The more popular the game – Pokémon, Zelda, Mario, Crash, Megaman – the more likely that the module is a pirate copy made in the far east. Below a few tips to identify fake GBA game modules.
Luckily the pirate manufacturers are extremely lazy to cover their tracks. Here are two simple checks, which help you spot already 90% of the copies.
Check 1: Module label must contain 2 or 3 digit engraving
Nintendo engraved each GBA game module with short 2 or 3 digit engraving. This “stamp” is usuallly on the right side of the label, and it may contain both numbers and alphabets. Sometimes the engraving is printed twice on the label. The same thing in reverse – I have never seen a genuine module missing this engraving.
Image: The engravings on module label. This module has two engravings – usually there is only one
Check 2: Nintendo – text printed on circuit board
Look inside the module from the hole where the connectors are visible. You should see a white printed Nintendo – text on the circuit board. If the text is missing – it’s a pirate. Usually the text is not circled – just plain Nintendo.
Image: Nintendo – text printed on circuit board. Should be seen without opening the module in good light.
Do these checks every time you are buying a GBA game module. Now you can already identify roughly 90% of fakes.
Is my game a genuine Nintendo?
Just by using this simple guide you can check if the module is fake. Unfortunately in reverse – it’s almost impossible to prove that module is 100% genuine. Nobody has original receipts for modules 10 to 20 years old. By my experience, there are fake modules that still pass these simple checks. There are other more complete guides on internet about detecting fake modules, but after certain point these guides claim fakes the modules that another guide says genuine. The two previous checks is what every guide agrees.
Retrocket “Genuine Nintendo” guarantee.
In addition to the two basic checks I always open modules sold on Retrocket to check the inner content for copies. You’ll need a Triwing to open the module (can be bought here).
Check 3: Circuit board components and layout
Pirate factories usually use the cheapest method to produce the copy. This makes identifying fakes much easier. The layout of the components, chinese texts, stickers and labels inside module, missing (or extra) battery inside the module, missing clock circuit – all detect the module easily as fake.
- Circuit board contains “round black blob”. Genuine modules never have this. I don’t know the blob purpose, but for some reason most copies have this.
- Certain game modules must contain a battery and clock circuit. GBA battery model is always CR1616. For example: Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald must contain both clock and battery.
- FireRed and LeafGreen does not have either battery or clock. You can google if your module should contain battery – the clock circuit is much more rare.
Below a few examples of real and pirate modules. Left is a genuine Ruby, right is a pirate. Copy is missing engraving and Nintendo logo from circuit board. The battery is in wrong place, and clock is missing. Clock is the small “tube” on top of the MX-marked chip on the real Ruby.
Image: Left is real, right is fake. Notice the round black blob on fake module.
Next image has two fakes – FireRed and Emerald. Any sticker placed on circuit board or chips tells straight away that this is a fake. The pirate maker has printed Nintendo logo on the circuit board though…
Image: FireRed and Emerald – both fake.
For comparison: Below are real FireRed and Emerald. FireRed and LeafGreen may sometimes have the Nintendo text on circuit board circled. LeafGreen has similar component layout as FireRed, and neither of them have battery or clock.
Image: Real FireRed and Emerald
New Zelda copy modules appeared on June 2016 to ebay. These copies sold by China sellers contain both the label engraving and Nintendo logo printed on circuit board, which make identifying modules as copies without opening the module much more difficult. These will without doubt soon appear to other copy sellers as well. As a reference, below are images of real Minish Cap and Four Swords. MX marking is a must on the largest chipon the board. Minish Cap copy would seem to have one visible error – model number is wrong, it’s the Four Swords model number (AGB-E03-20). I’ll publish a picture of the copy circuit board as soon as first copy ends up in my hands.
Image: Genuine Zelda Minish Cap and 4 Swords
For further reading – I’ve selected a few good guides on checking the modules. Please consider these as referential only, because they disagree with each other at some point.
The Many Ways To Spot Fake GBA Games, including Pokemon (by GamingTheSystems)