ByMichael Haynes, writer at
I'm part lawyer, part professor, and full gamer. Gamerfy Your Life!
Michael Haynes

2017 has been a bumper year for next generation gamers — and it's only April! But no matter how stellar the newest releases are, many gamers still have their eyes and hearts set firmly on the past. Game Boy Advance titles like Final Fantasy, Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda are still hot sellers on eBay and in used-game shops across the globe.

However, while we treasure hunt for classic games, we must acknowledge that fake cartridges are flooding the used game market. These fake games are ripoff reproductions of our favorite games — substandard circuits loaded with a glitchy ROM, the same ones used on emulators.

The good news is that if you look closely at the cartridge itself, it's not too difficult to tell the real from the fake. Here are six easy ways to spot a bogus cartridge without even playing the game.

Seeing Is Believing

To illustrate these points, we have included several photos of a real cartridge and a reproduction of the popular game IV Advance. The fake was unknowingly purchased on eBay, while the legit one was later picked up from a reputable online used game store.

1. Label Image Is Distorted, Stretched Or Generally Strange

The easiest way to spot a phony or reproduction cartridge is to simply look at the label. Does it look weird in any way? Compare the label to a verified image online. Look for stretched-out logos, thinning text, and other images that don't quite match the real thing.

For example, look at the top cartridge in the image below. You can see an orange blotch in the middle of the main logo, a clear remnant of a poor image edit. This is the smoking gun indicating the top cartridge is not real. When you compare it to the image of the real cartridge below, all the logos and images look spread out, somewhat pixilated and too thin, especially the tiny Square Enix logo.

See the little orange spot from a bad Photoshop job?
See the little orange spot from a bad Photoshop job?

2. The Red Nintendo Logo Looks Off

Nintendo has been using the same red oval logo for decades. No matter if you're looking at an original NES or a new , you'll see that same classic trademark. So if you see something different on the GBA cart, then it's probably not real.

Again, look at the top fake cartridge in the image below. See how thin the Nintendo font is? It just doesn't look right. Whenever something doesn't look right on a cartridge label, it's 99.9 percent likely not a legitimate cartridge. It's that easy.

Notice how thin the top Nintendo logo looks?
Notice how thin the top Nintendo logo looks?

3. The Nintendo Seal Of Quality Is Tan Or Yellow, Or Not An Oval

Nintendo has held a monopoly on its cartridge-based system software since it created the Famicom/NES. To show that a cartridge is an official one and not a plastic copy from Tengen, plastered its golden Seal of Quality on everything.

That's right, I said golden — you know, like the Triforce — not tan, not yellow, but golden. Aside from the official seal's color is its shape, which must be oval. If you see a yellow circle, then you know the cartridge is not original.

In the Final Fantasy IV Advance example below, you can see the fake cartridge hosts a seal that's more yellow than the real one. Less obvious is the fact that the Seal of Quality version was reserved for larger cartridges and boxes due to the cramped spacing.

The top seal is tan rather than gold.
The top seal is tan rather than gold.

4. The Model Number Starts With 'GBA'

Fun Fact: Nintendo uses its system codenames for model numbers. Remember the code name for the ? The Revolution. So all Wii hardware and games have model numbers started with RVL. The GameCube? The Dolphin, so model numbers start with DOL.

The codename for the Game Boy Advance was the Advanced Game Boy — the AGB. Crazy, right? Game Boy Advance games have model numbers that start with AGB, not GBA. The more you know.

It may seem counterintuitive, but AGB is the correct model number.
It may seem counterintuitive, but AGB is the correct model number.

5. The ESRB Rating Doesn't Match The Game

This one takes a bit of research, unless somehow you're a GBA trivia nut. Go online and check the rating from Entertainment Software Rating Board for the game you wish to buy. Does it match the label?

Aside from the fact that the giant "E" in the rating is thinned out on the top, and therefore fake, the cartridge label is rated "E-10+," not just "E." This particular example was less obvious; often you'll find fake cartridges showing an "E for Everyone" rating on "M for Mature" games. Doom with an "E" rating — can you imagine?

Note also how thinned out the E is on the top label.
Note also how thinned out the E is on the top label.

6. The Plastic Looks Too Pristine For A 10-Plus-Year-Old Game

When all else fails, examine the whole cartridge. Fake games look too shiny and new to be a decade old, no matter how well stored. Check the label's edges to see if there could be more than one layer. This suggests the top layer was recently affixed on top of an old label.

The Game Boy Advance logo etched into the plastic may also look a little strange, so examine that part, too. Ultimately, if it doesn't feel right, don't buy it.

Seeing The Light

Of course, some fakes look really good, and you still might not be sure if what you're buying is the real deal. Add in two final tests to check your game for legitimacy.

First, hold the cartridge up to a light. You should see a small set of imprinted numbers and letters somewhere in the front label. They're difficult to see, but they're present on every official GBA cart.

Second, you can play the game and test the save function. Fake games are usually just ROMs on cheap boards with none of the saving mechanisms found in real cartridges. If you save the game and restart the system, the reproduction likely won't have held the save — which is a huge bummer to learn after a five-hour Final Fantasy session.

The saddest of start menus after several hours of work.
The saddest of start menus after several hours of work.

Just One Caveat

Buyer beware is the name of the game. Hopefully these tips will help you keep your eyes open at your next used game swap meet, or at least make you question a few eBay auctions.

There are lots of great games up for grabs on the market; just make sure you get the real ones.

Have you ever been stuck with a fake game? Do you have any other tips and tricks for spotting illegitimate games? Tell us in the comments.

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