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9 Very Rare (and Very Expensive) Video Game Cartridges

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If you've ever collected baseball cards, comic books, stamps, or maybe those limited edition commemorative plates, you understand the concept of the "Holy Grail" item. It's that last, hard-to-find, incredibly rare, usually expensive piece that you have to have before you can officially say your collection is complete. If you're a collector of vintage home video game cartridges (or "carts"), sometimes that can mean paying a pretty penny for the pièce de résistance.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Back in the day, everyone had a Nintendo. Due to the console's popularity, there are a large number of collectors willing to pay the equivalent of a new car for some of the systems' very rare carts.

1. Stadium Events

NES-Stadium-EventsPrice Range: $13,000 - $41,300; $10,000 for the box alone
Why So Expensive?: Stadium Events was released by Bandai in 1987 as one of the few games available in America that was made for the company's Family Fun Fitness mat, a soft, plastic controller you walked, ran, and jumped on to make the characters move. Nintendo bought the rights to the game and the Fitness mat in 1988 and re-released them as World Class Track Meet and the Power Pad controller. To avoid consumer confusion, Nintendo pulled all copies of Stadium Events from shelves and had them destroyed, but not before approximately 200 carts had already been sold. Of those 200, collectors believe that only 10 to 20 complete copies of the game exist today, making them a real rarity.

Stadium Events recently made headlines with two high-profile eBay sales. A North Carolina woman was cleaning out her garage and found an old Nintendo and a handful of games, including Stadium Events. She put them up on eBay without high expectations and was amazed to see the bids steadily climb up to $13,105 by the time the auction ended on February 13, 2010. While the game itself is valuable, the winning bidder was most interested in the cardboard box it came in. Since most kids threw the box away after tearing open a new game, intact boxes for any game are really hard to come by, but especially so for Stadium Events. Empty Stadium Event boxes have been known to sell for $10,000 alone.

After hearing of the success of this eBay seller, a man in Kansas dug up a factory-sealed copy of the game that he was just about to donate to Goodwill because he thought it was pretty much worthless. However, his game became only the second known sealed copy in existence. He'd purchased the game in 1987, but could never find the Fitness mat to go with it. It was still sealed because he'd meant to return it. When his eBay auction ended on February 26, 2010, the game sold for an amazing $41,300.

The same game repackaged by Nintendo, World Class Track Meet, generally sells for less than $3 on eBay.

2. 1990 Nintendo World Championships (Gray and Gold Editions)

Price Range: Gray: $4,000 - $6,100; Gold: $15,000 - $21,000
Why So Expensive?: In 1990, Nintendo held a 30-city gaming tournament to find the best player in the world. Players had to get the best score in demo versions of three games "“ Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris—all within a six-minute time limit.

NES-World-Championships

At the end of each city's tournament, the winners of each of three age groups were given special gray Championship cartridges exactly like those used in the competition, which means only 90 of these cartridges were distributed. The gold version was sent out to those who won a promotional contest in the pages of Nintendo Power magazine. Only 26 gold games were produced, so they're especially hard to find and command a higher price today.

3. Nintendo Campus Challenge

1991-nintendo-campus-challengePrice Range: $14,000 - 20,100
Why So Expensive?: In the early 1990s, Nintendo held competitions on college campuses and at popular Spring Break destinations. Like the World Championships, players had six minutes to play for high scores on demo versions of Super Mario Bros. 3, PinBot, and Dr. Mario.

Most copies of the game were destroyed after the competition ended, but one Nintendo employee kept his cart and sold it to Rob Walters at a garage sale in 2006. This garage sale is legendary among retrogamers, as Rob bought all kinds of NES Holy Grails for only $1,000. By the time he re-sold everything, he'd made 50 times that. Part of that $50,000 was the Campus Challenge cartridge, which went for $14,000. Shortly after, the buyer of the cart turned around and sold it on eBay for $20,100. As far as anyone knows, it's the only copy of the game in the world.

ATARI 2600

atari-2600

The wood-grained grandpappy of home video game systems still has a rabid fanbase. And those Atari enthusiasts wish to recapture the days of playing these simple games while drinking Pepsi from glass bottles and listening to Foghat.

