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


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

  1. alex says:

    Very informative post. I just purchased the a fake Leaf Green on ebay, but buyers protection provided a refund. The seller didn’t even challenge the case, he knew he was selling a fake. Thanks to your post, the easiest way for me to spot the fake is the white line going through the “S” on ESRB.

  2. ais5174 says:

    I’ve gotten $80 refunded on these stupid things. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Aspen says:

    Oh dang, that means I’ve purchased some fakes… Thanks for the info! If the seller disputes the return, I’ll use this info to prove they’re fake (if the ones I receive are fake, as I have not gotten the games yet but some of the photos are of legit games and others are fake).

    • Brian Clark says:

      If they give you trouble, I hear reporting the issue to PayPal is very effective, especially considering the seller’s money will be tied up with that account.

  4. Rose says:

    Thank you very much. I just bought a fake copy from Amazon, and this made me 100% sure that it wasn’t just my imagination. I’ve just filed a return, hopefully it works out alright.

  5. acadiel says:

    Thanks, Brian! Just got a set of these from eBay, and after flaky operation, they fit your “new breed counterfeit” guides to a T. All five of them. eBay issued me a courtesy credit.

  6. staticrodent says:

    Thank you for this guide. I just got a Leaf Green cart through Amazon and was wondering why the sound effects seemed to quiet. I ran a google on that and found this guide. Absolutely everything you have listed here fits except for #2 (oh the irony). I’ve contacted the seller to try and sort this out, we’ll see how it goes.

  7. NixtonV says:

    Thanks for this. I was wondering why my game was acting so suspicious. It’s been hell trying to find a legitimate Pokemon Leaf Green, but now at least I know what to look for.

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  10. Lagi says:

    I just bought this fake cartridge from my local used game store. It passed their inspection. When I got it I noticed the “Previous save file will be loaded” message. The last save was also named “Test” with a time of 0:00 and a pokedex of 0, but I thought that my game store must have tested the game out, or that somebody must have stuck their game into a Gameshark and played around with the save file on their pc. So I figured that if I saved over that file, the message would go away. It never did. And I noticed how quiet the sound effects were and weird silence during the save, but I thought that I hadn’t played Frlg in a while and itwas probably something they had in those games but removed from rse. The audio as a whole sounds a bit fuzzy but I’m not sure if it’s just my gba. I was still unsettled, and this guide helped track down the fake. One thing I noticed later is an old tell-tale of fake gba games- The cartridge sticks out of the gba slightly instead of fitting in correctly (ie it is in line with the rest of the gba). This isn’t a test you can do with a ds.

  11. Isaiah Standridge says:

    Thank God. My first Pokémon game since the one that disappeared on my 8th birthday (which I think was Ruby), and I was super afraid I got ripped off.

  12. Weifi says:

    Damn, I bought lg,fr,rs, and emerald for 20 $ for all and there ALL fake. I only bought them for my pokemon pearl which is real because I NEED 100 % Pokedex for sentimental reasons and also its my first pokemon game with 300 + hours

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