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The Five Most Badass Retro Game Cheat Codes

We’re not telling you to wreck a good relationship or risk expulsion from school, but under the right circumstances cheating can feel so damn good. By ‘under the right circumstances’ we mean ‘when playing retro games’ because, duh, we’re Retro Gaming Magazine. While there’s something to be said for plugging in a Game Shark or Pro Action Replay, the type of cheat code we’re looking at in this article is built into the game, not accessed via secondary hardware. We played with ourselves for a few hours [PLEASE reword this before publication, Michael! — Carl] and the end results lie before you. Codes made this list for unlocking things you wouldn’t normally get during play, fundamentally changing how the game worked, or broadening the scope of what we experienced as gamers. Things like holding down A+B and pressing Start to continue in Super Mario Bros., or entering ‘ZELDA’ as your name in The Legend of Zelda to access the second quest are both useful, but they’re hardly life-changing. We’re not dealing with glitches–if it wound up in the game because of a coding mistake, it might have been fun, hilarious, or cool, but it doesn’t count. The following cheat codes, on the other hand, rewrote the gaming rule books. We’re offering them in no particular order, but you can fight over which one was best in the comments. Speaking of fighting…

5) A, B, A, C, A, B, B

Mortal Kombat Box

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat, if you believed the reports of frightened media outlets and Congressmen from Connecticut, was poised to usher in an apocalypse where hostile youths would suddenly beat one another to death for no good reason. Was Mortal Kombat violent? What part of that two-word title is unclear? Did it use that gore to set itself apart from it’s biggest rival, Street Fighter II? You bet your forcibly-extracted spine it did! To kids in the arcade, Mortal Kombat was just the next obvious evolution in a genre suffused with violence from the start: you’re already uppercutting the other guy into the clouds, so why not drop him into a spike-filled pit on the way down? That there would be a home version was obvious; how that home version would pan out was where things took a turn for the tricky. Video game ratings didn’t exist except in the loosest sense, like iD Software publishing Wolfenstein 3D with a voluntary rating of PC-13 for ‘profound carnage’, which was more joke than load-bearing warning label. Things came to a head when Nintendo and Sega promised home versions of Mortal Kombat for both systems would be sanitized from the slaughter depicted in the arcade original.

It’s A Badass Cheat Code Because…

…one company was willing to break that promise, and in doing so single-handedly changed the entire home video game industry.

Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi was serious about the company’s commitment to keeping excessively violent games out of the living room. Sega on the other hand made that promise with fingers firmly crossed behind its back. Oh sure, the Genesis version shipped in a ‘look kids: no blood!’ mode just like its Super NES counterpart, and if you didn’t know any better you’d put up with the same sweat and altered finishing moves, but there was one minor difference in Sega’s version: the Code (‘Kode’?) Screen.

MK Genesis Kode Screen

The answer should be obvious.

The screen casually mentions ‘ethics’ and ‘honor’ but don’t you get the sense that wall of text is messing with your head? That was kind of the point. Plug in the cheat code from above on this screen and things got interesting:

MK Kode Screen Red

Huh…those letters just turned red. What else might be red and found in Mortal Kombat?

While this screen gives good face about secret codes and whatnot, Probe Studios who developed Mortal Kombat for the Genesis made damn sure everybody on the face of the planet knew about it. Didn’t matter which magazine you picked up off the newsstand and read–with the exception of Nintendo Power, the cheat code section of every ‘zine from EGM to Video Games and Computer Entertainment gleefully leaked the presence of the blood code before the game reached stores. The result was a fatality of a completely different kind. The Genesis Mortal Kombat outsold its Super Nintendo rival at a rate of three-to-one, a victory so flawless Nintendo abandoned their censorship policy for the release of Mortal Kombat II. It takes one badass cheat code to make an entire company reverse course, but that’s exactly what happened on September 13th, 1993 thanks to seven little letters based on the title of a prog rock album.



Doom Box


You really can’t discuss Mortal Kombat without discussing Doom, since they’ve both been blamed for everything from the 1999 Columbine High School shooting to an increase in “hitting, hurting, and thumping” on school playgrounds. We can debate whether or not violent video games contribute to a more violent society in another column, but there’s absolutely no denying Doom pushed buttons society would have preferred be left alone. Building on the idea of their earlier Wolfenstein 3D, iD Software focused on creating a world which was more realistic than any previously seen on screens connected to DOS-based PCs. Once they had this world, they populated it with more mutilated bodies, glaze-eyed husks, and inverted pentagrams than a Rob Zombie concert, and people took notice. Doom is the story of a lone marine tasked with cleaning up the aftermath of a shit-storm he had no hand in creating, a fact from which we can intuit our nameless protagonist carries the rank of Lance Corporal, because that’s basically all those guys do every day.

It’s A Badass Cheat Code Because…

…it introduced a generation of gamers to ‘Degreelessness Mode’ and how fun it could be, by turning this:

"Hi there."

“Ice, Ice, baby.”

…into this:

Degreelessness Face

“U Can’t Touch This!”

