A ridiculously rare copy of Super Mario for NES just sold for over $100,000

An extra special copy of Super Mario for NES just sold for a mind-boggling $100,150.

Before you go digging through the attic to find your old copy to throw up for auction, you should know: the version in question here is super, super rare.

So what makes it special?

Super Mario has been released and re-released dozens of times in the past three decades. Even if we’re just talking about the original NES cartridge that came in a black box, there were eleven ever-so-slightly-different versions of the box shipped between 1985 and 1994. Some had tabs for hanging them from store shelves; some lacked a trademark symbol or two in the right spots; others had slightly tweaked graphics for the Nintendo “Seal of Quality” on the face.

The very first few runs, though, had a particularly obvious quirk: rather than being shrink-wrapped, they were sealed with just a little black “Nintendo” sticker at the top of the box. These early versions hit just a handful of test markets. Remember, Mario wasn’t a thing at this point — no one really had any idea what this game was about, much less the worldwide icon that Mario would become. So even amongst the super small number of copies that were distributed prior to the game’s wider launch in 1986, most people who got their hands on it wouldn’t think to keep it in pristine condition.

Wata Games, which certified this copy, pins the condition at around 9.4 out of 10. It also says that this copy is the only known “sticker sealed” one still in existence, and that even the sticker itself is somehow in tip-top shape. Wata has a breakdown of the many variations of Super Mario prints and reprints here.

$100,000 is a hefty chunk of change to drop on a game, and a press release from Heritage Auction house says the purchase was actually a joint effort between multiple buyers, including a coin dealer, multiple video game collectors and the founder of the auction house itself.

Two more bangers for the Switch’s NES selection: Kirby and Super Mario Bros 2

Nostalgia for the NES is high following the success of Nintendo’s classic mini consoles and the launch of its Switch Online service, which just got a couple more great additions to its selection of 8-bit games: Kirby’s Adventure and the immortally weird Super Mario Bros 2.

Kirby had just made his debut on the Game Boy, but the NES follow-up really improved things. Better controls, better graphics, still hard as hell.

Super Mario Bros 2 is remembered as a curiosity, but it deserves more than that. Sure, it’s just an asset swap for Doki Doki Panic, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a fantastic game and you should take this opportunity to play it all the way through.

As long as you’re here, I feel I should also plug the games added a couple weeks back that probably didn’t get the love they deserved, then or 30 years ago.

Blaster Master is one of my favorite games of all time and massively underplayed. It’s an early “Metroidvania,” as we call such things these days, with amazing controls both in the side-scrolling and top-down portions, and a huge, crazy world to explore. This is an absolute classic and anyone who loves the NES should play it — or, if you find the original a bit clumsy, try the recent remake, which was both faithful and added some serious upgrades.

Zelda 2 also got added two weeks ago, and while it definitely has its problems, it’s actually a really compelling game and worthy of the name. But cast aside your associations and just play it as if it’s an old gem — use a walkthrough or VGmaps to help, though, because this game is a real bastard.

So far the selections for NSO have been quite good, and they play well. The service is still extremely barebones even for its paltry asking price, but at least you can’t complain (too much anyway) about the selection of free NES titles. With a few more trickling in every month, the library will soon be quite formidable and I might even start using it instead of my hacked SNES Classic. Especially with the rumor (and near certainty) that SNES games are soon to join their 8-bit cousins.

Nintendo is definitely going through some growing pains with its online service, but I feel that in a year it’ll be up to snuff. They tend to approach everything by first establishing essentials, and then adding bit by bit. No doubt we’ll hear more at GDC and E3 later this year.

This extra-large handheld Nintendo works (and feels) like the real thing

Handheld retro gaming machines come and go, but few go so simply and effectively to the point as My Arcade’s Retro Champ. You stick in your NES cartridge, hit the power button and, assuming you blew on it beforehand, it powers up. This one sets itself apart with a big ol’ screen, Famicom compatibility and a whopping 35-hour battery life. Update: Nope! It’s 3 to 5 hours, not 35 as the company originally stated. I thought that was suspiciously high.

I played with the Retro Champ at CES, where they had one under lock and key — it’s not the production version, but that’s coming in the Spring. But it works just like you’d expect, and I was pleased to find it responsive, comfortable and pleasantly ridiculous. It’s really quite big, but not nearly as heavy as it looks.

The 7-inch screen is bright and the color looked good; it was responsive and the device felt well-balanced. The controls are where you’d expect, with big scoops in the back of the case to help you grip it. NES cartridges go in the top (and stick out as you see) and Famicom cartridges tuck in the bottom.

