To cash in on the Nintendo Entertainment System craze, Topps struck a deal with Nintendo in 1989 to produce a variety of merchandise tie-ins, like plastic Mario and Link bubble gum dispensers.

The company’s most memorable Nintendo-endorsed product may have been its Game Pak trading cards. Selling for 50 cents a pop, Topps bundled three scratch-off card games and two peel-off stickers per pack.

In the 60 different card games, kids could fight familiar video game enemies or move across the screen by scratching off little gray circles. Game instructions appeared on the back of each card.

For example, on one Super Mario Bros. scratch-off, the directions read, “Find 3 arrows and you win. Uncover 3 Buzzy Beetles and you lose!”

Converting the Nintendo multimedia experience into a static scratch-off game was a clever idea, but, like used lottery tickets, the cards became nothing more than litter afterwards. (Unlike lottery tickets, however, players were not awarded anything by winning. “THIS PRODUCT IS FOR FUN–NO PRIZES AWARDED” was plastered on the front of every pack of cards to make that perfectly clear.)

When the scratch-offs were spent, kids could then have fun peeling off two of a total of 33 stickers and reading the “Top Secret Tips” on the reverse to pick up some video game advice.

In 2006, Topps, under the eBay account “thetoppsvault,” auctioned off several of the original color artwork and black-and-white overlays that were used to create its Nintendo stickers.

To quote from the company’s description: “Direct from Topps’ legendary vault, this is the actual color art used in the creative process of this 1989 Topps release. One is the original color art, the other is the overlay containing the camera-ready B&W line art. In order to create the reverse side cartoon image, the overlay is placed over this mini art board. Each piece measures (2 1/2 x 3 1/2-inch). This art and overlay sheet come encased in hard plastic holders to maintain its delicate and original state.”

Some of the sticker art reached fairly significant prices. One sporting The Legend of Zelda logo went for over $70, while an image of Link holding the Triforce ended at around $55.

Wanting to get a closer look, I picked up a few, myself, including a celebratory Little Mac (of Punch-Out!! fame), a squatting Samus Aran (the heroine from Metroid), and a dirt-cheap Cobrat (the snake who slithers around the desert sand in Super Mario Bros. 2). The latter two turned out to be stickers that Topps released in a 2nd series exclusively through its Canadian licensee, O-Pee-Chee.

Little Mac Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay

Samus Aran Topps Original Reverse Side Card Art

Cobrat Super Mario Bros. 2 Topps Original Card Art

A year later, Topps switched to selling the original artwork and card overlays from its Nintendo scratch-offs.

For those who fondly remembered these cards growing up, it was hard to pick and choose because there were just so many of them up at once.

Super Mario Bros. 2 Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay

This Super Mario Bros. 2 scene shows Tryclyde spitting toasty fireballs at Mario. As you can tell by comparing the original artwork with the printed card, the scratch-offs are missing, because they were applied by a machine at a later time. Another difference is the size–unlike the original pieces of sticker art, which are the same dimensions as the mass-produced peel-offs, these original scratch-offs are much larger than their respective final versions, measuring 4 x 5 1/2 inches.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay

This second scratch-off artwork depicts a scene from The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Fans of that game will recognize it as one of the random Hyrule forest screens that Link must battle through to get back to the game’s overworld map. Notice how the sky is painted blue instead of black.

Double Dragon Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay

I cannot seem to locate my matching card for this last one, unfortunately, but I can confirm that it is a released Topps card from the Double Dragon series. The most affordable of the three, this one caught my eye because of the bright colors in the background. Nothing says ‘80s action quite like throwing crates from a pink construction site. This scene recreates the first screen of the second level in Double Dragon.

Archive Listing of Topps Vault Auctioned Nintendo Card Art

Double Dragon

The Legend of Zelda



Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. 2