Look, not even John Romero can explain what the butt-chugging hell “degreelessness” means. It was a nonsense word thrown on the screen to show the cheat code worked, even though the only people a word like that should matter to are those flunking out of college. It sounds infinitely more intelligent and refined than what we plebeian masses started calling it (“God Mode”), so I guess there’s that.

Doom didn’t invent the invincibility cheat, but it was the first game to make it so darn simple to activate that even non-gaming spreadsheet jockeys could figure it out. Before Doom, making your character an unkillable badass required hacking the game’s code–computer magazines published lists of POKE commands for popular titles that would perform this or other functions. Wolfenstein 3D simplified this by requiring players to add the -goobers parameter when executing from DOS, then hitting Tab + G while in-game. Doom just took the next logical step, which was to let players make themselves immortal with the press of five simple keys while right in the thick of the action, and gamers with nothing better to do have been dick-punching cyberdemons to death ever since.


3) ↓, R, ↑, L, Y, B

Street Fighter II box

Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was a monstrous hit in the arcades, so it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ as much as ‘when’ Capcom would bring the arcade experience home. With eight different fighters to choose from, each requiring a different mindset to use effectively (not to mention a different move set to memorize), there was something for everyone…unless both of you wanted to play as the same character. When that happened, the result could be a real-life brawl instead of a virtual one, ending friendships, breaking glasses, and hurling insults guaranteed to get your ass grounded for the next two weeks if you don’t quiet the hell down while mom is trying to sleep! (Your mileage on that last one may vary).

It’s A Badass Cheat Code Because…

…it allowed players to finally settle the age-old question of who would win in a fight between Chun-Li and Chun-Li. Prior to Street Fighter II‘s release, nobody thought about same-character match-ups because that’s just silly and something that couldn’t happen in the real world. After all, when was the last time you saw Bruce Lee fight Bruce Lee, or Jean-Claude Van Damme fight–wait, never mind.

Players who input this cheat code as the Capcom logo faded in during the start-up screen could do just that, pitting characters against one another in a Mortal Kombat-style mirror match to prove once and for all who had the fastest Hadouken in the west. It didn’t quite make up for the inability to play as the four boss characters, but Capcom brought this code back for Street Fighter II Turbo–entering it on the second controller this time unlocks mega turbo mode, allowing for fights even faster and more frantic than the highest-speed levels available during normal play. Damn near every fighting game since Street Fighter II has permitted same-character selection during a player-vs.-player contest, but this cheat code laid the ground work for such an evolution.


2) ↑, ↑, ↓, ↓, ←, →, ←, →, B, A

Contra box


Growing up, we just knew this series of button presses as ‘The Contra code’. Before you open your mouth Mr. Pedantic, let it be known we’re aware the famed Konami Code debuted in the NES version of Gradius. We do not give two wet sharts. North American gamers put this cheat code to its most widely-used purpose to see the end of the aforementioned Contra, a game so Nintendo Hard it should have been illegal to sell to minors without a prescription. But the code first found life in Gradius. Lore has it Kazuhisa Hashimoto, the man in charge of porting the arcade original to the Famicom, found the game too difficult to finish on his own. Since he literally had access to the source code, he did what any hard-pressed programmer who was also expected to debug a difficult game did: coded this button sequence to supply him with a laser, missiles, a force field, and two option helpers if he input it while the game was paused. Hit start again and voila, he was ready to ruin the day of anyone opposing his little Vic Viper spaceship.

It’s A Badass Cheat Code Because…

…there’s no faster way to identify yourself as a permanent fixture of gaming pop culture than to reference this artifact from thirty years ago.

The Konami Code isn’t just a series of button presses on a rectangular controller, it’s practically a life hack in and of itself. You can find it printed on t-shirts. It does funky things on certain websites when you enter it. Even games and products made by people other than Konami have used this code (or minor variations to account for differences in button labels) to activate hidden options, show statistics, or just irritate the player. Some examples include:

  • stripping Douglas Cartland to his boxers in Silent Hill 3 if used on the title screen
  • unlocking ‘Expert’ mode in Double Dragon Advance if input on the title screen while holding Select
  • suiciding your ship in Gradius III unless the L and R buttons are substituted for the ‘left’ and ‘right’ directions on the control pad
  • supplying infinite ammo on the Windows version of Resident Evil 2
  • showing character play stats in the arcade version of Street Fighter II during demonstration mode (entered on player 2’s side, substituting ‘Strong’ and ‘Jab’ for ‘B’ and ‘A’)
  • changing the current piece to a straight line piece in Tengen’s version of Tetris on the NES
  • spwaning in a medkit at the player’s feet in Half-Life 2
  • showing where The End is on your map in Metal Gear Solid 3 (substituting Square for ‘B’ and Triangle for ‘A’)
  • killing yourself in exchange for a large amount of money in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (while holding L2 and R2, substituting Circle and X for ‘B’ and ‘A’)
  • doing nothing at all, as a character in Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the Super NES tells you

So if you find yourself with a few hours to kill and nothing better to do, maybe you should try it on some of your favorite games and see if anything neat happens.


