PSA: Spotting the new breed of fake Pokémon LeafGreen (and FireRed) cartridges

Click image for full-size.

Click image for full-size.

With Pokémon X and Y just a few months away, I really wanted to take a look back and revisit some of the older Pokémon games. I played the original Pokémon Blue for the Gameboy when it came out. My friends and I caught all 150 legitimately. Well, I never had Mew but hey, it’s still 150. I was a lapsed player until I picked up Pokémon Pearl, excited by the possibilities of the online features and wireless trading. I finished Black and just started Soul Silver, which made me really want to play the original game again. So, I decided to buy the remake, LeafGreen, on eBay.

I was aware of fake cartridges but the pictures on eBay looked like a legitimate copy of the game. Plus the seller was based in the USA. It had all the signs of a legitimate cartridge listed in this guide.

When I got the game, the plastic felt a little bit cheaper than the GBA games I’m used to, but the cartridge seemed to show a bit of wear and tear, like someone had played it back in 2004. After playing the game for a few minutes, it became clear there was something off about the cartridge I had just purchased.

It seems like the people who made the cartridge did their homework about how to make a good counterfeit cartridge. It has a metallic label, it has the Nintendo logo printed on the circuit board and has all the correct letters on the front and patent number on the back. Plus, everything is spelled correctly.

So, how can you tell when a much more convincing cartridge is a fake?

1) The Nintendo Logo

nintendo logoHere’s the easy one. Notice how in the real logo, Nintendo is perfectly centered within the red border, with the ® symbol a little above the last letter in Nintendo. In the fake logo, Nintendo is off-center because the ® is in-line with the text. Also, the fake’s border is a lot thinner and the font is a little different.

2) The Nintendo Seal of Quality

seal


This should have been the first red flag for me, but everything else seemed legitimate so I brushed it off as shoddy camerawork. As you’ll notice, the text on the seal is very hard to read on the fake cartridge, but is clear as day on the real one. Also, in the ® symbol has a solid white background on the fake cartridge, instead of being transparent so you can see the metallic green behind it.

3) ID Code and Impression

idcodeThis one is a little bit more difficult. You can see how much bolder the font looks on the ID code on the fake cartridge. Also note the extra space between the end of the ID code and the edge of the label. More importantly, on the real cartridge you can see numbers impressed into the label behind the letters (Note: To my knowledge, these impressed numbers might be much higher or lower on the label, but are always on the right side).

4) Gameboy Advance logo

gba logoThis one is a little bit more subtle, so look closely. You’ll notice the letters on the real cartridge look a lot thicker than on the fake cartridge.

5) The ESRB Rating

esrbHere’s another subtle one pointed out by reddit user _Vote_. The most obvious problem with the fake cartridge is that there’s a typo in the ESRB rating; the added space in the word “content,” making it read “con tent,” is a dead give away. Also notice the rating is much closer to the edge of the label, the “E” is a thinner font and is rotated a bit more counter-clockwise compared to the real cartridge.

Click image for full-size.

Click image for full-size.

6) Inside the cartridge

Unfortunately, I couldn’t open the cartridge to check the inside because I did not have the proper screwdriver. However, holding the cartridge up to light reveals the silhouette of one of the chips inside. As you can see, the chip within the fake cartridge is horizontally orientated, like the older-style fake FireRed cartridge found on the other guide. The chip should be be vertically orientated, so it should appear much thinner from this angle. As far as I can tell, the new fake cartridge lacks the save battery found in the old fake one.

7) Playing the game

Save messageYou should not see the message, “The previous save file will be loaded.” The cartridge I got already had a save file on it labeled “Test,” which was probably just the seller making sure the game would save properly, so I don’t know if this message will appear if there is no save on the cartridge. So, if you don’t have a save file when you boot it up, just start the game, save the first chance you get, and then reset and see if you get the message.

When playing the game, you might encounter other problems. While saving, the music will drop out in the middle of the process. When it comes back, other sound effects, like from navigating the game’s menus, will be much quieter than the music.

Also, you may notice the game will hang for a second or two when exiting menu screens.

8) The Pal Park

If you have the cartridge in your Nintendo DS when you start up a Generation IV game, you will not be able to access the Pal Park, which is how you transfer your Pokémon from Generation III to IV. The game will not recognize that the game is in the cartridge slot, so your Pokémon will be trapped in their original game.

9) The eBay listing

Fake games are much likely to be cheaper than real ones. Expect to pay about twice as much for a legitimate copy. Look very closely at the pictures of the game, and never buy one that uses a stock photo of the box. If you’re unsure if it’s legitimate, you could ask the seller for additional photos. If it looks real, drag and drop the picture into Google Images. If the exact photo shows up from a different website, the seller probably got it from another source instead of taking one of the listed copy. I did a quick search on eBay for “LeafGreen real” and got two results with “real” in their titles that did, in fact, look legitimate.

