Nowadays, most gamers are worried about finding a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X at retail due to the global shortages, but there are plenty of consoles throughout the long history of video games that are - and were - much harder to get. For collectors, these are holy grails and many of the rarest console models can fetch high prices on the aftermarket.
We'll take a look at some of the rarest and most valuable video game consoles, ranging from one-off curios through prototypes to special editions.
You might say that the Atari Cosmos is a bit of a cheat, since the console never got an official release, but several units popped up on the second hand market throughout the decades meaning there was a chance to buy one - though exceedingly slim.
The Cosmos was a pretty experimental concept, utilizing early attempts at holography to improve the visuals of this sort-of-handheld - it had the handheld form factor but had to be plugged in. With two screen layers above a dot led matrix, the Cosmos sought to simulate three dimensional effects. This feature was highly marketed during the pre-release period.
Though hyped up, the Cosmos had many pitfalls. First, it was technically a dedicated console - all the actual game data for all 9 games available on it were pre-loaded on the console itself, with the game cartridges only containing the two extra screens for the holography gimmick and a little tab that the console used to identify which game was plugged in. This meant that it was physically impossible to produce additional games for the Cosmos - a fact Atari never included in any marketing material.
Additionally, the pseudo-3D effect just... wasn't very good. Following its debut at the 1981 New York Toy Fair, the Cosmos was doused in a merciless flood of criticism even though Atari claims to have secured 8,000 pre-orders at the show alone. Nobody knows what really sealed the fate of the Cosmos, but even though all production processes were complete with full packaging and a 250 unit production run ordered, the console was cancelled. Nonetheless, some units did make it out of the factory, and are among the rarest gaming collectibles in the world.
For all the ray-tracing and cross-platform play and persistent game world modern gaming offers, sometimes you just miss the insane experimental "wild west" era of console innovation. A perfect example of this is the Nintendo 64DD, which is technically a peripheral and not a full console - but about as substantial as one, nonetheless. It's also exceedingly rare these days.
The source of this rarity isn't as well explained as in the case of the Cosmos - the 64DD was commercially available for a little over a year and reportedly sold over 15,000 units, but somehow the majority of those have disappeared, or were forgotten.
The 64DD is, at face value, a disc drive addon for the Nintendo 64. You plug it into the extension port on the console's underside - but it does much more than just support discs. With all kinds of storage optimization features, this addon enabled connection to a pretty barebones e-commerce platform and social network where users could upload and share simple animations created using the new hardware. It also unlocked some additional features for certain games, such as time-syncing.
Unfortunately the 64DD flopped hard, and the majority of games designed to make use of the specialized hardware were either cancelled or reworked for other platforms.
Sega Genesis CDX
The Genesis CDX was a rarer variant of Sega's console in the first half of the 90's, with some benefits over the Mega-CD. The CDX could be used essentially as a walkman on the go thanks to being powered by batteries and having a headphone port, and featured both a disc drive and a cartridge slot allowing it to play Mega Drive and Mega-CD games.
Despite these advantages, the CDX didn't make a huge splash - less than 5,000 units were ever produced, making it a true rarity these days. In an unintended and therefore undocumented feature, the 32X addon was actually compatible with the CDX, though you had to fiddle with it a little for a good connection.
Super NES CD-ROM
Clocking it at just one confirmed extant unit, the Super NES CD-ROM - or as it is colloquially known, the "Nintendo PlayStation" - is the unborn fruit of a failed partnership between Sony and Nintendo which intended to bring disc drive functionality to the SNES.
Had the project panned out, the end result would have been a separate SNES addon unit not unlike the 64DD that sat under a regular SNES console, but it never got that far. The only actual hardware this brief partnership produced was a single-piece prototype console with both a SNES cartridge slot and a disc drive, with a SNES layout controller emblazoned with Sony and PlayStation branding.
It is thought that only 200 prototype units were ever produced, with the majority of them destroyed upon the partnership's end. At least one has survived, and was recently auctioned with the winning bid coming in at £230,000.
Sharp Super Famicom TV
Also known as the Super Famicom Naizou TV SF1, this oddity was an official licensed collaboration between TV manufacturer Sharp and Nintendo, and was a television with a built-in SNES. The console-related buttons were located on the lower part of the TV, alongside the controller ports while the cartridge slot was located at the top, preventing your granny from tactically deploying her doilies atop the TV set.
The Famicom TV, beyond being a funky gimmick, boasted better image quality than having a separate console and a separate TV connected by the usual cables. Inexplicably, the Super Famicom TV is significantly rarer than the previous Sharp-Nintendo collaboration that stuck a NES inside a television in much the same way.
20th Anniversary PS4
Sony is no stranger to its consoles being scalped into oblivion, and we don't even need to reach back into the annals of history for an example. When the PlayStation brand turned 20 years old during the previous console generation, the manufacturer released a special edition PlayStation 4 model designed with the light grey coloration of the original PS console. Both the machine itself and the DualShock 4 it came with were shelled in grey.
The console was only produced in limited quantities to begin with, and immediately became a high-value collector's item. Today, you can only get one if you are lucky and are willing to drop huge amounts of cash - or, you can get third-parts sticker sets to "reskin" your regular PS4 for, like, $20 or so. There was also another rare PS4 variant, commemorating the 500 million units sold milestone, which sported transparent blue plastic.
Sega Aiwa Mega CD
The Sega Genesis CDX wasn't the only time the old-time Nintendo rival tried to mash together a game console with a disc-based music player. The Aiwa Mega CD crammed a console into a boombox, allowing you to play Mega Drive and Mega-CD games on a CD radio, which featured all of the functionality of the latter - and looked like one, too.
The Aiwa Mega CD is an oddity in no small part to the fact that the radio and console portions weren't actually integrated - the device came in two chunks that sat atop one another, and even had to be connected with a dedicated cable on the rear as opposed to being interfaced directly. Much like the CDX, the Aiwa Mega CD is also technically compatible with the Sega 32X, but that compatibility is even more of a stretch since the cartridge port is located on the bottom. To actually fit an 32X to the console, you need to turn it on its side awkwardly.
Maziora, or ChromaFlair paint as it was called in the west, was all the craze when it came to vehicle customization in the 90's. This pearlescent, colour changing paint utilized aluminium flakes to refract light different based on what angle it's hit. In a curious cross-promotion, 500 Dreamcast units were released with a Maziora paintjob.
Due to the limited quantity and having only been released in Japan, available exclusively through online orders - not as ubiquitous in '99 as they are today - or by winning a signed copy at an event, these variants are exceedingly rare today.
10 Million Model PS1
Even rarer than the 500 Million transparent blue PS4, the 10 Million Model PS1 is a similar riff. The original PlayStation console was released prettied up in dark blue - opaque this time - and released in highly limited quantities. To this day, it is a collector's holy grail.
Nintendo Wii Supreme
An officially licensed Wii variant produced by jeweler Stuart Hughes which is covered in an insane 2,500 grams of solid 22ct gold, with the buttons on the console being encrusted with 78 x 0.25 ct Flawless diamonds which total 19.5 ct. This ludicrous luxury item was limited to 3 units ever made.
The product listing is still up on the Stuart Hughes website, making it unclear whether not all 3 were sold, or if it's just kept for the sake of posterity - either way, the price tag is visible too, clocking in at £299,995.00. Woof.