There are few things in the world of gaming more iconic than the humble cheat code. From the earliest examples all the way through to more sophisticated text-based commands, cheat codes have been at the crux of many gamers’ experiences with the medium.
Gamers often swapped cheat codes in hushed tones in the playground, telling each other about the code that gave you unlimited lives, the one that changed a character’s clothing (or removed it entirely), or the one that let you skip entire worlds. Some of these codes were real, and others were fake, but today, we’d like to take a look at the ones that were the most interesting. Here are the 15 greatest gaming cheat codes ever.
1. The Konami Code
It’s hard to imagine a code more iconic than the Konami Code. The input is simple: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, and sometimes Select and Start afterwards. However, this code was present in many Konami games, especially earlier ones like Contra. It usually gave gamers an advantage in gameplay somehow, granting them extra lives or some other boon. Even as recently as the Castlevania: Requiem re-release package, the Konami Code was included, proving it still lives to this day.
2. The Lara Croft nude code
Here’s an example of a cheat code that turned out to be fiction, although developers Core Design did add references to it, including a shower scene at the conclusion of Tomb Raider 2 in which Lara shoots the player for ostensibly spying on her in the shower. The Lara Croft nude cheat code hovered around the Tomb Raider franchise for many years until the devs put paid to the rumours; there never was a code, although management supposedly half-jokingly suggested there should be one.
3. GTA 3’s Pedestrian Riot cheat
If you’ve never experienced the madcap open-world insanity of Grand Theft Auto 3 with the Pedestrian Riot cheat enabled, then you’re absolutely missing out. This cheat sent pedestrians buck-wild with kill-crazy rage, so as soon as you spawned at the hospital after being killed, you’d be chased by pedestrians out for your blood. Combining this with the Pedestrians Carry Guns cheat made for an incredible Purge-like scenario in which GTA 3 effectively became a game of survival.
4. The Sims’ “Rosebud” code
Times are hard in The Sims; twas ever thus. Making money is difficult, and so nobody would blame you if you just pushed the envelope a little and cheated to get yourself over that barrier. Entering “Rosebud” into the game’s cheat mode console, which you could access by pressing Ctrl and Shift and C, would give you a thousand Simoleons (the game’s currency), and that cheat was repeatable, so you could give yourself as much money as you wanted.
5. Mortal Kombat’s blood cheat
It seems bizarre that Mortal Kombat, of all games, was censored, but it’s true; on the Super Nintendo version of the game, blood was completely removed, and in the Sega Mega Drive version (that’s the Genesis version in North America), blood was turned off by default, so you had to put a code in to see it. That code, which may or may not have been a reference to prog rock band Genesis, was ABACABB, so next time you’re playing the original Mortal Kombat, keep that code in mind.
6. Metroid’s Justin Bailey code
Famously, the reveal in the original Metroid that Samus was a girl was shocking to many gamers; she was the first real strong female protagonist, and she’s continued to be an iconic inspiration to women everywhere since those days. However, inputting the code “JUSTIN BAILEY” as a password in the game begins a new file with Samus wearing a leotard instead of her standard power armour. Fun fact: Justin Bailey isn’t anyone related to Metroid’s development…it’s a total fluke that this combination works.
7. Zelda’s name in The Legend of Zelda
The original The Legend of Zelda is inarguably one of the most iconic video games of all time, beginning the legend of Link and the princess Zelda as well as pitting them against their most tenacious foe, Ganon. Did you know, though, that there’s an entire second quest in the first Zelda game? It’s true, and inputting “ZELDA” as your name on the title screen will start you off on that second quest, something we’re sure many oblivious young kids discovered when doing so on a whim.
8. Doom’s God Mode
1993’s Doom is a hugely influential first-person shooter, and it can also be tremendously difficult if you’re playing it on higher difficulty levels. As such, the Doom Marine, also known as Doomguy, needs all the help he can get, and so Id Software created the cheat code “iddqd”, which enabled something colloquially referred to as “God Mode”. This is because the cheat disables all damage and effectively renders Doomguy an unstoppable god, or at least more of one than he already is.
9. NBA Jam’s unlockable characters
These days, basketball sims that combine arcade fun with realistic players are few and far between, but in the days of NBA Jam, that wasn’t the case. However, alongside iconic basketballers like Dennis Rodman, NBA Jam also featured unlockable characters that could be obtained via cheat codes. This unlockable roster included then-President Bill Clinton (yes, really), as well as Prince Charles and the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. It was a different era.
10. Debug mode in Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog offered blisteringly fast action and precision platforming in one package, but did you know that there’s a debug mode contained within the original game? It’s true; there’s a code that basically lets you mess with level geometry and hazards, moving things around and adding items based on what you want to see. Evidently, this mode was included so developers could experiment with certain elements, but then they decided to let players access it for fun as well. We’re not complaining!
11. The End in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
This one’s cheating (appropriately enough for the subject matter!) since it’s not really a cheat code, but more of a fun Easter egg. The End is a boss in Metal Gear Solid 3, and he’s also one of that game’s most enjoyable and iconic encounters. However, if you do decide you want to skip the battle, you can simply set your PlayStation 2’s internal clock over a week into the future, and when you reload, a special cutscene will play in which Snake discovers that The End has died of old age.
12. GoldenEye 007’s Facility run
Great movie adaptations are few and far between, but Rare’s GoldenEye 007 is unquestionably one of the best of all time. In that game, which is a first-person shooter with some minor stealth elements and an impeccable sense of style, you could unlock an invincibility cheat by completing a certain level within a very restrictive time frame. Doing so became the stuff of legends for kids who did so, and so it must have been dispiriting for them to learn there’s also a button combo that unlocks the cheat.
13. Weird Tony Hawk physics
The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise is infamous for its range of cheats, which include a permanently-full specials bar, the ability to play as the game’s dev team, and raising stats, among other things. One of the best cheats in the game, however, essentially turned the entire experience into a zero-gravity space walk, allowing Tony and his skateboarding pals to pull off some truly impossible tricks. Of course, you had to make sure you stuck the landing when you did eventually get dragged back down to earth.
14. Spawning cars in Age of Empires 2
Do you know what the AC Cobra is? If not, you might know it better as the Shelby Cobra, which was its name in the United States. However you recognise this car, you might also know it from being able to spawn them in Age of Empires 2, which never got less amusing. In order to spawn the car, you simply had to input the code “how do you turn this on” in the game’s cheat menu, which would give you access to futuristic technology that was massively unfair compared to your enemies’ siege weapons.
15. Jumping over the level in Super Mario Bros
We end with a “cheat code” (again, not really a code, but certainly a cheat) that many players must have thought they’d broken their games upon discovering. In the second level of the original 1985 Super Mario Bros, it was possible, by using moving platforms, to jump onto the ceiling of the underground stage and run past the exit pipe to a room of numbered pipes. This “warp room” would later become a feature in Super Mario Bros 3, but when we didn’t know better, discovering the warp room was an illicit thrill in and of i