10) Read the previous guide

There are still older fake versions out there, so make sure you know what you’re looking for. Read it!

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30 Days of Gaming: Day 16 – Game with the best cut scenes.

Been a while since I’ve blogged, but I was playing a game relevant to this entry, so I was kind of holding off on it.

Cut scenes usually aren’t why we play games, so it’s kind of strange having to pick which one has the best. Plus, like I said before, stories in games usually aren’t all that great, so the cut scenes can be equally bad.

What makes a cut scene the best? A common complaint about cut scenes is they detract from the game play. You play a game to play it, not to watch it. That’s what movies are for. Some people even resort to skipping cut scenes just to get on with the game.

One of the most notorious offenders is Metal Gear Solid 4. In a series that is so driven by cut scenes, the 4th installment takes things to a whole new level in order to explain everything that happened in the other games and tie it all up in a nice little package.

You spend at least half the game watching the cut scenes, while the very well-done game play takes a back seat. The cut scenes are definitely among the most well-made in gaming and some of them are very cool, like the video below, but you find yourself wishing there was more of the actual game to play.

On the other side of the fence is the Half-Life series (Portal, too), which deserves some recognition in how it handles cut scenes. For the most part, the story plays out without interrupting the action at all. You have control of your character, Gordon Freeman, 99% of the time as events in the game play out around you, and the only time you don’t have control over him is when he becomes incapacitated, so it’s not like you could move him anyway. Plus, these instances are very rare and only happen when there’s some serious shit going down.


One of the few times control is taken away from the player in any Half-Life game.

Not only do the games never break their first-person perspective, they also don’t cut at all. Unless the Gordon loses consciousness, you’re experiencing every second of his life for the duration of each game. Hell, we’ve see every second of Gordon Freeman’s conscious life since the moment the original Half-Life begins.

The result is a very effective means of story telling unique to gaming, setting it apart from movies or television, unlike Metal Gear Solid 4.

Of course, there is a middle ground out there between the interactive and non-interactive. A term usually used to described this, coined by the Dreamcast game Shenmue in 1999, is the “quick time event” or QTE. Basically, a cut scene will play out that will require the player to press the button displayed on screen to successfully execute the action.

While this can make action scenes more interesting, I find them to be somewhat annoying, especially when used too much or when a scene can be failed too easily because of a missed button, making you start all over. Plus, having to watch for the button to pop up means you aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on in the scene.

I can’t talk about quick time events without talking about Heavy Rain. Essentially everything you do in the game plays out as a quick time event. Luckily, the game places the button icons in all the right places as the action plays out. It blends the buttons into the environment, so as you’re watching for the icons, you’re also watching the action.

Miss one too many buttons? Instead of making you start over, the game goes on and the events change on how well you executed the scene. The overall result is a very cinematic game that still manages to be enjoyable despite not really having the traditional game play to break up the story.

Another game I have to mention on the cut scene front is L.A. Noire. One reason is because the game’s facial animation raises the bar for video games. This is the first game I feel uses actual acting, instead of just voice acting, in real-time cut scenes.

Each character in the game is portrayed by an actor whose performance was captured using a rig of several fixed cameras. This results in the most realistic facial animations ever put into a game, which means the actors can finally use their faces to portray emotion.

The second reason I’m mentioning L.A. Noire is while the cut scenes themselves aren’t anything too special when compared to the film noir movies that inspired the game, they still manage to be vital to the game play. You play a detective in the game, and body language is used to determine if the person you’re questioning is lying or not. Not only are the cut scenes relevant to the game play, the technology used to create them is also vital.

So there you have it. Four very different approaches to cut scenes in video games. I have to say Half-Life is probably my favorite of all of them. All the other games I mention really shove the story in your face, while Half-Life’s is like the cherry on top of a terrific game. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and still manages to be very interesting without breaking things up. I have to say I’m equally excited to find out what happens to Gordon Freeman in the next installment as I am to play the actual game.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 15: Post a screenshot from the game you’re playing right now

As eluded to before…

Xenogears

Xenogears on my PSP

I actually played this game because of an ad I saw in a magazine, which might be the only time that’s happened to me. The three words that caught my eye in the ad were “Playstation,” “Squaresoft,” and “RPG.” That’s all it really took in the late ’90s.

While the game itself is a bit rough around the edges compared to the Final Fantasy games of the time, it still had an interesting story and setting, and Yasunori Mitsuda’s music was fantastic as always.

