Shortly after the rare Atari 2600 game Pepsi Invaders sold on eBay for $1825
, another rare game cartridge showed up online: Zelda III. The story goes that a 19-year-old Canadian purchased an extremely rare development cartridge for the NES system containing an unfinished version of an unreleased Zelda III, officially called The Legend of Zelda III: The Triforce Saga.
The cartridge first came to light when the NES game showed up on eBay, but that's only the start of the story. What unfolded was a series of events that culminated in the cartridge being sold to someone for about $3000 dollars Canadian (about $2500 USD) that claimed to work for the Canadian development company Silicon Knights. Silicon Knights, for its part, subsequently issued a statement saying that they had no knowledge of the person, and had certainly not purchased the cartridge themselves. Is there an answer to this mystery? Who bought Zelda III? Was the cartridge ever real? There are not many answers at this point, but here's the rough time-line of events that we have so far.
- October 20th, 2005: The cartridge appears on eBay with a brief story about how the seller purchased the cartridge for $20 dollars at a flea market. The label of the cartridge is primitive, and the seller claims that he does not have time to verify the legitimacy of the cartridge. At this point, there is a lot of discussion about whether or not the cartridge is legitimate, considering that the game is in English, which would be odd for a development build of an early Nintendo title. That, and of course it was found at a flea market in the U.S. Nintendo refuses to comment.
- October 21st, 2005:eBay pulls the auction from their site, cancelling all bids on the item. To prove the game is real, the seller releases a fuzzy image of what appears to be a Zelda opening screen, claiming he managed to get the game working on a standard NES console. According to the seller, the game is buggy, but playable, and promises additional screenshots. Many in the gaming community call for him to rip the ROM and distribute it freely, and then sell the cartridge or donate it to a museum.
- October 25th, 2005: Even though the item has been pulled from eBay, a buyer steps forward to purchase the Legend of Zelda III cartridge for $3000 CAD, according to the cartridge seller. Supposedly, man going by the moniker Knight 7 claimed to work for the game development company Silicon Knights, and flew in from Toronto to look at the cartridge. After taking screenshots, supposedly e-mailing them back to his HQ to verify legitimacy, he purchases the ROM. The seller posts images of $3000 CAD cash atop a printed copy of the game news site Joystiq.com, which covered the story.
- October 26th, 2005: Speculation begins about whether or not Silicon Knights actually purchased the Zelda III title or not, and if so, what they plan to do with it. According to the seller, Knight 7 agreed to pull the ROM from the cartridge, and mail a burned copy back. And then? Possibly sell the ROM on CD.
- October 27th, 2005: After reading of the discussion online, the CEO of Silicon Knights e-mails Joystiq.com with a letter denying that Silicon Knights purchased or authorized the purchase of the Zelda III cartridge. This means that either the buyer was lying about his identity, or the seller was lying about the entire event. The Silicon Knights letter suggests that they've taken the issue very seriously, and is investigating the possibility that someone has used their name for business deals without permission. Online, people again begin to question whether or not the Legend of Zelda III cartridge ever really existed.