Chinese Language GBA Bootlegs

tl;dr Neglected by games publishers, gamers in Chinese speaking countries localize the games themselves. These localized games often end up on bootleg carts.

The Chinese speaking world has often been neglected when it comes to localized versions of games. This is especially true for older consoles, where the choice was usually to import an English or Japanese version and then use a locally produced strategy guide to learn how to play.

Probably born out of frustration, fans and online gaming groups take it upon themselves to translate games. Hacking the ROMs, inserting Chinese, and then releasing them online. You can’t really blame them. There are also English fan-translations of Japanese games that never saw a Western release. If WarGames taught us anything, it’s that gamers will go to great lengths to play a new game.

These fan-translated game ROMs also make their way into the physical world and end up on bootleg game carts. Like this copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. I recently bought this because it came with the box and instructions, which is quite rare for a bootleg like this.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Chinese Version Bootleg
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Chinese Version Bootleg, boxed with instructions

I won’t go on about the quality of printing. As with all bootlegs it’s not very good. The box is just a vessel to get you what you want – a Chinese version of the latest GBA game that you couldn’t otherwise play because you can’t read Japanese.

Box Front
The front of the box
Box Back
The back of the box

The cart I got has seen better days, and the corner has been glued back together.

Minish Cap Cart
Minish Cap Cart

You can tell a Chinese language version from other bootlegs by the Chinese text “中文版” on the label. The name of the game might also be printed in Chinese, like on this Kirby bootleg.

Chinese language Kirby bootleg for GBA
Chinese language Kirby bootleg for GBA

I have a handful Chinese language GBA games now, and use them for learning and practicing Chinese. For native speakers of Chinese I can imagine these were very well received at the time they were released.

Chinese language GBA Bootlegs  - Cart Fronts
Chinese language GBA Bootlegs – Cart Fronts
Chinese language GBA Bootlegs  - Cart Backs
Chinese language GBA Bootlegs – Cart Backs

The games play just like the official releases, except that the language has been changed to Chinese.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Chinese Language splash screen
This splash screen shows the contributors

The Minish Cap shows this splash screen before the game loads. The contributors are listed – the cracker, the translator, the editor, and a group of testers. Quite an organized operation.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Chinese Language story screen
The intro story in Chinese

The intro story text is completely translated into Chinese.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Chinese Language in-game dialogues
In-game dialogues are all translated in Chinese

As are the in-game dialogues.

Worth noting is that the game language is Simplified Chinese – the Chinese characters that are used in China. Though as this game was sold in Taiwan, the included manual was printed in Traditional Chinese characters. There are differences in some characters, but to native speakers in Taiwan there would be minimal difficulty reading the Simplified characters.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Chinese Language Manual
The blurry manual

That’s not a problem with the focus on my camera – the manual is actually printed that blurry. I shouldn’t say ‘manual’ really. At six small pages it’s more like a brief introduction to the game. I’ll scan the manual for a future post.

These Chinese language bootlegs fill a need that was neglected by the publishers. In that respect it’s difficult to criticize their existence. Maybe seeing the effort that gamers would go to play these games in their own language prompted Nintendo to release officially localized versions of 3DS games in Chinese language regions.