As a kid who loved video games, I absolutely did not care or take notice of what companies made the games I played. I’m guessing most other kids didn’t either. Now as a grown up and collector it’s easy to take notice of the companies that are associated with the better and more valuable games. Nintendo console games made by Nintendo generally are of high quality in terms of both visuals and fun so it’s understandable why many games published by Nintendo for their own systems, though not always rare, are still difficult to find cheap. Franchises like Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, and of course Mario are the flag wavers for the mainstream market of video games across all platforms. They’ve gone from fun loving characters to mascots for gigantic companies.
Other than licensed cartoons like The Flintstones and The Jetson’s that Taito acquired the rights to for making video games, you never see any legendary Taito characters on t-shirts at gaming conventions. So, why are NES games by a company like Taito, that has no jolly Italian maintenance man or furry varmint as their lovable mascot so darned expensive and sought after?
Well, let’s start by mentioning the Taito games that are valuable. Since a majority of NES games go for five dollars or less, let’s consider a “valuable” game to be worth at least $15. I obtained these prices from current Video Game Price Charting prices so that we can all be on the same page. (Prices are rounded for simplicity of reading)
Bubble Bobble $20
Bubble Bobble Part 2 $290
Flintstones Surprise at Dino Peak $760
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade $20
Jetson’s: Cogswell’s Caper $150
Kick Master $60
Kiwi Kraze $20
Little Samson $820
Panic Restaurant $385
Power Blade $45
Power Blade 2 $300
Rainbow Islands $27
For a company that only released 26 games to the NES platform, just over half of them are almost worth more together than several hundred other NES games combined. Why?
The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America in October of 1985 and was discontinued in August of 1995. During that nearly ten year span the console had 822 games released for it (licensed and unlicensed) and as mentioned before, 26 of them were games made by Taito. The last licensed NES game to be released, according to Wikipedia.org, was Wario’s Woods on December 10, 1994, a game made by Nintendo. Of the 709 licensed games on the platform, only 55 games were released in 1993 and 1994. Of those 55 games, two of them were made by Taito and happened to be among Taito’s most rare and valuable games: Bubble Bobble Part 2 (August, 1993) and Flintstone’s Surprise at Dino Peak (August, 1994).
The Super Nintendo Entertain System, or SNES, was released on August 23, 1991 in North America; a full four years before the NES was discontinued. If we consider games released in 1993 and 1994 to have been released at the end of the NES’s lifespan, then games released in 1991 and 1992 were certainly released in the fading twilight of the system and can still easily be considered late in the console’s generation. After the SNES was released in 1991 through the end of 1992, there were 152 licensed games released for the console and seven of them were Taito’s. If you look back up at those prices, it starts to make sense.
The Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy (December, 1991)
Toki (December, 1991)
Kick Master (January, 1992)
Panic Restaurant (August, 1992)
Power Blade 2 (October, 1992)
Little Samson (November, 1992)
The Jetson’s: Cogswell’s Caper (December, 1992)
All except the first game listed, The Flinstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy, are considered rare and valuable. Games released late in the NES cycle by Taito are more valuable likely due in part to limited production for those games. That’s not true for every developer, however. Several games released between 1991 and 1994 are fairly common and won’t empty your pockets.
Then what else contributes to these games being so pricey?
A late release date often coincides with limited production numbers for a game but not always. Sometimes games can be rental only which makes finding them nowadays very difficult, especially if you want the box and manual to be present and in good shape. The Flintstones: Surprise at Dino Peak is a prime example as it was primarily a Blockbuster rental and reportedly there were less than 10,000 copies made which makes it likely the rarest of the Taito library and among the rarest of all NES games ever produced.
By several accounts including articles and website rating systems, I’ve compiled a rarity list of Taito games from rarest to most common. Of course, Flintstones: Surprise at Dino Peak would be the ultimate #1, here is a list of the next ten.
