The 21st century of videogame piracy is a grim and lifeless scene; hackers outsmarting new waves of copy-protection in a matter of hours, thousands of games streaming to your personal computer via BitTorrent and console execs diligently watching with their finger on the ban button.
But in the days of Gameboy, Famicom and Super NES piracy, bizarre was king. While a Del-Boy esque market trader with a moth-bitten jacket sold the cartridges, Hong Kong was the source. Over in the less honest parts Asia, anything goes – subversive bait-and-switches are used to get a popular brand in your head and a piece of crap in your hands. That PSP you just bought was actually a Popstation, with four terrible games on a monochrome screen.
While piracy shouldn’t be encouraged, it’s not always the dark, surreptitious evil that the press makes it out to be. Even piracy has a lighter, funny side.
|Piracymon - I Choose You!
Pokemon’s absolutely mammoth success makes it, alongside Nintendo pal Mario, one of the most commonly ripped off, pirated, unlicensed and bootlegged series of them all. Some are platformers staring Pikachu, some are ROM hacks, some are brand new pseudo-sagas and some feature Meowth Singing Celine Dion; it’s quite a mix.
Pokemon Diamond and Jade - (Gameboy Colour, Released Circa 2000)
Pokemon Diamond and Jade exploited the confusing nature of Pokemon’s chromatic numbering system, meaning the games would always slot into the timeline, instead of being overwritten by a new “Pokemon 5” or similar (or so they thought, until the official Diamond was released on DS).
Before Ruby and Sapphire (GBA, 2002) were even out, black market capitalists made a cheeky translation of a Gameboy Colour RPG, Keitai Denjū Telefang by Smilesoft, throwing in a miniscule number of references to Nintendo’s franchise and finishing the translation off with a healthy dose of Engrish and plenty of swear words.
The game revolves around beating enemy critters and collecting their phone number. The original idea from Telefang is a little bizarre as it stands, but the hackers decided to replace the call for aid with small talk between the protagonist and his collection of monsters.
The boxes were thrown together in typical pirate fashion with an image from Miyazaki’s anime “Princess Mononoke” as a sample monster. While a large number of the cartridges are filled with game crashing bugs, and despite the subpar translation, Pokemon Diamond and Jade are at least playable and the only way to play these Pseudomon clones in English.
Pocket Monsters Go! Go! - (Gameboy Colour, Released Post 1999)
Much like Diamond and Jade, why spend the effort creating a whole new game when you can slap Pikachu’s face on it and make a bucket of dirty dollars? The victim this time was Infogrames Platformer, Smurf’s Nightmare; a fetch quest pilgrimage in the world of Peyo’s sky blue creatures. Your Smurf protagonist becomes Pikachu; enemies become Belsprouts, Meowths and Mankeys; and collectables turn into electric bolts.
The game’s most memorable scene crops up before you even begin moving the electric mouse around the dreamlike worlds. Meowth, Pokemon’s wise cracking moggy, sings a modified version of Celine Dion’s Titanic Theme (My Heart Will Go On); replacing lyrics of love and adoration with fear and nightmares. Somehow, my ten year old, shouldn’t-be-playing-with-bootleg-ROMs, brain decided to block out Meowth’s psychopathic death-lullaby; quite the shock when I booted it up for a nostalgia trip.
There are uncountable ROM hacks floating around the internet replacing Ash’s sprite with Mario or letting you start the adventure with a selection of legendaries instead of Bulbasuar, but some other pirated and unlicensed Pokemon games that were actually processed to cartridges and sold include:
Pokemon Adventure – (Cartridge Photo)
To chronicle this illicit trade’s history is a colossal undertaking, but plenty of research is available at Bootleg Pokemon: Fake Games & Products, as well as The Rocket Shipper which also features screenshots of ROM hacks.
Choosing your Pirate Name
I’m not talking about Long John Silver or Blackbeard here; more the ridiculous titles that a video game’s Hong Kong brother receives. Maybe it’s lost in translation, or maybe it’s an attempt to avoid legislation, but dodgy Famicom cartridges or the contents of an epic “52 in 1” multicart, regularly contain comedy gold.
This “Super Color 22 in 1” Gameboy Multicart (with a picture of Footix, the World Cup 1998 Logo, for good measure) features two video game licences that Disney would rather forget: Dick Tales and Mucky Mouse 5.