It’s also really long. It’s probably the game I’ve started the most times without actually finishing. It’s still really long even though when you get to the second disc, you start getting the impression they were either running out of time or money. Suddenly they just start telling you about something the main characters did in the game, using text and pictures, instead of actually having you go and play those parts.

I’m only a couple hours into the game on PSP now, so we’ll see if I actually manage to get very far this time.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 14: Current (or most recent) gaming wallpaper

Okami

Okami

While it’s not my wallpaper now, it is the most recent gaming one I’ve had.  Okami Den came out in March so I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the first game. I liked the orange color on this one so I made it my wallpaper.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 13: A game you’ve played more than five times

So, a game I’ve played more than five times. I’m assuming this means completed more than five times. It seems even my favorite games I don’t make it past 3 or 4 times.

Xenogears

Xenogears

I know I’ve played Xenogears several times, but only beat it once. Then again, it’s ridiculously long and I’m not sure it’s really all that good. While the story is pretty grandiose, the writers were basically playing mad libs with the Bible, probably just to offend Christians or something. I just thought it was cool. I’m actually playing it right now on my PSP.

I don’t know how many times I’ve started it, though I think I’ve only made it to the second disc twice, which is no easy feat.

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger

The real answer is probably Chrono Trigger. I heard about the game from some of my friends in 1998 when I was in fifth grade. Blockbuster had long since abandoned their supply of SNES games, but the local Hollywood Video had a pretty good selection, including Chrono Trigger.

I watched my friends play it and was intrigued by the whole time traveling concept, something any kid who grew up watching Back to the Future would find appealing.

So, one Friday afternoon after school, my mom took me to Hollywood video and I rented the game.

I’ll have to admit that I kind of cheated since the New Game + feature was already unlocked, which lets you transfer your characters and inventory from another save into a new game. There was a save on the cartridge that was about 2/3 through that I based my game off of.

Anyway, I had seen most of the beginning of the game when one of my friends played it, so there weren’t a whole lot of surprises until I got further on. I was still very impressed with the game as a whole, and ended up playing it most of the weekend nonstop. I eventually beat it, and I’m pretty sure I rented it a few more times for good measure.

I’ve gotta make a note about the music composed by Yasunori Mitsuda: It’s absolutely amazing. I’m honestly kind of regretting not picking it for my “best soundtrack” post, but it’s a bit late now.

Fun fact, Yasunori Mitsuda also composed the music for Xenogears, so that might be another reason I played that one so much.

The multiple play-throughs of Chrono Trigger came a few years later, after my family finally got a modern computer and an internet connection and we were introduced to the glorious world of ebay. I convinced my mom to bid on a cartridge for me that ended up costing around $60. It didn’t come with a box, but the manual and posters were included with it.

The New Game + feature was already unlocked on the cartridge, but the only saves were very early on. I did base my game off of one of these, but it didn’t make much difference. I played through once or twice and then set out to get all of the endings available and record them on a VHS tape.

I never got all of them, maybe about half, but I did get some of the more challenging ones, such as beating Lavos using only Crono and Marle at the very beginning of the game.

Chrono Trigger

The journey begins

The bad news is I somehow lost my cartridge. My sister worked at a dry-cleaners and had a lot of downtime, so she wanted to take our SNES with her to keep her entertained. The SNES was in my room at the time, and I remember specifically setting my Chrono Trigger cartridge aside so she wouldn’t take it with her. She didn’t have any interest in playing it and I wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost.

Unfortunately, it was lost, and to this day I have no idea how it happened. Even after emptying out my entire room when I moved out it was nowhere to be found.

I did get the Playstation version to cope with the loss, but that one is best avoided at all costs. Seriously, don’t play it. You’ll be waiting on the damn game to load every time you do anything, something that was nonexistent in the original.

The DS version, however, is very good and much cheaper than a SNES cartridge. I got it for Christmas right after having jaw surgery, which made my recovery all the more enjoyable.

Hell, it’s $16.99 on Amazon right now. If you have a DS, it’s a must buy.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 12: A game everyone should play

I’m terrible at keeping up with this.

A game everyone should play? I can’t pick just one. I’ll pick three instead.

1) Plants vs Zombies (PC, Mac, Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, Nintendo DS, iOS, Android)

Plants vs Zombies

Plants vs Zombies

I always recommend PvZ to people. It’s cheap, has low PC requirements, it’s available for pretty much every platform imaginable and it’s insanely fun and addicting. If you have an iPhone or Android, it’s pretty much the perfect game to play with a touch screen. While the PC version is more feature-rich, the touch controls works phenomenally well, even compared to a mouse.

There’s a flash-based web version you can try, or a demo you can download. If you’re going to buy it, I’d suggest you get it from Steam since it’s half the price of buying it directly from Pop Cap.

