How to spot a fake GBA game

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You may be thinking that Gameboy Advance games are no longer relevant or popular thanks to the continued success of the Nintendo DS and DSi. However, there is still an excellent variety of titles out there and some franchises are synonymous with the GBA. Since the DS Lite still sports a GBA slot (the DSi does away with it, sadly) and with tens of millions owning one, it makes sense that the market for GBA games isn't quite so dead.

There are unscrupulous people who know this fact and they've taken advantage of unwary buyers on eBay to peddle their counterfeit ware. Bootleg copies of GBA games litter your search results and sometimes it's hard to spot one even after you've bought it. Given that the prices are often suspiciously low, buyers find themselves comforted by saying "Well, I haven't paid that much, have I?" That's wrong. Bootleg games suffer from myriad problems: some won't even start up, some won't save (devastating for an RPG!), some will actually die off after time and some of them will drain your DS' battery life very quickly (this is unhealthy for your DS).

Therefore, it is recommended that you, the buyer, take a stand against this nonsense. These bootleggers are making profits at the cost of your well-being and they must be reported to eBay (even if eBay are extremely lax about it these days).

So, how does one spot a fake, counterfeit or bootleg Gameboy Advance (GBA) game? Let me count the ways.

Early suspicions

It is possible to be wary of a buyer selling a fake game based on the item description and images accompanying it. Whilst these aren't always accurate or exhaustive it pays to be aware of what they can often entail. Text that often indicates ( but doesn't always mean that it is) a bootleg game is:
  • Missing/without manual or box: Counterfeit games usually don't ever come with printed material. They may come with a box at times. Also, even genuine sellers have often misplaced these items at times so this isn't always a great identifier but still worth noting.
  • Fully tested/in working condition: Unless the game cartridge itself has been declared as damaged, there is absolutely no reason why it wouldn't work (disc-based games are susceptible to scratching to that's another issue). Fake games don't often work, so this may be a way for the buyer to try and allay any suspicions. Be wary.
  • Item location: Anywhere in the Far East (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, among others): Piracy of all shapes and sizes is rampant in those areas so there's a very, very high chance that the game you're bidding for is a fake unless there is significant pictorial proof that it is not. I'm not saying you shouldn't buy stuff from there but when it comes to games, you should know the real facts.
  • No refund: Genuine sellers don't usually have trouble with refund policies but sellers of fake titles often do. Make sure you read the full description and seller policy.
  • Generic/poor quality image offered: The best policy for any "used" item is when you can actually see the seller's/owner's photos of it. Bootleg sellers will either have generic boxshots or screenshots and if they have a picture, it's probably such poor quality that you can't tell if it's a fake or not.

First glance

Say that the item hasn't set off your suspicions and that you've actually ended up bidding for and winning it. It's now time to scrutinise the GBA cart itself. At a cursory glance, it's slightly difficult to tell whether or not a game is fake but there are tell-tale signs.

The first thing you should notice is the main sticker. A genuine GBA cart has the following:
  • Gold Nintendo Seal of Quality
  • The Nintendo company logo
  • The game developer's company logo
  • An item code (AGB-XXXX-YYY; where XXXX is an alphabetical or alpha-numeric code and YYY is the region)
  • Age rating (ESRB rating logos)
  • Game image/artwork will match those that you can compare at professional game review sites or even the game's official site
A fake GBA cart won't usually have any of the above but if it does, pay attention to these details:
  • Sticker is usually poor quality and wonkily placed
  • The age rating utilises the older ESRB logos; for example, any games released after March 2005 should have the Everyone 10+ logo instead of the old Everyone logo
  • The item code is usually a fake one. You can easily search for the item code for the original product online and compare it with the one you have in front of you
  • The image or artwork may or may not match the original. If it doesn't match it for the region declared, then this one's pretty suspicious

Look a little closer

Let's assume that the bootleg copy is astonishingly accurate and that it actually has all of the above. Is it still an original game? Not always. Now, let's look closer at some even finer details.

Some the things to notice on the cartridge itself:
  • Gameboy Advance logo: Check the molded logo carefully. The original logo follows the contours of the capitalised letters smoothly; fake ones usually don't.
  • Insertion arrow: Bootleggers don't usually mess this one up, but I've noticed that the arrow (front-bottom) for some fake games is usually smaller or larger (varies in size from cart to cart)
  • Build quality: Nintendo are very strict when it comes to the build quality of cartridges. Fake cartridges are often of lesser quality and tend to flex easily with pressure. In addition, the seams are non-uniform and wider. Sometimes it looks like the cartridge could easily split itself in half.
  • Model Number (back of the cartridge): The official model number for a "GBA gamepak" is and only is AGB-002. Anything other number refers to something else or is a fake.

Final checks

We've come this far and the game cartridge seems absolutely genuine. There are still two final checks you can make. Both of these are courtesy of " Spot a GBA Game--Look Closer" via The Battle Against Bootleg blog.
  • Look at front sticker at an angle, preferably with light reflecting off it. You'll notice something interesting: the sticker has some stamped characters on it! Genuine carts come with these stamped numbers and you wouldn't really notice them without careful observation. Counterfeit games don't and if they do, it's extremely rare.
  • Now, with the front of the cart facing upwards, peer into the open slot itself. You should be able to see some writing just behind the metal contacts, on the PCB itself. The writing should include the Nintendo logo and copyright information (letters and numbers)
Now, if all these correct details are present, then congratulations, you have an official, genuine Nintendo product. Happy gaming!

If you found this guide helpful please leave some feedback. If you didn't find it helpful, then I do apologise! Once again leave feedback so that I can improve it (I'm trying to find appropriate images).
 
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