These pirate mega-carts are fun, kitsch items, perfect for any retro collection. Not worth more than your bus fare to the bootsale you scavenged it from, but neat conversation pieces nonetheless.
These pirates are already breaking multiple copyright laws, so a little false advertising won’t hurt. 90 percent of the “132 games in 1” cartridges will only feature a tiny 20 games, repeated over and over with simple hacks to change colours, sprites, rules and title screens in the game.
(See Full Image) The perfect example of a Multicart endlessly repeating the same title, this exuberant “82 in 1!!” cartridge features all my favourite games such as Snoopy, Girl Snoopy, Play Snoopy, Star Snoopy, Fire Snoopy, Power Snoopy, Pokemon Snoopy, Land Snoopy, Monster Snoopy, and Pokemon Snoopy 2. Repeat, replace Snoopy with Spider, Alien, Robot or Monster and you’re well on your way to creating your first Multicart!
The same, common NES classics will appear time and time again, albeit with different names for each appearance. Our favourite barrel lobbing gorilla has cropped up as Dondey Kong, Donkky Kong, Key Kong, Key Kong JR, King Gong J, Donkey, Super Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Gorilla, Ding Dong, King Kong, Crazy Kong, Donkey Calculator and Monkey Donkey. Why Donkey Kong, with all those games, I think you might have just jumped the shark…
With titles like Ice Cumb, Hugan’s Alley, Maffy and Circus Chablie being easy to decipher, some names just don’t elicit the exact game it bootlegs.
The Goung Indiana Jones Hi-Game 1999 - (Cart Photo)
One of the many NES Indy games, featuring some bodacious Steel Samurai artwork and some horrible Engrish. Oh, how I wish I was goung again.
Pretty Girl Fighter - (Game Selection Screen)
Part of the S32 4 in 1 Game Collection, Pretty Girl Fighter (or Fighte, as it says on the Cartridge) is a confused translation of Toei’s Sukeban Deka; a Famicom brawler based on the Japanese Manga.
Fighty Chicken - (Cart Photo)
An embarrassing typo for Famicom’s Bing Kuang Ji Dan Zi - Flighty Chicken.
Pirate Carts will use any graphic from Dragon Ball to Pacman, regardless of content, to grab a child’s attention. However, how this cart ended up with The Ghostbusters fight busty Viking women on flaming horses; I’m sure we’ll never know.
These pirate Multicarts are of course not limited to the Famicom and the NES. The Gameboy and family has seen far more than its fair share of Multicarts, popular even in the United Kingdom as eBay is bristling with “114 in 1 Games for Gameboy Advance SP” and “Nintendo Gameboy Game 7 in 1”.
(See Full Image) ”42 in one…” for Megadrive is an absolute treasure trove of ridiculous names. “Uncanny Hedgehog” and “Gluttonous Mouse” are upcoming spin-offs to the Curious George story, for example. “Fro-Am Race” is likely a combination of the Rare’s Megadrive racer Championship Pro-Am and outlandish hairstyles, plus I couldn’t begin to imagine the gameplay in “Cheese Mars”.
The 42 isn’t just a random number, either. It’s a secret code that when combined with the console’s American name, Genesis, points you to a book of the bible. Genesis 42:1 – “Jacob sends his ten sons to buy corn in Egypt.” It’s the DaVinci Code all over again; to Egypt!
|Packing Heat (and Battery Life)
While most unlicensed peripherals are hardly worth mentioning (and mostly consist of import adapters and cheat devices), this “GBA Car Charge” was too bizarre to miss.
Intended for the Gameboy Advance and predecessors, this charger is fashioned like a pistol (complete with trigger and safety switch) which slots in to your cigarette lighter and charges your handheld.
But why the pistol shape? A bluff in case you get pulled over by the fuzz? A handy way to avoid paying on toll bridges?
Plus, the “Full Colors” tagline is a little odd. Techstuff Trading didn’t create the Gameboy Colour so they’re not taking credit there, and the gun is plain white so they’re definitely not talking about that.
Perhaps the company is insinuating that other, non-pistol shaped, charging apparatus will turn your Gameboy games monochrome after charging? Who knows…
Famicom: The Clone Wars
The easiest way to get a console to market is to rip open a console, put all of its innards onto a chip and throw them into a mass produced piece of plastic called “Super Joy Gaming Fun Time Power 3!”.
