Bring up “rare games” on a public gaming forum and you’ll get some interesting responses. Names like Chrono Trigger, the Lunar series or Ikaruga will probably get tossed around by the uninitiated. For most, these games and others very much like them represent the upper limit of rarity that they would expect to see out of video games. After all, isn’t the limited gold edition of Ocarina of Time one of the rarest titles out there? But for the bonafide collector, the aforementioned titles are a dime a dozen compared to a handful of titles so rare, they have been titled “The Holy Grails of Gaming,” because they are about as easy to find as the sacred chalice and will cost you a pretty penny should you ever happen to locate one. Most gamers will never even have heard of most of the titles on this list. They represent the ultimate goal for game collectors, the centrepieces to their collection, the final empty checkbox on a list of games to own.

We begin this list with a 1-2 combo from the Sega Saturn. First in line is Radiant Silvergun, the Holy Grail of schmuppers (or shoot-em-up players) the world over. RS is a vertical-scrolling schmup where all power-ups come already built-into your ship and you are forced to use each one at precisely the right time. It had a spiritual successor produced for the Dreamcast and, later, the Gamecube called “Ikaruga,” a mini-grail in itself that is one of the harder titles to acquire for both systems. RS is not only hard to find, it’s hard to beat too, boasting a punishing difficulty even among the usually difficult schmup genre. Though it never made it to Western shores as an official release, plenty of importers have spent a pretty penny importing it or finding it on eBay.

Panzer Dragoon Saga is fairly unique amongst grail-games. Most grail games are only sought out for their rarity rather than their gameplay; the vast majority are actually fairly sub-par by gaming standards, their rarity being their sole redeeming feature. However, PDS is one of the handful of grail games that is not only rare, but an excellent game to boot. Released for the Sega Saturn, a console not known for its popularity, Panzer Dragoon Saga is a critically acclaimed RPG and most RPG fans (at least the ones who have played it) agree it is one of the best RPGs made to date. Despite this, it’s actually comparatively easy to get a hold of when compared to some of the other games on this list and it’s probably the grail you’re most likely to see in your lifetime. Of course, that's not saying much on a grail list. Expect to drop a couple hundred bucks if you actually want to own a copy of PDS for yourself. And no, you can't have mine!

This special cart was designed to promote Nintendo’s latest game and the first cartridge ever to feature the Super FX graphics chip. Nintendo hosted a competition at local games retailers using this cart, with winners getting spiffy prizes like jackets and medals. After the competition was over, most of the remaining carts were sold through Nintendo Power or by the stores themselves, usually for a fraction of what they would later cost. The game itself is just the first two levels of Starfox and a bonus, third level not featured in the default game. The object is to get through as much of the game as possible in the five minutes allotted and score as many points as you can. Most estimates put the number of cartridges in existence at around 2000, making it the rarest SNES game in existence, aside from single copy and prototype games.

A companion to the Starfox Super Weekend Cart, the Donkey Kong Country Competition cart was a similar promotional game used to hype up Donkey Kong Country, one of the most graphically impressive games of the SNES era. Much like the Starfox cart, this version of DKC was a timed run through a few of the opening levels with the emphasis on getting a high score. Interestingly, although there is supposedly more DKC carts in existence (with 2500 being the generally accepted number), it tends to be harder to come by than the Super Starfox Weekend carts. These two cartridges, highly sought after by collectors, are the twin crowns of any SNES collection.

A rather risque puzzle game that you probably won’t be seeing on the Wii’s virtual console any time soon, Bubble Bath Babes was a porno-game that was one of several unlicensed games for the NES. Even though there was no ESRB at the time, the producers of Bubble Bath Babes had an understandably difficult time finding stores willing to stock their game. As such, only a few copies were ever released and were shipped out not in the standard NES box, but in unlabelled video cases. A combination of the game’s unorthodox packaging, adult-oriented content and poor sales led to this becoming a grail of the NES era.

The Music Machine, despite being one of the rarest Atari 2600 games, receives surprisingly little attention, even from seasoned grail hunters. It was created as a video game counterpart to a series of children’s music albums of the same name. The game, developed by Christian faith group Sparrow, features a pair of children collecting symbols of virtue, such as lambs, mustard seeds and angels, while avoiding traps dropped by an enemy. It was originally sold only in Christian book stores, which would result in poor sales and the creation of a new grail (with the term "Holy Grail" being more literal here than in most other cases). Even amongst grails, information about this game is unusually sketchy and no one’s really sure if there’s more of a story behind this game or not. Mysterious...

