Buying retro Pokémon games? Use our guides to help weed out the fakes!

Buying retro Pokémon games? Use our guides to help weed out the fakes!

With the right information, you’ll be a Pokémon cartridge pro.

With many Pokémon games being remade, such as Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl for the Nintendo Switch, a lot of people, including me, are looking back to previous eras of Pokémon games. Some people will argue that the Pokémon games released during this era are some of the best games ever released. From the popular Kanto region in Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow, to the initially misunderstood but now revered Black and White, as well as their sequels, Black 2 and White 2 — Pokémon games are always in demand.

However, this, unfortunately, means that a lot of people want to take advantage of that popularity and demand by creating and selling reproduction cartridges, unbeknownst to buyers. I ended up not doing my due diligence when purchasing a second-hand copy of Pokémon Platinum and ended up with a bootleg copy. This deceit occurs most with Pokémon games, despite being some of the best-selling games on the console, which means that there is no shortage of physical game cartridges.

The Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS saw 20 entries in the Pokémon series:

Units sold

Pokémon Red and Blue
Game Boy
31.37 million

Pokémon Yellow
Game Boy
14.64 million

Pokémon Gold and Silver
Game Boy Color
23.10 million

Pokémon Crystal
Game Boy Color
6.39 million

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire
Game Boy Advance
16.22 million

Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen
Game Boy Advance
12.00 million

Pokémon Emerald
Game Boy Advance
6.32 million

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
Nintendo DS
17.67 million

Pokémon Platinum
Nintendo DS
7.06 million

Pokémon HeartGold and Soulsilver
Nintendo DS
12.72 million

Pokémon Black and White
Nintendo DS
15.64 million

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2
Nintendo DS
7.63 million

Pokémon games exist on all Nintendo handheld consoles from the original Game Boy to the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo Switch, so we’ll have a section dedicated to Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS games.

Fake Game Boy and Nintendo DS games do exist. However, fake Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Switch games currently do not. The Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS have sold millions of units, and during the time since its release, gamers have worked tirelessly to expose fake games and inform each other.

Take note: The copy of Pokémon Platinum that you will see throughout this article is a reproduction copy — everything else shown here is genuine. Be sure to pay attention to how it differs from the genuine copies featured alongside it.

How do you know if a Pokémon game is fake?

Game Boy / Game Boy Color
Game Boy Advance
Nintendo DS
Things to look out for

Fake Pokémon games: Game Boy and Game Boy Color

From top to bottom: Pokémon Yellow (real), Pokémon Red (real)

The Game Boy is where it all began, way back in 1996 with Pokémon Red and Green in Japan, and in 1998 with Pokémon Red and Blue in the United States. Fake Game Boy games are relatively easy to identify, so you shouldn’t have any issue knowing your way around.

Remember: While it’s not too difficult to identify fake Game Boy and Game Boy Color games based on outward appearance alone, it’s always best to have a handful of tools with which you can open up games. You can find special tool kits online that offer security screwdrivers, which are needed to open Game Boy cartridges.

Cartridge color and embossed text

From left to right: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (real), Game Boy Color with Wario Land 3 (real), Pokémon Red (real)

If you see a North American or European Pokémon game in a gray cartridge, run away. Nintendo has never produced any Pokémon title on the Game Boy or Game Boy Color in a gray shell. Each game’s cartridge color corresponds with their name — Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow have red, blue, and yellow cartridges. Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal have golden, silver, and icy blue cartridges. In Japan, Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, and Silver games were produced in gray cartridges, with Gold having a darker cartridge than the others. If you see a gray cartridge with a sticker showing any language other than Japanese, it’s not authentic.

There’s a concave thumb grip at the top of every Game Boy game with text that reads “Nintendo GAME BOY™”. Meanwhile, Game Boy Color games have a convex thumb grip that reads “Game Boy COLOR”. Fake games often don’t have this text or may just say something like “GAME.” Make sure you check for this text, as it’s one of the easier ways to tell a dud from the real deal.