And not just any console; it’s the Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the NES. The immense power of a NES’ graphics, sound and gameplay, once housed in a giant grey shoebox, can now be stored on a chip not much larger than a DS cartridge.
To get a console-esque look, and to fool unsuspecting grandmas at Christmas rush, these Famiclones (a frequently used portmanteau in the wacky pirate community) often take the form of other video game players. Almost every console has been replicated and given the ability to play NES or Famicom cartridges: Playstation, N64, Dreamcast, Gameboy Advance, Xbox and SNES to name a few. Heck, even a giant bowtie wearing penguin.
The most important thing to realise with these is the gargantuan amount of them out there. Different variations from different swindlers, the number of unique recorded Famiclones exceeds 200.
These things range in quality and value as some come with a preset number of games, some use rubbish proprietary joypads and some have terrible video output. However, once in a while you’ll stumble upon a Famiclone that accepts Famicom cartridges, lets you use a NES controller and looks great on your TV. As the systems sell for next-to-nothing at markets, they’re not entirely worth avoiding; you might just grab a cheap Famicom.
Yonatan Cohen obviously isn’t seeing the lighter side of piracy with the Famiclone “Power Player” netting him five years in jail and a one-way ticket back to Israel. (Advert ran in Electronic Gaming Monthly).
Nintendo obviously didn’t find his name butchering very funny, but if you can’t laugh at Burger Time becoming “Burger Moment”, what can you laugh at?
|This isn’t a Bootleg, Honest!
There are plenty of guides out there to ensure you’re not picking up a dodgy Donkey Kong or a pirated Pokemon game when out shopping for cartridges. While smarter black-market fakers will recreate the “Gameboy Advance” logo perfectly, use the correct font for the Nintendo logo and print out an authentic sticker, some just don’t try…
Harry Potter III and the Chamber of Secrets - (Box Photo)
Rockman & Crystal – (Box Photo)
How do you play? “You don’t. You can press left and right, and get a tiny bit of movement, but that’s it”, says TheGreatDave, a NeoGAF member who received this cartridge from an eBay win.
In the same NeoGAF topic that spawned those great Wario Ware and Ninja Gaiden finds, kswiston presents an easy guide to help avoid getting fooled again.
Black Market Exclusives
Sure, the majority of games that come out of the Asian Black Market are just Super Mario Bros with a different sprite slapped over the podgy plumber, but every now and again a whole new game crops up.
Cartridge Photo - Screenshot - YouTube Video
A NES game about Harry Potter can only occur in a time paradox. Like waiting for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to release on VHS, sometimes you just have to let go of ancient technology.
However! A Harry Potter game was released on Famicom by a bunch of greedy fraudsters wanting in on the wizard phenomenon. Titled “Happy Potter” on the Multicart it was found on, the game features scenes from the last Harry Potter book. No, not Deathly Hallows, I’m talking Harry Potter and the fight against flying robots above Saudi Arabia with a laser firing broomstick.
Cartridge Photo - Screenshot - YouTube Video
Predating Super Smash Bros by years, Kart Fighter takes Mario and his pals out of their new go-karts and lets them go fist to fist in a traditional fighter.
Made for the NES, the game features all the characters from Super Mario Kart, plenty of different stages for them to fight in and is absolutely dreadful!
Cartridge Photo - Screenshot - YouTube Video
While the Wii is concentrating on Sonic and Mario beating each other up and doing long jump, Somari goes one step further and mixes the two classic franchises into one game.
Presented on the NES, Somari has the classic Greenhill gameplay of Sonic with the chubby potbelly of Mario.
Donkey Kong Country 4
Cartridge Photo - Youtube
Amazingly enough, this bootleg NES game is a port of the Super NES’ Donkey Kong Country! Pushing the NES to its absolute limits, this port looks remarkably close to its Super NES duplicate. The game had a lot cut to fit onto the cartridge, but its one bootleg you shouldn’t hesitate on adding to your collection.
Been Fooled by a Fraudster? Leave a comment below!
Piracy hurts the game industry; that’s a fact. But, when this illicit black market takes the form of shameless console clones, ridiculous translations and Meowth turning Celine Dion’s song into a creepy, dark poem of death, you just have to hope it will never die.