Now that all the doom and gloom’s out of the way, it’s time for some fun stuff.
My Uncle Mike’s a pilot, and has been as long as I’ve known him, i.e. all my life. Now, at some point in my childhood, he started flying into China. As basically anyone on the internet will tell you, China’s the land of hilarious bootlegs. The most frequent thing he’d bring back were actually movies, frequently long before their DVD releases, sometimes while they were still in theaters. Their quality was all over the place. Sometimes we’d get something that looked basically decent, but was clearly for Oscar or trailer editing purposes, based on “for your consideration” popping up onscreen once and awhile. Other times, the movies would look like a stuttering Youtube video, or have permanent subtitles that didn’t match the onscreen dialogue, like a mostly-otherwise-okay copy of The Two Towers, which also had a DVD case that praised it for being the best Gangland crime drama since The Outsiders. Oddly, the stereotype was always that we’d have to look at copies recorded in a theater, with the audience chatting over it, but I never personally saw one recorded that way, though I’m sure they existed.
But what I found more interesting were the games. Before I ever even console gamed, I owned a Game Boy Color, and later a Game Boy Advance. Uncle Mike knew about this, and would always bring back mysterious grey cartridges with him. Recently, a dive in my room unearthed a red case of some old games, with some of these in the mid. So I decided to dig them out.
Let’s start with the simplest, rarest thing: A bootleg that actually worked fine. Mostly:
This here’s a copy of Yoshi’s Island for the GBA. It had none of the same problems as some of the other ones I’ll look at, and is almost indistinguishable were it not for the first screen as you load the game up, in which an organization called Mode 7 encourages us to enjoy this game 1 week before release, with “a big fuck you to the entire scene.”
Sadly, as you can see here, a common issue hitting these bootlegs has appeared: Corrupted save data due to an expired battery.
For the few people that don’t know, cartridge-based video games store your save files using a literal battery to power the mechanism. On an official release, you’ll never notice, because these batteries are built to last. Apparently old NES carts still work, because their batteries haven’t died. And if they do die, it’s possible to unscrew the cartridge and get a new battery.
But these are bootlegs, and aren’t built to last, and so feature save batteries that die within a short span. What this does varies. Sometimes, like here, it bricks the whole game. Other times, it just kills your ability to make save files, turning games into arcade-style situations where you can only beat them in one setting. It’s ironic that one of the appeals of bootlegs seems to be snagging releases before they come to market, and yet in a year or two, they’ll be unplayable, which brings me to the next item.
Regrettably, this one wasn’t in the pile, so I don’t have any photos. Though, knowing its history, we probably just threw it out. It was another GBA cart, this one a bootleg of the GBA port of Super Mario Bros. 3. What made it unique was that someone seems to have taken the Japanese release of the game, and awkwardly fan-translated it. And done it poorly. My strongest memory was that instead of Mario and Luigi, the two brothers went by “Mario and Juan.” The game wasn’t exactly overflowing with dialogue, but things like the letters from Princess Peach were now composed of hilarious Engrish. Strange, too, when you consider that SMB3 had already been released in English several times over the years.
I loved this cartridge, but sadly, it had an even shorter shelf-life than Yoshi’s Island, due to an even worse battery, meaning I didn’t get to actually complete it. Unlike Yoshi’s Island, it wasn’t bricked, but instead became identical to its NES counterpart, in that switching it off reset things to zero. I suppose I could have tried beating it in one shot, but the game was long enough to make that impractical, and I didn’t know about the warp-whistle tricks present to let you skip worlds, or even jump to the finale. Fortunately, one of my friends took pity on me, and let me his still-functioning, properly-translated Canadian copy to clear.
In some ways, Game Boy Color cartridges were more desirable, because they wouldn’t kick the bucket the way the GBA ones did. Of course, this was usually because they didn’t *have* a save function to begin with. Also, at least for me, the library of games available was a lot more mysterious due to ignorance. In the second part of this, we’re going to get into a couple of unusual GBC carts.