Considering how much of a nostalgic powerhouse the NES is, there should be little surprise that Nintendo’s 8-bit library is filled with many collectible pieces. In contrast with the Super Nintendo’s rare and valuable list, , the most desirable NES games are not necessarily the most popular games. Because of the unassuming nature of these titles, you may be unaware of the treasures that could be found in a local garage sale, flea market, or your own closet.
In stark contrast to the Cheapest Games series, this Rare & Valuable series will round up the rarest and most valuable games for a given console or handheld so you’ll know what to look for whether you are buying or selling. Below you will see two prices beside each title. The first is the average daily selling price, which is typically the going rate for the cartridge by itself. The second price is the highest selling price of recent history. The list is ordered by the balance of the two prices. Note that some of these games are not rare in the sense that there are not many available, but rare relative to demand, which makes the games expensive. It is also worth nothing that we are not including prototype cartridges.
Note: Values updated on August 1, 2017
Limited Edition Collectibles
1990 Nintendo World Championships: Gold Edition
$25,000 – $50,000
In 1990, Nintendo famously held a gaming tournament in Los Angeles, California, not unlike the one in the finale of the cult classic film, The Wizard. While admittedly a mainstream competition (most of us could have won with no problem), the event was a high point in Nintendo’s glamorous reign at the top of the gaming market, and is remembered by many with great enthusiasm. After its promotion in the popular Nintendo Power and through the Powerfest tour, kids everywhere practiced feverishly in hopes of heading to this event, seeing the wonder of light and sound, playing some Rad Racer, and winning it all.
The actual game is a timed compilation of three titles (Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer, and Tetris), each adjusted for the tournament and containing a unique scoring system. The 1990 Nintendo Worldwide Championships: Gold Edition was the contest prize in one of Nintendo Power’s monthly promotions. One grand prize winner and twenty-five equally as fortunate runners-up were each sent a single copy (which makes 26 copies in the wild).
What gives these competition cartridges an incredible dynamic is that, while so few copies exist, they were distributed to winners throughout all of North America. Many rare/prototype games and systems with this low of a production had their entire allotment sent to or found in a single localized area.
- See Latest 1990 Nintendo World Championship Gold Cartridge on eBay
1990 Nintendo World Championships: Grey Cartridge
$8,000 – $25,000
These essentially have the same story behind them as the gold cartridge mentioned above, but the more common grey cartridges were the ones actually used in the tournaments and were then given to each of the finalists. The grey carts had a print run of 90 and has a monochromatic label and, like a lot of EPROM exposed prototypes, has a hole in its casing for displaying dip-switches.
What is rather interesting about these cartridges is the fact that only about half of the cartridges have reportedly surfaced, so there are still more out there hidden in somebody’s closet, garage sale, or flea market. Even though these are cartridge-only releases, condition can be a large factor. A grey cartridge sold in December of 2012 on Ebay for over $8300. However the buzz of these championship cartridges helped a sale for $25,000 complete in May of 2017.
- See Latest 1990 Nintendo World Championship Grey Cartridge on eBay
1991 Nintendo Campus Challenge
$14,000 – $20,100
The 1991 Nintendo Campus cartridge was created by Nintendo for a video game competition like the Nintendo World Championships in 1990, but this one would tour college campuses and spring break hot spots. The cartridges had three games on them, Super Mario 3, PinBot, and Dr. Mario and a time limit of about 6 minutes. Players attempted to get the most points on all three games within the allotted time.
After the event, the games were all supposed to be destroyed, but one was found at an ex-Nintendo employee’s garage sale in 2006. Up until 2006, it was hard to pin down a value for this cartridge as it never really surfaced on the marketplace. That year, the cartridge was sold privately (by a collector who found it at a garage sale in New York) for $14,000 and then later resold for on eBay $20,100 — at the time, bringing it just shy of the mark at the time for the 1990 Gold Nintendo World Championship Cartridge. (Read More) The cartridge hasn’t surfaced since 2006 — neither new sightings of additional, legitimate cartridges or new sales of the original find.
