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Opening a cart is the best way to verify a cart. However, you can verify that a game is genuine or fake without opening carts. Pokemon games can differ, so there is a separate section especially.

The easiest method to verify your carts, if you have the means to do so...

Let's get this out of the way, if you have the means to do so you can open your cart(s) and be certain that you have a genuine (or fake) cart. You'll need a special screwdriver kit in order to proceed. We highly recommend the iFixit Pro tech Toolkit. It's a bit expensive, but it's a quality kit that won't strip screws or fall apart in your hands, plus it'll open up pretty much anything else (iPhone etc). A second option is from Silverline, considerably cheaper as it doesn't include everything the iFixit tool set has, needs a screwdriver (which you can get for a few pennies) but has the bits we need to continue. Even a quick punt on eBay will get you the cheapest, shittiest known screwdrivers from China, these will still suffice.

So easy a chimp can do it
So easy a chimp can do it.
  1. Pick up your screwdriver. Figure out what bit you need.
  2. Grab the cart you want to open. We're using a (possibly) chewed copy of Super Mario Land from the internet as a reference.
  3. Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.
  4. If you've got the cart open at this stage, there are three ways to find out if you've got a legit cart. First option is to compare your cart to the reference images on GameChecker. For the second option, you'd need to use Google. Find an image of the guts, and compare. Third option, look for gold squares, trim, Nintendo logos, patterns etc. on the board. Bootleggers won't bother eating into their profit margins on copying patterns verbatim in gold.

Notes

  • Some early authentic DMG games may have black blobs. At the time of release for Tetris, Nintendo didn't have the stock available so the ROM was outsourced to a third-party manufacturer to produce the silicon and wire bond to the PCB, with a black blob on top (This is from a Reddit comment by u/BennVenn on r/Gameboy in 2017, citation maybe definitely needed).
  • Some GBA games have batteries and some do not, but all GBA games have a rectangular slot molded into the front half of the cart case for battery terminals. No molding? No original.

Verifying DMG games

Label

  • Cart label art will not be the same as the box art. What's the best way to find your game's proper label art? Google is your friend here (and it's not only for porn).
  • Label should have a factory imprint on it, like two numbers or a number and a letter. These fade over time though but labels can easily be replaced.
  • Some DMG games will also have grey borders on the left and right sides with the game's serial code and region written on them. Some games don't have grey borders, like Alleyway.
  • Mainly for US games - The ESRB of "E for Everyone" varies. Around the time of the DMG/GBC era, ESRB revised their logos so earlier games will have the old logo and newer games have the newer logo. Popular examples of games that changed ESRB logos in between prints area Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow.
  • Low resolution, home-printed label. A very easy, noticeable trait of fake carts.
  • The code printed on the label being incorrect, if the code is even there. For example, here's a Pokemon Gold cart, with the code on the label relating to Pokemon Silver.

Cart

  • If the cart says "GAME" instead of "Nintendo GAME BOY™", it's a guaranteed bootleg.
  • Check the "Nintendo GAME BOY™" on the top/grip part.
    • The Nintendo logo has never changed fonts since the 70's. Nintendo's logo is supposed to be thick vertically while thin horizontally.
      • If the font looks like it's consistent in its thickness, if the "t" looks like it has a tail like a "j", if anything looks off even with just a single letter, that's a red flag.
      • Do note that the "e" is kinda weird. I've seen a few pics and vids of carts that have a different looking "e" but are verified authentic.
    • The "GAME BOY" part should be thinner than the Nintendo logo. It should also be somewhat italicized. It should be more of a "GAME BOY" as opposed to just "GAME BOY".
    • The "TM" should be the smallest and the thinnest
    • All of these should be all aligned at the bottom. If one is raised higher than than the others, that's a red flag.
  • Other moldings include the down arrow at the bottom of the cart which is often too deep on most bootlegs.

Notes

  • This was an era when Nintendo used to off-load some manufacturing to others, like Tetris for example.
  • Verified authentic carts with the Nintendo logo on the grip isn't necessarily 1:1 with Nintendo's actual logo.
    • Just looking up different variations of the game Alleyway shows as much.
  • No one singular characteristic qualifies your cart as authentic, nor does one single element disqualify it.

Verifying GBC games

Label

  • Cart label art will not be the same as the box art. What's the best way to find your game's proper label art? Google is your friend here (and it's not only for porn).
  • Label should have a factory imprint on it, like two numbers or a number and a letter. These fade over time though but labels can easily be replaced.

