Trying to buy a classic GBA Pokemon game in the 2020s is a minefield of reproduction cartridges not labelled as such, severely inflated legitimate copies and multi-game cartridges on offer through various marketplaces online. If you’re looking to play Pokemon Emerald, Pokemon Ruby, Pokemon Fire Red or Pokemon Leaf Green – what is the best way to do so?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, there were millions of copies of each game sold regardless of the two decades that have past. And the COVID-19 pandemic and “investing in retro games” have caused once affordable prices for used games to now reach into the triple digits in some cases. Pokemon is one of the most lucrative franchises in the world and by not re-releasing the older entries on modern platforms Nintendo leaves players with little options outside of dwindling amounts of working copies locally or piracy.
Here are the prices for each entry in the Generation 3 line-up (assuming they’re authentic) for loose cartridges – that means no manual or box:
Pokemon Fire Red – $97.00 USD
Pokemon Leaf Green – $72.00 USD
Pokemon Ruby – $52.00 USD
Pokemon Sapphire – $72.00 USD
Pokemon Emerald – $187.50 USD
All prices are from PriceCharting.com which automatically tracks auctions and other sources for transactions.
Phew, if you wanted the entire six game set it’d cost a mouthwatering $480.50 USD not including shipping. Quickly outpacing the pricing for the PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch or even a Steam Deck – that’s absurd.
Going Off The Beaten Path…
Depending on where you live prices are going to vary but I’ll wager for most people paying more than the cost of a brand-new game isn’t ideal. None of the older mainline Pokemon games are available on the Nintendo Switch – save for remakes of Pokemon Diamong / Pearl and Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee (which are arguably pseduo-seuqles to generation 1). This means dealing with often vague listings that can’t outright state what game you are buying due to copyright strikes.
Sites like AliEpress and apps like TEMU have listings for “32-Bit Game Cartridge Nostolgia” or “RUBY Game for Handheld”. To the informed observer they are obviously pirate cartridges for games like Emerald and Fire Red, duplicates manufactured long after the original games were discontinued. They sell for around $8 – $12 USD which – if you’ve read this far – you know is about 10% of the cost of an authentic cart.
Issues with these reproduction cartridges can include batteries that don’t last as long as the originals, solder lines that degrade faster than the original – the failure rate of some reproduction carts can lead to a lifespan of only a couple years.
As one poster on the Gameboy Reddit put it:
Even if you put your own replacement battery in, the batteries on these reproduction cartridges do not last nearly as long when saving content as an official cartridge. Due to the lower quality Flash memory and components in general they are using, they consume much more battery voltage for their save files then an original version. You will most likely get if you are lucky 1 year maybe 2 years out of the battery before it no longer saves anything and needs to be replaced. An original cartridge with a fresh battery can last more than 10 years before that battery needs to be replaced.
These cartridges do draw slightly more voltage from the cartridge port than an official more efficient nintendo manufactured cartridge. some people do not like this and believe it causes long term damage to their systems but there is no definitive proof of that but I can tell you obviously because of the slightly higher draw it does drain your battery of your device at a slightly faster rate. I would say you can on average expect one hour less of system use versus using original cartridges. So if your system used to get 6 hours on a charge or with batteries you can expect 4 and a 1/2 hours to 5 hours if you’re just using reproduction cartridges ( This is all assuming that you are using modern day reproduction Flash cartridges and not ones from 10 years ago which have a much higher battery drain than current improvements)
The other posters are correct that the Flash memory in question is of a cheaper quality , as well as the solder work on these boards to mount these components are extremely low quality. Because of this the defect rate or the failure rate of these cartridges is noticeably higher than any official nintendo manufactured cartridge.
So what is the solution? Nintendo released Pokemon Red, Blue, Gold, Silver and Crystal seven years ago on the 3DS but since the servers have been turned off those games can no longer be legally purchased anymore. Nintendo’s most popular console, the Switch, is entering the 7th year of its life and the successor to the popular handheld is scheduled to be released sometime later this year. Perhaps Nintendo will see fit to release the older Pokemon on Nintendo Switch Online – although even that is tied to a subscription fee.