Game of the Week 04/2007: The NWC Gold cart

In Games

This week it's rizz's pick.
This time it's not a game to discuss about, but a very rare cartridge.

In 1990 Nintendo held a special video game competition. The competition dubbed Nintendo World Championship was based on scoring points in three Nintendo Entertainment System games within a timelimit of six minutes 21 seconds. The competition was based on the movie The Wizard.
For the competition 116 special game cartridges were manufactured. 90 of these copies exist in a grey cartridge and were given out to semi-finalists of the 1990 NWC. 26 of these cartridges are "gold" - like the Legend of Zelda cartridge - and were given out to the top winners.
The Nintendo World Championship 1990 game cartridge is considered to be the rarest and most valuable NES cartridge released, promo cartridges aside.

This is considered the "Holy Grail" of many (if not all) hardcore collectors. (i.e. maniacs)

Post about it what you like. Don you know someone who entered the contest. Were you in the contest itself? Would you want that cart?
How much would you be willing to pay if you found it in the wild (i.e. flea market, garage sale... who knows where you might find one)?

Also, if you have interesting links, post them here.
I'll start:

I never really even knew about this cart until I got online about 2 years ago. That being said, I know nothing about it (what games are on it, what the switches do, tournament details). However, if I found this "in the wild", I would pay just about anything to get it. And then re-sell it for thousands

I really have no desire to own this cart other than re-sell.

Great pictures and links for this one, Manuel.

Well, I requested this Game of the Week, so I better have something good to say. It might not be good, but it will at least be LONG. My post will revolve around the entire NWC, not just the game.

I believe it was my mother that discovered an article in the newspaper advertising the Nintendo World Championships happening in Milwaukee (about an hour drive away). I had not heard of them before that, and didn’t know what to expect. I have no recollections of the ad itself, but I do remember practicing up on some Super Mario Bros. and Rad Racer before heading to Milwaukee. That same year, I had just switched schools, and I was having a bit of trouble finding a new friend to go along. I ended up taking an old friend of mine along, and we headed out on Saturday morning. As we pulled into a parking space, and were standing in the ticket line, my excitement level was growing by the minute.

Walking into the HUGE room, the first thing we came across was the POWer Walk. The POWer Walk featured dozens of games set up that were either brand new, or not even released yet. It was very similar to the gaming stations commonly found in stores today, but back then, there was nothing like it in stores to let you test new games. I recall Megaman 3 being a big highlight, with one of the longest lines. These games would automatically reset every few minutes, so the next person in line could get their turn to play. They had a similar set up with a Game Boy section, but they were not nearly as popular. They had a large stage set up on the far end of the room, with shows happening every so often. One of the shows featured Nintendo game counselors giving away tips that could help out in the competition, and a question/answer segment where the audience could try to stump the pros. A different show displayed some up and coming games, and gave the audience a chance to win prizes with various Nintendo trivia.

My friend and I went to try the competition. As everyone probably knows, you have a time limit of 6 minutes, 21 seconds. You start by collecting 50 coins in SMB, then you move on to Rad Racer and finish the first race in the game. Finally, you get as many points as possible starting at Level 0 in Tetris. One last thing to add… your SMB score is multiplied by 1, your Rad Racer score is multiplied by 10, and your Tetris score is multiplies by 25. Obviously, in order to do well, you have to be a Tetris whiz. When you went into the competition area, there were hundreds of competition stations lined up in rows. There was a small fee to compete, and I’m guessing it was necessary to keep people from competing over and over just for the heck of it. When you competed in this pre-stage area, you had to finish with a score of at least 150,000 points to move onto the stage. I was able to qualify with a score of about 175,000. My friend didn’t fair as well, and was done. For the next round, they let you up on the stage, where they had a total of 7 gaming stations set up. Six were up in front, and then there was the throne, which was an actual chair to sit in, and it was in the back of the stage. Each station had a tv display on the front, so the audience could see what was going on with all of the competitors. In addition, they had 2 huge video screens displaying 2 competitors at a time. I’m sure I was nervous a bit at the time, playing in front of an audience like that, but when I concentrated on the game, I was fine. To qualify past this round, you needed 200,000 points. I was rapidly improving, and after this round, I qualified again with over 400,000 points. The whole time while playing, the emcee of the show was doing commentary. He was walking around on the stage, and changing the 2 big screens every so often, to show different players. I was on the far-end console, and unfortunately, he never had my game screen shown on the big screen, even though I was the highest scoring player of that group of 7. After qualifying to the next round, I was handed a NWC Semifinalist Cap (I’ve seen Semifinalist shirts in some pictures, but Milwaukee wasn’t that lucky I guess), and I received a pass for competing in the semi-finals. I noticed right away on the pass that the semi-finals took place the next day, so I was a bit disappointed, but overjoyed once my parents said I could come back.