Cart

  • GBC carts are relative oddballs. There are two types:
  • GBC games with black DMG cases (or special colors like the Western Pokemon releases) follow the same rules as the DMG games stated above.
  • GBC games with translucent cases are guaranteed to be the real deal. Not many (if any) bootlegs have ever replicated translucent cases at all.
    • The closest bootleg translucent case around is Krikzz's Everdrive. Even with the Everdrives, it states "GAME" at the top of the cart, likely intentional to differentiate.
  • Authentic translucent grey carts should say "GAME BOY COLOR".
  • Some bootlegs of the games with translucent carts either use black carts or custom colored carts. The only way to tell if a specific game is supposed to be in a black cart or a translucent cart is to Google it.

Board

  • When it comes to grey translucent GBC, identifying whether the board is authentic or not should be very easy even without opening the cart. Is there a battery visible at the upper right? If so, it's legitimate.
  • Some carts have the battery oriented diagonally and others have them oriented horizontally. The cart would still be legitimate.

Verifying GBA games

Label

  • Cart label art will not be the same as the box art. What's the best way to find your game's proper label art? Google is your friend here (and it's not only for porn).
  • Label should have a factory imprint on it, like two numbers or a number and a letter. These fade over time though but labels can easily be replaced. Some third-party games do not have a factory imprint. This is common. However, it is becoming increasingly common for counterfeit GBA carts to include a number stamp.
  • ESRB's logos are NOT a good way to identify bootlegs. If you search for images of different carts, you'll see that the only thing consistent about them is their inconsistency.
    • Unless they're unusually thin, like, not even in bold style font. Thin "E"s are usually a dead givaway for bootlegs.
  • Low resolution, home-printed label. A very easy, noticeable trait of fake carts.
  • The code printed on the label being incorrect, if the code is even there.

Cart

  • "GAME BOY ADVANCE" should be shallowly etched under the grip/lip.
  • Bootlegs have a tendency to mold everything too deep. Everything from the "GAME BOY ADVANCE" down to the arrow at the bottom.
  • The back of the cart should also have stuff etched onto it. Most bootlegs won't get Nintendo's logos right. Nintendo's logo is thick vertically and thin horizontally. If the font is consistent in its thickness, it's bootleg.

Board

  • Without opening the cart, a portion of the board should still be visible.
  • If the font of the Nintendo logo doesn't look right or if the quality of the print looks shoddy, it's probably a bootleg.
  • The majority of the motherboard shouldn't be visible from the bottom either. Some bootlegs have their entire boards exposed from the bottom.
  • As with the previous Game Boy PCB iterations, 4x gold rectangles will ALWAYS be on the back of legitimate PCB's. No 4x gold rectangles, not legit.

Verifying Pokemon games

Pokemon games have noticeable differences compared to other Game Boy games, hence the different section.

Generation 1 - Red, Green, Blue, Yellow

Label

  • The label art should never be just the box art. If yours has "GAME BOY" written vertically next to Blastoise, it's counterfeit.
  • Mainly for US games - The ESRB of "E for Everyone" varies. Around the time of the DMG/GBC era, ESRB revised their logos so earlier games will have the old logo and newer games have the newer logo.
    • The old logo looks like a mist of dots in the outline of an "E" so don't be concerned if this is what you have. It's most likely just an earlier print.

Cart Colours

Other Factors

  • Pokemon Green was NEVER released outside of Japan. If your green isn't Japanese in a grey cart, it's fake.
  • You should still be following the DMG information.
  • Be suspicious of seller listings for full sets or cheap items. Pokemon carts are amongst the most pirated games due to their popularity.

Generation 2 - Gold, Silver, Crystal

Label

  • The labels for Gen 2 games should have a metallic effect, not glossy. Think hollow/foil trading cards.
  • Label should have a factory imprint on it, like two numbers or a number and a letter. These can fade over time though.

Cart Colours and Translucency

  • Gold and Silver should be Gold and Silver respectively with glitters on them.
  • Crystal should be translucent blue and glittery as well.
    • The Japanese variant of Crystal should be similar to the western versions but it should have a crystal printed on the back of the board visible from the outside.

Board (Crystal only)

  • Given the translucency of Crystal's cart, identifying whether the board is authentic or not should be very easy even without opening the cart.