There’s a stand so you can prop it up and use wireless controllers with it (not included; they’re trying to keep the price low), and you can also plug it straight into your TV via HDMI, which basically makes this thing a spare NES home console. (I’m waiting to hear back on the screen and output resolutions and some other technical details.)

Lastly (and hilariously), there’s a hidden cleaning kit with space for a few Q-tips and a small bottle of solvent, for getting those really grimed-up games working.

My questions went to the usual pain points for scrupulous retro-loving gamers like myself:

Yes, it’s a 16:9 screen, and of course NES games were 4:3. So yes, you’ll be able to change that.

And no, it’s not just loading the ROM data into an emulator. This is the common way of doing it, and it produces artifacts and incompatibility with some games, not to mention control lag and other issues. Things have gotten better, but it’s definitely corner-cutting.

I chatted with Amir David, the creative director and one of the developers of the device. Though he couldn’t get into the technical details (patents pending), he said that they had developed their own chip that runs the game the same way an actual NES would.

So any cartridge that works on the NES, including homebrew and hacked games, will load right up no problem. That means you can also use a cartridge with an SD card loader, like an Everdrive, for those hard-to-get and hacked titles.

Some features are up in the air, for instance save states. It’s possible, but because this is in effect just a small Nintendo and not a virtual one, it’s also tricky. We’ll see.

I was also curious why there were four round buttons instead of the traditional NES D-pad. David said they were still waiting on feedback from players about which worked best; for an actual controller, the original D-pad might be good, but perhaps not for the handheld style. So they’re considering a few configurations; likewise the buttons on the right — they could get some tweaking before release.

The device goes for $80, which seems fair to me. If you want absolute fidelity for a home console, you can spend five to 10 times that amount, while for handhelds there are cheaper and smaller devices out there, most of which use emulators. They’re aiming for enthusiasts who want an easy but uncompromised way of playing their cartridges — lots of us have consoles sitting in boxes, but it’s a pain to get them set up. The Retro Champ could be one of the easiest ways to get back in the game. It ships in June.

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Zelda has a minus world

Listen, everyone. It’s not every day that a new fact comes to light regarding a game that came out more than 30 years ago. And I happen to love it when retro games get broken in fabulous and entertaining ways. So the news that The Legend of Zelda for NES has a minus world like Super Mario Bros and others hit me like like a freight train.

The phenomenon was discovered by Youtuber SKELUX, who starts off his video with a quick explanation of how minus worlds work. If you think about an NES game as a big file, there are places where graphics are stored, sounds and music are described, and of course level layouts and enemy logic are kept.

As a player, you are expected to navigate the structured parts of this file, namely the game world — level 1, 2, 3, this or that dungeon or town, etc. But there are ways to escape that structure by exploiting flaws in the game’s code, letting you run free in portions of the game’s data that aren’t meant to be “real” levels — yet the game’s engine will interpret the data as best it can, producing in some cases pretty wacky but still navigable levels. This type of thing gets its name from Super Mario Bros, where you could easily warp to a buggy level “-1” and progress from there.

Zelda and other games often use data trickery to get around the natural limitations of 8-bit computing and severely restricted storage space. For instance, did you know that in order to store them more efficiently, Zelda’s dungeons all fit together like giant tiles?

I just about lost my mind when I found out about that. Note that the above is two 16×8 grids set one on top of the other.

As Skelux explains, the overhead map is similarly divided, except the bottom “half” isn’t actually filled with map data. And although there are cheats that let you walk through walls, the game’s code detects when you reach an invalid map coordinate and returns you to the starting location. But a little hackery takes that safety measure out of play and the result:

A new world!

And a horribly buggy one, as it turns out right from the start. Octoroks are shooting boomerangs out of their snouts; the old man on one screen tells you it’s dangerous to go alone, then next door says “leave your life of money”; a Molblin caterpillar shoots fireballs at you; glitchy inverted witch women swarm the statues of Death mountain; and so on.

It’s a strange, hilarious world and one that obviously was not crafted but is simply created on the fly by the game’s engine attempting to make sense of the data it’s reading. It isn’t canon.

This type of video game archaeology is endlessly fascinating to me, because it demonstrates both the fragility and the robustness of these venerable pieces of software — and, of course, the enduring love and interest they engender in fans. Another one that recently absorbed my attention was the explanation of parallel dimensions inside Super Mario 64 and how sliding between them lets you beat a level with only half a press of the jump button.

That’s all. Please return to your ordinary lives, which now likely seem just a bit more ordinary now that you know one more magical secret of the Legend of Zelda.

You can now download the long-lost (and unfinished) SimCity NES port

Nintendo/Maxis/VGHF

This year, we learned that a long-lost version of the classic gaming series SimCity, originally meant for the NES, had found its way from Nintendo’s archives to the hands of collectors. That story got a tidy Christmas update this week in the form of a comprehensive data dump, complete with stories, videos, and—perhaps most important—a ROM download of the working, incomplete game.