After competing, my friend and I were free to check out everything else. There were costumed characters that came out every once in a while, who we greeted. There was a big set up for the NES POWer pad, sponsored by Nike. The POWer pad had its own area, where you walked up some stairs, played World Class Track Meet, and then went down the stairs on the other side-not very busy (I think they were expecting a large line). I believe there was some sort of fruit snacks that were sponsoring the Mario Rap-you pay a fee, make a rap video with Mario, and then they give you some fruit snacks. I can’t say that anyone made the video that weekend. My friend and I tried out various games in the POWer Walk area, but never stood in line for the very popular ones (didn’t want to wait in line that long). I know I tried out some Solstice, an RPG with first person view, and many others. We went to the stage area and sat in for a couple of the shows. In the show where they were doing Nintendo trivia, I won a prize and my friend won a prize (2 separate shows). For my prize, they flashed a screen shot of a game for 1 second that you had to identify. Then, they had the camera man pick someone in the audience to answer. Somehow, he made eye contact with me, and then turned his camera around to face me, the emcee came over, and I answered Megaman 2, and won a shirt. For my friend’s prize, they did the same sort of question. They flashed a shot of Willow on the screen, but absolutely nobody in the audience was raising their hand (I didn’t know it either). The emcee had to give a hint “it rhymes with pillow” and then I told my friend the answer, who raised his hand, and the emcee came over. He won a pin with Mario on it. Later on, my friend gave it another go with trying to qualify, but unfortunately, he did a little worse the second time (he lost a life in SMB, which hurt him). I remember seeing one of the higher scoring players on the big screen at one point. It was amazing how fast he was placing blocks. It was like the down arrow was held down constantly, with a little maneuvering left & right. The hardest part for me was starting on Level 0. I was so used to playing Tetris starting on level 9, where I don’t bother too much with holding down to place blocks. That speedy player on the stage ended with a score well over 1,000,000, so my score of 400,000 was not looking too great anymore.

The following day, my parents brought me back to the competition mid-day, close to the time when the Semi-finals would begin. There was a huge line of semi-finalists. In fact, in the 12-17 age category, they could only let in half the people at a time, even with those hundreds of NES stations in the pre-stage area. The game started, and I was in the zone. I got through SMB very quickly, drove through Rad Racer in a very respectable amount of time, and then it was time for Tetris. I tried doing some quick maneuvering with the blocks like I had seen the day before, getting as many Tetrises as I possibly could. When the round ended, I waited for the final screen to pop up, and there was my score. 625,000! Everyone stayed at their machine, and one of the officials started calling out “If you scored more than 1,000,000 points or more, please raise your hand.” A few people raised their hands. Then they called out for people scoring 900,000, and then 800,000, and by that time, they had their 7 people. Then, our group exited, and they let in the second half of the 12-17 age group of semi-finalists. In that group, they had some more people that scored over 1,000,000, so unfortunately, for the guys that scored 800,000 & 900,000 in our group, they were out of the top 7. I wasn’t in that top 7, but the thrill of watching the finals from the audience was still full of excitement. They started the finals with the adult age group, and then the under 12 age group. The scores were high, but not nearly as high as the 12-17 age group. I know they got Game Boys for prizes. Then it was time for the 12-17 guys to take the stage. It was incredible to watch the speed of these guys compete on Tetris. When the timer neared the 10 second mark, the audience started counting down along with it. They took the top 2 guys, and had them compete head to head to determine the final champion. They got going, and through SMB and Rad Racer, they were neck and neck. Then, came Tetris, and they were going for big points. Unfortunately for one of the 2 guys, he had waited for a long piece, but it just was not coming at all. His stack of blocks was nearing the top, and he realized that he had to get rid of some lines quick, because that long one was not coming. Unfortunately, the height of the blocks was too great, and his game came to an end. He had to start over on Tetris. Meanwhile, the other guy was raking in the points, and there was no hope of catching up to him. The audience did the count down again, and when he was done, his score was over 2,000,000! It was amazing to watch. As the place emptied and we were leaving, I had high hopes of another event the following year, but it never happened.

