Avoiding a bootleg MVS cartridge on ebay can be quite difficult, especially if all you have to go on is a picture of the outside of the cartridge on the auction. Many bootleg carts look like the real thing from the outside but the inside can be a totally different story.
This guide will explain how to check your own carts and confirm if they are original or not and also give you tips on how to avoid that bootleg MVS cart on ebay listings.
What is wrong with bootleg carts?
To start things off I will answer the above question. When I buy MVS carts - I want the real thing - right down to original cart label, casing, and game chips and circuit boards - this way I can ensure that the game will work 100% and play as it is was originally intended. Many bootleg carts have issues - such as sound/graphical problems while others do not. Some bootleg games work like the real deal with no problems and can cost the fraction of the price of the original cart but there is always the risk that you may end up with a faulty bootleg so beware!
Some bootleg carts are hacked versions of an original game, such as Metal Slug 6 MVS - Metal Slug 6 was never released on MVS - the game was released on the Sammy Atomiswave system, the Metal Slug 6 game being sold on the MVS is a hacked version of Metal Slug 3 (plus others) and is not meant to be very good - so avoid!!!
Due to bootleg carts - the MVS is no more
With MVS carts being so easy to bootleg, SNK lost so much money and this helped bankrupt the original SNK and made the reformed SNK Playmore halt production of games on the MVS system in 2004 (last release being Samurai Spirits Zero Special) and move onto the Sammy Atomiswave system. SNK Playmore are now issuing their future releases on the TAITO Type X2 system.
Checking the auction
OK, the first thing that I do when I look at an auction is to look at the picture and see if the game looks original with an original label - I usually compare the label on the cart with the label from an original cart (I use the top website hardMVS for this). If the font style in the lettering is not the same - then the label is not original - this does not mean that the cart is a bootleg but just has a replacement label (some Japanese labels are replaced with English labels).
If the auction has no photo but the seller states that the game is original etc etc and the seller has good feedback - then I may take a chance and buy the game. In general, if you have any queries on the auction - it's always best to ask the seller a question.
I then look at the item description and see if the seller has stated if the game is original or not. If the seller does not state if the game is original or not - then I would either email them for confirmation, request a photo of the cart boards (PCB) or depending on the seller's feedback - assume the game is authentic as all items sold on ebay are meant to be authentic anyway.
Some sellers list the game as 100% working rather than 100% original which sometimes means that the game is a bootleg. Most good sellers when contacted would confirm if the game is original or not.
I also check the seller's feedback and see what things they usually sell - this just gives you an idea to see if they usually sell arcade related items and might be able to answer any of your questions. Even sellers with good feedback but no experience of selling MVS carts may sell you a bootleg cart to you by accident, believing that the game is original but is not. In my experience, most good sellers who have sold a bootleg cart to me by accident have apologised for their error and issued me with a complete refund with returned costs - this is how ebay should be and I respect and thank the sellers who have amended their error.
Checking the cart
Now that you have got the cart, unscrew the cart and remove the two circuit boards (PCBS) carefully and avoid opening the cart fully to prevent creasing the cart label. Both PCBS should say SNK/SNK Playmore on them - if not - then the PCB is a bootleg.
The PCBs contain a number of chips (mask roms) on them which have numbers of them - some of which relate to the Neo Geo game number (referred to as NGH). The first Neo Geo game is Nam 1975 and is NGH 1. The last game, Samurai Spirits Zero Special is NGH 272. Please see loopyeddie's top website for a detailed guide on bootleg carts, showing pictures of original carts and bootleg carts. The website also show pictures on the chips used in MVS carts and shows you how to find the NGH number on your MVS cart chips (do a google search for loopyeddie bootleg carts).
I then compare the NGH number from the chip to the NGH number on the Neo Geo Master List (see Neo Geo website), i.e. so if I have a cart that I believe to be Strikers 1945 and the chips have NGH number 254, comparing it to the Master List shows that NGH 254 is indeed Strikers 1945 - therefore I know that the game I have is original.
I have come across a game that looked like an original Puzzle Bobble game but had a number of EPROMS but also a number of original SNK chips on it with NGH numbers 16 and 47 - checking the Master List shows that these chips are from King of the Monsters and Fatal Fury 2 carts. Some bootleg carts are created from original SNK carts - so the Puzzle Bobble cart I received was made from two original SNK carts, the original carts being sacrificed to make the bootleg. The bootlegger removed most of the original chips from the PCB and replaced them with reprogrammed EPROMS with the game data for Puzzle Bobble. A number of original SNK chips are left on the cart to prevent the cart being rejected from the MVS system, along with a number of other/different reasons.
As the bootleggers became more advanced, the bootleg carts were quite often made from scratch - with all the components being bootleg. The cartridges are full of EPROMS and this is usually a tell tale sign that the game is a bootleg on opening. It is worth noting that a number of original SNK carts have EPROMS - including KOF 96, Samurai Spirits 2, Zuppa and Puzzle Bobble for example and so not all games with EPROMS are bootlegs. EPROMS were sometimes used by SNK when game code was updated.
Have you been puzzled by a Puzzle Bobble / Bust-A-Move cart?
According to the Neo Geo Master list, Puzzle Bobble (known as Bust-A-Move out of Japan) has NGH number 83. I bought a copy of this game and it ended up being a bootleg. I bought another and then another - and they all ended up being blatant bootlegs, with obvious signs of bad soldering, bootleg chips and re-used chips from scarificed MVS carts as mentioned above.
I then bought the game from a seller on ebay who has sold me many original MVS games but was selling Puzzle Bobble at a slightly higher price then I wanted to pay - I decided to pay the higher price to ensure that I got an original version this time as the previous 3 versions I bought were bootlegs.
On opening the cart - there were chips with NGH number 68 and 96 and a couple of EPROMS with a sticker on them saying NGH number 96/68. NGH number 68 is the number for Power Spikes II and 96 is the NGH number for Art of Fighting 3. I was shocked as there were no chips with NGH number 83 - but this seller had sold me lots of 100% original SNK MVS and I had no reason to believe he would sell me a bootleg. I contacted the seller and advised him of my concerns. He had a further 20 Puzzle Bobble carts and he checked a few of them to see what NGH number were on the carts - they all had 68 and 96. He stated all his stock was original and I had no reason not to believe him so I had to accept this game as being original.
I was still not content with this as all my other games conformed with the Master List. I researched a bit on the internet and found that some Puzzle Bobble carts had chips numbered from Power Spike II carts. After further research - I found that 1st release carts had NGH number 83 but as the game proved to be so popular - the 2nd release carts contained chips numbered 68 and 96 as SNK were re-using surplus chips from already numbered chips. I bought a further 3 original Puzzle Bobble carts - 2 white (rental carts) and 1 black cart - giving me a total of 4 carts from respectable MVS sellers. The 2 white carts had the official silver serial sticker on the cart label and so I knew that they were going to be original before opening them. All carts had chips numbered 68 and 96 - so all were 2nd release carts. I was hoping to obtain a 1st release cart to see if all the chips were numbered 83 but to date I have been unable to confirm this but I will update you if I ever come across a 1st release cart!
Even with the knowledge that I have got on MVS carts - I am also occasionally fooled into buying a cart that I believe to be an original SNK cart - I purchased a King of Fighter 2000 cart that looked the real deal with original label etc but was a 100% bootleg and wasn't playable - with major graphical problems. If you are sold a bootleg cart without your knowledge - contact the seller and explain the situation and request a refund - most sellers are more than happy to rectify the problem!
Therefore if I were you, I would stick to buying the original SNK carts to ensure that you have the best Neo Geo experience!! Good luck with your purchases!!
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