In China, piracy runs so rampant, many stores openly admit they have bootleg DVDs for sale. I don’t think it’s even possible to buy a legitimate DVD there. Games, on the other hand, do appear in authentic form in some locations, but the famous markets in Beijing and Shanghai offer a wide variety of ripped-off Xbox, Playstation, and Game Boy Advance games. The latter has exploded into quite a profitable business, as many booths will have hundreds of GBA games on display and a catalogue to flip through. If you know how to bargain–and catch a vendor on a good day–you can get a fake GBA game for about two or three dollars. But these bootlegs are of a low quality. The pictures on the cartridges are obviously stretched-out jpegs, and the prongs are usually tarnished. Not only was my copy of Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 literally falling apart when I bought it, the game stopped working altogether six months later. Then Metroid: Zero Mission and Kim Possible 2 wouldn’t even let me save my progress.
Fortunately, the DS hasn’t had the same fate…. yet. Most vendors didn’t have any DS games, and those that did actually had the real deals. I did find a couple knock-off DS games, however, but they were just GBA cartridges, and I doubted they even worked. But during my market scramblings, I came across some rather funny-looking hardware called the Neo Double Games Lite. As the name implies, this is just a cheap copy of the DS Lite system. Except that, for what it was, it wasn’t so cheap. The vendor initially wanted $20 for it, but I got her down to $5. Still, I didn’t want to pay $5 for what I knew was a piece of junk. When you’ve been in China long enough, even 50 cents means a lot to you.
Of course, I eventually bought it. I had to try it just to see how bad it really was. At a glance, it actually replicates the DS quite well with its smooth, white edges. It isn’t until you heft it that the differences become apparent. The Neo Double Games Lite feels very cheap and light, like there’s nothing in it. But when you open it up, it almost falls out of your hands. It’s incredibly clunky and awkward to hold. The hinges aren’t very tight, so the heavy top screen keeps flopping around. The D-pad is more akin to the Playstation D-pad, and the X, Y, A, and B buttons have been replaced by two big arrows: A and B.
So I’m not impressed up to this point. But I plug in two AAA batteries and flip the power on. Only the top screen comes to life. The bottom screen, it turns out, is just a placeholder. The strange thing about this system is that the screens are the game cartridges. If you want to switch games, you actually pop the screen out and put a new one in. The first game I played was Soccer. It was a blue screen with barely discernable soccer players dancing back and forth. The Atari-like graphics were kind of hard to see; most of the back-light was escaping through the sides. It didn’t matter, anyway, because I couldn’t actually play this game. The game played itself and ignored the buttons I pushed.
I decided to try Street Fighter next. It played the very same music and sound effects as Soccer and again didn’t respond to any of my input. Its graphics were almost like Soccer, as well, though this time there were only two dancing figures instead of five… or six. I don’t know. It kept changing. Anyway, almost every game was the same: same music and same unresponsive controls. Only Submarine Invasion and Racing Car were really playable, but it was so hard to see what was going on, it was near impossible to dodge the in-game obstacles.
I think I’ll just stick with my regular DS from now on, thank you.