With the ever rising cost of the Neo Geo MVS carts these are more increasingly subject to being bootlegged, many collectors could be being duped by sellers usually on eBay looking to cash in on the collectable value of some of the increasingly rarer MVS carts. Externally it can be impossible to tell if the cart is genuine or bootlegged, internally is a different matter.
Are bootleg carts a serious issue? The question really depends upon if you are collector of MVS carts if you are then the answer is yes. A collector will be looking for from purchase a genuine cartridge label, original plastic casing, genuine printed circuit boards and original mask ROMs. In essence a collector is looking for the 100% authentic game play experience only an original cart is guaranteed to provide.
However if you are not an MVS cartridge collector bootlegs give you an opportunity to grab a specific game you really want to play at a lower market price than its original counterpart. The only other potential downside to bootlegs are some of the cartridges can suffer from bad ROM dumps and exhibit graphic and or sound glitches, some bootleg carts on the other hand can be perfectly fine with no game play issues.
Sadly bootleg carts did play a part in the demise of SNK’s Neo Geo MVS arcade system, this coupled with high hardware manufacturing costs and high sales prices for systems spelled the end for the MVS. The Neo Geo MVS was hugely popular in the 1990’s with arcade operators due to the systems ease of use and multi cart design, allowing for up to 6 different game carts in one arcade cabinet. The MVS machines success and a 14 year reign as top dog in the arcades lead to large amounts of bootlegging, and thus high volumes of lost cartridge sales revenue for SNK.
Luckily due to great online resources it is easy to verify if your MVS cartridges are bootlegs or genuine. You will need a cross head screwdriver to dismantle the cartridge, all you need to do is undo the 4 cross head screws holding the two halves of the shell together, located in the 4 holes in the picture below.
Once you have removed the 4 screws, you can very carefully hinge open the cartridge remember do not pull the two shells apart as the cartridge label will be creased or worse torn, you will want to keep this intact. You can then remove and slide out the two PCBs, they are easily removed with some careful effort, patience is the key no need to rush.
Firstly check that both PCBs are marked ‘SNK’ or ‘SNK Playmore’ as seen in the above picture if this is not present the PCBs are bootlegs. Once the shell is removed you can easily see the individual chips (Mask ROMs) on each board, these will have numbers printed on them which relate to the Neo Geo game number or NGH number, take a look at the Neo Geo Master List, this will show which number should be present on your chips, in this example Super Sidekicks II is 061 all the chips on both of my boards are marked 061 therefore I know with a good degree of certainty the EPROMS are original.
Next it is time to take a visit to Neo Geo MVS Scans and compare the scans posted of the PCB’s with your PCB’s. If your boards are a little different they may just be SNK repaired boards, or possibly a different variant of the board, if that is the case feel free to submit your images of the boards to the site. However if your PCB’s look nothing like the boards shown it will be a bootleg PCB.
Let me offer a few additional pointers to check over when assessing a cart:
- Check the cart label, if the label does not look right, it has probably been replaced this is not always a disaster as the rest of the cart may well be original. Labels can be checked on the MVS Scans site.
- If nearly all of the EPROMs on the PCBs are windowed EPROMs it increases the possibility your chips are bootlegs. Official MVS cartridges also used windowed EPROMs these we used as last minute patches for the game code, expect only a small number of windowed EPROMs on the board, not every chip as is common with bootlegs.
- Check the quality of the soldering on chips, original boards are wave soldered, excessive flux residue or obvious hand soldered chip pins usually point towards a bootleg.
I hope my guide offers at least some pointers and useful assistance in ensuring your collection of MVS cartridges is genuine.