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A brief history of colored game cartridges

Before games made the jump to CDs and DVDs, most of our favorites were shelled inside plastic cartridges of varying size and shape. Color, however, was almost universal – all NES, SNES and Nintendo 64 games were in grey carts, while almost everything else (from Sega to Atari) were snuggled up in black. On rare occasion, random games would buck the trend, arriving in a unique color that leapt out of the conformity and grabbed your eyes by the balls.

If you weren’t around for those days, this entire feature probably seems a bit silly. But for those of us who remember seeing a gold Zelda or a red Doom, there was a special, intangible moment of joy in seeing something stick out from all the other games. Collected here are all the specially colored carts I could recall, beginning with the Atari 2600 and ending with today’s DVD case equivalents.


ATARI 2600


Above: Boy, they really know how to sell it

Standard color: Almost 100% of the machine’s carts were black, and are perhaps better known for their all-or-nothing cover art. Sometimes they were elaborate pieces of art, others a simple bit of text printed on a plain label.

Special color: Nintendo’s two Donkey Kong games took the opposite path and went for white instead of standard black, though to be fair all of Coleco’s Atari games were white. So it’s only sort of special, as that means there are several white carts instead of just one or two.


NINTENDO

Standard color: That wonderful, wonderful grey. If you were age 5-20 in the ‘80s or early ‘90s, you handled countless carts that looked exactly like this.


Above: How you make something matter

Special color: A dazzling gold Legend of Zelda immediately set it apart from every other game on the market, let alone the NES. When struck by sunlight it seemed to radiate energy like the Triforce itself, a feat that managed to make the lifeless plastic feel as integral to the Zelda experience as the groundbreaking gameplay.

Oh yeah, there were plenty of unlicensed, unofficial NES games that snuck out to the market inside of ugly and/or oddly colored carts. Color Dreams favored a pale blue, Camerica attempted to ape Zelda with its gold and silver carts while the oh-so-popular American Video Entertainment stuck with black.

Next page: Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Super NES and more!

69 comments

  • shane-meece - September 27, 2012 9:15 a.m.

    Here's a question for ya. I have a black cartridge for Final Fantasy 2 that i acquired 14 years ago yet there is NO info anywhere on the net. WTF does this mean?!
  • jerilyn-nighy - June 6, 2012 11:48 p.m.

    You neglected "Air Raid" for Atari, which had both a unique color AND shape. And is one of the rarest carts out there.
  • Colicub - March 21, 2011 1:35 p.m.

    Actually.......there's another few that you missed. The Japanese version of Virtua Racing on the Mega Drive came in a weird grey cart that was a different shape than any other to make space for the SVP chip. Also, the bitGenerations games on the GBA come on proper black carts, and Drill Dozer had the funny brown rumble cart. In the UK Micro Machines came on a cart that looked like a Game Genie, and also a lot of pirate and homebrew carts are differently coloured, especially for handhelds.
  • kangaroocory - November 20, 2010 3:05 a.m.

    "Gre… hey, they’re almost black! Let’s go with 'darker grey.'" Hahahahaha i nearly died over that one. Also, whenever my local Gamestop closes, my re-play is still open, so when igo to "classics" section i see N64 game Jeopardy, yes like the game show, in shiny blue likethe pokemon silver and pokemon blue mixed.
  • whitesall - September 1, 2010 2:07 p.m.

    loved the 64 entris played the magority of all those games was hopping to see pokemon stadium 2 but i would always want to play the donkey kong game on the 64 mostly because in a box of grey it was freakin yellow!!!!
  • bhamjustin - May 31, 2010 3:55 p.m.

    Loved this article. It took me back to getting a new game & the sheer joy you felt when you opened the game box and it was a special color. Great stuff.
  • Marvelfan13 - May 31, 2010 2:42 a.m.

    Hey, I own that Super Mario Bros. Deluxe game!
  • lovinmyps3 - May 30, 2010 7:08 p.m.

    "You just spent five minutes reading about plastic." Holy shit, I did! Damn you GamesRadar!
  • super0sonic - May 30, 2010 9:39 a.m.

    i like this alot.
  • Mechamorbo - May 30, 2010 3:48 a.m.

    Weird! I thought The Haunting was in a bigger case because a normal cartridge couldn't contain it's shear graphical power! http://ka.paletteswap.com/genhauntingstarringpolterguy.jpg
  • ChiChiRocket - May 30, 2010 3:42 a.m.

    I was pretty disappointed the day that I opened my Pokemon Pearl box to find a black cartridge staring back at me. Having played since Red and Blue, I just assumed they'd keep going with the colored cartridge theme. How wrong I was...
  • linkganon - May 29, 2010 7:49 a.m.

    @QWERTYCommander tony hawk pro skater 3 was black, i know because i own the game.
  • Silentcapt2 - May 29, 2010 2:55 a.m.

    Hmm, I wonder how many minutes you spent writing about plastic? xD
  • screwball08247 - May 28, 2010 5:58 p.m.

    I'll never look at colored plastic the same way again. Thank you, Brett Elston.
  • NanoElite666 - May 28, 2010 5:43 p.m.

    So THAT'S why that old NHL game I had for Genesis way back when had a huge cart with a funny yellow thing on it.
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - May 28, 2010 3:11 p.m.

    Damn, getting that gold Zelda N64 cartridge for christmas. Nothing can bring that feeling back, not even fantastic articles such as this!
  • Geminiman82 - May 28, 2010 3:06 p.m.

    It's not a certainty but many games with a special color have been pretty good!
  • rockstarsean - May 28, 2010 2:59 p.m.

    Micro Machines 2 was the greatest cartridge ever!!! 2 extra controller ports!!!!
  • VirAetas - May 28, 2010 2:48 p.m.

    There really nothing more magical than that golden Zelda cartridge. Then Ocarina came and was gold. Then Majora's Mask upped the ante by being gold and HOLOGRAPHIC ZOMGSOCOOL. Oh Zelda, how I love thee. Then the uber badass Turok 3 (guilty pleasure...) black cartridge with everyone screaming on the cover. Ahhh 90's.
  • Baron164 - May 28, 2010 1:47 p.m.

    I just spent 5 minutes reading about plastic. Wow it's really a slow day.

Showing 1-20 of 69 comments

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