Battery and circuit board

From left to right: Pokémon Yellow (real), Pokémon Red (real)

The battery size of each Game Boy and Game Boy Color Pokémon game will be etched on the board itself. Pokémon Red, Blue, Gold, Silver, and Crystal use a CR2025 battery, while Pokémon Yellow uses a CR1616 battery. Their batteries are not encased in any metal cage, so stay away from those.

From left to right: Pokémon Yellow (real), Pokémon Red (real)

Game Boy games that Nintendo manufactured will never have any black soldering goop on them. If you open a Pokémon game and are greeted by a big black blob, it’s a reproduction copy. There are online databases that feature both the exterior and circuit board of all Pokémon games from Red to Crystal, so if you’re buying one online or in person, keep an image of the circuit board handy to compare.

Remember: Because these games are out of production, there is a chance that you may be purchasing a copy from someone who replaced the battery. It’s therefore recommended to check all of the boxes if the battery looks like it’s third-party — your buyer may have just replaced it.

Fake Pokémon games: Game Boy Advance

From top to bottom: Pokémon LeafGreen (real), Pokémon FireRed (real)

Starting in 2002 in Japan and 2003 in the rest of the world, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire made their Game Boy Advance debut, with the first remakes in the series, Pokémon FireRed and Leaf Green following shortly after. At the end of the Game Boy Advance’s life, the definitive version of the Hoenn region was released: Pokémon Emerald.

Cartridge color and embossed text

Pokémon FireRed (real) with embossed numbers on the sticker

Like the Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles, Pokémon games on the Game Boy Advance have a distinct look and feel. Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald sport a deep, translucent red, blue, and green, while Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen have bright red and green cartridges that are more opaque.

Game Boy Advance cartridges feature a smaller thumb tab on the front, with “GAME BOY ADVANCE” in bold letters just underneath it. On the back of each cartridge are two screws bordering a rectangle with the Nintendo logo, AGB-002 model number, and “PAT. PEND. MADE IN JAPAN.” Ensure that none of this text is misspelled before buying.

A fake Zelda collection GBA cartridge, featuring an unusual cartridge color and sticker

Unique to Game Boy Advance cartridges is the presence of some numbers that are “stamped in” on the right side of the sticker. These numbers are featured on every Game Boy Advance cartridge and can survive some wear. As long as the sticker is intact on whatever product you’re buying, it’s more than likely to be legitimate. Of course, there are manufacturing differences in every batch of games produced, so if your copy doesn’t have the embossed letters on the sticker, keep calm and look out for any other signs before ruling it a fake.

Battery and circuit board

From left to right: Pokémon FireRed (real), Pokémon LeafGreen (real)

Game Boy Advance cartridges can be opened with a tri-wing screwdriver. The batteries in Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald will not be kept in a cage but may have a yellow or blue ring around them. FireRed and LeafGreen, on the other hand, do NOT have a battery, as there are no time-based events in the game.

From left to right: Pokémon Emerald (real), Pokémon FireRed (real)

Each cartridge also has a series of numbers and letters just above the pins on the board. While different batches of cartridges may have different model numbers, as a general rule of thumb, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald will have the model number AGB-E05-01. FireRed and LeafGreen will read AGB-E02-20 or AGB-E02-30. These are all printed in white text in a specific font and can be seen even if you don’t have a tri-wing screwdriver if you tilt the cartridge.

From left to right: Pokémon Emerald (real), Pokémon FireRed (real)

Arguably the most fail-proof means of authenticating your game is by finding the golden rectangle on the circuit board, located on the upper-left corner of the back of the cartridge. This rectangle is made up of four smaller rectangles, with each smaller rectangle having one to three dots on them. This can be seen on any GBA Pokémon game without opening the cartridge. If you’re in doubt, check for this rectangle.

