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Very Rare Games From Nintendo's Past

Nintendo has made many, many games. Not all of them are classics. For every Super Mario Bros., Kirby's Adventure, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there's a Nintendo game that's faded into obscurity. That doesn't mean that they're bad. They've simply been forgotten.

Naturally, that makes them prime targets for collectors, who thrive when they're uncovering the strangest, rarest games that they can find. The following games may not have redefined the game industry, but they're hot collectibles, not to mention important pieces of the history of gaming's weirdest and most beloved company.

Finding love is hard, but finding the Love Tester is harder

Back in the day — like, way, way back in the day — Nintendo didn't make video games. It made playing cards, and it made them quite well. For decades, Nintendo dominated the Japanese playing card industry, until a market crash in the '60s forced the firm to start looking for other streams of revenue. New products that Nintendo launched included taxis, pay-by-the-hour "love hotels", and toys.

The company found lots of success with the latter, thanks largely to Gunpei Yokoi, who'd go on to create the Game & Watch series, the Nintendo Game Boy, and the Virtual Boy. Yokoi's first big success was a mechanical arm called the Ultra Hand, but for our purposes, Yokoi's Love Tester is a lot more interesting. It's not a game in the traditional sense, but it is an electronic amusement, making it a distant ancestor of Nintendo's later, more famous products. To use the Love Tester, two participants hold on to metal knobs and then hold hands. The device then ranks how passionate the couple is (or isn't) and displays the results on a meter.

It's basically a miniature lie detector, and while the process isn't scientifically sound, the Love Tester's age and collectors' mania for all things Nintendo makes this hard to find. Thankfully, if you want to see what all of the fuss is about, there's an easy option. In 2010, Tenyo released a Nintendo-sanctioned replica of the original machine, which should still be relatively simple to find.

Color TV Game 6 has six versions of the same game

Savvy fans know that the NES wasn't Nintendo's first home console. That honor belongs to the Color TV Game 6. Interestingly, the console didn't have cartridges. Every title it played — all six of 'em — came pre-installed, kind of like the NES and Super NES Classic Editions. Additionally, while the Color TV Game 6 allegedly includes a variety of titles — one and two-player versions of tennis, handball, and hockey — every game is actually just a different variation of "Light Tennis." Or, in other words, Pong.

The console performed well for Nintendo, moving 350,000 units, although Nintendo took a financial loss on each copy sold. The product's success led to a number of sequels, including the Color TV Game 15, which was similarly Pong-based, the Color TV Block Breaker, which included a Breakout knock-off, and the Color TV Racing 112, which included a steering wheel, a gear stick, and a racing game. In all, Nintendo sold 3 million Color TV consoles. That's not a runaway success like the Wii or the Switch, but for a new product in an unproven market, it's not too shabby.

Of course, there's a another version of the Color TV Game 6 out there: in addition to the base model, which is orange, there's also a battery-powered white edition that's very, very rare. Reportedly, only a few hundred were made. The Color TV Game 6 isn't a must-play — there are better versions of Pong out there that are also easier to find. But if you're a Nintendo completest, start looking now. You're going to be hunting for a while.

Computer Othello is big, green, and impossible to find

Nintendo's Computer Othello isn't the most exciting game ever made. It's basically just a digital version of a board game where players take turns placing black and white tokens on a board, trying to convert as many spaces as possible to their chosen colors. The black and green screen is ugly, and the tabletop arcade cabinet reeks of the worst of '70s style. It's not even the first edition of Othello that ran on computers. A version of the game written in FORTRAN, an early computer programming language, appeared in Creative Computing magazine in 1977, a year before Computer Othello made its arcade debut.

Computer Othello is important, however, for two big reasons: it's the very first arcade game both developed and published by Nintendo, and it's the first game made by Nintendo R&D1, the internal development studio that's responsible for Donkey Kong, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Wario Land, and many other classics. Those facts alone make Computer Othello worth your attention, if not your time. Good luck finding a machine, however. Computer Othello is so rare that even broken and beat-up units sell for thousands of dollars. Don't hold your breath for a replica or a remake, either. In Japan, the toy company MegaHouse owns the Othello trademark, making a revival highly unlikely.

Sky Skipper has disappeared into thin air

Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. are classic games, but not all of Nintendo's arcade titles performed quite as well. Take Sky Skipper, for example. In this bizarre side-scrolling game, players control a biplane pilot as he cruises through air, fights giant monkeys, and rescues members of the lost royal family. It's odd and vaguely derivative, and failed to make a dent at Japanese arcades. Over time, Nintendo retired the Sky Skipper machines and reused its circuit boards for Popeye, a much more popular game. For all intents and purposes, Sky Skipper was gone.