Frank Cifaldi, founder of the non-profit Video Game History Foundation, posted the complete story on Tuesday. There’s a lot of catch-up to be done about how the heck this SimCity version came to be, and Cifaldi breaks down some important tales, including the origins of SimCity, how Nintendo got involved, and the working relationship of game-industry legends Shigeru Miyamoto and Will Wright.

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Hands-on: Switch’s NES controllers offer unmatched old-school authenticity

Now you're playing with power.

Playing old-school games on the Switch thus far has been a choice between various control compromises. You can use two Joy-Cons held in two hands, but the tiny buttons and lack of a true d-pad make this setup less than ideal. Holding a single Joy-Con sideways eliminates the d-pad completely and forces you to curve your grip around a hand-crampingly small control surface. A Switch Pro Controller or various third-party solutions can solve these problems, but they come with relatively high prices and some added features you don’t need for classic games.

Enter Nintendo, which is offering subscribers to its new Online service the ability to buy two wireless, Switch-compatible replica NES controllers for $60 (on top of the $20 a year subscription). After spending a few hours testing the little guys (just before pre-orders start shipping out) we found them to be competent, authentic throwbacks with some important limitations.

Truly authentic

Anyone with fond memories of gripping an NES controller in their youth will be happy to hear that Nintendo got the authenticity darn-near perfect with these replicas. Everything from the sizing to the tactile feel to the springiness of the buttons and the d-pad is practically indistinguishable from a brand-new NES controller you might have bought three decades ago. This isn’t that surprising, since the wired NES Classic Edition controllers had the same level of fidelity, but it’s still nice to see.

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Switch’s replica NES controllers only work with emulated NES games

Article intro image

I’ve been on record for years now in my position that the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons are “hand-crampingly small” when being held horizontally, NES-controller style, by adult-sized hands. So I was hopeful that the Switch-compatible replica NES controllers Nintendo announced last week would let me play a variety of old-school Switch games with a full-sized controller, complete with an old-school d-pad and full-sized buttons.

Those hopes have been dashed, as Nintendo-watchers have noticed the following disclaimer on the UK and Australian versions of the Nintendo’s Switch Online information pages (though, oddly enough, not on the US version of the page)

Please note: Nintendo Entertainment System Controllers can only be used while detached from the Nintendo Switch system, and only to play NES – Nintendo Switch Online games [emphasis added]. Nintendo Entertainment System Controllers can be charged by attaching to the Nintendo Switch system.

In its recent Nintendo Direct video presentation, the company only highlighted the controllers’ use with downloadable NES games, and the fine print of that video did state that “Controllers do not include Joy-Con functionality.” Still, these newly spotted Web disclaimers confirm that the special controllers won’t work with any other Switch games.

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Nintendo’s NES Switch controllers activate the nostalgia centers (and wallets) of retro gamers

The news that Nintendo would be adding NES games to the Switch as part of its paid online service had a mixed reception, but the company has completely made up for this controversial decision by releasing wireless NES controllers with which to play those games. At $60 they’re a bit steep, but come on. You know you’re going to buy them eventually. Probably next week.

The controllers were revealed during the latest Nintendo Direct video news dump, alongside a host of other nostalgia bombs, like a new Animal Crossing and about a million Final Fantasy ports. But first the details of those sweet, sweet controllers.

They’re definitely NES-style down to the buttons, meaning they aren’t going to replace your existing Switch Joy-Cons. So why do they cost so much? Because Nintendo. At least they’re wireless and they charge up by slotting onto the Switch’s sides like Joy-Cons. And they do have shoulder buttons, though, for some reason.

You’ll be able to pre-order a two-pack starting on the 18th for $60, which also happens to be the launch date for Nintendo Switch Online. Yeah, it’s time to fork out for that online play Nintendo has generously given away for so long.

Fortunately, as you may remember from previous announcements, the cost is pretty low; $20 per year, and it gets you online game access and a growing library of NES classics. Ten of those games were confirmed before, but 10 more were added to the list today.

So at launch you’ll be able to play:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Dr Mario
  • Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Donkey Kong
  • Ice Climber
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Tennis
  • Soccer
  • Baseball
  • Double Dragon
  • Excitebike
  • Ghosts ‘n Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Hockey
  • Pro Wrestling
  • River City Ransom
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • Yoshi

The service will also enable cloud backups of saves and possible special deals down the line. It sounds like it’s basically a must-have, although plenty of people are angry that their virtual console games have been essentially stolen back from them. At least we have the NES and SNES Classic Editions.