One could argue that this cartridge is less of an “official game” than even the 1990 Championship Cartridges and more in the area of prototype cartridges (which typically aren’t worth as much as official game releases). These are the types of difficult discussions that collectors face — similar to putting a value on a game like Gamma Attack for the Atari 2600 that only has one known copy after being sold via mail order. Ultimately, a game is only worth what somebody will pay. The question is whether somebody will pay more than $21,000 the next time a cartridge goes up for sale.
- Check eBay for the 1991 Nintendo Campus Challenge
Treasured Standard USA Releases
$8,000 – $35,000
While the 1990 World Championship cartridges had much of the attention of the NES collectors up until 2010, Stadium Events has been covered in much of the hype over the last seven years.
What makes this otherwise standard game so rare, is that just after its release, it was recalled. As an official third party title, Stadium Events made use of an accessory called the Family Fun Fitness Pad. It required the player(s) to run or step rapidly in order to complete each event. Upon its release, Nintendo decided to grant the game a first party production, recalling the scant initial cartridges that had been sent out.The game would later become “World Class Track Meet” and would be played with Nintendo’s own controller the “Power Pad”. Both became very common and were boxed-in with many NES consoles. But Stadium Events, the original anomaly, had snuck out in ever so limited numbers.
2000 copies is believed to have been the total distribution tally, but that doesn’t consider how many of those were sold prior to Nintendo’s recall. Some have suggested that no more than 200 actually made it into NES owners’ homes. It should be noted that PAL versions were not recalled and are not worth as much (even though many eBay sellers try to pass them off as rarities or jump on the hype of the rare North American version).
In 2011, we saw complete copies of Stadium Events peak with an eBay sale closing at $45, 000. As more copies (sometimes unopened) surfaced, the prices have come down to $30,000 or even $20,000. Loose copies seem to have increased over time, but there are still relatively frequent.
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$1,000 – $1,400
Little Samson has become the NES collecting “success story” in the last decade (without the mainstream media hype of Stadium Events). In our original publication of this guide in 2008, Little Samson was on the radar, but it didn’t crack the top 10 list and could be found for a reasonable amount of money for one of our NES Hidden gems that was relatively hard to find. In our 2012 revision of the guide it jumps to $90 for a bare cart and $200 for a complete copy.
If you check into eBay or any other experienced seller that is selling a copy of Little Samson today, you will find those bare carts being over 10x as expensive — sometimes exceeding $1000 for a bare cart (as much as $1400 for an unsealed, complete copy). This easily makes it the most valuable un-recalled retail NES game in the collector market.
With all that being said, Little Samson is a gem of a action shooter developed by Taito in 1991 to jump into the platforming trend. It also had the bright graphics and smooth animation to earn its way onto our NES Games That Pushed the Limits back in 2007. Unfortunately, back in the early 90s, Taito didn’t have the marketing push to help it get the attention in the crowded NES platforming space.
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The Flintstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak
$800 – $1,325
As the NES era drew to a close, publishers like Taito Released many of their games exclusively to game rental companies while bypassing the traditional retail market. The Flintstones II is the best example of this in the US, but is a bit easier to find in Europe. Of course, since it was primarily a rental game, finding a complete copy in good condition is especially challenging.
This combination of rarity element and a fun pop-culture tie-in helped The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak to see a similar trajectory to Little Samson on the NES collectors charts. In 2008, it was an affordable gem to keep a look out for. However, by 2012, it had made it to the top 5 licensed retail/rental games for the NES at the $120 to $250 range. Now, you’re easily creeping toward the $1000 mark — especially as you get boxed copies.
- Check for Flintstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak on eBay
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$500 – $1300
Here’s another Taito release that has started to get increased collector attention the past few years. Five or six years ago, it was not hard to find a copy of this game under $100. As the NES market has heated up, you’ll be challenged to find it for less than $500 with prices sometimes exceeding $1000 for a complete copy.
Panic Restaurant is an interesting platformer designed by the late Kenji Eno (who eventually developed the “D” survivor horror series) that puts you in the role of Chef Cookie in an attempt to tame your restaurant of aggressive food products. It has a fun style and theme to it that would feel right at home in the better third-party NES platformers.
Since it is both hard to find and a fun, quirky addition to any NES fan’s collection, it’s not hard to see why this title has climbed the list as everyone wants to round out their collection.