From left to right: Pokémon Emerald (real), Pokémon FireRed (real), Pokémon FireRed (real), Pokémon LeafGreen (real)

Remember: Because these games are out of production, there is a chance that you may be purchasing a copy from someone who replaced the battery. It’s therefore recommended to check all of the boxes if the battery looks like it’s third-party — your buyer may have just replaced it.

How to know if you’ve been duped

If you’ve come across a GBA Pokémon game at a flea market and are unsure if it’s legitimate or not, there are two simple ways to test for authenticity:

1. The text before the save-select screen

Pokémon Emerald dry battery start-up message

Place your game in your GameBoy Advance or Nintendo DS Lite. Upon booting up the game, a fake GBA Pokémon game will simply read, “The previous save file will be loaded. The game can be played.” before the save-select screen appears. Authentic games will not show that message, but simply direct you to the save select screen.

An authentic copy of Ruby, Sapphire, or Emerald with a dry battery will display the message, “The internal battery has run dry. The game can be played. However, time-based events will no longer occur.” Your game is fine; the battery just needs replacing to complete specific tasks that require a day-night cycle to be running.

2. Compatibility with Generation 4 games

Pokémon FireRed migration option with Pokémon HeartGold

If you own an original Nintendo DS or DS Lite and an authentic copy of Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, or SoulSilver, you can test whether your GBA Pokémon game is authentic. Simply place both games into your DS or DS Lite and boot up the DS title. There will be a “Migrate from (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed, LeafGreen)” option on the save select screen as long as a GBA Pokémon game is inserted. Fake GBA Pokémon games will not trigger this menu option.

Remember: For the migration option to be available in Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, players must have seen (not caught) all 150 Pokémon in the Sinnoh Dex — excluding Manaphy — and talk to Professor Rowan to obtain the National Dex. In HeartGold and SoulSilver, players must have defeated the Elite Four, entered the Hall of Fame, and obtained the National Dex before they’re able to migrate Pokémon from the GBA Pokémon games.

Fake Pokémon games: Nintendo DS

From left to right: Pokémon HeartGold (real), Pokémon SoulSilver (real), Pokémon Diamond (real), Pokémon Pearl (real), Pokémon White (real), Pokémon Black 2 (real)

The Pokémon games available on DS are Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, SoulSilver, Black, White, Black 2, and White 2. These games, especially the generation 4 games, are arguably the most-faked Pokémon games on the market. HeartGold and SoulSilver have increased in value on the secondhand market, so while you may want a deal, it’s also important to be safe. These games have many tells, so there are quite a few things to keep an eye out for.

1. The ESRB rating and Nintendo Seal of Quality

From left to right: Pokémon HeartGold US version (real), Pokémon HeartGold EU version (real)

If you’re purchasing Pokémon games for the Nintendo DS, you should know that you aren’t limited to games from your region. Nintendo DS games from Europe and Australia (PAL) will work on systems from the North America (NTSC-U) and Japan (NTSC-J) regions. However, the language cannot be changed in most games, so make sure you can speak the language of whatever game you’ve bought.

If you’re purchasing an out-of-region game, you may notice that the stickers look different. Pictured here are my (extremely beat up) NTSC-U copy of Pokémon HeartGold alongside my fairly new PAL copy of HeartGold. Both games are genuine, but they both sport very different-looking stickers.

Here’s what you can look for in North American and European/Australian games:

NTSC-U games
PAL games
ESRB rating in the bottom left-hand corner
CE marking in the bottom right-hand corner
Oval-shaped “Official Nintendo Seal” in the bottom right-hand corner
Round “Official Nintendo Seal of Quality” in the bottom left-hand corner
“The Pokémon Company” placed above the official Nintendo logo
“The Pokémon Company” placed below the official Nintendo logo

The differences are subtle, but there nonetheless. In addition, games have a different three-digit code in the bottom right-hand corner of the sticker. North American games display “USA”, European and Australian games show “EUR”, and Japanese games feature “JPN”. If you see a game with a North American code that doesn’t have an ESRB rating, the game is fake.