4. Atlantis II

atari-atlantisPrice Range: $5,000 - $6,000
Why So Expensive?: It's never mentioned in the same breath as Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, but Atlantis was a pretty popular game in 1982. The gameplay was similar to Missile Command, with players defending their base from overhead attack by enemy ships. The developer held a tournament called Destination Atlantis, where players were invited to send in photos of their TV screens displaying their high scores. The best players were then sent Atlantis II, a special edition of the game that featured faster enemy ships worth fewer points, making it harder to get a high score, but easier to determine the true champions.

Because this version was not mass produced, its pretty rare today. But if you find a copy of the original Atlantis at a garage sale, it might be a good idea to pick it up anyway. The competition cart had the exact same colorful label of the regular Atlantis, but had a small, white sticker slapped on the front that read "Atlantis II." The label was easily peeled off, so a quick Google search will show you how to determine if you bought a $3 Atari game or a $6,000 one.

5. Air Raid

atari-air-raidPrice Range: $1,000 - $3,000
Why So Expensive?: Air Raid is a bit of an enigma for Atari fans. Some say it was the one and only game produced by a company called "Menavision" (or perhaps "Menovision"). The game is so shrouded in mystery, it can't even be verified that "Air Raid" is its official title—there's no name on the label. The name has been given based on the gameplay, which is similar to Atlantis and Missile Command, and by the picture on the label of a city being attacked by flying saucers, jets, and helicopters. This strange cartridge appeared around 1984 in a bright blue "T-handle" casing that is very different from the standard, square, black Atari carts sold in North America, but is similar in style to those sold in Brazil. Furthermore, while a few second-hand copies have been sold, no one can ever say they were the original owner. The mystery, as well as the fact there are only 12 known copies, make it a must-have for serious Atari collectors.

6. Star Wars Ewok Adventure

ewok-adventurePrice: $1680
Why So Expensive?: Advertised in Parker Brothers' 1983 retail catalog as Revenge of the Jedi: Game I but affectionately known as Ewok Adventure, the cart became legendary for never being sold. In the game, players took control of an Ewok and flew a hang glider over the forest moon of Endor in an attempt to blow up an Imperial base. You could avoid or kill enemy Stormtroopers, Speeder Bikes, or Imperial AT-ST Walkers, or you could instead commandeer these vehicles to take out the base.

The game was shot down by Parker Brothers' marketing department, who felt the controls were too hard to master, so it was never produced. The game's designer, Larry Gelberg, gave the one and only known prototype copy to a friend's son, who later sold it for $1680.

Neo Geo

neo-geo

The Neo Geo, first released in 1990, was always a bit of a niche home video game console, mainly because of its price—the system was $649 and games started at $200. However, those who had a Neo Geo really loved it, so the collectors' market has remained strong.

7. Kizuna Encounter

kizuna_encounter
Price Range: $12,000 - $13,500

Why So Expensive?: One of the main games that all Neo Geo fanatics are looking for is a particular version of Kizuna Encounter, a 1996 fighting game similar to Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The game itself has received solid reviews, but isn't groundbreaking by any means. However, it was produced in such small quantities for the European market that collectors speculate fewer than 15 copies were made. The Japanese version, which is exactly the same except for different packaging, is fairly common and sells for about $50.

8. Ultimate 11 (AKA Super Sidekicks 4)

ultimate-11-neo-geoPrice Range: $8,000 - $10,000
Why So Expensive?: Ultimate 11 was the final game in the Super Sidekicks series, a popular franchise of soccer games that sold very well. For some reason, though, Ultimate 11 was not produced in large quantities, and there are now fewer than 10 known copies in existence. That kind of rarity makes it a must-have for collectors.

In late 2009, a private sale was reportedly made between two members of the collectors' forums at neo-geo.com. The buyer paid an astonishing $55,000 to acquire both Kizuna Encounter and Ultimate 11. The original owner purchased the games around 10 years ago, when Kizuna was selling for $500 and Ultimate for $400. The new owner has said he will not sell them, even if he were offered $100,000.

