Gradius, video game, box art, space ship, lazers, guns

Cheat codes: the old currency of cool

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start.

I’m guessing a lot of people reading this will know exactly what that sequence is. It’s the essence of dreams, the giver of life and the answer to our prayers instilled into 11 simple button presses. It’s the Konami code.

This little saviour was created by Kazuhisa Hashimoto while developing the NES port of scrolling-shooter Gradius in the mid-eighties. Testing was tedious due to the game’s difficulty level so he programmed in a code which would grant the player a set of power-ups when entered. After it was left in the final release, it became the stuff of legends: players discovered the sequence and shared it with friends.

The Konami code must be the most famous cheat in gaming and has made an appearance in hundreds of titles since. From Contra where the player received 30 extra lives, to Assassin’s Creed III where it created the most terrifying assassin the world has ever seen (a turkey), the well-known sequence has opened hidden doors and revealed Easter-eggs for gamers throughout the years.

These codes were the currency of cool back in the day and if you were the first kid at school to unlock a new one, you were crowned king of the playground. As said by Brandon from That Green Dude in his post last month: “No-one judged you for using cheats back in the 1990s and early noughties. In fact, when it comes to GTA, people were writing down cheats and sharing them with their friends.”

That’s why as soon as we got our hands on a new gaming magazine, we’d skip straight to the back to read through the section which contained cheats for the latest release everyone was playing at the time. Some people even took it further with a Game Genie: a device which bridged your console and cartridge, and granted ‘wishes’ such as additional lives or extra health.

It may seem strange that developers wouldn’t want to remove cheats before releasing their game to the public, thereby preventing players from exploiting their benefits. But code can be a tricksy thing sometimes and deleting anything from a final working version could potentially end up breaking it in some unforeseen way. In those days of physical releases, it was simply safer to leave them in.

Over the years though, things have moved on and these codes have all but disappeared. Their removal from releases nowadays is much easier and games are less prone to errors when this correction is done. In addition, achievements have changed gaming culture; a player with a cheat can be considered a fraud by those who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into gaining a trophy.

There’s also the fact they no longer hold the mystery they once did. Those clandestine button-presses used to be passed around by word-of-mouth like some closely-guarded secret and if you were lucky enough to be told one, you felt as though were part of an exclusive group. Nowadays though, widely-available internet access means codes can be published and searched for within moments.

Do I therefore miss cheat codes? Yes, I guess I do. As it is with old video game manuals, remembering the Konami code and others like it evokes a warm glow of nostalgia. I remember running home from school after being told about a code for whatever we were playing at the time because I wanted to test it out for myself – and then withholding it from my younger brother for days.

But ask me whether I’d like to see their return and I’m not sure I could give a positive answer. As put by Brandon, ‘the innocence and simplicity have gone’ and I just don’t see how that could be recaptured taking into account the way we play our games and access information today. Without the mystery surrounding cheat codes, they’d just be empty button-presses and common knowledge.

This is one gaming memory I’m happy to leave in the past and look back at fondly, rather than re-implementing and spoiling what made it special. I’d love to know what you guys think: would you like to see the return of cheat codes?

25 thoughts on “Cheat codes: the old currency of cool

  1. Kim, buddy. This is one you will love. In my favorite childhood game, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, there is a code that enables you to play the whole game as… Guybrush Treepwood. Yes. Him. Makemeapirate is the code.

    He shoots explosive rubber chickens from the bazooka.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whilst some cheat codes my devalue someone’s success, there are options. Prevent achievements from unlocking, lock out the final cutscene, or just have them be silly visual cheats (like big head mode!)

    The way I see the progression of cheats is this: classically it was a secret code that unlocked something beneficial or silly, then came the unlocking of these features through playing well, now you enter codes again, except the code is your credit card number. It gives me a sad 😔.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was watching the stepson play various games on his tablet last weekend, and was surprised at how much you can actually pay for! I usually steer clear of games like that myself so it was a bit of a shock to the system. I know I’m going to come across as a grumpy old woman, but it felt so much more ‘innocent’ back when we were kids…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember my brother used to have loose pages everywhere of cheats that he’d written out for various games and there was something kind of nice about it.

    Everything is so accessible now it’s taken that mystery away a little bit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe it’s a case of me being the wrong target market for cheat codes now, because I’d rather play a game ‘how it’s meant to be played’… perhaps I’m getting old! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Speaking of bugs… I remember playing Lemmings on my Amiga as a kid, and whenever I got to one particular level the whole thing would bug out and crash. I exchanged the game three times and never did manage to get it to work, or complete it. 😂

      Like

  4. This is an awesome response. Thank you.
    I’d love to see cheats return but with the hyper connected world we live in today the mystique surrounding them is gone.
    Leaving cheats in the past is probably for the best because as you said we can look back at them fondly and I think doing so can bring back many wonderful memories when we look back at them.

    Like

    1. I’d love to see them return, but I think without that air of mystery they’d never be the same! There was something special about the button presses being passed around via word of mouth rather than a quick search on Google.

      Thanks so much for being the inspiration for this post – it was a lot of fun to take a look back at cheat codes. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The cheats in the Grand Theft Auto games were my favourite. I’m remembering the armed pedestrians one… 😈 Cheat codes were fun back in the day, but I don’t think they would work very well with modern games and all this “always online” stuff.

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    1. I was hoping someone would pop up with a mention of the GTA codes ha ha ha! As much as they were a great and mysterious part of gaming when I was a kid, I think cheat codes are probably better left in the past.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Cheats were awesome, Lord C used them always without abandon, but sadly, they died out b4 PS3 & X360 *Sobs*
    Case in point: would I play Dark Souls if I had ‘Infinite Health’ to fall back on? Yes?
    As it is, I’m just gonna have to no commentary long play it on YouTube, so the feeling of achievement is nonexistent,
    Same with a lot of newer games.. *Sighs* C’est La Vie! 😀

    Like

    1. There was always something wonderfully clandestine about using a cheat code… you still got that sense of achievement after completion, but had a little boost to get you through the hard parts of a game. You’re not the only person who has resorted to a long-play! 😉

      Like

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