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Why You’ll Never Be Able to Collect Every NES Game

If you’re in your 30’s or early 40’s, chances are that you grew up playing the Nintendo Entertainment System, the beloved first console released by Nintendo.  It’s, in a word, classic.  And now that you’re a full-fledged adult with a bunch of disposable income to drop on old video games, you probably want to try and collect all the games for it, right?

Fat chance.

The NES collection is a brutal one to complete.  The sheer size of it, combined with the system’s age, makes it tough enough to afford everything…but, the real kicker is that there’s such a storied variety of rare cartridges to track down that it’s virtually impossible to amass them all.

Let’s take a look at what it’ll take to get that complete collection you’re dreaming about, shall we?

A Library Of Over 800 Games

According to Wikipedia’s list of NES games, there are exactly 826 games you’ll have to acquire to get a full NES collection.  This number seems about right to me and is quite a lot compared to other systems’ libraries.  Sure, it’s dwarfed by Playstation’s 1,248 games and the Playstation 2’s insane 3,874 game hoard, but those systems were released relatively recently and you can find many of them at garage sales for mere pennies.

An NES game will run you at least a few bucks each and that’s just for the most common amongst them.  When you’re down to about 150 left, the games start costing you in the $30-$40 range.  When you have about 100 left they’ll hit $70-$80.  When you need the final 25 we’re talking $100+ easy, with some costing $200-$500.  And the last 10 or so will be way more than that and you’ll likely never see one in person.

Ever.

The Unlicensed Games

When you think about the physical appearance of an NES cartridge, you’ll likely think about the classic gray color that all the games you owned used to looked like.  However, there were over 100 unlicensed games available for the system, too.  Those came in black, baby blue, gold, and even clear plastic!

There were many reasons why unlicensed games invaded the market back then.  Most famously, Tengen decided to start publishing unlicensed games because of Nintendo’s limitation on how many games a developer could pump out in a year. (That’s why the Tengen library is so large.) For companies like Panesian, their pornographic games were never going to be approved by a company like Nintendo that didn’t even want blood being showcased, let alone boobs.  As a result, there’s a glut of unlicensed games that saw limited distribution and can be very tricky to track down now.

Overall, the black Tengen games are still fairly common, but good luck finding copies of Action 52 or the extremely rare Cheetahmen II by Active Enterprises.  These games will cost between $250 and $1,000 if you can even find them at all.   Don’t expect quality for your money either.  These games are among the worst the NES has to offer!

The Aladdin Games

Camerica is another unlicensed game developer best known for titles such as Micro Machines and the Dizzy and Quattro series’.  However, as a cost-cutting measure, they decided to re-release their rogue games in their own proprietary format. You see, the extra chips to bypass the Nintendo’s system security were expensive at the time.

So in 1992, they released the Aladdin Deck Enhancer. It came packed with one game while six others were also made available and sold separately for it.  The black cartridges were much smaller than the standard NES form-factor and plugged into the Deck Enhancer accessory which was then inserted into the NES.  The games didn’t sell well and no new games were released after launch as a result.

Today, these games are very hard to find and largely have to be bought on eBay.  A complete collection goes for about $120.

The Miracle Piano

In 1990, The Software Toolworks released the Miracle Piano Teaching System, a training system for learning how to play the piano.  While not exclusive to Nintendo by any means, the $500 price-tag meant only a small number of upper-class kiddos were lucky enough to own one.  As rare as that makes them, only a percentage of those were the NES version.  These days, the Miracle Piano cartridge may not be so pricey (for some reason), but if you want it complete with the electronic piano you’re looking at shelling out between $125 and $200 unless you get really lucky and find it at a flea market.

One of the most beautiful boxes you can collect for the NES.

One of the most beautiful boxes you can collect for the NES.

The Unreleased Games of America (Whoa-oa)

Aside from the hundreds of games released here in the United States, there’s a pantheon of games that never made it to the west or saw official releases at all.  Gems like Mr. Gimmick exist, but unless you lived in Japan or Scandinavia you never saw this fantastic game in stores.  Classics like Contra and Super C are found all over the place here (though still pricey at around $20-$40), but did you know the European versions were called Probotector and Probotector II and featured robots instead of humans? And what about Little Red Hood that was an incomplete and untested game that was released by Sachen/Thin Chen Enterprise when they were desperate for income? That will run you $130 if you’re lucky enough to have a chance at buying it.

Yeah, you’ll need to collect those, too!

Little Samson & The Late Arrivals

The Super Nintendo was released on August 23rd, 1991, and with that went any remaining interest in the NES.  As Nintendo’s first major console upgrade, in an era where console revisions were still  uncommon, the graphical upgrade was so stark that NES sales plummeted overnight.