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$400 – $2000
While it was know primarily for being the leading franchise on the TurboGrafx-16 / PC-Engine, Bonk also received an adaptation on the NES (in addition to the Game Boy, the Arcade and Amiga). The original TG16 game was developed by Red Entertainment and published by Hudson. A.I. Co worked with Red Entertainment on the NES port to be released released in January 1994 (4 years after the TG16 release and exceptionally late in the NES timeline.).
The NES port obviously had the colors downgraded due to hardware limitations, but it looks like a pretty decent presentation considering the circumstances. However, since the cartridge space was bigger of a limitation on the NES than color palette, some levels were cut from the original, and the remaining levels have some edits to them. You also won’t find the NES version to be as challenging as the hardware wasn’t able to put as many enemies on the screen at a time.
This rather limited release didn’t get much attention on this original publication of this list in 2008 as it was selling for between $30 and $60 at the time. It doubled in value by 2012 to a $60 to $250 range. However, in the last 5 years, it was multiplied 5 to 6 times to a bare cart price of $60 and a complete copy ranging from $800 to $2000.
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Power Blade 2
$400 – $800
This action platformer developed by Natsume is yet another Taito publication that has been climbing this list. Interestingly enough, this title was actually released in North America before it was released in Japan (under the name Captain Saver).
While this original Power Blade was adapted from a Mega Man rip-off that ended up being pretty good, Power Blade 2 was watered down from the original other than the addition of some additional power suits. Released in late 1992, it was near the end of the NES lifespan and didn’t get a lot of circulation.
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$370 – $680
Released in 1990 by Meldac and developed by KAZe, Zombie Nation was originally released in Japan as Abarenbou Tengu. It is a horizontal shmup that features a bizarre setting with a fusion of zombies and samurai.
Zombie Nation could use some additional refinement, but it does show off some technical skill with the amount of activity occurring on the screen without slowdown. The boss battles are also frantic, and the amount of bullet fire in later levels show the promise of the “bullet hell” genre to become popular later in the decade.
While it isn’t one of the greatest shooters on the NES, it’s not difficult to see how fans of shmups or quirky titles could find it appealing to add this to their collections. The game doesn’t have the best historical reputation, but has become a bit more of a rare cult classic over time.
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$300 – $530
This Natsume creation was published by SOFEL in North America in early 1992. It is a very interesting hybrid of a platformer and shooter that can either be incredibly frustrating or, with some practice, a zen-state action experience.
You primarily venture out as warrior with a hack-n-slash platformer feel, but you can switch to a flying dragon form when you meter fills up (ideal when you’re in a tight spot, certain stages, or during boss battles). This is one of the better examples of a valuable game that has some solid and interesting gameplay.
While being judged purely on gameplay, it might not be “worth” the price, but if you’re looking to add a valuable collector piece to your NES collection that is also a solid gem of a game (see a solid video review), Dragon Fighter is actually a nice choice.
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Bubble Bobble Part 2
$300 – $500
If you’re an old-school gaming fan, it is hard not to love the Bubble Bobble franchise. The original is a common mainstay in the NES library, however, Bubble Bobble Part 2 was released in 1993, coming very late in the NES’s lifespan – a full two years after the SNES was released. Despite it being a follow-up to an arcade classic, it languished on the store shelves, overshadowed by shiny, new Super Nintendo games.
In fact, by 1993, the puzzle platformer style of the game was becoming very much a niche genre, so it wasn’t even released in the arcade. All that results of Taito’s efforts was this NES release and a Game Boy variation.
For those that are into the series, Part 2 is mostly unchanged from the original game, but the player can float up to higher platforms and over walls by holding down the B button. One disappointment with this NES releases, however is that two-player mode only lets you take turns instead of play cooperatively.
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Duck Tales 2:
$180 – $600
While the original Duck Tales game was released in 1989, sold quite well, and is a regarded as a challenging but thrilling classic in the NES library, the follow-up title was not released until 1993, dooming it to be a slow-moving title. For those who enjoyed the original Duck Tales game, you will mostly likely find enjoyment here. There are a few subtle changes, but some argued that the game was rather short.