1)  (Any Number of Ridiculous Button Inputs)

Tomb Raider Box

Tomb Raider

Oh, hello there Lara Croft! How’s it going? Nice of you to stop by the office. What’s that? No, no, I’m a married man. I couldn’t possibly–

WHOA! Well, I suppose when you put it that way, I’d be a fool to refuse! Now put your clothes back on before one of the other guys comes in here and gets entirely the wrong idea about there being some kind of nude code in your earlier Tomb Raider titles! Despite what’s staring me right in the face here, that’s an utterly absurd notion, isn’t it? I mean, the box says it’s got a rating of ‘T’ by the ESRB, and no nudity descriptor. Surely Core Design isn’t foolish enough to hide something like that in the game, then not tell anyone about it! Surely gamers are smarter than that…aren’t they…?

It’s A Badass Cheat Code Because…

…despite not existing, it consumed the lives of untold numbers of people, launched a world-wide obsession, and resulted in skyrocketing the sales of an already best-selling title. Fox Mulder’s desire to believe had nothing on these people, and he had hands-on experience with the stuff he investigated.

Of course we’re talking about the fabled Nude Code for the original Tomb Raider. Well, actually, the first Tomb Raider didn’t have one, but the sequel did. Or maybe it was only for the PC versions of the first two games, but the PlayStation got it with Tomb Raider III? Hell if we know, but one thing’s for sure: horny, desperate people all over the world wanted to know what Lara looked like under that aqua lycra top and those short, short shorts. Even though people have torn through the game’s code and come up empty-handed, there are still people who, to this day, believe there’s got to be some way to part Lara from her wardrobe in those early games. Why did this rumor gain such traction, and how did it manage to last for so long? I mean, for crying out loud, this October marks the 20th anniversary of the first game’s release. How does such a thing persist? Well, let’s chalk it up to one part ‘wishful thinking’, one part ‘digital artists with a lot of free time’, and one part ‘desire to mess with people who truly deserve it’.

First, the wishful thinking bit. It’s well known Lara acquired her top-heavy assets via a simple mistake made by Toby Gard when he was adjusting her model and ‘accidentally’ inflated her chest by 150%. A passing higher-up saw the error, told him not to fix it, and that was the character who would sell a million copies of the game. Lara’s proportions might have been unrealistic, but there’s no denying the allure of that packaging when it came to the 18-34 year old male demographics. It didn’t hurt that Eidos’s own marketing department was busy flooding magazines and the internet with official images of Lara that looked…well, kind of like this:

Lara Laying Down

“I get naked? Whatever gave you that idea?”

Lara herself teases at the end of the tutorial level that she’d “better take off these wet clothes” as the screen fades to black. If any of you are wondering how the stage gets set for stuff like The Fappening…

As for ‘digital artists with a lot of free time’, it didn’t take long for a fan site dedicated to depicting Lara in various degrees of ‘birthday suit’ to spring up. Dubbed “Nude Raider” (because of course it was), this site featured digital alterations of official artwork, and flew under the radar for months before one US gaming magazine published the URL in a sidebar and all hell broke loose. This spurred Eidos to legal action, which ended with them taking ownership of the domain, and thousands of oversexed perverts flocking to the newsgroups and in search of the fabled nude code and those naughty, naughty pictures. This in turn leads to our third point, which neatly closes the triangle.

Those supple little triangles...

That supple, firm triangle…

The newsgroups suddenly found their space flooded with asshats demanding to know how to get Lara’s clothing off, and who refused to listen when the people there explained how that really wasn’t a thing. When these new arrivals proved they would not take no for an answer, members constructed a variety of nearly-impossible or ridiculously time-consuming steps as ways of keeping these guys busy. (“Well, first have you have to beat the game twice in a row without taking any damage, and then it gets kind of difficult…”) That worked about as well as you can imagine. Core built a gag into the second game to address the whole Nude Raider debacle in the form of a bonus level which culminates in Lara asking the player if they think they’ve seen enough before putting a bullet through the camera, but to the hardcore devotees of the Cult Dedicated to Getting Video Game Characters Naked, this was nothing more than a harsh cock-tease. Eventually the whole thing was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but we don’t have time to get into it now, and you know what they say about keeping a fool in suspense, right?

Don’t worry, we’ll be back to explain tomorrow.

Michael Crisman

In 1979, Michael Crisman was mauled by a radioactive Gorgar pinball machine. After the wounds healed, doctors discovered his DNA had been re-coded. No longer fully human, Michael requires regular infusions of video games in order to continue living among you. If you see him, he can see you. Make no sudden moves, but instead bribe him with old issues of computer and video game magazines or a mint-in-box copy of Dragon Warrior IV. If he made you laugh, drop a tip in his jar at (If he didn't make you laugh, donate to cure his compulsion to bang keyboards by sending an absurdly huge amount of money to his tip jar instead. That'll show him!)

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