Nostalgia has established itself as a powerful force in the video game industry. Even hyper contemporary games such as Fortnite, which features a constant stream of updates targeting a younger audience, often leans into the nostalgia factor by featuring characters inspired by franchises that originated decades ago.
However, no gaming era receives quite as much nostalgic reverence as the one that spanned the ’80s and ’90s. The period dominated by the original Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy was the birthplace of some of the industry’s most iconic mascots and was the origin point for gameplay mechanics still used today. Games that might be decades old — an eternity in the fast-moving world of technology — are still played on retro devices such as the SNES Classic Edition and reimagined Game & Watch controllers.
While the new devices that introduce these games in all their 16-bit glory to new audiences are great, nothing beats the real thing. The pursuit of authentic video games has established a secondary market for vintage, high-quality original prints of some of the most popular games out there. Here are some of the most valuable video games out there — the kind that are so expensive, they might even be worth more than your car.
Super Mario 64 became the most valuable N64 game at $38,000
For the most part, the highest value video games found at auction are dominated by the earliest Nintendo offerings. While the Nintendo 64 is undoubtedly an older piece of hardware, it does mark a point where Nintendo and the video game industry started to move into its next era of higher fidelity visual styles and 3D worlds.
That said, dedicated collectors may have an educated guess as to which mustachioed plumber’s face appears on the world’s most valuable Nintendo 64 game. It is, of course, Mario once again. Like its predecessor’s Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World, the first Mario title developed and released for the Nintendo 64 set a high water mark for almost everything that came out on the console afterward. It became a best-selling title, won numerous awards, and influenced an entire generation of platformers that came after it.
As such, when a well-preserved copy of the game was made available on Heritage Auctions, more than two dozen bidders competed to add the game to their library. The winner of the auction ended up paying $38,400 for the game, the most ever paid for a Nintendo 64 title.
Micheal Jackson’s Moonwalker danced its way to $38,000
While Nintendo may have been a dominant force in the 80s and 90s, it was by no means the only console that had gamer’s attention. Nintendo’s biggest competitor was the aggressively advertised Sega Genesis, which featured the iconic Sonic the Hedgehog alongside well-known versions of NBA Jam, the uncensored Mortal Kombat arcade port, and Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition.
With such a solid library of games, it might come as a surprise to collectors to find out that the title that has generated the most interest is an odd movie tie-in – Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. By any measures, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is a weird game. The player controls Michael Jackson on a quest to find kidnapped children hidden in closets while defeating Mr. Big and his minions with a mixture of dance moves and magic dust, all set to chiptune versions of Jackson’s hits.
Despite Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker’s oddities, or perhaps because of them, a pristine copy of the game sparked a bidding war perhaps not only with video game collectors but Michael Jackson fans as well. When all was said and done, a highly rated, sealed copy of the game sold for $38,400 in early 2021.
Metroid put a $46,000 bounty on a copy of the original game
As another foundational franchise in Nintendo’s corner, Metroid and its heroine Samus Aran have enjoyed a long legacy of video game excellence and the ultimate honor — a permanent slot in Super Smash Bros. Beyond that, the original took the side-scrolling action of Super Mario Bros. and combined it with the open-ended world of The Legend of Zelda to provide an entirely new experience.
Later iterations of the franchise, such as Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, helped keep the game relevant and revolutionary for new audiences and systems. While the franchise hasn’t seen any significant releases in the past few years, the series still holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts and video game collections.
That’s why when a copy surfaced in 2020 that received the highest quality rating given out by Wata, gamers were eager to add it to their libraries. The game’s price was pushed into the tens of thousands and ultimately sold for $46,800.
Chrono Trigger traveled through time to sell for $48,000
Nintendo demonstrated with games like The Legend of Zelda that consoles had what it takes to put together a compelling RPG experience, but Square took things to the next level in the ’90s. Square’s signature franchise, Final Fantasy, pushed JRPGs to the forefront of the video game world, and the company produced many other titles that would have a lasting legacy in the industry.
During this period, one of Square’s best remembered games was Chrono Trigger, a time-traveling adventure that premiered on the Super Nintendo and PlayStation. While Chrono Trigger never established the same legacy that Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda did, the game is fondly remembered for its novel gameplay mechanics and memorable storytelling.
When Heritage Auctions made a well-preserved copy of this excellent game available in 2020, collectors didn’t hesitate to put in bids. When all was said and done, the game sold to one dedicated buyer for $48,000, a full 25 years after its original release.
The Legend of Zelda sold for a legendary $50,000
While franchises featuring Mario or Pokemon might be better known to mainstream audiences, loyal Nintendo fans are intimately familiar with the long-running Legend of Zelda series and its progenitor, The Legend of Zelda.
The original Legend of Zelda game was revolutionary in many ways. The game proved that consoles could provide the same full-featured RPG experience that had once been restricted mainly to PCs. An internal save feature meant that gamers could experience an epic story that didn’t need to finish in a single sitting. Beyond that, The Legend of Zelda established characters like Link, Zelda, and Gannon in the world of Hyrule that would serve as the setting for a franchise that still produces some of the best-loved games today.