Duck Tales 2 has been high on this list of NES collectibles for quite some time. While it’s numerical ranking may have gone down, it is still worth 4 to 5 times what its value from 5 years ago. It will be interesting to see if the new (and enjoyable, IMO) Duck Tales cartoon reboot will add more collector appeal to this release.
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Mighty Final Fight
$200 – $540
Final Fight was a landmark beat ‘em up on which Capcom began work as a follow-up to the original Street Fighter (but before Street Fighter II). It was a hit in the arcades in 1989 and received a successful Super Nintendo port in 1991. Once 1993 came around, Capcom wanted to try to bring the successful game to the still-surviving NES but obviously needed to make some graphical changes to make it work on the older hardware.
As a nice compromise, Capcom took some inspiration from the likes of Double Dragon and River City Ransom. The result is a “chibi,” or super-deformed, art style that works as a bit of parody of the Final Fight series (think of Capcom’s later Pocket Fighter as a fun take on Street Fighter). While you may be disappointed if you expect Mighty Final Fight to be a replacement for the original, if you go in with an open mind ready to have fun, it’s still one of the best beat ‘em ups on the NES.
For a collector’s standpoint, Mighty Final Fight skyrocketed out of mid-double digit cartridge pricing to going for $200 for a bare cartridge over the last 5 years. Boxed copies can easily exceed $500 in good shape.
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$200 – $500
Snow Brothers is an arcade port of the puzzle platformer title of the same name and has gameplay very similar to Bubble Bobble. It is actually one of the older games on this list, being released in 1991, but the game did not move many copies despite its solid gameplay. In fact, Ocean had licensed the game for the Amiga and Atari ST in 1991 but canceled the games part way through development because of disappointing sales (it was eventually released on the Mega Drive in 1993, however).
Even though Snow Brothers has been on our top 10 list of Licensed US Releases for quite a while, it could be found for a modest $49 for a loose cartridge and up to $150 for a boxed copy. Five years later, it has essentially quadrupled in value, now commanding $200 for a loose copy and up to $500 for a boxed copy.
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$250 – $400
Inspired by Konami’s Ganbare Goemon series but with a heavy Western influence, Cowboy Kid was developed by a small upstart company by the name of Pixel and published by Romstar in North America in 1992. It has a lot of similarities to Ganbare Goemon 2 on the Famicom but is different enough that it has been theorized that it could have been rejected by Konami and sold off to be repackaged.
The game isn’t strictly 2D, but some areas give some freedom of movement like a beat ‘em up. Other spots shift to either side-scrolling platforming levels or horseback stages that play like an overhead shooter. To round it out, it even has some RPG aspects and a handful of mini games like a shooting gallery, blackjack, and others.
In the end, Cowboy Kid was a very low run production piece at the later part of the NES lifespan. It didn’t really get a ton of collector action until the last 5 to 7 years. In 2012, we were looking at $16 for a loose cart and around $25 copy for a boxed copy; 5 years later, you are looking at $250 loose and $400 boxed.
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Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers 2
$250 – $380 ($1400 sealed)
The original Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers is one of the best platforming games on the NES and got a decent amount of attention after its 1990 release. Much like the scenario of Duck Tales and Duck Tales 2, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers 2 is a solid follow up to the original and will make fans happy, but when arrived in 1993, the NES was all but dead, and the novelty of the cartoon franchise was already in limited syndication.
Unlike Duck Tales 2, C&DRR2 stayed under the radar with collectors for quite a while and could be found relatively easily for low double digits in 2012. Now, it will be hard to find a loose cartridge for less than $200. A sealed and graded copy even went for $1400 in the last month.
It is also worth noting that both Duck Tales 2 and Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers 2 were released in The Disney Afternoon Collection compilation for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One in April of 2017 (just a little over 3 months since this guide’s revision).
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The Jetsons: Cogswell’s Caper
$215 – $585
If you’re paying attention to the developers and publishers on this list, the combination of Natsume developing and Taito publishing should make it unsurprising to see The Jetsons: Cogswell’s Caper appear on this list. Combine that with the release date of late 1992, and you can see why it is an in-demand rarity.
