How to tell a fake Gameboy Advance game from a real one

Fake Pokemon Fire Red

So I just discovered this week that one of my favorite GameBoy Advance games I owned was a fake! Before going back on eBay and buying a new one I wanted to really do some research so I didn’t fall for a fake again. Now that I have a new legit copy, here’s what I discovered.

Can you guess which copy of Fire Red is real or fake in the image above? (click the picture for a larger image)

The one on the left is fake, and the one on the right is real!

Here are some ways to tell some fakes from the real thing:


1. The ESRB label

See the “E” on the cartridges in the image above? That’s the most obvious giveaway. The font for the E should be big and bold like the real one on the right. When they’re right next to each other, the difference is obvious, but when looking at pictures on eBay, it’s easy to miss.

2. The labels on the plastic

The “GAMEBOY ADVANCE” imprint on the top of the front is slightly different on the two cartridges. The fake one has a larger border around the text, while the real one has a more fine border.

Also, on the back the font is much taller on the fake one, and the Nintendo logo font isn’t quite right. Again, this is obvious when they’re right next to each other, but not as obvious on an eBay post.

Fake and Real Fire Red
The text on the back of the fake is not as fine as the text on the real.

3. Nintendo’s “triwing” screws

Nintendo uses a special screw in most of their systems and cartridges that are designed to prevent people from opening the system. These screws have a Y design as opposed to the more common phillips or flathead screws. However, you can see in the picture above that my fake had a triwing screw as well, so it’s not always guaranteed to be real if it has one.

4. Print on the PCB

If you look in the bottom of the cartridge, you can see writing on the main board, including a Nintendo logo. If there’s no writing, it’s a fake. But again, my fake had this (sneaky pirates)!

Nintendo GBA Cartridge
You can see, both cartridges had “Nintendo” written on the board.

5. Open it up!

I know this doesn’t help with eBay listings, but if you have a triwing screwdriver, open up the GBA cartridge and see what it looks like. If there’s anything that seems off, it’s probably fake. On mine, the fake cartridge had a chip on a separate board that was mounted to the main board. The real cartridge doesn’t have this.

Fake and Real GBA Games
The fake is on the left, and the legit cartridge is on the right.

6. It won’t save correctly.

Unfortunately, this is how I found out mine was a fake. I was about 20% through the game when the game stopped saving and starting giving me errors. Aside from saving, the game actually plays just fine, so just because it runs, doesn’t mean it’s real.

7. Common sense

Not all fakes are this good. If you’ve never heard of the game before, do a quick search and see if it actually exists. Most fakes are fairly obvious.

Fake GBA game
Seems legit.

As disappointed as I was to learn that my copy of Fire Red was fake, I decided to keep it, as it makes an interesting piece for my collection. In fact I have the real and fake right next to each other in the middle of my handheld games shelf.

Handheld games shelf
Real and fake Fire Red sit next to each other on my shelf.


So I hope this article helps someone who is interested in buying a used GBA game but worried about counterfeits. And remember, if the eBay image is too fuzzy to tell, or if anything at all seems off, skip it!

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