Developers had to decide whether to re-work their games for the SNES platform or go ahead and release their games to the still-larger market of NES owners.  Sales figures vary based on the title, but many faced little interest and sold only in small amounts. As a rule of thumb, the later sequels in various NES series’ tend to be the rarest including Dragon Warrior IV, Ninja Gaiden III, and Power Blade 2.

As a result, games like Little Samson, Panic Restaurant, and The Flintstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak sell for hundreds of dollars nowadays.  Tragically, these games are actually among the best games in the NES library because of how much experience developers had with the platform by this time.  So, while these games will cost you your first born, hey, at least you’ll have fun playing them!

Too bad you’ll be broke.

Don't remember Panic Restaurant?  Don't be ashamed.  Most have never heard of it.

Don’t remember Panic Restaurant? Don’t be ashamed. Most have never heard of it.

The Panesian Games

Of the late arrivals we discussed, in particular, Panesian released a set of three pornographically themed named Bubble Bath Babes, Hot Slots, and Peek-A-Boo Poker.  These games (obviously) weren’t licensed by Nintendo and, due to their graphic nature, were mostly sold only in porn shops. (You weren’t going to find it at Child World, that’s for sure!)

The lack of distribution and a late release in the NES software cycle means these games are extremely rare and will go from anywhere between $500-$1000 in varying conditions.  You will not find these at a flea market either…you’re gonna have to pay up big time.

Most collectors will never even see these games in person, let alone own one.

Consider yourself lucky if you get a crack at buying this game for just a few hundred bucks.

Consider yourself lucky if you get a crack at buying this game for just a few hundred bucks.

The Discontinued: Stadium Events

In January, I told you the story of Stadium Events and how its discontinuation has rocketed it to the top of the price charts. While you’ll find tons of World Class Track Meet carts in the wild (the exact same game), it’s its original form which is among the most elusive.  These cartridges are so rare you don’t even see them pop up on eBay very often either.

If you ever get your hands on one of these, never let it go. (But call me.) In fact, if you ever even see one in person, consider yourself lucky.

It’s probably worth more than your house.

Nintendo World Championships and Campus Challenge

Finally, we reach the holy grails of the NES world.

In 1990, Nintendo held a nation-wide gaming contest dubbed the Nintendo World Championships.  They challenged gamers to achieve the highest score possible in a combination of games: Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris.  Winners advanced to other tournaments and ultimately several champions were crowned.  I never attended it, but I remember badly wanting to go because DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were performing at one near where I lived at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. Damn, they were awesome back then.

When the Championships ended, the 90 cartridges they used for the competition were given out to various finalists.  In the meantime, the popular Nintendo Power magazine ran a contest that saw 26 identical versions, albeit in a Zelda-like gold cartridge, given to contest winners.

The NWC carts are identifiable by the exposed circuitry that allowed various game modes to be selected.

The NWC carts are identifiable by the exposed circuitry that allowed various game modes to be selected.

In all, there are 116 Nintendo World Championship cartridges known to exist.  Today, about half that number is accounted for and they go for between $2,000 to $30,000!  Those gold cartridges are the most rare and, in general, pricier than the gray versions.  I’m partial to the gray ones, though, because of their history. You may go your entire lifetime never having seen one.  To think, many kids who obtained these cartridges back then may have thrown them out or gave them away thinking they were worthless.

But you think those are rare?

In 1991 and 1992, Nintendo held another contest called the Campus Challenge. There were 60 such events held on college campuses across the country. This time the game challenges included Super Mario Bros. 3, Pin Bot, and Dr. Mario. Unlike the Nintendo World Championships, cartridges were never given out to contestants.

Only three are known to exist today.

As the story goes, a man named Rob Walters found the first two of them at a garage sale in 2006. He didn’t know what the games were until he got home and tried them out.  These games are valued at $15,000+ and consider yourself the luckiest human being that ever lived if you find a 4th one.

So there.  Are you still determined to obtain a complete NES collection now?

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

11 thoughts on “Why You’ll Never Be Able to Collect Every NES Game

  1. Stadium Events was actually converted into World Class Track Meet, not Athletic World. Athletic World was a separate game in the Family Fun Fitness Mat series of games by Bandai.

    1. Oh my, what a dumb mistake! Thank you for catching that! I need to get my fitness games straight…I rarely play them because tired.

  2. Personally, I would temper my collection with the qualifications of “The game had to have had a retail release,” and maybe “It has to be a Nintendo-approved game.” But that’s me.

    1. Personally, that’s how I collect it. I had about 50 unlicensed games but decided to sell them for a few reasons. One, they looked ugly on the shelf. Two, there was a bunch of em that would be SUPER pricey as listed in the article. And three, I raised money to buy more licensed games! Totally eased my stress levels.

      I also don’t consider Stadium Events among the games I have to collect since it’s WCTM. But ya know…if I ever come across one…

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