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 almost completely 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?