Taiwan can be a treasure trove for rare unlicensed games, but there are also a lot of bootlegs. After a few years of collecting I’ve come across a lot of these counterfeit carts. Sometimes I buy a batch of games that includes some bootlegs, other times they are so cheap I buy a few to keep for myself to play. Using these these games as examples I’ll show you how to spot a bootleg.
While having physical access to the game makes this identification easier, most of the points I address here don’t require you to have the game in your hand – given that the photos are high enough quality. This is why you should always avoid online auctions with photographs that look like they were taken in the middle of the night by candle light, because you have no idea what you are actually buying.
Label Quality and Positioning
This should be the first place you look and can often be the quickest way to eliminate a cart as being a bootleg. Sometimes bad labels are the easiest thing to spot, but to the untrained eye they could pass for genuine. Starting with the easiest to identify here are some bootleg games with flaws in the label printing.
These Super Bomberman and Puzzle Bobble carts have terrible labels. The print quality is awful and if you see anything like this alarm bells should be ringing.
The print job is extremely low resolution making some of the text illegible. The label positioning is also off. It’s skewed and the top right corner overlaps the edge of the label area. You’ll never see this kind of overlapping on a genuine cart.
At the bottom and right edges of the label there’s also a white border where the design does not reach the edge, like the label was misaligned when printing.
The same goes for this Puzzle Bobble cart. The print quality is low, and the label is also extremely faded which is sometimes a sign of the low quality ink.
You might think that you’d never be fooled by carts like these, but if you’re buying in bulk or trying to bargain at a market, you could easily overlook these signs.
Print quality aside, take some time to check what’s on the label. This sounds ambiguous, but ask yourself – Does it look right?
Here’s a Teenage Mutant Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters cart:
A few things don’t feel right about this label – The multiple fonts on ‘Tournament Fighters’, the illustration of the turtles is cropped strangely and there’s no Super Famicom logo.
Ultimately the biggest give away is that this game was released in Japan under the name ‘Mutant Warriors’, and not ‘Tournament Fighters’. You might then think ‘maybe this is the PAL release?’, but flipping the cart over shows the Japanese Super Famicom label.
Here’s another suspicious label on an Aladdin cart.
The problem with this label is that it’s stuck to a Super Famicom cartridge, but the styling of the label design follows that of the American SNES release of the game.
You should be getting the hang of it by now – While this Lion King cart has the Super Famicom logo, it’s missing all other branding (Where’s the Disney logo?) and also strangely includes what looks like a screenshot from the game.
More Label Examples
Here are labels from some more bootleg carts. See if you can spot the clues that these are counterfeit games.
The label of this Jurassic Park cart looks too big, and the position of ‘Super Famicom’ also feels wrong.
The Back of the Cart
Something that I keep seeing on the back of these bootlegs is two slots at the bottom. As far as I know, these slots never appear on genuine Super Famicom carts.
These slots are part of the region locking mechanism employed by Nintendo on NTSC consoles. Inside the cartridge slot on North American (NA) SNES consoles there are two tabs that the cart slides onto. The slots are not present on Japanese cartridges, which means they are physically unable to be inserted into NA SNES consoles.
Taiwanese gamers would snip off the tabs with some cutters and then be able to play both US and Japanese games, rather than limiting themselves to Japanese games if they opted for a Japanese console. This is reason that the NA SNES was very popular in Taiwan.
It seems that the bootleggers knew this and so, to make sure their counterfeit games could be played on all hardware, added these slots to their wares.
Made in Japam
Just like on the front of the cart there are some obvious signs to look out for on the back.
This gave me a laugh when I first saw it. It’s the back of the Bubble Bobble game above. The back of the cart reads ‘Nintende’ and ‘Made in Japam’. Out of all the bootlegs I have seen, this is the only one I’ve seen with this typo. ‘Nintende’ on the other hand is quite common, especially on GBA games.
The back label should also be straight and within the label area. While the label doesn’t have to be perfectly centered, you’ll never see the likes of this on a genuine cart:
I’ve heard that you should look for numbers stamped into the label on the back of a cart as a sign that it’s genuine. That’s definitely not the case. While missing numbers might be an indicator of a counterfeit cart, the presence of numbers does not automatically mean a cart is genuine. Most of the bootlegs I have seen have these numbers stamped in to the label.
