. Only one original copy of the game is believed to still exist, and it sold for $20,100 in 2009. The price of that cartridge has almost certainly gone up considerably since then, but nobody is sure how much it would fetch on the modern market.
3. Stadium Events – $10,000 to $100,000+
In late 1986, publisher Bandai released Stadium Events as the marquee game for their Family Fun Fitness workout accessory. Sensing an opportunity in the emerging fitness game market, Nintendo bought the rights to that title, re-branded it as World Class Track Meet, and used that game to promote their own Nintendo Power Pad hardware accessory.
That’s roughly how the legend of Stadium Events was born. A loose copy of the original game released before the re-branding will cost you about $10,000, but boxed copies of this incredibly rare game sometimes go for over $100,000. Of course, nobody is entirely sure how many real copies of this game (boxed or not) even still exist.
2. Nintendo World Championship Gold – $100,000+
In 1990, Nintendo held a special video game competition designed to find the best NES gamers in the world (or at least the United States). The event’s 90 finalists received a custom grey NES cartridge that contained the modified versions of the games used for the competition. While those cartridges are extremely rare, they are nothing compared to the 26 gold Nintendo World Championship cartridges that were given out as part of a Nintendo Power competition held at that time.
Those gold cartridges are considered to be the holy grail of collectible video games. While there was a time when you may have been able to get one for a “measly” $20,000, recent years have seen the price for one of these cartridges skyrocket to over $100,000. Honestly, even that might seem like a bargain in the next few years if any of the current owners decide to part with their copies.
1. Super Mario Bros. (Test Launch Version) – $100,000+
While this list mostly focuses on rare games and not mint conditions of otherwise readily available games, the unique circumstances surrounding this particular collectible are too incredible to not mention.
See, back when the video game market was still considered to be a commercial wasteland, Nintendo decided to host “test launch” events for the NES in New York and Los Angeles. Basically, they wanted to see how the console would perform in those markets before expanding their release strategy. For those events, they manufactured a few thousand “special copies” of Super Mario Bros. What made them so special? Well, they were sealed with a sticker rather than plastic shrink wrap. Seriously…that’s pretty much it.
As it turns out, that sticker is a pretty big deal among collectors. The only known still-sealed copy of the “test launch” version of Super Mario Bros. sold for $140,000 in 2019, and some suspect the game could go for close to $1,000,000 if it was sold on the current market.