RETROspective – Cheat Code Edition

Welcome to RETROspective, where we look back on things from the 80’s and 90’s with fondness, regret, or some strange combination of the two. While, last time we talked about an iconic game, this time we’re talking about cheat codes. And not your current generation of cheats where you have to buy an action replay, or jailbreak/hack your console. But for now lets get to it…

Anyone who played video games in the late 80’s through the 90’s certainly remembers cheats codes. To this day even there are shirts, sites, songs, all paying homage to the Konami Code. The thing is- do you remember how you learned it? Or even when you first used it? Not just the Konami code but any code or secret in a game. Today it’s simple to find hints, cheats, codes, guides, whatever you need for a game you just throw a keyword or two in Google, and up pops hundreds of explanations and tips. But what did we do before the Internet made finding these things so simple?

I can remember playing Mortal Kombat III for the SNES, I had a friend over one day playing it and he tells me about these cool codes he learned, they unlocked Kool Stuff, Kooler Stuff, and Scotts Stuff. And to this day I still want to know who the hell Scott is and why did he get stuff in a game? But that’s not the point. So he puts these codes in and we get all these cool options like fighting as Smoke, or Shao Kahn. It was great, to play as these characters since some of them were bosses who were never available. Then you also had the option of turning on one button fatalities, or an array of other things that could make the game easier. I’m not ashamed to say I used one button fatalities all the time, I was a kid I didn’t care about skill I just wanted to see a guy’s spin get ripped out through his face.

Now you need to keep in mind these codes and secrets shouldn’t be confused with the hack brand of codes. There were things like Game Genie around that would help you cheat, and that evolved into things like GameSharks, but those were honestly crap. They were extra money, they could ruin your saved game, and they weren’t put there by the developers of the game. And like I said before, they were hacks, and you only used them when you weren’t good enough to play the game.

Codes and secrets that the game developers leave for us are usually for fun. Yes they might make it easier to beat a game, but not everyone is a gamer so why not include something to make it a little more accessible to those who can figure it out. If a person has the resources to find the codes out, and they can’t get through a level, then they have every right to use them. If you can’t figure out how to beat a game, and buy an Action Replay, then you are either a 10 year old child, or someone who probably shouldn’t play games anyway.

Lets get back to talking about codes themselves though. I’ve already mentioned the Konami Code. This simple button pressing pattern has become a lot more then a code. It’s part of gaming history. It’s used in more games then you can probably count. And though it was most famously used in the NES version of Contra to grant you 30 lives, it was not the first or last use of this code. Some developers actually include this code in games as an Easter Egg of sorts, if you punch it in something happens, it might not make the game any easier but it’s still there as a way for them to say “hey we remember this shit too!”

It’s just funny to look back and remember things that made games more interesting. It wasn’t always about cheating to get to the next level, sometimes it was just about having fun screwing around. I to this day will pop on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and throw in the debug and Super Sonic codes and just blast around the levels as Super Sonic having fun. I’ve beat the game, there’s nothing new to find anymore but running around and seeing what crazy stuff I might be able to accomplish as a shiny gold hedgehog is always a good time. And speaking of Sonic 2, I always thought that putting the sounds in with the sound test was a really creative idea. I’m sure that wasn’t the last time that was used but it’s the only game I’ve played that does it.

That’s all for now, but let us know what kind of memories you have of learning about some old code in a game when you were a kid.

talks a bunch on PodQuest each week. He's also been known to write about stuff from time to time.

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