Cogwell’s Caper wasn’t always high on this list; back in 2012, it was simply on the middle of the “Rarest USA Games at Affordable Prices” section. In hindsight, more of us should have tracked down copies of all those titles. Just five years ago, one could have easily scored a loose copy for only $14 and possibly a boxed copy for around $20. Now, it’s about $215 for a loose copy (over 15 times increase) and bump to a range of $355 to $585 for a boxed copy (nearly over 17X to 30x). The game itself is not where its value is found. While the graphics do a nice job of representing the cartoon, there is not much additional substance.
- Check for The Jetsons: Cogswell’s Caper on eBay
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$200 – $360
While most of this lists relies heavily on the rarity of the game and collectors trying to add buzz-worthy investments to their collection, Gun-Nac is one of the most serious combinations of rarity and the caliber of the game itself. Fans of scrolling shooters (or shmups as their often called) are some of the most dedicated genre collectors and the genre often has a lot of under-appreciated gems that didn’t sell especially well in their time of release. This can be evidenced in many of our Rare and Valuable guides of 90s consoles such as the Saturn, Dreamcast, Genesis, PlayStation, and SNES.
There was a nice handful of great shmups on the NES, and some of the most well-known classics such as R-Type and Gradius were mainstream hits and have lots of inexpensive copies floating around. Gun-Nac, on the other hand, is commonly on shmup fans list of top NES shooters but also has a much more limited circulation. Gun-Nac was developed by Compile — the Japanese firm known for shmup franchises such as Zanac, Aleste and Gunhed/Blazing Lazers.
Gun Nac is one of the fastest shooters for the NES, probably only rivaled by Recca Summer Carnival or Crisis Zone. Although Gun Nac frequently becomes hectic, it is still one of the most balanced shooters in the NES library. Weapon drops are frequent causing the penalty of dying to be less threatening than most shooters. The money you pick up can be used in the shops between levels to power-up your weapons if you don’t feel like leaving it to fate. Gun-Nac’s graphics are reminiscent of Zanac but with its 5 years of technical advances showing. It also has a zany story and strange bosses that seemed to give Compile a break from its more “serious” themes.
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$220 – $310
Don’t be fooled by the title of this game — this game has nothing to do with racing but instead is a platforming game based on the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon series featuring Muttley and Dick Dastardly. It was developed and published by Atlus in 1992 and is actually a relatively challenging but beatable platformer that has a nice cartoon presentation and will feel at home with some of the of the best licensed platformers the 8-bit era had to offer.
Much like The Jetsons, Wacky Races was previously on the “Rarest USA Games at Affordable Prices” section back in 2012. Loose copies jumped from $11 to $220 (a 20x jump) and a boxed copy from $15 to $310.
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$200 – $300
Sword Master is a side-scrolling action platformer that relies on action, patience, and strategy. Between the hack-n-slash action and the energetic soundtrack, it has some strong arcade vibes, but it requires more thought and concentration than most of its arcade peers. Despite its challenging and unforgiving nature, it can be really fun once you get a good feel for it.
Sword Master was developed by Athena in 1990 but released by Activision in the US in 1992. It is thought by some to be a follow-activup of Athena’s Castle of Dragon, but it was never officially stated as such. The graphics could actually pass for an early TurboGrafx 16 or a launch-era Sega Genesis game with large, detailed characters and impressive backgrounds and cutscenes. As impressive as it was for the NES, it did pale in comparison to what the SNES offered in 1992 which prevented it from getting substantial sales.
Back in 2012, this game was quite under the radar and could be found for $20 to $30 for a loose copy. While it goes for 10x those prices now, this is another one of those gems that could be worth adding to your collection if you are fan of the genre.
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Kid Klown in Night Mayor World
$190 – $280
Developed by and published in the US in April 1993 by Kemco, Kid Klown was originally Mickey Mouse III: Yume Fuusen (The Dream Balloon) in Japan. Since Capcom held the license for Disney video games in the US, the game’s title and certain character sprites were changed for its North American release.
The game is a fairly standard platformer in many ways, but the game’s biggest innovation is the circus balloons that Kid Klown can deploy as a springboard to high places, a parachute to float safely, and as a projectile weapon that can be thrown in 8 directions. Other than this novelty, there isn’t much in the gameplay or the graphics (especially by 1993 standards) that will keep you coming back to this title.