2. The game’s unique code

As previously mentioned, every Nintendo DS game has a 10-digit code at the bottom of the cartridge’s sticker. The code can be broken down as follows:

System code — The first three digits display the letters NTR. This stands for “Nitro,” a code name for the Nintendo DS during its development. Every game features these letters at the beginning of the code.
Game code — Every game has a four-digit, game-specific code relative to their region. As can be seen above, Pokémon HeartGold has a game code of IPKE in North America and IPKP in Europe and Australia. Keep in mind your game’s region when buying, and compare the game code to other cartridges being sold online.
Region code — Make sure the region code corroborates the game code. USA for North America, EUR for Europe/Australia, and JPN for Japan. A genuine North American copy of Pokémon HeartGold should always have the code NTR-IPKE-USA at the bottom of the sticker.

3. The code on the back

Does the sticker look legitimate? Great! Now, look at the back of the cartridge. Remember that game code we spoke about earlier? If your game is legitimate, it will ALWAYS match the serial code on the back of the cartridge. The serial code is found below the embossed text, and the first four digits will always be the same as the game code at the bottom of the sticker on the front.

However, we know that you may be purchasing a second-hand copy of the game, so don’t worry if that code is rubbed off! That may just mean that the game was well-loved.

4. The embossed text

From left to right: Super Mario 64 DS (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake)

If the code on the back of the cartridge is missing, the embossed text should give you some insight into the game’s legitimacy. This text looks “pressed into” the cartridge, but ever so slightly. Due to cheap production, reproduction copies usually have embossed text that is pressed in way too deep. Have a look at the above cartridges. If you look closely, the fake cartridge on the right (my bootleg copy of Pokémon Platinum) does not feature the registered trademark symbol in the upper right-hand corner of the “Nintendo” logo. These inconsistencies can give a reproduction cart away.

Beware of the text itself, as well. All Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum games, as well as every other grey-cartridge Nintendo DS game, will feature the text NTR-005 PAT. PEND. However, all Pokémon games that have infrared (IR) functionality — those being Pokémon HeartGold, SoulSilver, Black, White, Black 2, and White 2 — will feature the text NTR-031 PAT. PEND.. Keep this in mind when you’re looking for an IR-functionality Pokémon game to avoid being deceived.

5. The circuit board and pins

From left to right: Super Mario 64 DS (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake)

Have a look at the game’s circuit board. At the topmost part of the visible area of the board, you can see some white numbers and letters that can vary from game to game. Notice how the left game in this picture shows numbers, but the right one doesn’t. The contact pins of genuine games are a golden color as well, while reproduction cartridges’ contact pins are often made of a cheaper tin, which can wear out more quickly. Given that the contact pins allow your system to read the game, you always want to have the best quality to ensure longevity.

6. The cartridge’s top indent

From left to right: Super Mario 64 DS (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake)

This is arguably the fool-proof means of determining whether a Nintendo DS cartridge is fake. Have a look at the top part of the cartridge, which peeks out once you’ve inserted it into your system. The molds which make genuine Nintendo DS games are formed in such a way that there will always be a rectangular indent of varying length and width at the top of the cartridge. Have a look at the two above images. On the left, we have a regular grey Nintendo DS cartridge with an indent, revealing its authenticity. The picture on the right features a reproduction cart, which is completely smooth.

If you’re purchasing a game in a brick-and-mortar store, you can always ask to inspect the cart. Any respectable seller understands how precarious these situations are and will show goodwill by allowing you to look over a product before buying it. Not all sellers on second-hand storefronts like eBay will post pictures of the top of the cart, but this is always good to keep in mind if you want to check for its authenticity upon arrival.

7. The color of the cart

From left to right: Pokémon HeartGold (real), Pokémon Black 2 (real)

As previously mentioned, the majority of Pokémon games on the Nintendo DS have IR functionality. Because these games rely on infrared light to communicate with technology like the Pokéwalker, their cartridges are made of a different material. Under normal conditions, these cartridges look black to the naked eye. Shine a bright light through them, though, and you’ll see that the material is a dark reddish-purple in color.

