a picture of the legend of zelda test cartridge

The NES Zelda Test Cartridge History

a picture of the legend of zelda test cartridge

As a collector or game enthusiast, have you ever come across a Zelda game cart that looks like the one in the picture above?
Not many people had back in 2002 or so. So many of us just took guesses as to what it might be and why, but no one actually knew at the time. It really just looked like someone was bored and made a custom cart.

Some of the collectors at the time were guessing that it could be the following:
• It is just a pirate cartridge.
• Maybe is was a gold Zelda Cartridge but the paint was just scraped off.
• Maybe someone was bored and had it made to look like this (painted) but it still played the same.
• Maybe it was possibly a limited release Zelda won in a contest or promotion that wasn’t advertised.
• Or maybe it was made by Nintendo as a special cartridge that was created to be used in the game repair shops.

Each guess was was heavily questioned and speculated upon as usual.

My understanding is that the first cart like the one pictured earlier was discovered in a flee market. The buyer said that it didn’t look like it was painted. To confirm this even more, another collector pointed out that if you scrape the gold on a standard original release Zelda cartridge, it is black underneath. There is also there no history or record of any  contests or  giveaways that had a different colored Zelda cart as a prize.

It was hard to believe that it might be a pirate cart because at the time there was only one or 2 and it was very well done and looked to be factory made as it had all the right warning labels, quality seals, and even the right factory screws. Yes, nowadays these are easily faked but back then it was little harder and it really looked to be produced. Not to mention,  why go through the headache and trouble for an orangish yellow pirate cart that has the normal game inside?

So who made it? What was it’s purpose? Did Nintendo specifically make this for something? What is the point?

The next logical question was that we needed to see the insides and compare it to a regular NES Zelda game cart and board and see it it was different in any way.

When one of the owners finally opened the cart so it could be compared to the original gold Legend of Zelda Cartridge, it looked absolutely identical. This really just appeared to be a pirate at that point. I mean, why would Nintendo waste time and resources to just make a hand full of special carts of an already popular game that is then given to test centers to test consoles and such when they could just grab a standard Zelda cart and use that? It just sounds like a waste of time and money right? Especially considering that the game board inside is the exact same as a standard Zelda cart. What is the difference other than color that would help it actually test anything? Clearly a regular cart could be used just as easily for the same thing.

After going over all of the possibilities, nothing added up to prove that it was a test cart so everyone just forgot about it and moved on to other collecting avenues.

It wasn’t until a few years later down when some evidence surfaced that finally told the story and added verification that it was actually a test cart that was made by Nintendo specifically for their test and service centers.

So what was the proof showing that this was a Zelda test cart?

When Nintendo finally started to close down most of their Service Centers in roughly 2007 (they left a few open to my knowledge) they sold or gave away various testing equipment in random auctions and you started to see some of the test equipment show up on eBay and in the collections of a hand full of collectors.

These newly discovered test carts that came from the service centers were reported to be used to test Nintendo hardware and accessories to make sure they were functioning properly. The majority of the test carts that were found had Mario on the front label. In the picture of Mario he looked to be pulling up a NES cart from the ground. (see the picture below)

a picture of a NES joystick test cartridge

A picture of a Nintendo joystick test cartridge

The difference about these test carts from just a standard NES game cart was that their color was a mustard yellow. There were even some later found that were grey (picture below).

A picture of a grey NES control deck test cartridge

A picture of a grey Nintendo control deck test cartridge

These findings brought us back to the beginning question and idea that there could be a version of the legend of Zelda test cartridge. Still, even with these new findings, no one was fully convinced that there was a Zelda test cart version because no one else had found any  in the test centers that had closed down.

It wasn’t until a few years later again that another collector found a closing test center and bought some of their test equipment and found a few mustard yellow carts but this time didn’t just have Mario’s but a few Zelda’s as well.

So why make the Zelda Test Cart?

So why did they make a late version test cart for Zelda at the service centers? The understanding through rumors and old employees was that as the Nintendo Entertainment System was fading away and everything was moving into Super Nintendo Entertainment System and soon after, Nintendo 64, that these specific carts were custom made for testing the last production model NES which was the top loader. These carts were most likely made from old Zelda parts and pieces that were laying around the shop. Honestly speaking, if you worked in a test center and were bored to death having to test thousands of systems but could only test with Mario, wouldn’t you rather have another fun game to do the testing with? I know I would. So why ask them to create a test cart with Zelda. It’s a a much better game test systems with especially after testing with just Mario for years and years! It kinda makes sense really.

a picture of zelda test cart prices

Fast forward to today and you will find a small hand full of these carts out on the market, but when you find them, they sell for thousands of dollars. Rare and popular typically always comes with a high price tag, especially when it crosses with collectors who love Zelda and rightfully so.

Spotting A Fake From The Real Version

So now that people know about these, there are a few fakes popping up here and there.

Below is a picture showing a fake on the right vs the real test cart on the left:

A Picture of A Real vs Fake Legend Of Zelda Test Cartridge

As you can see, the fake is a much brighter yellow and the real version is actually a little more orange than yellow. There isn’t much to see in the way of board differences because they are all stock boards. You are really buying just the case 😜.

Thats all I’ve got. If you have any information to add, please don’t hesitate to contact me or comment below and leave your thoughts.

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