Kid Klown remained in obscurity in both name and collectibility until it started ascending from tens of dollars to over $100 in the last few years.
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters
$160 – $435
Tournament Fighters was a classic attempt to combine the popularity of the franchise at the peak of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ popularity with the peak of the fighting game trend. While there was a lot of noise in the genre, the Tournament Fighters title got a lot of promotion, but this was mostly for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis ports. The NES version was a bit of a gamble to capitalize on the large NES install base late in its lifespan (and actually released a few months after the 16-bit versions). While it did have it’s technical limitation on the NES, it wasn’t as disappointing in comparison to the 16-bit versions as you might think.
Tournament Fighters’ 1994 release was Konami’s final NES title. If it wasn’t enough of a risk to release an NES game in 1994 (only 8 licensed US titles were released after it), Tournament Fighters was also banking on the success of the third live-action Ninja Turles movie that was released in the spring of 1993, but as fans may remember, that movie was painfully disappointing. Interestingly enough, the NES version was not released at all in Japan.
Tournament Fighters was originally in our honorable mentions section of this guide in past revisions, but it only sold for between $25 and $40 in 2012. A loose copy these days can easily go for $160 now, and a boxed copy has sold for between $375 and $435.
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Fire ‘N Ice
$150 – $390
Fire N Ice is a cool little puzzle action game that is the sequel to the NES favorite, Solomon’s Key (and is called Solomon’s Key 2 in Europe and Japan). Fire ‘N Ice puts you in the role of a wizard named Dana who needs traverse maze-like structures while extinguishing flames using his power to move and create blocks of ice. There are even some boss battles that features bigger puzzles, often have lava chasing you, and sometimes rise vertically. They serve as a challenging but rewarding experience to break up the standard levels.
Released in March of 1993 by Tecmo, the North American release didn’t get a lot of attention, and sales were slow. The cover art tried to grab attention with it’s bright colors and “Warning” label, but it didn’t really suit the game well. The name change in the US probably didn’t help any either.
Overall, Fire N Ice has a colorful and whimsical style that rounds out a game that would be a great addition to any NES collection. It is a shame that more gamers didn’t get to experience it. Other than some unofficial clones on the ZX Spectrum and the Amiga, this game remains an NES exclusive.
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$130 – $340
Possibly the best value on this list despite the hefty price, Metal Storm packs a great futuristic aesthetics paired with fun 2D run-n-gun platforming gameplay.
Metal Storm was published in 1991 by Irem (who is notorious for their punishing shooters such as R-Type). This fantastic gem has you play as a robot that can switch gravity at a push of a button (a feature that was also fun the Gameboy gem, Wendy: Every Witch Way). It’s a wonderful gameplay mechanic that is just as technically impressive as it is fun. Metal Storm is easy to pick up and play, but it takes quite some effort to master. The advanced animation, parallax scrolling, and and mecha style would feel at home on a 16-bit console if it had a deeper color palette.
Despite being featured on the cover of Nintendo Power Issue #22, it didn’t sell very well — Nintendo Power later blamed it on issues with low distribution.
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$120 – $480
The original Contra (released in 1987) was one of the most defining games on the NES and a sequel, Super Contra (known as “Super C” on the NES), followed a year later. In the early 90’s, Konami was working on another shooter title by the name of Arc Hound, but it ended up getting its Japanese release cancelled. However, Konami decided to take advantage of the strong brand presence of the Contra series in the US and release it under the name Contra Force.
While it was still a classic 2D run-n-gun, it felt significantly slower than the previous Contra games (it was actually notorious for slowdown issues) and didn’t have some of the weaponry and theme that fans would expect, so many felt betrayed by Konami with the release. In addition, Contra Force was released in September of 1992 which was rather late in the NES’s lifespan. On top of that, Contra III: The Alien Wars came out just a few months earlier on the Super Nintendo. Konami all but admitted that Contra Force was a bit of an afterthought and the sales of the game reflected that.
It is worth noting some interesting aspects of the game, however, such as adding various characters with their own skills, weapons and unique spri