Buy Buy, Baby: The $17,500 Nintendo Game

"Buy Buy, Baby" is a Friday feature that explores unique luxury goods and what makes them special. Check back every week for more items to put on your wish list.

When video games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System refused to work, blowing the dust off the cartridge's contacts usually got it going. If that game is worth $17,500 nearly 20 years later, though, should your mouth go anywhere near it?

"I did blow on it the first time I tried it, just to make sure it would work without any problems," says J.J. Hendricks, 28, the owner of Denver-based JJ Games who purchased a rare gold copy of Nintendo World Championships Gold for that amount last month. "You blow very carefully and make sure you don't spit."

J.J. Hendricks paid $17,500 for a rare cartridge of the Nintendo World Championships Gold video game.

Listen as Hendricks explains why his video game passion is like wine collecting, and names the hot titles out now.

If you're young enough to play Nintendo's Wii without breaking a bone but one of the almost 62 million former NES owners worldwide old enough to remember calling your video games "tapes," there's a chance you remember the Nintendo World Championships game. You're also precisely the demographic whose nostalgia and expendable income drives collectible video game prices through the roof.

The game was produced for a series of festivals Nintendo hosted in 1990, with kids competing against one another in mini versions of Super Mario Brothers, Rad Racer and Tetris. About 90 utilitarian-gray versions of the game were used in competition (with one for sale on eBay ( EBAY)), but the regional and final champions were given one of 26 gold cartridges. Hendricks' copy is one of only 12 still in existence. His high score is 250,000 points, down from 4.5 million some 19 years ago.

"When I was a kid, I wished I had played in the original Nintendo World Championships," Hendricks says. "It's going to be the Honus Wagner card of video game collecting." (Wagner, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team a century ago, halted the production of baseball cards bearing his image, leading to a spike in their value.)

Hendricks would know, as he also tracks $5,000 copies of the Atari 2600 game Air Raid and the almost $12,000 near-extinct SNK Neo Geo game Kizuna Encounter at his Video Game Price Charts site. He saw prices for Michael Jackson's "Moonwalker" for the Sega Genesis shoot from $14.99 to $200 within moments of Jackson's death, but also watched prices of Capcom's frustratingly rare "Marvel vs. Capcom 2" fighting game for Sega's Dreamcast and Microsoft's Xbox drop 4% to 14% in April after Sony ( SNE) and Microsoft ( MSFT) announced they would feature the game on their online services.

The latter may have signaled "game over" for collectors younger than the Nintendo and Sega generation. Developers for disc-based systems have simply burned more copies of games when demand gets too high or released online versions that hit the reset button on resale values.

Though old games have been replicated in dummy versions and on ROMs and emulators found on office PCs around the world, the cartridge's rarity has given it extra lives.

"Back in the old cartridge days, it was too expensive to reproduce the cartridges if the game became really popular and expensive," he says. "What they produced initially was all they were going to have."

As the power lights dim on old NES, SNES, Genesis, TurboGrafx 16 and other systems, the cartridges are becoming increasingly difficult to play. It's forced Hendricks to put his gold cartridge in a vault, but has also inspired him to let customers play copied versions of both it and 1991's Nintendo Campus Challenge (of which only one original version still exists amid the 15,000 other games owned by Jason Wilson of Nashville, Tenn.) as part of a Retro Gaming Championship on July 18 at his shop.

"The people who grew up with the games have more disposable income and want to relive some of their childhood," Hendricks says. "My hope is that, after investing so much money in the game, people will be willing to pay more and more money for items like it."

Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

More from Personal Finance

The Best States for Millennials' Money and Health

The Best States for Millennials' Money and Health

U.S. Banks Urged to Make Small Loans In Competition With Payday Lenders

U.S. Banks Urged to Make Small Loans In Competition With Payday Lenders

How to Void a Check

How to Void a Check

Rent the Runway co-founder Chats with Cramer on Equal Pay and a Good Pair Jeans

Rent the Runway co-founder Chats with Cramer on Equal Pay and a Good Pair Jeans

Best Real Estate Markets for Homeowners in the U.S.

Best Real Estate Markets for Homeowners in the U.S.