You can now get your retro Pokemon games from sketchy vending machines in California malls

Pokemon anime
(Image credit: The Pokemon Company)

If you're looking to bolster your retro game collection on the cheap, you might want to check out your local mall, as vending machines containing stacks of Game Boy Pokemon cartridges are starting to appear with frankly alarming regularity.

Take this recent thread from a ResetEra poster, who explains that they were "strolling through a particularly sad mall in SoCal, when I chanced upon a couple of wack-ass vending machines. These machines only sold GB and GBA Pokémon carts at $16 a pop (or $15 if you’re paying cash!). Most, but not all, carts contained a solitary Jolly Rancher as a bonus, too. Neat!"

If the prices didn't give it away, the fact that this machine is selling copies of Pokemon Green - a game that was never officially released in English - might give away that these are almost certainly all bootleg cartridges. Reproduction cartridges for classic games are all over eBay and other secondary markets, serving either as a cheaper alternative to official carts or as a way to dupe unsuspecting buyers into spending big bucks when they don't know how to verify a cartridge's authenticity.

Bootleg carts tend to be a bit unreliable - I'll share my horror story about accidentally buying a fake LeafGreen cart and finding my save data corrupted after 20 hours of play - but given that classic Pokemon games now regularly go for triple-digit prices, rolling the dice for $15 might not be a bad idea.

Deeper in the thread above, the poster reveals that this vending machine was found at Westminster Mall in Orange County, California, and it turns out that this machine has been there for some time and been the subject of more than a few similarly incredulous anecdotes on social media. There are clips and images of the machine on Reddit and TikTok dating back for months, and there's even been a sighting at another California mall - Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance - indicating that the business is only expanding.


♬ Pokémon RBGY - Remix - Toni Leys

Perhaps the strangest part of all this is that whoever is running these machines has their contact info plastered right on the main glass pane. I'm not sure I'd want to make it so easy for Nintendo's lawyers to get in touch with me, but hey.

There are probably better ways to play the best Pokemon games, but are there any weirder?

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.