Buying retro Pokémon games? Use our guides to help weed out the fakes!

With the right information, you'll be a Pokémon cartridge pro.

With many Pokémon games being remade, such as Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl for the Nintendo Switch, a lot of people, including me, are looking back to the Nintendo DS era of Pokémon games. Some people will argue that the Pokémon games released during this era are some of the best games that have ever released. From the popular Sinnoh region in Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum; to the amazing generation two remakes of HeartGold and SoulSilver; to the initially misunderstood but now revered Black and White, as well as their sequels, Black 2 and White 2 — Pokémon DS games are always in demand.

However, this unfortunately means that a lot of people want to take advantage of that popularity and demand by creating and selling reproduction cartridges, unbeknownst to buyers. I ended up not doing my due diligence when purchasing a second-hand copy of Pokémon Platinum and ended up with a bootleg copy. This deceit occurs most with Pokémon games, despite them being some of the best-selling games on the console, which means that there is no shortage of physical game cartridges.

There are a total of nine Pokémon games on the Nintendo DS family of systems:

  • Pokémon Diamond and Pearl — 17.67 million units sold
  • Pokémon Platinum — 7.06 million units sold
  • Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver — 12.72 million units sold
  • Pokémon Black and White — 15.64 million units sold
  • Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 — 7.63 million units sold

While Pokémon games exist on all Nintendo handheld consoles from the original Game Boy to the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo Switch, we'll be focusing on Nintendo DS titles in this article. Fake Game Boy and Nintendo DS games do exist, however, fake Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Switch games currently do not exist. The Nintendo DS made its debut in 2004 with sales of over 100 million units, and during the time since its release, gamers have worked tirelessly to expose fake games and inform each other.

Take note: The copy of Pokémon Platinum that you will see throughout this article is a reproduction copy — everything else shown here is genuine. Be sure to pay attention to how it differs from the genuine copies featured alongside it.

Fake Pokémon games: The front of the cartridge

Pokémon Pearl (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake), Pokémon Diamond (real)

This is the part of the cartridge that, if you're buying a game secondhand on marketplaces such as eBay, will be the first thing you see. There are a few things to keep in mind when looking at the front of the cartridge, so pay attention!

1. Sticker vibrance and composition

Super Mario 64 DS (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake)

When you first gaze upon your potential purchase, have a look at the game's sticker.

Before clicking the "Buy Now" button, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Does the sticker seem short or malaligned?
  • Are the white strips at the top and bottom of the sticker unusually thick/thin?
  • Are the colors vibrant?
  • Is all of the text sharp?
  • Are the fonts used similar to other games?
  • Does the sticker look like other DS games you've seen online?

Because reproduction carts are, well, reproductions, it means that their imitations will never be perfect. Check the sticker for anything that seems off. If you've been collecting Nintendo DS and Pokémon games for some time, your tingly sticker senses should be firing off. Reproduction cart stickers, due to the low print quality, often feature blurry text and washed-out colors. If you're unable to read what's on the sticker, that's an indication of the cartridge's authenticity.

2. The ESRB rating and Nintendo Seal of Quality

Pokémon HeartGold US version (real), Pokémon HeartGold EU version (real)

If you're purchasing Pokémon games for the Nintendo DS, you should know that you aren't limited to games from your region. Nintendo DS games from Europe and Australia (PAL) will work on systems from the North America (NTSC-U) and Japan (NTSC-J) regions. However, the language cannot be changed in most games, so make sure you can speak the language of whatever game you've bought.

If you're purchasing an out-of-region game, you may notice that the stickers look different. Pictured here are my (extremely beat up) NTSC-U copy of Pokémon HeartGold alongside my fairly new PAL copy of HeartGold. Both games are genuine, but they both sport very different-looking stickers.

Here's what you can look for in North American and European/Australian games:

NTSC-U games PAL games
ESRB rating in the bottom left-hand corner CE marking in the bottom right-hand corner
Oval-shaped "Official Nintendo Seal" in the bottom right-hand corner Round "Official Nintendo Seal of Quality" in the bottom left-hand corner
"The Pokémon Company" placed above the official Nintendo logo "The Pokémon Company" placed below the official Nintendo logo

The differences are subtle, but there nonetheless. In addition, games have a different three-digit code in the bottom right-hand corner of the sticker. North American games display "USA", European and Australian games show "EUR", and Japanese games feature "JPN". If you see a game with a North American code that doesn't have an ESRB rating, the game is fake.

3. The game's unique code

As previously mentioned, every Nintendo DS game has a 10-digit code at the bottom of the cartridge's sticker. The code can be broken down as follows:

  • System code — The first three digits display the letters NTR. This stands for "Nitro", a code name for the Nintendo DS during its development. Every game features these letters at the beginning of the code.
  • Game code — Every game has a four-digit, game-specific code relative to their region. As can be seen above, Pokémon HeartGold has a game code of IPKE in North America, and IPKP in Europe and Australia. Keep in mind what region your game is from when buying, and compare the game code to other cartridges being sold online.
  • Region code — Make sure the region code corroborates the game code. USA for North America, EUR for Europe/Australia, and JPN for Japan. A genuine North American copy of Pokémon HeartGold should always have the code NTR-IPKE-USA at the bottom of the sticker.