As a result, high-quality copies of the original can demand top prices from collectors. In 2020, the game sold for a new high with an auction that closed at $33,600 — only to be beat a couple of months later by a sealed copy that ultimately sold for $50,400.
A $50,000 copy of Super Mario World is the most valuable SNES title
While games for the original NES dominate the top echelon of valuable vintage games, collectors still have plenty of interest in titles from its successor, the Super Nintendo. The dominance of Nintendo’s signature star, Mario, continues on the SNES with Super Mario World.
Dedicated collectors probably won’t be surprised that Mario’s face is on the most valuable Super Nintendo title. Still, there is one interesting detail that helps propel this particular Mario game to the top of the list. Super Mario World was a launch title for the Super Nintendo, which means that early run, sealed copies of the game are scarce.
The fact that the pristine copies of such a renowned game are so tricky to track down has helped raise the value of complete, in-box versions that do surface. Early in 2020, a bidding war between 28 collectors helped propel the value of one highly rated, sealed version of the game to $50,400.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! knocked out $50,000 at auction
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was a relatively short-lived series that left a long legacy for the NES. The Punch-Out!! franchise began life as an arcade cabinet in 1983 created by Nintendo, followed by a sequel, Super Punch-Out!! The cabinets did well, and when Nintendo geared up to launch the NES, they also prepared to port Punch-Out!!
However, there were two significant differences between the arcade version and the NES port of Punch-Out!! First off, the NES had lower hardware capabilities than the arcade cabinets did, meaning Nintendo needed to minimize specific graphic effects for the home version, which resulted in the creation of the famed Little Mac player character. Second, Nintendo arranged an endorsement from Mike Tyson, an up-and-coming heavyweight boxer. Tyson signed a three-year contract with Nintendo, during which time he won the 1986 WBC heavyweight title.
After those three years were up, Nintendo continued selling Punch-Out!! without Mike Tyson’s name. As a result, copies bearing Tyson’s endorsement are highly sought after in the video game collectors community. When a highly graded copy of the game went up for auction, intense competition drove the game up to $50,400.
The Nintendo World Championship raced to a $52,000 price tag
Almost all high-value collectible video games have certain things in common. Often, they come as a complete set, including the original box and manual. The price goes even higher if that box has a printing irregularity and remains sealed. One high-value collectible breaks with that tradition entirely, however — the Nintendo World Championship cartridge.
In 1990, Nintendo held a heavily promoted tournament that traveled around North America to crown a few skilled competitors the Nintendo World Champions. To ensure a level playing field, Nintendo produced custom cartridges for the tournament featuring challenges from Super Marion Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris. The cartridges were unassuming by Nintendo’s standers, featuring just a simple logo and serial number.
However, their uniqueness has made them some of the most valuable loose cartridges in existence. When one of the cartridges showed up at a vintage store in Seattle, the owner purchased it on the spot for $13,000, assured that it would sell for at least $15,000. Auctions have driven up that price even higher, with one copy selling for $52,800. Rumor has it, however, that the gold cartridges produced as Nintendo Power giveaway could be worth over $100,000.
Stadium Events: Family Fun Fitness hurdled its way to $66,000
Many of the vintage games that have brought in large sums of cash over the years have earned their value as well preserved copies of one of the most popular games in history. Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and Pokemon are all household words, after all, and rare copies of those titles have innate desirability.
Breaking with that mold is Stadium Events: Family Fun Fitness, a game that almost no one has heard of and even fewer people ever owned. Stadium Events is rare because the developers only shipped a few hundred copies before Nintendo recalled the game to rebrand it as World Class Track Meet. No one knows what happened to those copies of Stadium Events after they went back to the warehouse, but one thing is for sure — they are hard to find.
As a result, Stadium Events has been a highly desirable collector’s item for over a decade. In 2010, the game made headlines when a copy of the box with the manual sold for $13,000. In 2017, another copy sold for $41,000. The game remains incredibly valuable today — a recent sale on eBay brought in $55,000 while an auction ended up reaching $66,000.
Donkey Kong jumped to a respectable $72,000
All in all, Donkey Kong had a rough run in the beginning. Cast as the villain in his first arcade game, 1981’s Donkey Kong, Nintendo’s most famous gorilla ended up waiting in the wings while the unnamed hero of his own game became Jumpman, then Mario, and then the face of the entire Nintendo brand. It wasn’t until Rare took over the franchise and developed Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo that DK got the starring role he deserved.
That said, the original Donkey Kong is an indisputably important part of video game history. While the game may have been made famous by the arcade cabinets that appeared around the United States in the late ’80s, the NES console port released in 1985 is also a highly desired collector item.
The appearance of a highly graded, sealed copy of Donkey Kong with a unique packaging variant once again inspired a bidding war through Heritage Auctions. The game’s final price reached $72,000, which was more than triple its estimated value.
A copy of the original Mega Man raked in $75,000
Nintendo products dominate the list of the world’s highest video game sales, which makes sense considering that the company was the biggest name in town during the late ’80s and ’90s. However, part of Nintendo’s success was its willingness to push its proprietary products and open up its consoles for outside developers to support an expansive library of titles.