2) Minecraft (PC, Mac, Linux)

Minecraft

Minecraft

I would describe Minecraft as the most pointless game ever, yet I have a feeling I’ve probably spent somewhere between 50 and 100 hours playing it.

When you start Minecraft, there is no tutorial. There are no tips to tell you what to do. There’s no correct way to play it, only the general consensus that you must seek or create shelter by nightfall or face certain death at the hands of zombies, spiders, skeletons and the much beloved creepers.

I built a huge bridge that goes nowhere.

I built a huge bridge that goes nowhere.

The world is randomly generated and goes on forever. Everything is made of blocks, and each block has different properties. There are blocks made of dirt, gravel, sand, wood, stone, etc. Use the wood to make tools, use the blocks you gather to create different blocks and build anything you can imagine.

There’s also online play, so you can build things with other people.

Minecraft is in beta right now, but if you buy it now you get it at a discount and get access to the full version when it comes out November 11. You can also play the old free-buid version of the game, which can give you an idea of how the building works, though it’s pretty outdated.

3) Mother 3 (Gameboy Advance)

Mother 3

Mother 3

Let me preface this by saying you should probably play EarthBound (Mother 2) first. This can be a little challenging since a supposed nightmare of copyright issues prevent Nintendo from re-releasing it in North America, despite the fact it was re-released on the Japanese Wii’s virtual console, as well as Gameboy Advance with the original Mother. Right now, the only legitimate way to play EarthBound is to find a SNES cartridge of the game. Of course, there’s always emulation.

Now that you’ve jumped through hoops to play a 16-year-old Super Nintendo game, you have to jump through a few more to play Mother 3.

The first hoop being that it was never released in North America. Solution? Import the game from Japan.

Oh no! The game is out of print. Looks like you’ll be paying marked-up prices on ebay!

Got your copy of Mother 3? Good. Now, assuming you have a GBA, DS (not a DSi) or a Gameboy Player, you’re ready to play Mother 3! What’s that? The game is in some crazy moon language? Time to learn Japanese!

Luckily, there’s an absolutely fantastic fan translation out there by the insane cult dedicated fans over at Starmen.Net. The bad news is it’s not going to work with that cartridge you just imported. You’ll have to either emulate the game or use some pirate hardware to play it on a GBA or DS, which is ironically a much cheaper route than actually purchasing the game today. I would actually recommend this route over emulation, since the rhythm-based battle system doesn’t sync up right on emulators and only really works if you’re playing it on actual hardware.

The pay-off is worth it, in my opinion. I could explain more about why you should play it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing more about the game later.

On a related note, used copies of Mother 3 start at $96 on Amazon! It’s very tempting to cash-in on the copy I imported from Play-Asia for $30 in 2006…

 

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 11: Gaming system of choice

My laptop

Laptop + Steam = Win

While this post could easily become about the console wars, it’s not going to. My console fanboyism went out the window when I got my first job and I bought an Xbox with my first paycheck, already having a Playstation 2 and Gamecube

I’m here to play games, and sometimes dropping the extra money on a new console is worth it to play something interesting with the promise of future exclusives.

That being said, I have my preferences now. My lifestyle has changed since high school, and console gaming can be a challenge for me. Between work, school and other crap, I tend to move all over the place. On a given week (when I’m enrolled in school) I’m driving between three counties.

Gas eats up a lot of my disposable income and the commute time eats up my extra free time just the same. I can’t take a console with me everywhere I go, so finding a situation where I can devote a decent amount of time to one specific game is difficult.

Steam

If only consoles were more like Steam.

Luckily, I have a fairly decent laptop. I played Portal 2 on it by preloading it from Steam at school and completed most of it on my kitchen table in the broadband-free boonies of Bates City. I actually beat the game in the cafeteria of UCM’s Elliott Union. I couldn’t really do that on a console. Plus, thanks to Steam, I only had to pay $44.99. The console version would have set me back $59.99 plus tax! Don’t forget that I don’t have to pay $50 a month to play it online like Xbox 360, and didn’t have to wait an entire month to play it online like on Playstation Network. Sounds like a good deal to me!

So yes, my laptop is my game system of choice. However, an honorable mention has to go to my iPhone 4.

Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy III - Expensive for an iPhone game, but half the price and better looking than its DS counterpart.

It’s more powerful than a DS or PSP, it’s smaller but has a higher resolution screen, it’s always with me since it’s my phone, the games are way cheaper and there’s no physical media like cartridges or UMDs to mess around with. The only downside is the lack of a physical controller–touch controls aren’t idea for some games.

I hope to get back into console gaming once I’m done with school and have my own place with an actual Internet connection. But for now, my laptop and iPhone have to keep me gaming.

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