Nintendo has never, ever produced a grey-cartridge version of the Generation 2 remakes or any of the Generation 5 games. Every IR-compatible Pokémon game has a reddish-purple cartridge. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver are some of the most popular games in the franchise and can be quite expensive. If you’re looking for one of those games and it’s grey, stop. It’s fake. Don’t give your money to scammers unless you specifically wish to buy a reproduction copy. If you’re fine with buying a reproduced copy, consider that these cartridges are not authorized by Nintendo and may not work as well as official copies do.

Fake Pokémon games: Things to look out for

From left to right: Pokémon Pearl (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake), Pokémon Diamond (real)

Here are some things you should generally look out for when identifying whether your game is real or not. This more or less applies to any games on these systems, so feel free to apply this advice to whatever retro handheld game you’re currently browsing for.

1. The seller

None of these games are in official production anymore, and as such, you’ll always have to be wary of who you’re buying them from. Now, reproduction copies and fakes pass through even the most seasoned of hands, so if you come across one from someone you trust, you don’t necessarily need to assume they were trying to deliberately deceive you. What matters most is that no matter where you buy from, whether it’s a brick and mortar store, GameStop, Amazon, eBay, or otherwise, don’t automatically assume it’s legitimate. If a game being sold online is being shipped out of China, immediately assume it’s a fake. Reproduction copies come from Chinese sellers in droves, and it’s unlikely that legitimate American copies of Pokémon games were being sold at retail in China in the 1990s or 2000s.

If you’re buying from secondhand platforms like eBay, make sure you find a seller who offers eBay’s Money Back Guarantee. This also goes for any online platform you shop on. If you’re purchasing from a brick-and-mortar store that sells retro games, ask if they do returns before purchasing. Any seller worth their salt will allow you to either return the game if you find out it’s a reproduction copy or open it up in front of them to examine it. It’s your money, so don’t be shy to ask for reassurance! Just remember to be respectful at all times.

2. The listing

Be wary of games that are way too cheap to be true unless you’ve been able to inspect the cart thoroughly. It’s a tough toss-up — it may be a shady scammer, or it’s a parent looking to sell their child’s old things without looking into how much this is worth. You may see cheaper games at flea markets and garage sales, so people may be more hesitant to let you open it in front of them, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Don’t purchase games from any online sellers who only use stock images of the game’s box art. Trustworthy sellers know how important reassurance is to potential buyers and will always show multiple images of their goods from various angles. If you can’t see it, don’t buy it.

3. Sticker vibrance and composition

From left to right: Super Mario 64 DS (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake)

When you first gaze upon your potential purchase, have a look at the game’s sticker.

Before clicking the “Buy Now” button, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

Does the sticker seem short or malaligned?
Are the white strips at the top and bottom of DS stickers unusually thick/thin?
Are the GBA stickers shiny or sparkly enough?
Are the colors vibrant?
Is all of the text sharp?
Are the fonts used similar to other games?
Does the sticker look like other DS games you’ve seen online?

Because reproduction carts are, well, reproductions, it means that their imitations will never be perfect. Check the sticker for anything that seems off. If you’ve been collecting Pokémon games for some time, your tingly sticker senses should be firing off. Reproduction cart stickers, due to the low print quality, often feature blurry text and washed-out colors. If you’re unable to read what’s on the sticker, that’s an indication of the cartridge’s authenticity.

You’re a Pokémon Master!

And… that’s it! You are now an official Pokémon game detective. A Detective Pikachu, if you will. When purchasing items from sellers both online and in-person, remember to keep your wits about you and be on the lookout for any shady behavior. A reputable seller will always entertain your wishes to prove a game’s authenticity before buying. Know your games, and look at some previously sold games online to have a feel for what an authentic copy looks like. Soon you’ll be a Pokémon master in no time!

Have you ever purchased a reproduction game, thinking it was authentic? Let us know in the comments below!

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