9. Metal Slug

metal-slugGoing Rate: $2,000 - $2,850
Why So Expensive?: If you take the classic NES game Contra and turn it up to 11, you have Metal Slug, a "run-n-gun" game where explosions are the primary soundtrack. Since its introduction on the Neo Geo in 1996, the game has become a very popular franchise with seven games in the main series, plus a bunch of spin-offs. It has been ported to just about every popular game console you can think of. However, that original Neo Geo cart is pretty hard to come by due to a limited production run. So even though there are other ways to play the game, Neo Geo fanatics will pay a hefty sum to have it in the original format.
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These are just some of the Holy Grails of video gaming that collectors are clamoring for. To see if you might have a rare game in your basement, head over to racketboy.com, atariage.com, neo-geo.com and videogamepricecharts.com.

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10 Fast Facts About Pac-Man

by Ryan Lambie

When Pac-Man emerged in the early 1980s, nothing else looked or sounded quite like it. Whereas most arcade games of the era involved shooting marauding aliens, Pac-Man looked like a miniature, interactive cartoon: a comical tug-of-war between a round, yellow character with an addiction to munching tiny white dots and a quartet of roaming ghosts with big, anxious eyes.

As we now know, Pac-Man was a massive hit, and its grip on pop culture is still strong today. But Pac-Man's success was far from certain; its designer initially had no interest in games, and the public reaction to it was initially mixed. Here's a brief look at some of the fascinating facts behind Pac-Man's making, its impact, and its legacy.

1. PAC-MAN DESIGNER TORU IWATANI HAD NO TRAINING AS A DESIGNER OR PROGRAMMER.

When then 22-year-old Toru Iwatani started work at Namco in 1977, he had no particular interest in designing video games. In fact, Iwatani initially expected that he'd work on pinball machines, but instead ended up designing the Breakout-inspired paddle games Gee Bee (1978), Bomb Bee and Cutie Q (1979). Two years after Pac-Man's release in 1980, he designed Pole Position.

2. PAC-MAN WAS DESIGNED AS A RESPONSE TO SHOOTING GAMES LIKE SPACE INVADERS.

Japanese arcades of the late 1970s and early 1980s were dark, masculine places full of space shooting games inspired by the success of Space Invaders—including Namco's own enormously successful Galaxian. In response, Iwatani began thinking about a concept which ran counter to those games.

"All the computer games available at the time were of the violent type—war games and Space Invader types," Iwatani said in 1986. "There were no games that everyone could enjoy, and especially none for women. I wanted to come up with a 'comical' game women could enjoy."

Iwatani began thinking about ideas based around the word taberu, meaning "to eat." And gradually, the concept of a game called Pakku-Man (derived from paku paku, a Japanese slang word akin to chomp) began to form.

3. PAC-MAN'S PIZZA INSPIRATION IS ONLY HALF TRUE.

By Official GDC - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

One of the great creation legends of game design is that Iwatani, while eating a pizza, looked down at the pie with a missing slice and used the outline as inspiration for Pac-Man's distinctive shape. The story was furthered by Iwatani himself; when Pac-Man fever was at its height, he even posed with a half-eaten pizza for a publicity photograph. But in a 1986 interview, Iwatani admitted that the legend was only "half true."

"In Japanese, the character for mouth [kuchi] is a square shape," Iwatani explained. "It's not circular like the pizza, but I decided to round it out." And thus, Pac-Man was born.

4. PAC-MAN'S GAMEPLAY AND GHOSTS WERE INSPIRED BY COMIC BOOK CHARACTERS.

As Iwatani continued to develop the idea of a game which involved eating, he added the concept of a maze, and then came the power pellet (or power cookie), a special item that allowed Pac-Man to eat his enemies. Iwatani later revealed that the power-up idea was inspired by Popeye, who often defeated his arch rival Bluto by eating spinach.

Pac-Man's ghosts were also inspired by comic book characters. "Pac-Man is inspired by all the manga and animation that I’d watch as a kid," Iwatani told WIRED in 2010. "The ghosts were inspired by Casper, or Obake no Q-Taro."

5. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST GAMES TO INTRODUCE CUT-SCENES.

