If the recent record breaking NES video game sales (see: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and Super Mario Bros. 3) have gotten you curious about the world of NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) retro game collecting, you might find yourself confused by the many variants out there and how they relate to the potential value of these original Nintendo games.
Here’s the scoop: in general, the earlier the production year, the more valuable the game likely is to collectors. NES game boxes contain various features that help collectors determine when the game was produced. These features are responsible for the multitude of variants out there.
We recommend starting simple by examining the three main variant features: hangtabs, seals of quality (SOQ), and “Rev-A.”
Many similar types of variants also exist for non-NES games, but we’ll focus on NES games in this article.
Basics: The Wata Grading Scale
Before we start with variants, it’s probably a good idea to understand the most basic video game grading scale. Wata gives two grades for a collectible game:
(1) a numerical grade that indicates the condition of the game on scale from 0-10, and
(2) a letter grade that indicates the condition of the game’s seal from C to A++
The seal that is graded is different from the “Seal of Quality” or SOQ, which will be discussed in the next section. The seal that is graded is the production method used to seal a game box shut. Early Nintendo games were sealed with sticker seals and later Nintendo games were shrink wrap sealed. There are variants between these seals, but we won’t be getting into those in this article.
What Do the Main Variant Features Look Like and What Do They Mean?
All of the first NES games were produced with cardboard hangtabs perforated into the back top portion of the box. This feature was designed for retailers, who used them to hang the game on a hook for display. The last hangtabs were released in September of 1987.
Seal of Quality (SOQ)
The Nintendo Seal of Quality was placed on every licensed Nintendo game to show that the game was approved by Nintendo and published by a recognized licensee.
There are only two types of Nintendo SOQs for the NES: Round and Oval. The distinction between the two hints at the game’s production year, since Nintendo switched from Round SOQ’s to Oval ones in March 1989.
Note that the SOQ is different from the production method used to seal the game itself, such as a sticker seal versus a shrink wrap seal, which is graded on the letter scale discussed previously.
“Rev-A” signified a change in the design of NES game cartridges from the original 5 screw to the new 3 screw design. If present, it can be found next to the Seal of Quality.
Nintendo added this code to their boxes in January 1988—before the Oval SOQ was implemented. Thus, any Oval SOQ game must have the Rev-A code.
However, there is variation on games with Round SOQ’s, as seen below. The round SOQ’s with NO Rev-A are earlier productions than the round SOQ’s with Rev-A.
What Do These Features Mean for the Production Year and the Potential Value of My Game?
Here’s our quick guide:
It’s important to remember that not all NES games came out in the earliest run. Therefore, after using this quick guide, you will also need to look up the release date of your game.
A game that was released in February 1988 for example, will definitely not have a hangtab, nor Rev-A, so there’s no use hunting for a variant of such a game. It just doesn’t exist.
However, there could be Round or Oval SOQ variants of the game, and the Round one would indicate an earlier production year.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a game that was released around September 1987, you’ll definitely want to look for a hangtab to see if you have the earliest version—that game may be worth something!