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Note: I'm unaware of the exact details for each region, but I vaguely remember people claiming that other region(s) got a golden cartridge. I'm talking about PAL/Europe primarily, since that's where I call home.

The original two NES Zelda games had very cool, unique, shining gold cartridges. It really made you feel like you were holding a precious cartridge with a literally "golden" game inside. It had a huge impact on me.

As far as I can remember, Zelda "3" (A Link to the Past) for the SNES had a normal, grey cartridge, and so did "Zelda 4" (Link's Awakening) for the Game Boy.

But then, after all the years and years of hype leading up to the eventual release of the much-anticipated Ocarina of Time, I was 100% sure that they would once again use a shiny, golden cartridge. I was very disappointed when this fantastic and truly "golden" game got a boring, grey, normal cartridge. It felt wrong on so many levels.

However, the spin-off Majora's Mask, also very much a "golden" game, did actually get a golden cartridge. However, it was not "shiny" like the classic NES ones, but more "muted" and non-reflective. Still, it looks very good and makes the game seem special.

Still to this day, it bothers me that Nintendo "cheapened out" (assuming that this is the reason) and gave Ocarina of Time a boring grey cartridge, at least for the PAL release.

I'd like to know:

  1. Did other regions get a gold cartridge? If so, what did it look like?
  2. What exactly was the reason for the grey cartridge? Cost?
  3. If the reason was cost, is it known how much extra it would've added to the price for Nintendo? Wasn't it "worth it" after such hype for so many years, for this epic global release?

I want to make clear that I don't believe that it was actual gold covering the cartridge. Naturally, it was just spraypainted to resemble gold. (Although one might say that all of the classic six Zelda games are worthy of having actual gold cartridges.)

1
  • A single data point thereby telling us nothing, but a semi-local Electronics Boutique still had new stock copies of the golden NES Zelda as late as 1996. It was the only NES item they still had, kicking around. If that were representative, maybe the gold cartridges just weren't a smart investment by Nintendo in territories where it was perpetually second fiddle?
    – Tommy
    Oct 11 '20 at 18:48
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Retendo has photos of the following:

  • Europe, PAL: Grey, with black label.
  • Australia, New Zealand, PAL: Gold, with gold label.
  • US, NTSC: Gold, Grey, (Player's Choice) Grey, (Not for Resale) Grey, all with gold label.
  • Japan: Grey, with black and white label.
  • Taiwan: Grey, with gold label.
  • Hong Kong: Grey, with gold label.

This American advert indicates that the gold cartridge was a limited-run promotional item in the US. IGN makes it seem like it was a last minute decision which sold out quickly. It's my suspicion that NoE didn't have the budget or the impetus to do the same, which begs the question.

The real mystery here relates to the relative sizes of the Nintendo markets and advertising expenditure in the US and UK in the mid-nineties, and if and why Nintendo wasn't so focused on, or popular in, Europe at the time - another question entirely.

ZeldaSpeedRuns also notes that the different game build revisions were released in both grey and gold in the USA, with photos.

Micro-64 has a summary of coloured cartridge publishing for third party cartridges based on documents from Acclaim. Relevant to your question:

  • There was a minimum manufacturing run of 50,000 for non-grey cartridges.
  • All cartridge colours did not have any difference in manufacturing times, and cost the same with the exception of:
    • Gold (extra $0.20 per cartridge)
    • Silver (extra $0.10 per cartridge)

Obviously, any requirements and prices would not apply to Nintendo when releasing their own games, outside of the true base costs and requirements of manufacturing which would have been lower than these.

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