Since the invention of the Konami Code, cheat codes have permeated console and computer games alike. Existing as an effortless way to change your gameplay experience, cheat codes can do anything from altering your character’s appearance to giving you unlimited ammo or immunity. There are hundreds of cheat codes that have existed over the years, and I’ve picked just a few of my favorites to highlight here to demonstrate the scope of what cheat codes are capable of.
Console Cheat Codes
Staying true to the Konami Code, most console cheats give players items or stat boosts that will help them win the game more quickly and easily. Others, however, are just for fun, adding an extra element of hilarity to what might otherwise be a very serious or intense game. My favorite game series of all time is the Spyro the Dragon trilogy, so I know their cheat codes like the back of my hand. They also have perhaps the best mix of helpful and aesthetic cheat codes in any games that I’ve encountered. The most essential of their helpful cheat codes is the 99 Lives Cheat. It does exactly what it says on the tin–entering a code during the pause menu gives Spyro 99 lives. When you’re stuck fighting Gnasty Gnorc or you just need a safety net as you soar over a wide chasm, this cheat really comes in handy. And when you inevitably run out, just pause the game and enter the cheat again, as many times as you need to finally defeat Ripto. Speaking of Ripto, if you need an extra hot boost at any point when playing Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, just enter a cheat code in the pause menu to activate Spyro’s Superflame breath. Unfortunately, this cheat code does come with some stipulations; it can only be activated once you collect all 10,000 gems and all 64 orbs in the game. But hey, not everything can be that easy, right?Spyro’s cheat codes really shine in their aesthetic warping codes. Do you want Spyro to have an extremely large head? There’s a cheat code for that. Slap a pair of sunglasses on him, give him tiny wings, and even change the color of his scales, all with a few simple button presses in the pause menu.
One of the better practical cheat codes I’ve found is one for the NES Super Mario Bros. game. Normally, when you run out of lives in this Mario game, it’s game over for real; you’re sent back to the very beginning of the game no matter where you are in any of its 8 worlds. The way around this is incredibly easy: after dying and returning to the main menu, hold down the A and Start buttons, and you’ll return to the first level of the last world you were in. Informing my mom of this code earned me a surprised and frustrated scream, so apparently it was never that well advertised when the game first came out in 1985. If anyone still has an NES out there, you’re welcome.
I’ve saved the best for last. The strangest and most hilarious cheat code perhaps in existence comes from International Superstar Soccer on the SNES, Mega Drive and PlayStation. This one required you to play with a friend, or at least have two controllers. In the title screen, enter a code using the second controller, and all of the officials in the game turn into dogs. Dogs! Officiating a soccer game! Truly, video games and cheat codes were the best inventions ever, of all time.
There was another pretty great invention that came about right around when video games were hitting their stride in popular culture. The Game Genie was originally conceived in 1990 for the NES, and was then adapted for the SNES, Game Boy and SEGA Genesis. The Genie was inserted in the game cartridge slot, between the console and the cartridge. It was sold with a booklet of codes for a variety of different games, and these were entered in the menu that popped up on the Genie. As more games were released, some gaming magazines created paid subscription services that released new codes every quarter.
Game Genie codes worked like most other cheat codes at the time. They made the player more powerful, gifting them with unlimited ammunition, invulnerability, and even allowing them to skip entire levels. Other codes unlocked hidden features that were scrapped and rendered unreachable by developers. Players eventually began to experiment with the Genie to create their own codes by inputting random sequences in the hopes that one would work. There were some major drawbacks to this, as messing randomly with the Game Genie could cause corrupted save data or freeze the game. Plus, every code tried had to be written down, as there was no way to check codes after they were input. This methodical madness did work a few times, and the randomly discovered codes could then be further modified to find other, more useful hidden codes.
The Game Genie worked, and worked well, which is exactly why Nintendo had to step in and take legal action against it. Nintendo was vehemently against use of the Genie with their games, but ultimately lost the court case against Codemasters (the company behind the Genie) because the courts ruled that using it did not result in a work that was derivative from the original produced by the game company. SEGA, on the other hand, fully endorsed the Game Genie, so long as it didn’t work with games that had save features.
Its success, as well as the constantly developing and improving world of video game consoles, called for a second Game Genie. The Game Genie 2 was much more powerful, and was designed to work with the SNES. It allowed players to find cheat codes on their own more easily, to selectively activate cheats during gameplay, and automatically save their game and restore high scores into the memory of the Genie itself. Ultimately, a prototype of the Genie 2 was completed but never brought to market, and is now owned by Richard Aplin, one of the original creators of the first Genie.
Computer Cheat Codes
As console games and their cheat codes were evolving, computer games had to keep up. Computer cheat codes developed similarly to console cheats, in that they were often left in by developers after playtesting. Some codes were more purposeful, specifically placed to give players a much needed boost.
The cheat codes featured in the Sims games are probably the best examples of purposeful cheat codes and the most widely known. The EA site for the Sims has an explicit “How to Cheat” page, with instructions on how to bring up the Cheat Console and a list of the available cheat codes. They even state on the page, “Cheating is a big part of the game…it’s even something we kinda, sorta, actually encourage.” The Sims games already boast a high level of freedom in terms of character creation and the actions that can be performed in the game. Their cheat codes give players the chance to push the boundaries of what the game can do, or just make their lives easier.
Next to the Konami Code, the Sims’ “motherlode” cheat code is one of the best known cheat codes that exists. No one I know has played the Sims and not used this code. After pulling up the Cheat Console, just enter the word “motherlode” and 50,000 simoleons (the game’s currency) will appear. The best part is that there’s no limit to how many times you can use this code. Max out your money right at the beginning of the game and the sky’s the limit when making your Sim’s dream house. If you can’t find the furniture or other items you really need to complete your new home, there’s even a code to unlock all items, and another to reveal seasonal or limited editions items that shouldn’t be available.
The original Call of Duty on the PC also has an in-game cheat command console, though the available cheat codes are slightly limited. There are codes to automatically give you any weapon available in the game, as well as codes that allow the player to select the map they wish to play on.
Of course, cheat codes don’t stop at just unlocking items. There are cheat codes that make the player more powerful, even going so far as to make the player an unkillable, unstoppable machine. I’m talking, of course, about DOOM’s famed God Mode cheat code. Entering the code makes the player invincible. Sure, maybe that takes the fun out of the game, but when you’re on your second or third playthrough and just trying to get all of the items you missed, or exploring the world, it’s nice to not have to worry about dying every few minutes.
These All Sound Great. What Happened?
Computer cheat codes have likely fallen away in most games (other than the Sims) due to the rise of computer hacking and fan made game mods. When you can get right into the details of a game, why use limited cheat codes that can only change a few things in your gaming experience? With some knowledge of code and a bit of imagination, you can alter the very fundamentals of the game itself and change everything and anything.
As for console games, the reason for their cheat codes’ disappearance is more deeply rooted in the types of games that have risen to popularity over the years and the benefits and perks that developers give to players. There’s no need to search for cheat codes when the game will give players a serious penalty for doing so, or when better weapons and gear can be gained with a click of a button and a small fee.
In the next part of the series, we’ll really explore what might have cause cheat codes to fall from power, and what players and developers alike have created to replace them.