As an avid retro gaming collector and Nintendo historian, few things give me more joy than reminiscing about the magic of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES revolutionized video games and defined pop culture with iconic 8-bit classics starring Mario, Link, Samus, and other cherished characters.
Decades later, the nostalgia and historical importance of the pioneering NES game library has made retro Nintendo cartridges hugely valuable collector‘s items. thanks to their rarity, quality, and association with such an influential milestone in gaming history.
In this guide, I‘ll countdown the 5 most expensive Nintendo games ever sold. You‘ll see why retro Nintendo games can easily fetch 5 or 6 figure price tags at auction these days!
First, let‘s briefly reminisce about the world-changing legacy of the original NES console.
The Phenomenal Impact of the Nintendo Entertainment System
Before the NES, the video game industry was struggling in America. The market became oversaturated with low-quality games and consoles, leading to the infamous crash of 1983 that bankrupted major companies like Atari.
Nintendo helped turn things around with the NES. Released in 1985 in North America, it pioneered improved graphics and gameplay compared to predecessors like Atari 2600 and ColecoVision.
Thanks to innovators like Gunpei Yokoi, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Masayuki Uemura, Nintendo introduced key advances such as:
- Scrollable 2D side-scrolling levels
- Battery backed save slots
- Complex animated sprites and backgrounds
- Custom graphics chips
- The interactive D-pad gamepad
Combined with the fun simplicity of early titles like Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and The Legend of Zelda, the NES became a phenomenon. It was a must-have toy for kids around the world throughout the late 1980s and into the 90s.
By the time the Super Nintendo arrived to replace it in 1991, the NES had sold over 60 million units worldwide. It saved the video game industry and ushered in a golden age of unforgettable 8-bit classics.
Let‘s take a look at regional NES sales and adoption figures:
|Territory||NES Units Sold||Install Base|
|USA||34 million||30% of households|
|Europe||8 million||6.5% of households|
|Japan||19 million||25% of households|
As these figures show, the NES truly conquered America. From Mariomania sweeping schoolyards to Nintendo‘s savvy licensing deals, the console became embedded in American childhoods.
Now let‘s jump into the 5 individual Nintendo games that have sold for eye-popping amounts to collectors hungry to reclaim that nostalgia!
#1: Super Mario Bros. – $2 Million
Kicking off the list with the most obvious and famous Nintendo game, this sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. broke records when it sold for $2 million in early 2022.
After basically single-handedly reviving the video game industry with the NES in 1985, Nintendo solidified their mascot Mario as a pop culture icon via this genre-defining side-scrolling platformer. It was bundled with nearly every NES sold, eventually moving over 40 million copies globally.
This particular copy is especially desirable because it‘s a rare "sticker sealed" variant. Mario illustrator Shigeru Miyamoto personally designed those stickers. Out of the millions printed, only a few sticker-sealed copies are known to exist.
Between effectively mint condition, special manufacturing quirks, and its status as the representative work of perhaps Nintendo‘s most important creative mind, this sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. made history when it obliterated previous video game auction records.
"This is equivalent to the holy grail of video games," said rally.io founder Rob Petrozzo about the record-setting SMB auction. As the most recognizable retro Nintendo title, rarest sealed variants of this genre-defining classic understandably command an immense premium.
#2: Nintendo Campus Challenge 1991 – $20,100
Now for one of the rarest Nintendo cartridges in the world. In 1991, Nintendo held video game competitions at colleges across America to promote the NES and hype up Super Mario World for Super Nintendo.
Special Campus Challenge cartridges were produced featuring demo versions of hits like Super Mario Bros. 3, Pinbot, and Dr. Mario. But Nintendo supposedly destroyed nearly all of these carts after the event ended, making them insanely scarce.
The copy that surfaced on eBay in 2006 was rescued from destruction by a former Nintendo employee. After purchasing it from his garage sale, collector J.J. Hendricks eventually auctioned it for over $20,000.
"The cartridge was made specifically for a limited event 25 years ago… so this is a unique piece of video game history," Hendricks told Yahoo! Finance.
As the availability of this promotional oddity dwindles, its value among collectors hungry for novel memorabilia continues rising exponentially.
#3: Stadium Events – $15,000
Before becoming World Class Track Meet, Stadium Events was a rare NES release that bundled the game with a Family Fun Fitness floor mat.
Initially handling manufacturing and distribution for Nintendo in North America, Atari produced Stadium Events in 1987. But Nintendo quickly decided to recall it and re-released the game under a new title.
That rebranding rendered authentic Stadium Events cartridges incredibly scarce. Sealed copies with the exercise mat can fetch upwards of $15,000 at auction today.
"Stadium Events marks an important shift in the video game industry… it‘s ironic that the game is incredibly rare given its significance," appraiser Valarie McLeckie told Nintendo Life. This highly sought retro release marked an early attempt at interactive exer-gaming.
#4: 1990 Nintendo World Championships – $10,000+
Perhaps the holy grail for collectors seeking novelty is the Nintendo World Championships cartridges. These 116 special competition carts were made for the original Championships held by Nintendo in 1990.
Featuring timed challenges from modified versions of Super Mario, Rad Racer, and Tetris, competitors had to rack up high scores for a shot at prizes.
Beyond those ultra-rare gray competition cartridges, the 26 gold prize cartridges awarded to the finals winners are extraordinarily valuable. The last known one to sell publicly went for over $10,000 back in 2016.
"I‘ve been collecting games for over 25 years… Stadium Events, old sealed Mario games… they don‘t have stories like these championship cartridges have," said game historian Patrick Scott Patterson about their cachet.
#5: The Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy – $8,000
Proof that even relatively common licensed games can become "holy grails" when sealed copies are scarce enough, this Flintstones NES game recently cracked $8,000 at auction in fantastic complete condition.
Released in 1991, it was one of the last American-produced NES games. Low print run due to the NES fading away by 1992 made finding sealed copies of this unremarkable Flintstones game practically impossible, skyrocketing its value.
"Every collector remembers the worst games they owned as a kid," said Digital Eclipse co-founder Frank Cifaldi. Nostalgia for long-forgotten licensed titles like this can unexpectedly make them extremely sought after decades later when few are left sealed.
Tips for Collecting Valuable Retro Nintendo Games
Hopefully examining the most coveted games has shown how nostalgia and rarity can produce astronomical prices for iconic Nintendo Entertainment System titles.
Here are my expert tips for collecting rare and expensive NES games yourself:
Verify authenticity. Have cartridges professionally authenticated and graded by WATA to confirm condition and guard against counterfeiting.
Research variants. Manufacturing quirks and re-releases create highly valuable regional, limited edition, or low print run variants.
Cherish completeness. Original boxes, instructions, sleeve art, and other accessories drastically raise value. Prioritize mint CIB (complete in box) games.
Consider character appeal. Nintendo mascots like Mario and Link command higher prices and interest than generic games.
Monitor auction sites. Watching sale trends on eBay and heritage auctions helps set expectations for fair value and price.
Secure safely. Store in cool, dry, dark conditions away from sunlight, humidity, dust, and pests to preserve pristine shape. Never handle roughly.
Budget wisely. This hobby can become expensive quickly. Set reasonable limits and focus your collection on meaningful childhood memories.
The retro Nintendo market shows no signs of slowing down. I hope this glimpse into the history and soaring value around rare NES games was both entertaining and informative! What other iconic Nintendo titles or gaming relics do you cherish from the 8-bit era?