Bubble Bobble Part 2
Power Blade 2
The Jetson’s: Cogswell’s Caper
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Source: NintendoAge.com, blog.pricecharting.com, 11points.com, rarityguide.com
You might not exactly agree with that order but it’s pretty close to common opinion. It’s easy to realize if you’re an experienced collector that there’s a large gap between the rarities at the top to the rarities at the bottom of the list. I was unable to find actual production numbers for this list but it does lend credibility to the fact that late releases (from 1991 to 1994) by Taito are harder to find and are more expensive.
Another reason for limited copies and increased rarity is due to lack of platform crossover by Taito. Many games released late in the NES’s cycle, like Wario’s Woods for example, were also released on the Super Nintendo giving more consumers a chance to get it and play it. None of Taito’s games crossed over to the new platform despite being released even a year or two after the Super Nintendo’s launch. These games were impressive feats on the NES considering their quality and Taito was likely proud of that fact. That’s perhaps not the only reason Taito chose to stick with one platform at a time but the decision possibly affected perception of the game as its audience became limited due to low production numbers and less exposure to those who had moved on to the Nintendo’s newest hardware.
High Quality Goodness
We have all played some stinkers for the NES. There were 822 games so of course there will be more than just a handful that should have never been made. But was Taito guilty of any bad games? Looking through their catalog, I say “not really” but we all have our own likes and dislikes. I’m not a big Bubble Bobble fan but I recognize it as a classic on the platform. Some of Taito’s games were “Just okay, bro” but still better than over half of the entire NES library most would argue.
That said, the more valuable Taito games we’ve been discussing so far have generally received good reviews.
Little Samson was a hit because it was graphically brilliant on the NES and was a quality platformer with a really unique game design. Kiwi Kraze achieved critical success due to its addictive gameplay, variety, and graphics. Qix got off to a hot start by mesmerizing consumers but quickly faded due to complexity. Toki was extremely popular shortly after release and endured a range of ports to various platforms. Panic Restaurant and Puzznic were also well received.
Other games like Power Blade 2, Kick Master, Rainbow Islands, and Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade released to often less than favorable fanfare and criticism but have endured over time to be regarded as decent games at the very least.
As briefly touched on before, Taito’s characters didn’t have the recognition that many other franchise characters do. Other than famous cartoon game adaptations and possibly the Bubble Bobble “Bubble Dragons”, few casual Nintendo fans would recognize a character on a Taito videogame box. The ability to have your characters recognized can help your game, company, or platform endure generations and create higher demand. Higher demand at the time may have resulted in more copies being printed and less rarity now instead of the opposite. It's also fair to say, it may not have mattered. Had Little Samson become a household name, maybe Taito would have still made the same number of copies and the game be even more valuable today. Tough to say.
Had Taito went across platforms and developed Little Samson or Toki for the Super Nintendo while the console was still in its heyday, it may have actually driven down the current price of the game. Some people don't acquire games simply for collection-sake, they want to play them. The more available a game is, no matter the platform, generally the less valuable it becomes over time. We've even seen this effect happen when Nintendo makes a classic game available for download on the WiiU; The cartridge prices sit still for a bit while people are able to finally access a game that would be super expensive to acquire otherwise.
A strong combination of late releases in the NES’s life cycle, limited productions for some of those games, no cross platform production, and high quality development are all reasons why Taito games can run you a pretty penny from places that know what they’re selling. A recent popularity spike in collecting has resulted in increased awareness for these games so they probably won’t be getting cheaper anytime soon. In January 2011, Little Samson was fetched for a little over $100 and is currently over eight times that. In that same span, Bubble Bobble 2’s prices have doubled and Panic Restaurant and Flintstones: Surprise at Dino Peak have tripled and quadrupled.
If you collect NES games and don’t have these yet, that news can be troublesome. But if you’re just a fan of the games and feel no shame, I suggest emulating the more expensive Taito games as legally as you can to get a feel for what hundreds of dollars feels like!