21 of the Coolest Retro Famicom Cartridges You Simply Must Import
By Matthew Walden on
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
A copy of this game should come in any collector's starter kit. The US box art is certainly iconic, with Mario flying against a plain yellow backdrop, but this Famicom release seems to truly capture the game's ebullient creativity. For a title bursting at the seams with new ideas, this busy cartridge art serves it well.
2. Mega Man
Choosing a single Mega Man cart (known as Rockman in Japan) may be too hard. You can take your pick from any of the original six games with their vibrant color schemes and you'll undoubtedly be satisfied with your score.
3. Demon Castle Special: I'm Kid Dracula
Kid Dracula is a fun parody spinoff of the Castlevania series, filled with adorable demons and somewhat controversial bosses. In an alternate history where it got released in the rest of the world it would have been a surefire hit.
Sure, we've got a gold Zelda cartridge on this side of the world, but that doesn't make this gold Punch-Out!! from Japan any less desirable. It was given out as a prize in a Famicom Golf competition, so only 10,000 copies exist. But with some careful hunting, you can snatch one up for under $300.
5. Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti
Another cute horror game that never made its way across the sea, Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti is an 8-bit tour de force through American horror tropes–including a nod to The Fly, and a vampire obsessed with Michael Jackson. It's also secretly the best Splatterhouse game. (Image via West Mansion)
Salamander always got short shrift as the lesser-known sister to Konami's arcade shooter Gradius. But Vic Viper still delivers with style, and its translucent Japanese cartridge definitely glows with the life force of the series.
7. Dr. Mario
Dr. Mario is a perfect example of how bland gray cartridges in the U.S. and PAL regions are a giant missed opportunity. The pristine white plastic of this cart matches Mario's white coat, emphasizing the clean, virus-busting theme of the gameplay.
8. Dragon Quest II
Dragon Quest has always featured the instantly recognizable art of Akira Toriyama in its Japanese releases, but it took several games before the West ditched its generic medieval fantasy covers. Dragon Quest II may not be the best game in the series, but its cartridge art perfectly captures its adventurous spirit.
9. King’s Valley II: The Seal of El Giza
King's Valley is a pretty nondescript puzzler in the vein of Spelunky: An archaeologist explores pyramids for treasure. But the package artwork is evocative and downright spooky. Twenty gold versions of the cartridge were also produced. If you can obtain one of them, you'll have a real treasure on your hands.
10. JESUS: Dreadful Bio Monster
Worth it just for the bizarre name alone, JESUS: Dreadful Bio Monster turns out to be a great survival horror adventure with gorgeous art and a fascinating story. A hobbyist translation team has made an English patch, so you can finally experience an oddity that had no chance of ever seeing an official release.
11. The Guardian Legend
Here's a cover so amazing it needs no extra justification to buy, beyond owning the gorgeous art. But if you haven't played the game, it's a passable genre mash-up with a unique spin on the Metroid and Blaster Master model. Surprisingly, despite how cool it looks, it will only set you back $20. (Image via Retro Gamer Japan)
This one's a bit of a cheat, because it technically came out on the Famicom Disk System, so it includes a floppy disk instead of a cart. But this is by far the best box art the Metroid series has ever seen, and there's something magical about holding a copy of the pivotal game that started such a huge genre.
13. Uchuusen Cosmo Carrier
This is an oddball first-person space shooter in the mold of Top Gun, but it's definitely a cart you'll want to own just for the amazing art. This picture was provided by Heidi stopXwhispering at Retro Video Gaming, where she showcases an astoundingly well curated gallery of her personal Japanese game collection. Prepare to be amazed.
14. Duck Hunt
With a recent re-release on the Wii U and an inclusion in the new Smash Bros, the Duck Hunt spirit is surprisingly alive and well. If you haven't had your nostalgia itch scratched enough, there's an illustrious purple Famicom cart with your name on it.
15. Yamamura Misa Suspense
This murder mystery adventure game will probably be impenetrable if you can't read Japanese, but the cartridge looks like a cool poster for a Dario Argento film set in a murderous geisha house. Crank out a Goblin record while you admire it on your fireplace mantle on a cold, candlelit night.
Sometimes striking cartridge art doesn't always contain a game worthy of its cover, and Argus, a perfunctory shooter, is a perfect example. But that light blue plastic and sleek spaceship conjure up the best feelings of a bygone era of arcade gaming. (Image via Heidi stopXwhispering)
17. Kamen no Ninja Akakage
This is a decent platform brawler based on the anime of the same name. It can't stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the stronger ninja games on the NES, but that Toei artwork makes becoming a Zorro-masked ninja seem so damn cool.
Nintendo, perhaps wisely, steered clear of religious iconography in their Western releases to skirt controversy. But it's a shame we missed out on this adaptation of the classic anime Devilman. It's another Toei hit you need to own. (Image via Heidi stopXwhispering)
19. The Legend of Zelda
This is one of the rare examples where the import cartridge looks slightly less cool than the American version. Still, there's no reason you can't own both copies when it's a game as important as the original Zelda. The light blue gives off a more humble impression than the glittering gold cart we grew up with. It's as if the game is unaware it has already become a classic.
20. Gargoyle's Quest II
Firebrand is such an indomitable foe in the first Ghosts 'n Goblins game that it's a miracle he was even relatable when he branched to his own series. This cart sees him in fine form, with a cool Faustian arm spread of a logo that went missing in the American version. Murnau would have been proud.
21. God Slayer: Sonata of the Far Away Sky
God Slayer, released in the West as Crystalis, has become a cult classic known for excellent RPG action reminiscent of the Zelda and Ys series. It also features a complex post-apocalyptic plot and a terrific soundtrack. You'll definitely want to own it in its purest form. (Image via Heidi stopXwhispering)