One of the first big franchises that Capcom developed for the NES was Mega Man, released in 1987. The game had been a sleeper hit in Japan, prompting Capcom executives to rush a localization effort to get the game ready for US markets. This resulted in the awkward box art the first game is famous for, which GameSpot called "the ugliest box art of all time."
However, in the world of vintage game collecting, sometimes bad can be good. When a copy of what collectors claimed to be the last sealed copy of the game’s original run in the U.S. became available, around 20 bidders drove the price up to unheard-of levels. When this rare copy of Mega Man sold for $75,000 in 2019, it set the world record for the most money ever spent on a single game.
Pokemon Red caught $84,000 at auction
While original NES games are dominant in the world of high-priced collectible video games, there is plenty of room for competition from other platforms. The Nintendo Game Boy and its successor, the Nintendo Game Boy Color, had a unique impact on video game history, and one of the signature franchises for those consoles, Pokemon, commands high prices.
Of particular interest to collectors are the first two editions of the game Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. Each version of the game was functionally identical except for the different types of Pokemon that players could find in each game. This marketing move, alongside the card game and TV series’ success, helped make Pokemon the cultural phenomenon that it still is today.
While high-quality versions of both versions of the game attract interest from collectors, the red edition holds the record for the most money spent on a copy of Pokemon. When one highly rated, sealed copy of the game went up for auction, a fan was willing to pay $84,000 to add it to his collection.
The original Super Mario Bros. cleared $114,000
Almost since the day Mario squared off against Donkey Kong in 1981, the vaguely Italian plumber has been the face of Nintendo and an emblem of video gaming as a whole. The character’s immense popularity has helped fuel a secondary market that has driven prices of high-quality copies of his signature games to extraordinary levels.
Until the PlayStation came along, the original Nintendo Entertainment System was the best-selling console of all time, and Mario’s first game on the system, Super Mario Bros., was its best-selling game. The simple story of a plumber searching for the often abducted Princess Peachy became iconic when released in 1985, and copies are almost as easy to find today as they were in the ’80s.
Finding a sealed copy of the game, however, is another story. A copy of the game sealed with a sticker, instead of shrink wrap, indicating it was produced in one of the game’s first printings, is legendary. One such sticker-sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. made its way to Heritage Auctions and set what was at the time a world record when it sold for $114,000.
Super Mario Bros. 3 set a record high at $156,000
When it comes to determining the value of a classic video game, there are a wide variety of factors in play. Sometimes a high resale value is the result of extreme rarity. Other times a supply quirk, like a recall or a licensing snafu, can drive the price up. A unique feature like an autograph can also cause prices to soar.
Every once in a while, though, as in the case of the most expensive Nintendo game ever sold, all it takes is a pristine copy of one of the best-selling video games of its era. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a rare game by no means, having moved 17.28 million copies for the NES, and there are so many copies out there that the playable copy by itself is only worth about ten dollars.
However, when news that a sealed, mint condition copy with a slight publishing variation was circulating, collectors began to pay attention. This particular copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 was shipped with the last word of the title covering part of Mario’s white glove. That oddity, alongside the mint condition packaging, sparked a bidding war among 20 collectors that led to a final sale price of $156,000.
The original Super Mario Bros. reportedly set a world record with a $660,000 sale
Mario was a standout character in Nintendo’s roster from the first time he faced off against Donkey Kong and, in the decades that followed, he became an emblem for gaming as a whole. Nintendo’s famous Italian plumber has enjoyed widespread popularity, which has helped power a robust secondary market in which high-quality copies of Super Mario Bros. are some of the most sought-after items in video game collecting.
The Nintendo Entertainment System was a revitalizing console following the game market crash in 1983 and, according to VGChartz, Super Mario Bros. was its best-selling title. As a result, copies are almost as easy to find today as they were then. However, hunting down a sealed copy of an early production run of Super Mario Bros. in perfect condition is something else entirely.
When a pristine copy of the fourth version of Super Mario Bros. ever produced, identifiable by its perforated cardboard hangtab and missing "Game Pak NES-GP" code, emerged on Heritage Auctions it sparked a bidding war that ended in a sale for $660,000. According to a press release, the game had sat undisturbed in the owners desk for 35 years before being brought to auction where it allegedly became the most valuable video game ever sold by a wide margin.
Castlevania cracked the whip to go for $38,400
Along with Metroid, Castlevania is credited with helping invent a new genre of platformer, the Metroidvania, in which exploration and the improvements of skills or items are just as important as reflexes.
The original Castlevania took the kid-friendly palette of many NES games and applied dark tones, crafting an adult feeling experience matched with a high caliber challenge that still receives praise from outlets like IGN. While the series grew in complexity with later titles to help define the Metroidvania genre, the original established a solid foundation that remains enjoyable still — if gamers can get their hands on a playable copy.
Thankfully, Castlevania was a popular game, and working copies are still floating around. However, well-preserved, sealed copies of the title from early production runs exist in the single digits according to a Heritage Auction listing. A copy on the site was identifiable as one of the first ever made thanks to its distinct cardboard hangtab packaging design. When this collectors item finally sold, the buyer paid $38,400 to own a piece of video game history.