Pac-Man's action is occasionally interspersed with simple cartoonlike interludes, where an enormous Pac-Man chases a terrified ghost across the screen. Iwatani dubbed these "coffee breaks" and imagined them as a means of enticing players to chomp their way to the next scene. Iwatani's programmers initially resisted the idea, arguing that the interludes added little to the game, but Iwatani ultimately won the battle.

6. THE GAME WOULD BE NOTHING WITHOUT ITS ENEMY AI.

Although Iwatani was the creative force behind Pac-Man, bringing the game to life fell to a team of four staff, including programmer Shigeo Funaki and sound designer Toshio Kai. Development of the game took around 18 months—an unusually lengthy production for the era—with the ghosts' behavior posing the greatest challenge.

As Iwatani himself admitted, "There's not much entertainment in a game of eating, so we decided to create enemies to inject a little excitement and tension."

One of the most ingenious aspects of Pac-Man is that each ghost behaves differently—one simply chases the player, two try to attack Pac-Man from the front, while the fourth will chase and then abruptly change course.

"It was tricky because the monster movements are quite complex," Iwatani said. "This is the heart of the game ... The AI in this game impresses me to this day!"

7. THE GAME WASN'T EXPECTED TO BE A HIT.

The first ever Pac-Man machine—then called Puck-Man—was installed in a Tokyo movie theater on May 22, 1980. As Iwatani and his team had hoped, the game was popular with women and the very young, but seasoned gamers—who were more used to the intensity of shooting games—were initially nonplussed.

The uncertainty continued when Pac-Man was shown off at a coin-op trade show later that year. Many of the American arcade operators in attendance thought that another Namco game at the show—a driving game called Rally X—would be the more popular of the two due to its faster pace. Ultimately, Pac-Man was picked up for American distribution by Bally/Midway. Its name was changed from Puck-Man to Pac-Man, and the game's journey to global popularity began.

8. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ARCADE GAMES OF ALL TIME, YET ITS CREATOR DIDN'T GET RICH FROM IT.

Selling 350,000 arcade machines within 18 months, generating millions in profits and yet more revenue from merchandising, Pac-Man was an international phenomenon. But Iwatani, like many designers and programmers working in Japan at the time—including Space Invaders' creator Tomohiro Nishikado—didn't directly profit from all that success.

"The truth of the matter is, there were no rewards per se for the success of Pac-Man," Nishikado said in 1987. "I was just an employee. There was no change in my salary, no bonus, no official citation of any kind."

9. THE HIGHEST SCORE POSSIBLE IS 3,333,360 POINTS.

Although Pac-Man doesn't have an ending as such, an integer overflow makes the 256th level impossible to clear. This means that if every dot, power pellet, fruit, and enemy is consumed on each of the 255 levels, the maximum possible score is 3,333,360 points. The legendarily dextrous videogame champion Billy Mitchell was the first player to achieve a perfect Pac-Man score.

10. IT'S STILL INSIDIOUSLY ADDICTIVE.

To celebrate Pac-Man's 30th birthday back in 2010, Google placed a playable version of the game on its homepage. According to a report issued by a time management company, the game's brief appearance managed to rob the world of around 4.8 million working hours. Google's first ever playable doodle, the search engine's anniversary version of Pac-Man can still be played today. 

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15 Surprising Benefits of Playing Video Games
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Complex, challenging, and ambitious, video games have come a long way since the simple arcade titles of the 1970s—and evidence is mounting that the benefits of play go well beyond entertainment and improved hand-eye coordination. In honor of Video Games Day (today), here are 15 ways games are programming better people. 

1. THEY'RE PRODUCING BETTER SURGEONS.

While you may think you want your surgeon reading up on the latest medical research instead of playing games, you might want to reconsider: a study of laparoscopic (small incision) specialists found that those who played for more than three hours per week made 32 percent fewer errors during practice procedures compared to their non-gaming counterparts.  

2. THEY MAY HELP PEOPLE OVERCOME DYSLEXIA.

Some research points to attention difficulties as being a key component of dyslexia. One study has shown dyslexics improved their reading comprehension following sessions of games heavy on action. The reason, researchers believe, is that the games have constantly changing environments that require intense focus.