That's where it gets interesting, as explained by The Arcade Blogger. Years later, when Sky Skipper was little more than a fable (the only proof it existed at all was an old advertisement), a Swedish collector discovered that his Popeye cabinet had one of the recycled Sky Skipper circuit boards. That prompted a group of arcade enthusiasts to try and restore the game. 

It wasn't easy. First, the team needed to find a second Sky Skipper board, which they randomly found in an old warehouse. Next, the tinkerers had to use parts from both boards to reconstruct the entire thing. They reverse-engineered a Sky Skipper ROM that was available online (original source unknown). After months of hard work, got the game running.

The project didn't stop there. With the help of King of Kong star Billy Mitchell, the Sky Skipper restoration team got access to a Sky Skipper prototype stored at Nintendo of America, and used that as reference when recreating the game's outer casing. The end result is a one-of-a-kind collector's item: the only complete, working version of Sky Skipper in existence.

Good luck finding Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch Edition

Nintendo has been synonymous with gaming on the go since the early '80s, when the company started cranking out small, hand-held video game systems under the Game & Watch brand. These tiny machines came with simple controls and tiny LCD screens, and only played a single game each. In the pre-Game Boy days, Game & Watch systems were the only way to play Nintendo games on the go, and they were a huge hit with fans.

These days, Game & Watch systems are extremely popular with collectors. Obviously, nostalgia makes the devices extremely appealing to older gamers, but Game & Watch aficionados say that the systems themselves are part of the attraction, too. Unlike modern consoles, the Game & Watch handhelds are extremely durable. If they've been well taken care of, there's no reason why a 25-year-old Game & Watch title shouldn't still work today.

Just don't bank on getting a complete set. Nintendo released 59 Game & Watch titles in stores, but its rarest game is much harder to find. In 1987, Nintendo gave out a special edition of Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch port to players who ranked in a tournament for F-1 Grand Prix on the Famicom Disk System. The yellow machine plays just like the regular Game & Watch Super Mario Bros., but the case is shaped like the Famicom Disk System's mascot, Mr. Disk, and includes a special letter and a stationary kit. Only 10,000 copies of the Game & Watch's "holy grail" were made, and they'll set you back between $300 and $700 on the secondary market.

The competition carts are some of the rarest cartridges ever

If you've ever looked over a list of the rarest and most valuable video games, you've undoubtedly run across at least one of Nintendo's various competition cartridges. Throughout the early '90s, Nintendo ran a number of contests, each of which used its own special cartridge to mashup or remix some of the company's most popular games and keep track of players' scores.

Of these, the Nintendo World Championships '90 cartridge, which puts players through a gauntlet of Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris, is both the most famous and, accordingly, the hardest to find. Some of the carts were handed out to the Nintendo World Championships regional winners, who also went on to the finals at Universal Studios, Hollywood, while 26 specially-made gold carts were given to Nintendo Power subscribers as prizes. The latter copies are especially valuable, selling for over $100,000 on eBay.

The Nintendo World Championships game isn't not the only custom-made competition cartridge out there, however. Most of the copies of PowerFest '94, of which there were only 32 to begin with, were recycled for parts. Only two copies exist today. Similarly, the cartridges used for the Nintendo Campus Challenge were all destroyed, save for one that was rescued by a forward-thinking Nintendo employee (who later unloaded it at a garage sale). The Star Fox: Super Weekend and Blockbuster's special Donkey Kong Country cartridges are a little more common — Nintendo Power subscribers could buy them after the contests ended — but they're still fairly rare. Nintendo only made about 2,000 of each.

Virtual Bowling's rarity will make you see red

You've probably heard of Virtual Boy, Nintendo's early entry in the virtual reality market and the company's biggest flop, but you've probably never played one. Before Nintendo pulled the plug on its odd and unwieldy device, the company only managed to sell 770,000 units, well below expectations. As a result, the Virtual Boy is now extremely hard to find, making it a highly sought-after collector's item. Oh, the irony.

If the Virtual Boy itself is elusive, its games are even more so, especially those that failed to escape Japan, including Virtual Bowling (which is different from Nester's Funky Bowling, which was only released stateside). One of the last two titles released for the Virtual Boy in its native country, Virtual Bowling sells for between $900 and $1,225 on the second-hand market, and is widely considered the rarest of all Virtual Boy games.