Nintendo POWer magazine offered the NWC cartridge to 50 people, in one of its player’s poll contests (a contest where you fill out a card telling them your favorite games, and then they simply do a draw for the winners). Years later, when I was reminiscing about the NWC, I remembered that Nintendo POWer always printed the winners of that contest in the following issue, so I had thought about trying to contact those winners and track down a game. I never followed through with that idea, but I know that other people out there had the same thought as me. It was a few years later that I came across an ebay auction for this cartridge, and to my dismay, I discovered what these cartridges are valued at.

I did find the NES ROM for the game one day, but it just doesn’t feel quite the same. For one thing, let me give an explanation on the dip switches that are seen on the front of the actual cartridges. These are used for changing the time settings for the game. The normal setting is 6 minutes, 21 seconds. The reason for the oddball time, is because in between the games (SMB, Rad Racer, Tetris), they have intro’s that eat up that 21 seconds which you have to patiently sit through. The NES ROM that I found had its time set differently than 6 minutes, 21 seconds, and I couldn’t figure out how to change that-I don’t know if there is even a way. The second reason that the NES ROM doesn’t live up to the actual cartridge, is the feel of the NES controller vs various controllers you can use on a PC. Luckily, this could be fixed, because someone made a NES controller compatible with a USB interface, although I don’t know if the control timing has the same feel. Does anyone have input on that?

What would I pay if I found one at a garage sale/flea market? If my wife was there, I’d either have to limit my spending cap (say, $250), or buy it while she’s in another area. If I were a single guy though, I’d probably go up to $2000, but only if I promised myself to resell it once I’ve had my fun. I have tried contacting an owner or 2, just to see if they are in my area (Wisconsin). Unfortunately, they were not. If there is anyone out there that has contact with an owner somewhere in my region (maybe Chicago?), I’d love to get a chance to try the game once again.

Phew, I think I’m done now.

Great post.
Cool to read a 1st hand story of somebody who was there.
Also thanks for the info on the switches.
Nice read.

Wow, no other comments on the NWC? Doesn’t anyone have anything they can share?

That was a good story rizz. I really enjoyed reading it. Must have been great to attend such an event and be up on the big stage just like in The Wizard!

Can't say much about the NWC myself as I haven't even played a NES ROM of it, but it's always fun to watch when a gold one goes up on ebay.

I must say, rizz, that must be one of the longest posts I've ever seen! I liked to read about the NWC, really interesting. Would have been cool to have experieced it, but I was only a mere 1-year-old when it all happened...

So the Nintendo World Championships were inspired by the movie "The Wizard"?

I will admit I've never heard of this game. But I will probably download it, and if its any good I will buy it.

Well, that could get a bit expensive, the grey, normal cart alone comes up to over 1000 dollars on eBay.

Not sure, but this entry looks a bit like spam... There are hundreds of other threads where he could have posted and introduced himself...
Maybe he just wanted to get a link to his homepage on the profile page to get his page rank up... who knows?

Really? Seemed OK to me, but I trust your instincts.