Ninja Gaiden III prototype sold on Ebay for $3,000

Prototype cartridges occupy a much-coveted spot in the collectors’ pantheon: Typically, they are absolutely unique, one-of-a-kind items, making them rarer than any actual released game. For example, although many 8-bit collectors may consider the gold Nintendo World Championships cartridge to be the “Holy Grail” of their hobby, over two dozen of those games were produced and distributed. Ultra-rare? Sure, but not one-a-kind.

Now, we all know that other factors will drive up the price of a particular artifact (which explains how a gold NWC cart sold for over $24,000 in 2007). We are not here to debate the economics of retro gaming: We are here to highlight a treasure that has exchanged hands with little fanfare.

On Saturday, an eyebrow-raising auction listing appeared on Ebay without much press or fanfare. At stake was an item purported to be a prototype cartridge of Tecmo’s classic trilogy-ending title, Ninja Gaiden III: Ancient Ship of Doom for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System console. The seller had no other NES items on their page, the listing boasted free shipping, and the “buy it now” asking price was $5,000.

By end-of-day Sunday, the item was gone, sold for $3,000.

ninja_gaiden_iii_prototype

We may never see it again, but hopefully its new owner is enjoying their prize, either playing what is undoubtedly a unique version of a great hack-’n’-slash platformer game or placing it high on their swag shelf. The Ninja Gaiden games were always reliable for great gameplay, but this may not be the type of game one can mindlessly shove into their old toaster.

The photograph on the listing page clearly shows a plain-looking printed label on the face of the cartridge, which has been opened to reveal its guts, which are much more elaborate than the eventual commercial release would have been. Who knows where this nearly 25-year-old item has been all its life?

Whatever its storied history may be, it now joins the gradually growing ranks of NES prototype cartridges found and auctioned off, with perhaps the crown-jewel example being the Legend of Zelda proto cart that sold for $55,000. Old-school Nintendo fans like me are just left to wonder: Which game’s prototype will be discovered next?