The Wild West of Pokemon Bootlegging

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrew 13

It’s been a LONG time since I played Pokemon. Pokemon, you say? Yes, a twenty-five year old male playing a game about cartoonish cuddly creature who participate in vicious cockfights. So what? You wanna say something? For all its negative reputation among an older crowd, Pokemon still resonates with me. Like a craving that I couldn’t remove, I just HAD to play it. I remember playing Pokemon Silver in the year 2000 or so (my save battery died shortly after, somehow, rendering me without my fix), but when I have started the game with any dedication since? It was time to jump back into the fray. Unfortunately, if you don’t know where anything is in your house, then it’s difficult to play a Game Boy game if you can’t find it. So it was that I happened upon FireRed for the Game Boy Advance; it’s basically a remake of the original games.

Wow, is this satisfying. There’s a comforting element to Pokemon that I can’t quite nail. Unlike Dragon Quest, there’s really nothing happening with the plot. You’re the Pokemon trainer, now go get some Pokemon and be the best! Being the best might be the same as it was a decade ago, but the formula hasn’t lost its luster quite yet. However, FireRed feels a little…samey. I’ve definitely played this game before; I need some new and fresh.

So goes my journey to find Pokemon Emerald. I’m a weird stickler for these things; I want to play Pokemon on my television, not staring at a tiny, eye-straining screen. Thus, the DS entries (for now) are out of the question. Unfortunately, what followed was a descent into the weird and horrible world of Game Boy Advance bootlegging.

You heard that right: bootlegs. It’s a HUGE problem on eBay and even Amazon Marketplace.Who would have thought? Even now, old Pokemon games go for inflated prices just about everywhere. That’s not just because people have old systems; rather, Pokemon from GBA games can transfer to DS games, meaning they haven’t lost their value at all for the true Pokemaniacs out there. Me? I just wanted a newer Pokemon game, but I had to do hours and hours of research to tell the difference. Let me share my newly-gained expertise! Let me demonstrate with a picture:

Which one of these is the real one? If you answered “none”, you’re correct. How could you possibly know that by chance, though? Plenty of people get scammed in the second-hand Pokemon cartridge market. That this is a thing both makes me laugh uncontrollably and makes me a little sad about the state of our society. Thankfully, I didn’t have to buy four versions of the same game to learn my lesson. The pirates are exceedingly good at creating the real thing, even to the point of deceiving most people on eBay. The more people convey their experience with identifying bootlegs, the more said bootleggers adopt those same design choices.

There’s a few identifying markers for most bootlegs, though. First, E for Everyone logo will look small and squashed; that’s a guarantee you have a bootleg.  If the cartridge is transparent, rather than translucent – congratulations, you own something fake! Good luck figuring that out with dodgy cellphone camera lightning conditions, or said seller not even bothering to take a real picture and stealing it from a stock photo or a real one. If there’s no picture at all…well, check seller feedback and see if they’ve sold a fake before. If so, they’re definitely a bootlegger. Look for sellers who are only selling exactly ONE copy of the game – those tend towards being real copies. I’ve found that, from my research, most sellers don’t even know they’re selling the things. Except for the ones from Asian regions. Should it even beg the question that, if said product comes from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc., then it’s also a bootleg? I had that happen to me when I ordered a Cowboy Bebop DVD set; never again, I say!

For example, take a look at the genuine article:

Well, not QUITE the genuine article; more the accurate version for those searching for a PAL copy of the game (not that it would matter either way). The United States Version doesn’t have the huge CE on the bottom right, and has the typical “E for Everyone” on the bottom right. The primary identifying marks of an original Nintendo product come from the sticker design and the stamped production number. Almost all Pokemon cartridges, for whatever reason, have a metallic sheen on the sticker art; if yours doesn’t (as none of the above do not), you’ve got a bootleg. If your copy doesn’t have the numbers imprinted on the cartridge sticker as well, it’s more than likely fake. Apparently, some say you can also tell by the words “Nintendo” on the cartridge interior, or by the back (sometimes spelled “Nintondo” – nice work, spellchecker), but these aren’t guarantees. I find the sticker remains the best way to see whether or not it’s a true blue Pokemon Emerald and not a cheap knock-off. It goes without saying that, if the cartridge looks at all different from this one (other than the ESRB symbol and the Nintendo logo being on the righthand side; NA territories), then it’s a bootleg.

In fact, the only way to fully, truly guarantee your copy isn’t a fake simply comes from booting up the game. If, in fact, it says something similar to “The save file is ok”, or “The save file is corrupted; the save file is ok to play”, then you know for sure you’ve got a fake copy. That basically means the save battery’s booting up; it’s not integrated into the game’s cart like it is on the Nintendo version – some reports say it takes up to two minutes for the game to save. As well, your copy’s most likely to delete your save after completing the Elite Four, and can’t link up with the DS at all. Obviously, no one wants these things, so be careful! Most of these are true of all Pokemon GBA games, so take that to heart.

I’m surprised, honestly, that I had to assemble this knowledge from disparate parts of the Internet. Any cursory search of various media sources will show that Pokemon remains one of the bestselling games in every year they’ve been released, yet there’s huge numbers of fake copies circulating. Although I had initially combed the untamed wilderness for my own personal benefit (realtalk), everyone can benefit from this little compilation of information. Of course, I won’t know whether any of it was worth it until the game arrives at my house, but we’ll see! This is my personal contribution to the problem; who wants to get ripped off when buying something? I sure don’t. So help your fellow gaming stranger, whether in Pokemon trading or World of WarCraft random dungeon runs. Be excellent to one another, dudes! As it says in Phillipians 2:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Whether or not it’s a small contribution, I’m hoping this proved insightful and helpful to someone. If you learned something from this, please leave a comment or two, or correct me. I’d rather have some definite source for this information than having to spend hours looking through dead forums threads and dead ends all over the place.

UPDATE: Yes, I realize this was published after the update, but it was written after I got the game. My theories and the like were proven correct; I received a genuine, authentic copy that looks very much the same (barring the CE, which appears to be a PAL designation). No weird hookups, no “The save file is ok” message or anything. It worked for me, so if you’re crafty enough and search long enough this should work for you.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.