Images from Super Mario Wiki
Images from Super Mario Wiki
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The video game collecting industry is white-hot right now. Records are being shattered almost daily. What was once a niche community of hobbyists, exchanging old boxes and cartridges for modest profits, is now one of the core battlefields of the investment boom. A Nintendo game from only 30 years ago might fetch over a million dollars at auction. Who knows? That number might double by the following month. There's been a paradigm shift, and everyone is racing to catch up.
Naturally, the characters that have benefited most from the surge are a pair of Italian brothers named Mario and Luigi. Mario has been the face of the gaming collective since the early '80s.
As the hobby has slowly calcified into a core part of mainstream culture, the price tags associated with Mario’s classics have shot through the roof.
Below, we've gathered the top 14 most expensive Mario game titles, with the highest single sale number given for each particular game.
Fun fact: Super Mario Bros. isn't the first game to feature Mario as a character. That designation belongs to Donkey Kong, released into arcades back in 1981. But four years later, as the Nintendo Entertainment System made landfall in the United States, kids everywhere got their hands on a two-dimensional side-scroller that would solidify the gaming hobby for decades to come.
Super Mario Bros. was actually packed in with NESes, which makes the supply pretty ubiquitous, but you probably won’t be able to rummage through the basement and emerge a millionaire. Super Mario Bros. is incredibly valuable, but only if you happen to possess the right copy. The previous record-holding $660,000 copy, for example, came from one of the earliest test runs in the American market.
Mario 64 arrived 11 years after the original Super Mario Bros., and was the first game to bring the franchise to 3D. In fact, you could make the argument that every 3D game since — regardless of genre — cribs from the structure, ideas, and control fundamentals established back in Peach's castle. That makes Super Mario 64 one of the most influential games of all time, and an absolute touchstone for anyone who spent their childhood in the 90s. No wonder it's such a hot commodity!
Mario made the jump to the Super Nintendo with flying colors with Super Mario World. Structurally, World has a lot in common with the trilogy of games on the NES, but the graphics were souped up to fit the 16-bit capabilities, and the level structure became exponentially more adventurous. (It also served as the first sighting for a soon-to-be-iconic character, Yoshi.)
Super Mario Bros. 3 is often considered a much better game than its predecessors. The world is more colorful, the mechanics are sharper, the art is better, and the map is dotted with countless secrets, easter eggs, alternative paths, and instantly iconic power-ups. (Big ups to Kuribo's Shoe!) But it also arrived in 1990, at the tail-end of Nintendo's first golden age, and that slight swoon in status is reflected in its price point. $156,000 is a lot of money, but it's nowhere close to what Mario 64 is pulling. Still, if you want to revisit any old Mario games, Super Mario Bros. 3 is probably the best place to start.
Long before Mario was a household name, back in the halcyon days where the plumbers were condemned to the local arcades, Nintendo released a game called Mario Bros. That's right, there's no "super" in the title. The game consisted of a single screen, pocketed with green pipes, and two players would dutifully dispatch all of the koopas that were laying siege to this strange, subterranean fortress. It is about a million miles removed from the genius that the Mario brand would encompass in later years, but given its archival resonance, $156,000 might be a bargain.
Here we have Mario's first ever adventure on a handheld. The Game Boy wasn't capable of colorized graphics, and its tiny screen forced Nintendo to shrink down its levels to their fundamental ingredients. But somehow, Super Mario Land persevered, and proved once and for all that a classic plumber adventure could be conquered from the backseat of a car. Also, Super Mario Land marked the first appearance of Princess Daisy, which adds some extra juice to its collectibility.
Who says a Mario game has to be developed by Nintendo in order to be worth money? In 1996 the publisher handed off the reins of their iconic character to Square Enix, a legendary Japanese development house, in order to give Mario the Final Fantasy treatment. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars has Mario engaged in turn-based combat, navigating dialogue boxes, and generally breaking reinventing all of the ways you or I ever expected to play a game with the plumber's name on it. It's since become something of a cult classic, as evidenced by that $45,600 pricetag.
Super Mario Bros. 2 has one of the weirdest origin stories in the franchise. Nintendo essentially reskinned a different game — called Doki Doki Panic! — with Mario characters, and it was subsequently released as a sequel-in-name-only to the American public. (Apparently they thought the actual Super Mario Bros. 2, which did come out in Japan, was too hard for the soft Western audience.) That means Super Mario Bros. 2 has a completely different playstyle compared to the original. It's still a great game! But if you're a collector, you'll probably gravitate more towards the canonical heavy hitters.
Every millennial dorm room in America was equipped with a Nintendo, four controllers, and a copy of Mario Kart 64. It's the greatest party game of all time, invoking more ragequits and u8idrunken 2am wagers than any other cartridge ever released. No surprise that collectors are gobbling up pristine copies.
Note: Otis purchased a copy of Mario Kart 64, Wata 9.2 A++ Seal, for $55k from a private seller.
But years before Mario Kart 64 conquered the world, gamers were enjoying the prototype of the series — Super Mario Kart, released for the Super Nintendo. Super Mario Kart is probably a better game than 64; the cars handle beautifully, and it's not burdened by any of that classic early-3D jank. But it hasn't quite captured the global nostalgia of its successor, which is evidenced by the slight dip in price.
Let's get this out of the way: The Mario Party series is pretty bad, and Mario Party 2 is by no means a good game. But for whatever reason, this collection of mini-games — which players navigate through an interminable, Candyland-style digital board game — was a late-'90s standby for every kid in elementary school.
Think of Mario like Spider-Man. In his authentic incarnation, he's just some Italian plumber who's somehow been tasked with saving a princess, but Nintendo has spun him off into all sorts of weird, arcane, parallel-universe directions over the decades. (Just like how Marvel has cast Peter Parker as both an anthropomorphic pig, and a gumshoe noir detective.) Dr. Mario is probably the most famous of all those mutations. This is a basic, match-three puzzle game, with the thin worldbuilding veneer of Mario MD, on a quest to cure the common cold.
Here's where this market starts to get a lot easier on the pocketbook. This flagship Gamecube game is a bit older than the other entries on this list, and generally, it's regarded as a black sheep among the rest of the Mario series for some of its strange, experimental mechanics. (Mario basically gets marooned on a tropical island with nothing more than a high-powered water gun.)
This late-era Nintendo 64 RPG casts Mario as the star of a parallax diorama, but it's far from the most famous cartridge in the catalogue. With many aging millennials who really love Paper Mario and a booming market, it might not be a bad buy.
Otis also is dropping a copy of Mario Kart 64, Wata 9.2, A++ Sealed, Nintendo 64, on Tuesday, August 17th.
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