Here’s the back of The Lion King cart from above, complete with numbers stamped into label. The back of the cart looked quite good for a bootleg, though if you look closely the quality of the printing on the label is a bit blurry.
Something that cannot be shown in photographs is the how the cart feels in the hand. Some bootlegs feel lighter in the hand. It’s difficult to explain, but if you have held many carts you will now something is not right when holding a counterfeit cart.
Check the bottom of the cart where the pins are, too. The board on this copy of Super Mario Cart is so thin that there is absolutely no resistance at all when inserting it into my SNES. Of course the game doesn’t work because the pins are not making a solid connection in the cart slot.
The area on the cart where the pins stick out from looks it has been clipped by hand on the far left and right.
There’s no mistaking that this cart isn’t genuine game. It’s a DSP Magic Card. But look at the screws, they are standard cross-head screws and not the security screws that are used in genuine carts.
If you see normal screws then it could be an indication you have a fake cart. Of course, someone could have swapped out the security screws for normal screws on a genuine cart, though I find this highly unlikely.
Examples of “Good” Bootlegs
Here’s an example of a pretty decent Super Bomberman 3 bootleg. The print quality of the label is very high. All of the text is legible, even the tiny ‘Licensed by Nintendo’ text. There are still a few clues on the front of the cart, though.
Look at how the design, near the ears of the character Bomberman is riding, doesn’t reach the top edge of the label. Also just above Bomberman’s head there is a little line, kind of like a misprint, that shouldn’t be there.
Looking at the back of the cart everything looks fine at first. Except for the bottom left and and right – the ‘region lock’ holes are slots instead of holes. As I mentioned above this means the cart can be played on both Japanese and North American SNES consoles. Something you’d never see on a genuine cart.
To remove any doubt I opened the cart to inspect the board and it was indeed a bootleg. The cart was actually quite difficult to open. In addition to the screws it seemed to have been glued together. A bootleg of this quality could easily trick a new collector or someone who isn’t paying attention.
Here’s another great job by the pirates that falls just short of being a ‘perfect’ job.
The label position is good, everything is present, and from arm’s length it looks good. If you look closely, though, it’s clear that the print resolution is lower than it should be. The text under the Super Famicom logo at the top right is too blurry to be a legitimate cart.
Here’s the back of the Megaman cart:
It looks good on first glance, but the label placement on the back of the cart is a bit far to the left, and there’s also no number present in the top right corner.
Due to the current market value of Megaman X games collectors should be careful when buying to make sure the cart they are buying is genuine.
For some of the games in my collection I own both the genuine game, and a cheap bootleg. Only when comparing these carts side by side do the flaws in an otherwise “good quality” bootleg become apparent.
The bootleg on the right is of a fairly high quality, but look at the difference in color. The blue on the genuine cart is much more vivid, while the bootleg is dull. Also, note that the design does not reach the label edge on the bottom right of the bootleg.
At first glance it’s tricky to determine if the cart on the right genuine or not. The label positioning is good, but look how big the label is. It completely fills the area, leaving no gap at all on the sides.
This Fatal Fury 2 is easier to spot even without the comparison. Forget that the cheap label is peeling off, as they often do, the positioning is way off.
Again, the back label on the bootleg is too big and not positioned correctly.
There are some things that shouldn’t be confused with bootleg carts. So just considering just one of these points is usually not enough. For instance, the label can be slightly off-center on a genuine cart, this doesn’t immediately mean you have a bootleg. However, if the is skewed, or overlaps the edge of the label area, then this is a good sign you have a bootleg.
Carts can also discolor with time. This discoloration, or yellowing, is sometimes confused with a mistreated cart or the cheap materials of a fake. This is not always the case – I have some games that have been stored in their box, and could be considered ‘as new’, but still have signs of discoloration.
If you spot one thing that looks suspicious, inspect other parts of the cartridge – Is the printing on the label clear and legible? Are all the things you would expect to see present? Is the back label present and stuck within the label area? Does the cart plastic feel cheap? And so on.
Usually a fake cart will hit on at least two of these points and after a while you’ll be able to spot them a mile off. It’s only the best fakes that will make you pause, and in those instances the best course of action is probably to open the cartridge to inspect the board. If you’re buying from an online auction and the pictures aren’t clear enough then message the seller and ask to see more.
This post of a work in progress. As I find more examples of bootlegs I will add them. If you have any examples that I have no included here, or information to add, please leave a message in the comments.