Earlier today, the archival group Forest of Illusion revealed that it, along with a user named 'NDiddy', had recently identified a number of fake prototypes masquerading as regional variants of popular NES titles.
Sellers had advertised the prototypes to buyers as early versions of titles including Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug II, Othello, Mario Bros, and Lode Runner, but in reality, they had just edited the title screens and copyright dates in order to mislead collectors.
Last December, a German collector named Commander Denis uploaded three of the fakes, sold to them as European prototypes, to the preservation website Hidden Palace. The website has since notified the collector of the situation and the entries are currently under review, pending their removal.
Meanwhile, those investigating the fakes also found the buyer of the fake Mario Bros NES cart, Code Monkey, on the Game Sage forums. Code Monkey has since put together a thread on the website offering more information on how they were scammed, which confirmed that the prototypes originated from the same source as those on Hidden Palace. They also revealed that they were sadly now out $2160 CAD, because of the purchase.
According to Forest of Illusion, in a Twitter thread, how these were faked so easily is that they're all NROM games, and so the PCB is easy to modify for EPROMs as they share the same pinout. It, however, states that there were some pretty telltale signs that gave away that the prototypes were fakes.
The group wrote:
"One telltale sign that you may have a game from this lot is the ST and Mitsubishi EPROM combo, as this is not typically characteristic of a prototype that originated from NOA or NOE as is claimed by sellers, not to mention the datecode which is way out of range.
"These fakes also usually have a sprinkling of fake nonsensical edits throughout. In the case of Lode Runner, the copyright years were updated on the title screen along with the added line "Nintendo of Europe", which is impossible as it wasn't founded until the year 1990.
"As for Mario Bros, it claims to be an NTSC prototype of the Europe-only "Classic Series" version which featured slight updates from the original release. The only difference appears to be the copyright date and are all confirmed to originate from the same source."
If anything, this should hopefully serve as a reminder for buyers to take greater care when purchasing prototypes online. Be on the lookout for any inconsistencies, and ask around and get a second opinion if you don't know exactly what you're looking at.