Other Factors

  • You should still be following the DMG information for Gold and Silver.
  • You should still be following the GBC information for Crystal.
    • It's very difficult to falsify the cart for Pokemon Crystal. Dead giveaway if it's fake or not.
  • Be suspicious of seller listings for full sets or cheap items. Pokemon carts are amongst the most pirated games due to their popularity.

Generation 3 - Ruby, Sapphire, FireRed, LeafGreen, Emerald

The fastest way to verify a gen 3 Pokemon game is look for the battery terminals in the front. The carts are translucent and you should be able to see them easily. If there's only a battery but no molding on the space on the cart for the terminals, it's bootleg. Look at the back and find the 4 gold rectangles on the back of the board. If they're there, it's authentic. If they're not, then it's definitely a fake. Here's a definite comparison between true and fakes.

Label

  • The labels for Gen 3 games should have a gem-like/metallic effect, not glossy. Think hollow/foil trading cards.
  • Label should have a factory imprint on it, like two numbers or a number and a letter. These can fade over time though.

Cart Colours and Translucency

  • Translucent colored carts. The carts should be the right colors and amount of translucency.
  • Fire Red and Leaf Green shouldn't be as translucent as Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. It should barely show in a lot of photos, and look more opaque than translucent.

Board

  • Given the translucency of these carts, identifying whether the board is authentic or not should be very easy even without opening the cart.
  • The Nintendo logo and the serial code in the proper font above the gold terminals. Some carts will have the Nintendo logo with just "Nintendo" written and some will have the enclosed logo.
  • For Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, the batteries should not only be visible but should be oriented properly with one terminal pointed towards the lower left and the other pointed towards the upper right.
  • There should also be space molded into the cart's front half in the same orientation as the battery's terminals. The two corners of this rectangular molding should easily be visible around the upper right corner of the label.
  • Fire Red and Leaf Green should have no batteries at all but the rectangular molding for the battery terminals should still be visible on the carts.
  • The 4 gold rectangles on the back of the board which should be visible even with Fire Red and Leaf Green's less translucent carts, those alone guarantee the carts authentic.
  • There are also 2 gold squares on the top left and bottom right of the cartridge's board, front side. This, alongside the 4 gold rectangles on the back mentioned prior, confirm the authenticity of the board. If you're looking through the translucent plastic, three should be one easily seen square on the top left corner of the cartridge.

Other Factors

  • You should still be following the GBA information.
  • Be suspicious of seller listings for full sets or cheap items. Pokemon carts are amongst the most pirated games due to their popularity.
  • FireRed and LeafGreen will never have batteries.

Decoding Number Stamps

The serials are from the factories that made them. There are plenty of products that do these. Amiibos come to mind. If you find an Amiibo that's still in the box you should look at the back and find a serial code printed onto the cardboard. Decoded, they show the manufacture date and factory they're from.

Decoding

I don't think anyone's ever successfully decoded the ones found on DMG,GBC, and GBA games (at none that a quick Google search shows). All we know is that:

They're the easiest way to verify authentic games;
Just because you have 2 copies of the same game doesn't mean that they'll have the same imprint; and
They come in at least one set of at least 2 digits be it just numbers (22), a number and a letter (22A), or a letter and a number (2A).
    Some carts come with two sets of numbers, one directly on top of each other.

However, any man and his doggo can get hold of a 3mm die stamp set and a rubber mallet. These are becoming increasingly common in counterfeits.

Other Means of Verifying an Authentic Game

As mentioned, serial stamps are the easiest way to verify an authentic game but there are ways around them. The risk of getting scammed is a real threat. The best way around this is to find other means of verifying a game.

This is what an authentic board looks like in the interior. If you look above the terminals right below the Nintendo logo, there's a set of holes lined up perfectly. All Gameboy games have these, not just GBA games. These are visible from the bottom of the cart making them the easiest way of verifying a board without opening the cart.

The serial imprint alone should be enough to verify a cart but combined with the lined dots verifying the board it should be enough to verify the whole thing.

This however still doesn't fully protect you from scammers. Unfortunately, there is no way to do so either. You just have to either meet up with the seller or trust in the system. Such is the way of retro game collecting.

Footnotes

  • Legitimate Nintendo OEM games that were released in the Hong Kong or China regions may have also had the black epoxy blob. These carts might be extremely rare (From the region, not with a blob).
  • Visual guide to verify Gameboy carts.