As for the game itself, well, it's basically just bowling, except in 3D. That's it. You can change your ball's weight and the amount of wax on the lane, which requires you to alter your approach, and there are three different power meters you can use to help control your throw. As such, it's a deeper experience than Wii Sports' popular bowling game, although Virtual Bowling is far less accessible. It's still a Virtual Boy game, after all, meaning that you'll have to stick your face into the headset and endure its garish red-and-black graphics while you play. At least Virtual Bowling doesn't skimp on charm: when you get a strike, a "floppy-eared" critter arrives to helps you celebrate. So there's that.

There's only one official Star Fox 2 cartridge in the world

For years, Star Fox 2 was a mystery. In the mid-90s, Nintendo shared screenshots from the game in various magazines, and the development team completed the game, but it never actually came out. According to lead programmer Dylan Cuthbert, Nintendo made that decision for two reasons: the Nintendo 64 was right around the corner and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to make a "clean break" between the Super Nintendo and its 3D-capable successor, while other Nintendo executives were worried that Star Fox 2's rudimentary polygons wouldn't hold up when compared to games on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

While many of Star Fox 2's ideas found their way into Star Fox 64 and Super Mario 64, the game itself remained shrouded in mystery. At one point, a ROM leaked online, letting emulator users play an unfinished version, but nobody had a final and complete cartridge — with one notable exception. While he was working on the Nintendo DS' Star Fox Command, Nintendo sent Cuthbert a complete, retail-ready Star Fox 2 cartridge to use as inspiration.

Ultimately, Star Fox fans got their hands on the final edition of Star Fox 2 thanks to the Super NES Classic Edition, where the game made its official debut 21 years after its scheduled release. That's still an emulated copy, however, not the real thing. As far as anyone knows, the Cuthbert's cartridge is the only official copy of Star Fox 2 that runs on a real Super Nintendo console. Sure, you can pick up a bootleg cartridge on eBay, but if you want the real McCloud and your name isn't Dylan Cuthbert, you're out of luck.

A Yoshi game that was bundled with an oven

Yoshi's Cookie isn't all that special. It's a tile-matching puzzle game in the same vein as Yoshi and Doctor Mario. Five different types of cookies fall from the sky or enter the screen from the right, and it's your job to sort them into rows and columns of the same type. It's simple and doesn't have much to do with Mario or Yoshi — Yoshi's Cookie started as a game called Hermetica, and the Mario characters were added later — but it's addictive in the way that those types of games tend to be, and ended up with getting pretty positive reviews.

Yoshi no Cookie: Kuruppon Oven de Cookie is different. At its core, it's still Yoshi's Cookie, but there are a few extra features that make it stand out. See, Yoshi no Cookie: Kuruppon Oven de Cookie was developed and released in order to promote the Kuruppon Oven appliance. As such, this game comes with an entirely brand new adventure mode in which players guide Yoshi around a map, gather supplies, and then receive recipes from the plucky dinosaur that teach them how to make various types of treats, ostensibly in their brand new kitchen gadget.

Most striking, however, is its price tag. Only 500 copies of the Super Famicom game were made, and the cartridge is valued accordingly. According to Wired, the Japanese-only cartridge sells for almost $2,000 in Tokyo's Akihabara neighborhood, where many collectors go to find rare and unusual games.

Mario's artistic ambitions are harder to find than ever

Don't confuse Mario no Photopi and Mario Artist. Both debuted on the Nintendo 64, and neither game ended up making its way west, but they're very different. Mario Artist is a suite of four different games — Paint Studio, Talent Studio, Polygon Studio, and Communication Kit, each released separately — for the Nintendo 64's ill-fated disk drive peripheral, the 64DD. Paint Studio is effectively Mario Paint 2. Talent Studio is like a an early version of Nintendo's Miis. Polygon Studio provides rudimentary 3D modeling and rendering capabilities, while Communication Kit enabled players go online and share their creations from the other three games.

By contrast, Mario no Photopi doesn't use the 64DD at all. Instead, players inserted SmartMedia cards (an early form of memory cards developed by Toshiba) directly into the cartridge itself, allowing them to import digital photographs right into the game. Once the images are loaded, players can use Mario no Photopi to add Mario characters, text, and decorative borders to the images, and can then subsequently save their work back to the SmartMedia card for printing. It's basically Super Mario-themed Photoshop.

Mario Artist: Paint Studio's developers estimate that only about 7,500 copies of the game were sold, while Mario no Photopi is so obscure that sales figures are impossible to find. The games pop on eBay from time to time, so if you're interested in picking them, keep an eye open. Just remember that you'll need extra, discontinued accessories in order to play them. You've been warned.