Look at this picture, and try to guess how many of these cartridges are genuine:
Hint: the correct answer is “not a damn one”.
Yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Pokémon in the past year or so, so yes, it was inevitable I’d eventually attempt to acquire some of the GBA games. Belgian toy stores don’t tend to do trade-ins or sell old second-hand games, and I hate interacting directly with people (so eBay or the local equivalent, 2dehands.be, are out), and Amazon doesn’t deliver here, so it took me a bit to find an actual place to get them, but eventually I did find this Amazon clone, which has the added bonus of free shipping to most of Europe.
I’d like to make it clear my misadventures involving Pokémon Emerald are no reflection on the website itself or most sellers using it; several sellers refunded my money when I pointed out the games were bootlegs, and I’ve had few to no issues with the other things I’ve ordered there (including three DS games and a GameCube game, controller, and memory card).
For Pokémon Emerald, though, holy fuck. I’ve made seven attempts to buy this game; the four bootlegs pictured, two orders that were refused because the seller was out of stock but forgot to take down his listing, and my personal favourite, this fucking thing:
Apart from the fact that it’s not the right game, look at the effort that went into it. They wrote a (six-page, admittedly) manual. They printed a box with fancy metallic sparkles. They actually folded a cardboard thing to keep the cartridge in place as if it were the real deal. At no point did it occur to them to look at the actual box art to ensure their efforts weren’t ludicrously misdirected.
The real Pokémon LeafGreen comes with a GBA wireless adaptor, by the way (because link cables are passé). This one obviously didn’t, but the manual, which they wrote themselves, from scratch, still promises it.
I do actually own a legitimate copy of LeafGreen (also without wireless adaptor, but that’s to be expected). Here it is with my legitimate copy of FireRed,0 and the bootleg copy of FireRed I got on my first attempt (fucker didn’t even send me a box for that one):
Obvious things to notice: the bootleg has a battery (that round thing partially visible through the plastic), the real ones don’t; the Nintendo seal is oval on the bootleg; the label has a metallic effect on the genuine cartridges.
One thing all of my bootlegs have in common is that when they’re started, they give a pointless message. All of the Emeralds give the following:
The save file will be loaded.
The game can be played.
Except for the one that used to give that but now gives this one:
The save file has been erased due to corruption or damage.
The game can be played.
(In case you were wondering why it matters to me that I have a genuine cartridge. And oh: none of the bootlegs I’ve bothered to test allow migration of Pokémon to the fourth-gen games.)
The bootleg FireRed and LeafGreen are terser:
The save file is ok.
Real games don’t give any message when there’s no problem. I suspect the reason bootlegs do is because the save mechanism is so closely tied to the hardware of the cartridge itself that it has to be reimplemented by the bootleggers (unlike the rest of the game, which is just a ROM ripped from a legitimate cartridge, obviously), and bootleggers don’t give a shit. Further evidence for this hypothesis is the fact that my bootleg FireRed and LeafGreen have batteries, which they presumably use to save to volatile memory, in the same way old Game Boy and Game Boy Color games did, but the GBA games no longer do (they use flash memory).
Incidentally, the presence of a battery on an Emerald cartridge is not automatic evidence of bootleggery: legitimate Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald cartridges all have batteries, which they use to keep time, because the GBA doesn’t. When those batteries run out, you don’t lose your save (unlike you would for GB and GBC games), but you’ll lose events that rely on the clock, like berry growing and tides in the Shoal Cave. It can be replaced with relatively little risk to your game.
For science, here’s the backs of those Emerald cartridges, in the same order as above:
Note that despite differing labels and cartridge plastic, three of those are actually the same circuit boards. And to give the bootleggers credit, they actually did bother to print “Nintendo” on the board just above the connectors, which is a thing that’s often mentioned in guides about spotting bootlegs; it’s in the wrong font (which annoys me in its gratuitous indifference), but a pretty casual consumer might not notice.
My point, I suppose, is caveat emptor. And if you’re going to buy Pokémon GBA games second-hand, ignore the guides and just check if it gives you a startup message; that seems to be the easiest and only sure-fire way to know.
But my secondary point is that you should mail me your copy of Emerald if you aren’t playing it anymore. After the first two bootlegs I told myself I’d keep buying them until I either got a genuine one or spent €50, and unless one of the three most recent scammers refunds my money, I’ve hit that limit.
Maybe I’ll try for Ruby and Sapphire instead.
Edit (June 11): So I never did get those refunds, but I noticed the same person who sold me my genuine copies of FireRed and LeafGreen had a copy of Emerald. It was €34, but I decided to chance it.
Note how the connectors are visible from the back of the cartridge. The label is a bit worn, but there’s a holo type effect that isn’t very visible in pictures. And, importantly, there’s no message when you start the game.
It took €84 and six months, but I finally own a genuine copy of Pokémon Emerald.
0 Both of those genuine cartridges came from the same seller.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t have Emerald.