An original, sealed copy of Pokémon Yellow, reportedly worth nearly $4,000, was ruined by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after its seal was not only cracked but its case broken and the front of the box sliced clean off in a wanton display of aggression against collectibles, the owner claims. That owner, who goes by The_Master_Of_Unlocking, told Kotaku he was disappointed to see such “senseless damage” done to the now-ruined collector’s item.
The_Master_Of_Unlocking’s friend, Night Dive Studio CEO Stephen Kick, tweeted a picture showing the ruined Pokémon Yellow copy on January 19.
“Friend of mine received this sealed and graded original copy of Pokémon Yellow,” Kick said. “U.S. Customs: Broke the acrylic case, ripped and discarded the seal, [and] sliced the front of the box off. Maybe they weren’t fans of Wata Games?”
Wata Games is an independent company that grades and certifies games for collectors. Chances are you’ll encounter Wata Games if you’re looking for high-quality, mint copies of old games. The company was responsible for grading and certifying The_Master_Of_Unlocking’s copy, giving it an A+ rating and a score of 9.2. According to Wata Games’ website, the game is in “exceptional condition” and worth $3,800. Or it was until U.S. Customs came through and decimated the certification.
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“So…either they hated the battery inside the cartridge…or they thought it’d contain drugs or something,” one tweeter suggested in Kick’s mentions. “Can U.S. Customs just destroy things without recourse,” asked another tweeter, with many others demanding consequences against the agency.
Information on why Customs would go to such lengths is murky, but according to the domestic and international vehicle shipping service Easy Haul, the purpose of an inspection by the governmental agency is to “prevent [the] export or import of contraband, counterfeited, improperly declared, prohibited, embargoed, or any other goods” that don’t meet U.S. Customs’ regulations. Other than the possibility of a package containing some sort of illegal substance, it appears U.S. Customs doesn’t need to release a reason as to why an inspection was called in the first place.
Kotaku reached out to U.S. Customs and Wata Games for comment.
In an email to Kotaku, The_Master_Of_Unlocking said he bought the copy of Pokémon Yellow from an independent seller in Canada who had the game graded previously. The two were in communication on January 17 and agreed upon the $3,800 price tag, with the package shipped out that same day and scheduled to arrive on January 19. The package even cleared U.S. Customs at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport in Kentucky, but The_Master_Of_Unlocking discovered an item very different than what the original seller shared in pictures. He was shooketh.
“I opened the undamaged shipping box to find the Wata Games case broken and the Pokémon Yellow cardboard box loose inside,” The_Master_Of_Unlocking said. “Initially, I thought it was simply the Wata Games acrylic case that was broken, and I wasn’t particularly concerned. Then, I noticed the factory seal was no longer on the game and, more importantly, the front cover of the Pokémon Yellow box had been completely cut off! I couldn’t believe it at first, but I promptly took pictures to document the damage. I notified the seller immediately after taking photos of the damage, and to say he was shocked is an understatement. We then began working through the dispute process with PayPal, which is currently ongoing.”
The_Master_Of_Unlocking has no idea why U.S. Customs was so careless with this copy of Pokémon Yellow. He said the agency’s actions seemed “particularly egregious” when there are safer methods, such as slicing the seal at the top, to inspect the case and the cartridge. He noted that he’s had “high-value items shipped from a variety of other countries in the past,” but he’s never had an issue like this with U.S. Customs before.
“It was really disappointing and disheartening seeing the senseless damage done to the game,” The_Master_Of_Unlocking said. “Pokémon Yellow was the first Pokémon game I owned as a kid, and like so many of that generation, I was thoroughly entranced by the handheld RPG. I had regretfully given up a mint copy of the game years earlier and was trying to secure a near-mint copy for display on my office desk. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to dedicate to playing video games as I once did, but I wanted to give the game a prominent place so I could enjoy viewing it and be reminded of simpler times as I work.”
While there are plenty of copies of Pokémon Yellow sold online, there aren’t too many that are in “excellent condition” and near mint like The_Master_Of_Unlocking’s was. There is one on eBay that’s close, but with an A+ rating and a score of 9.4, it’s currently going for $10,500.