Chase the Chuckwagon is one of the more unique games in gaming history because it was its method of distribution that caused it to become unusually rare. In order to receive the game, you had to mail in proof of purchase from several bags of Purina dog food. Unfortunately, at the time, the demographics of “dog owners” and “video game players” didn’t overlap enough for a successful release. Not many of these games ever found their way to an Atari owner’s house and those that didn’t instead were consigned to an indignant end, as they were recycled for parts. The ones that did make it out to the public, however, became a collector’s item and one of the rarest Atari games in existence.

The Atari has a surprisingly large number of grail games in its library, as this list has highlighted. Maybe it was because it was the infancy of gaming or maybe it’s because of the loose licensing laws that gaming had back in the day. Perhaps the ease of creating games back then had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, this one is one of the rarest. Pepsi Invaders is a game developed by Atari at the behest of the Coca-Cola Company as a form of celebration. The game is little more than a Space Invaders clone, with a few new twists. It’s timed, impossible to lose and instead of shooting space invaders, you shoot the word “PEPSI” and the Pepsi logo. After 3 minutes of play, the game stops and “Coke Wins” flashes across the screen. With only 125 carts ever produced, this game is one of the rarest across any console.

One of my favourite parts of grail collecting is the stories. Some grail games just have small production lots, but a fair number of them have deep, rich stories behind why they’re so rare. Case in point with Atlantis 2. Back in the day, Imagic decided to hold a competition to crown the four greatest Atlantis players. Participants had to play Atlantis, get as high a score as they could, take a picture and send it into the company. Unfortunately, Imagic had failed to take into account one crucial detail: the tenacity of their players. Many players achieved perfect scores on Atlantis, maxing out the score counter, which forced Imagic to quickly cobble together a new game to truly determine the finalists. The developers took the basic Atlantis game, increased the speed, decreased the scoring and ramped up the difficulty in order to settle the issue once and for all. The result was Atlantis 2, one of the hardest grails to get a hold of due in no small part to the hastiness of its release. Because the game was thrown together at the last minute, the game is simply an unlabelled Atari 2600 cartridge with “Atlantis II” scrawled on it in pen. It’s also unclear just how many of these cartridges were produced, so it’s still anyone’s guess how many of them are really out there.

If ever there was a game that truly deserved the title of “gaming grail,” this is it. This will come as no great surprise to anyone who’s even remotely aware of grails in gaming. The odds that 99.99% of the people on this site will even see this cartridge with their own two eyes are virtually nil. In 1990, Nintendo ran a tournament across the United States where the best gamers in the world were selected to compete against each other for lavish prizes. Rare Nintendo merchandise, vacations, scholarships and even cars were given away during this tournament. The cartridge that people competed on mixed levels from Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and Tetris, with the highest scorers being flown to Universal Studios for a finalists round. Originally, the cartridges were slated to be destroyed after the competition finished, but after some quick pleading from the contestants, Nintendo relented and gave each of the 90 finalists a grey NWC cart and inadvertently created the most sought-after game in existence. Just to make the situation that much better, 26 additional gold NWC carts were given out in a Nintendo power contest. These grails, scattered to the four winds, have slowly begun to surface, much to the delight of ravening collectors the world over. With only 116 in existence, these beauties fetch top dollar on the open market. The normal grey versions will set you back several thousand dollars, assuming you can find someone willing to part with it. The gold version? 5 digit price tags are not out of the norm here. The incredible thing about these cartridges is that they can (and often do) pop up in completely unexpected places. Case in point, just last year a family lost their son in Iraq and decided to put his NES games up for sale on eBay, since their own NES no longer worked. Evidently they didn’t realise just how avid a gamer he was because tucked in with 23 other common titles was a gold edition NWC. The final price of the auction? $21 400. To any games collector worth his salt, this game and this game alone represent the greatest possible accomplishment to crown a gaming collection.

This list shows some of the rarest and most sought-after games out there. I deliberately left off prototype and unreleased games as these are, by their very nature, usually one-of-a-kind games. This list is far from expansive and many rare grails have been left out simply due to space constraints, but it should give you an idea of some of the highlights of grail collecting. So if you really want something to brag about to your gaming friends and a nice centrepiece to stick under a glass cover and show off in the middle of your collection, dust off your Indiana Jones hat and join in your own quest for the Holy Grail.

List by darkknight109 (04/18/2008)

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