Fake Pokémon games: The back of the cartridge

Pokémon Pearl (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake), Pokémon HeartGold (real)

Any seller worth their salt will post pictures of the cartridge from all sides, with bonus points if they prove that the pictures posted really belong to them — usually by including a piece of paper with their username. If you look closely enough, the back of the cartridge can give you a lot of information.

1. The code on the back

Does the sticker look legitimate? Great! Now look at the back of the cartridge. Remember that game code we spoke about earlier? If your game is legitimate, it will ALWAYS match the serial code on the back of the cartridge. The serial code is found below the embossed text, and the first four digits will always be the same as the game code at the bottom of the sticker on the front.

However, we know that you may be purchasing a second-hand copy of the game, so if that code is rubbed off, don't worry! That may just mean that the game was well-loved.

2. The embossed text

Super Mario 64 DS (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake)

If the code on the back of the cartridge is missing, the embossed text should give you some insight into the game's legitimacy. This text looks "pressed into" the cartridge, but ever so slightly. Due to cheap production, reproduction copies usually have embossed text that is pressed in way too deep. Have a look at the above cartridges. If you look closely, the fake cartridge on the right (my bootleg copy of Pokémon Platinum) does not feature the registered trademark symbol in the upper right-hand corner of the "Nintendo" logo. These inconsistencies can give a reproduction cart away.

Beware of the text itself, as well. All Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum games, as well as every other grey-cartridge Nintendo DS game, will feature the text NTR-005 PAT. PEND. However, all Pokémon games that have infrared (IR) functionality — those being Pokémon HeartGold, SoulSilver, Black, White, Black 2, and White 2 — will feature the text NTR-031 PAT. PEND.. Keep this in mind when you're looking for an IR-functionality Pokémon game to avoid being deceived.

Fake Pokémon games: The cartridge itself

If all else fails and you're unsure about whether this game is genuine or not, the plastic that the cartridge is comprised of will quell any doubts you may have. From the Generation 2 remakes onwards, the cartridge's plastic is a dead giveaway.

1. The circuit board and pins

Super Mario 64 DS (real), Pokémon Platinum (fake)

Have a look at the game's circuit board. At the topmost part of the visible area of the board, you can see some white numbers and letters that can vary from game to game. Notice how the left game in this picture shows numbers, but the right one doesn't. The contact pins of genuine games are a golden color as well, while reproduction cartridges' contact pins are often made of a cheaper tin, which can wear out more quickly. Given that the contact pins are what allows your system to read the game, you always want to have the best quality to ensure longevity.

2. The cartridge's top indent

Left: Super Mario 64 DS (real), Right: Pokémon Platinum (fake)

This is arguably the fool-proof means of determining whether a Nintendo DS cartridge is fake. Have a look at the top part of the cartridge, which peeks out once you've inserted it into your system. The molds which make genuine Nintendo DS games are formed in such a way that there will always be a rectangular indent of varying length and width at the top of the cartridge. Have a look at the two above images. On the left, we have a regular grey Nintendo DS cartridge with an indent, revealing its authenticity. The picture on the right features a reproduction cart, which is completely smooth.

If you're purchasing a game in a brick-and-mortar store, you can always ask to inspect the cart. Any respectable seller understands how precarious these situations are, and will show good will by allowing you to look over a product before buying it. Not all sellers on second-hand storefronts like eBay will post pictures of the top of the cart, but this is always good to keep in mind in the event that you want to check for its authenticity upon arrival.

3. The color of the cart

Pokémon HeartGold (real), Pokémon Black 2 (real)

As previously mentioned, the majority of Pokémon games on the Nintendo DS have IR functionality. Because these games rely on infrared light to communicate with technology like the Pokéwalker, their cartridges are made of a different material. Under normal conditions, these cartridges look black to the naked eye. Shine a bright light through them, though, and you'll see that the material is a dark reddish purple in color.

Nintendo has never, ever produced a grey-cartridge version of the Generation 2 remakes or any of the Generation 5 games. Every IR-compatible Pokémon game has a reddish purple cartridge. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver are some of the most popular games in the franchise, and can be quite expensive. If you're looking for one of those games and it's grey, stop. It's fake. Don't give your money to scammers unless you specifically wish to buy a reproduction copy. If you're fine with buying a reproduced copy, take into account that these cartridges are not authorized by Nintendo and may not work as well as official copies do.

And... that's it! You are now an official Pokémon game detective. A Detective Pikachu, if you will. When purchasing items from sellers both online and in person, remember to keep your wits about you and be on the lookout for any shady behavior. A reputable seller will always entertain your wishes to prove a game's authenticity before buying. Know your games, and have a look at some previously sold games online to have a feel for what an authentic copy looks like. Soon you'll be a Pokémon master in no time!

Have you ever purchased a reproduction game, thinking it was authentic? Let us know in the comments below!