3. THEY COULD IMPROVE YOUR VISION.

“Don’t sit too close to the television” used to be a common parental refrain without a lot of science to back it up. Instead, scientists are discovering games in moderation may actually improve—not strain—your vision. In one study, 10 weeks of play was associated with a greater ability to discern between different shades of grey. Another had participants try to play games using only their “lazy” eye, with the “good” one obscured. Those players showed significant, sometimes normalized improvement in the affected eye. 

4. YOU MIGHT GET A CAREER BOOST.

Because certain genres of games reward and encourage leadership traits—providing for “communities,” securing their safety, etc.—researchers have noted that players can display a correlating motivation in their real-world career goals. Improvising in a game can also translate into being faster on your feet when an office crisis crops up. 

5. PLAYERS CAN BECOME FASCINATED WITH HISTORY.

Many games use actual historical events to drive their stories. Those characters and places can then spark a child’s interest in discovering more about the culture they’re immersed in, according to researchers. Parents who have obtained books, maps, and other resources connected to games have reported their children are more engaged with learning, which can lead to a lifetime appreciation for history. 

6. THEY MAKE KIDS PHYSICAL.

While some games promote a whole-body level of interaction, even those requiring a simple handheld controller can lead to physical activity. Sports games that involve basketball, tennis, or even skateboarding can lead to children practicing those same skills outdoors. 

7. THEY MAY SLOW THE AGING PROCESS.

So-called “brain games” involving problem-solving, memory, and puzzle components have been shown to have a positive benefit on older players. In one study, just 10 hours of play led to increased cognitive functioning in participants 50 and older—improvement that lasted for several years. 

8. THEY HELP EASE PAIN.

It’s common to try to distract ourselves from pain by paying attention to something else or focusing on other body mechanisms, but that’s not the only reason why games are a good post-injury prescription. Playing can actually produce an analgesic (pain-killing) response in our higher cortical systems. The more immersive, the better—which is why pending virtual reality systems may one day be as prevalent in hospitals as hand sanitizer.  

9. YOU'LL MAKE NEW SOCIAL CONNECTIONS.

Gamers are sometimes stigmatized as being too insulated, but the opposite is actually true. The rise of multi-player experiences online has given way to a new form of socializing in which players work together to solve problems. But studies have shown games can also be the catalyst for friends to gather in person: roughly 70 percent of all players play with friends at least some of the time. 

10. THEY MAY IMPROVE BALANCE IN MS SUFFERERS.

Since it is a disorder affecting multiple nerves, multiple sclerosis patients often have problems with their balance—and no medications have been conclusively proven to help. However, one study showed that MS patients who played games requiring physical interaction while standing on a balance board displayed improvement afterward. 

11. YOU'LL MAKE FASTER DECISIONS.

We all know someone who seems to have a faster CPU than the rest of us, able to retrieve information or react in a split second. For some, that ability might be strengthened through gaming. Because new information is constantly being displayed during play, players are forced to adapt quickly. In one study, players who were immersed in fast-paced games were 25 percent faster in reacting to questions about an image they had just seen compared to non-players. 

12. THEY MAY CURB CRAVINGS.

Players preoccupied with indulging in overeating, smoking, or drinking might be best served by reaching for a controller instead. A university study revealed a 24 percent reduction in desire for their vice of choice after playing a puzzle game. 

13. THEY'LL REDUCE STRESS.

While some games are thought to induce stress—especially when you see your character struck down for the umpteenth time—the opposite can be true. A major study that tracked players over six months and measured heart rate found that certain titles reduced the adrenaline response by over 50 percent. 

14. GAMERS MIGHT BE LESS LIKELY TO BULLY.

Though the stance is controversial, some researchers have asserted that action games may reduce a bully’s motivation to—well, bully. One study that had players assume the role of both the hero and villain showed that those controlling the bad guy’s behaviors displayed a greater sense of remorse over their actions. 

15. THEY CAN HELP ADDRESS AUTISM.

Gamers using systems that incorporate the entire body to control onscreen movement have been shown to be more engaged in celebrating victories with their peers, which runs counter to the lack of communication people with autism sometimes present. A study also showed that sharing space with multiple players can also lead to increased social interaction for those with the disorder.

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