By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
For the most part, what drives an old video game to crazy high prices in the aftermarket is its rarity rather than its actual quality. The vast majority of games that are fetching $200+ aren’t expensive because they’re just that good, it’s because they are rare. In many cases, unfortunately, they’re downright awful (Action 52 says a very broken hello). Often, they’re just rare ports of games that are cheaply available for other systems, like the insanely expensive Master System port of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sure, a lot of collectors have since tried to extol the perceived virtue of games like Hagane–and I would too if I paid 500 bucks for it–but the fact remains that many such games wouldn’t even be discussed or remembered anymore if it weren’t for how much money today’s collectors are willing to pay for them.
Of course, there are games that fetch high prices and truly are good games. Again, that isn’t the reason they are expensive, but it does make those games more attractive to people who collect games they actually want to play vs just collecting the ones that are worth the most money (not that there’s anything wrong with any style of collecting). Especially when those games haven’t since been made officially available much more cheaply via a digital storefront of some kind (like Shantae, Tron Bonne, etc).
Just so we’re clear, I don’t personally think that any game is truly “worth” hundreds and hundreds of dollars. But if you have that much money to spend on a game, and are interested in one that you’ll actually want to play and not just to have on a shelf to brag about or to complete a set, here are five that you should consider dishing out the cash for (ranked by quality, not value). My criteria for this list was that a game had to be going for at least $150 (on average), wasn’t ported to or from another system (in North America), and hasn’t since been made available on a digital storefront or in a retro compilation (keep that last point in mind before you crucify me for leaving off beloved rarities like Radiant Silvergun or Earthbound).
[Note: All games on this list and their prices are for North American releases and typical sales within North America only.]
Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest (GameCube)
Average sale price*: $150-$250
Cubivore‘s cover art, which depicted blocky animal characters that looked like they were plucked from computer animation tech demos circa 1989, didn’t do this bizarre game any favors in terms of sales. But those that took a chance on this game found one of the more entertaining and original titles in the GameCube’s library, which had you trying to evolve your little cubed creature by fighting, eating, and yes, even mating. Any game that uses terms like “meat flaps” and has you earning “hump points” is definitely worth exploring. The game is definitely a bit grindy, and the controls clunky, but the humor and charm more than make up for those nitpicks. Here’s hoping that Nintendo looks to getting this game on the (so far only rumored) GameCube Virtual Console so that more people can experience this wonderfully weird little game.
Crusader of Centy (Genesis)
Average sale price*: $200-$400
Crusader of Centy–known as Soleil in Europe–doesn’t bother to shy away from its very obvious Zelda influence, specifically being inspired by the franchise’s 16-bit installment, A Link to the Past. But among the many attempts at giving Sega owners their own Zelda, Centy might be the best attempt at replicating Nintendo’s iconic franchise, besting even Sega’s own Beyond Oasis. The gameplay is solid, the visuals crisp and colorful, and the plot even goes some interesting places, challenging genre conventions by calling into question the fairness of presuming that all monsters are inherently evil. Had Nintendo bought the rights to this game, reskinned it, polished it up just a bit, and released it as another Zelda entry, I am convinced that it would’ve been celebrated as one of the better installments in the series rather than being relegated to being largely forgotten.
Little Samson (NES)
Average sale price*: $1,000-$3,000
It was Akira Kitamura–not Keiji Inafune–who was the true guiding force behind the actual design of the early Mega Man games, and his design decisions went on to define an entire generation of video games. And while Capcom continued to rest on those laurels for one samey Mega Man sequel to the next, Kitamura had left Capcom to actually evolve the Mega Man formula with Little Samson. Taking elements of Mega Man and bringing in a bit of Monster World, Samson is a remarkable 8-bit action game and one of the saddest examples of a great game fading to near-obscurity. The one positive about its high price tag these days is that it has at least kept this brilliant title in the public conscience where it deserves to be. This is one time where nobody should feel guilty about emulation, as it shouldn’t only be people who have four figures to spend on a single game who get to experience this great adventure.
Snatcher (Sega CD)
Average sale price*: $200-$500
A year after the first Metal Gear game, Hideo Kojima wrote and directed a noir-style adventure game for the MSX that drew heavy inspiration from Blade Runner. But it wasn’t until it was localized and ported to Sega CD that English-speaking gamers first got a chance to play this brilliant game. The story of Gillian and his battle against the Replicant-esque Snatchers that have been sneakily taking the place of humans is enthralling from start to finish, and showcases some of Kojima’s sharpest and most subdued writing. Some people even claim it remains the auteur’s best game. It unfortunately remains the only of the many versions of the game to be translated and brought to the U.S., making it continue to be prized among anyone who appreciates a great story-driven game.
Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn)
Average sale price*: $500-$700
After two installments as an on-rails shooter, the Panzer Dragoon franchise went full-on RPG in the genre’s rarest and most expensive–but also one of its best–games. While much of the foundation of Saga would later be used for its sort-of spiritual successor Skies of Arcadia to much more polished effect, the original remains a dynamite RPG that is a must-play for fans of the genre. It is also a rare 3D powerhouse for the Saturn, a great way to shut up the naysayers who question the console’s ability to do anything beyond 2D pixels (and while most PS1 RPGs were still settling for static, 2D backgrounds). With Saturn emulation continuing to be largely spotty at best, having the original discs and a Saturn to play them on remain the only 100% reliable way to experience this gem–especially since much of the original source code has been lost, making even a straight port to another system impossible without essentially rebuilding the game from the ground up. This is one case where the options for playing the game properly without spending a handful of Benjamins are almost non-existent, meaning that it’ll likely only continue increasing in value up until the last remaining copy has finally succumbed to disc rot.
[*Average sale prices are basic estimates for the general range that the games are sold for online and in used game stores, as determined on the day this article was posted. Retro game prices can vary wildly, and you may very well find any of these games for much cheaper than these prices if you are patient and resourceful enough–or you might even find that these ranges are lowballing the actual value. The price ranges here are just listed for general reference.]
I know there are going to be some strong opinions about this list, especially if I left off a game that someone sold a kidney to buy. Be sure to leave those opinions in the comments below, or in the Facebook posts about this article.