This Week in Gaming History: The Konami Code turns 300 Comments
It might be the most famous cheat code in video game history. When we were kids, it helped us beat some of the hardest games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Today, it appears in movies, on t-shirts and even in television commercials. It is known as the Konami Code, and it is turning 30 years old.
The first game to use the famous code was the home console port of Gradius, released in Japan on the Nintendo Famicom on April 25, 1986 and in the United States on the Nintendo Entertainment System later that same year. This Konami outer space shooter is also known for popularizing the concept of the power-up, upgrades to the player's weapons that can be accessed by picking up various items that appear on screen throughout the game. If a player picked up the first Gradius power-up, paused the game and entered up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, and then hit start again, they could start the game with maximum power ups.
Gradius programmer Kazuhisa Hashimoto was responsible for the inclusion of the code, but not so gamers could get a leg up on the challenge of the game. He put in the code for his own use during the testing phase, as the difficulty of the game made it too challenging for him to debug it through normal play. The code remained in as the game went into production.
This trick wasn't widely known in the U.S. right away, as the Nintendo Entertainment System's popularity was still on a slow rise at the time of Gradius' release. In 1987, Nintendo began to publish various newsletters and strategy guides, revealing the trick to early NES fans by way of books such as The Official Nintendo Player's Guide. Eventually, the trick was shared through other video game magazines and various other types of media.
While the Konami Code might have debuted with Gradius, it became even better known and popular by way of another Konami title. It returned in Contra, released in 1988, where it gave players the ability to start with 30 lives rather than three. This trick was featured in the debut issue of Nintendo Power magazine, released just months after Contra's release. At the time, Contra was one of the hottest games for the now white-hot NES, which had greatly expanded its install base since the Gradius release. Nintendo also aggressively marketed the debut of Nintendo Power, printing and giving away more than 3 million copies of this first issue. The timing of all these elements caused more people to become aware of the Code in Contra than had ever seen it in Gradius.
The Konami Code was also used in Life Force, the spin-off to Gradius. Chronologically, this game came out before Contra in Japan, released on the Famicom in the fall of 1987. American players, however, didn't see the game until August 1988. With the NES' popularity at a fever pitch, news that the code also worked on this new release added fuel to the fire.
Players began trying the code on every Konami release on the market. Seeing the potential for added sales, other companies began revealing existing secret codes or adding them into games, especially on the NES. Entire sections of video game magazines were dedicated to revealing these codes, which became as much a part of gaming culture at the time as anything else. Konami continued the tradition by including it in some — but not all — of their future releases. The code is even used to troll players in Gradius III on the Super NES, where using it as it was used in the original Gradius will actually cause the player's ship to explode. To use it properly in this version requires the use of the top shoulder pads on the controller, a feature that was new to console controllers at that time.
In tribute to Konami, other companies began to use the exact same code on titles released for the Super NES, Sega Genesis, Nintendo Game Boy, and more. Konami made use of the code in future releases as well, especially within the Gradius universe. In more recent years, it has been used as an Easter Egg on various websites. Perhaps even more worth note, however, is that this simple cheat code has now become a part of pop culture itself, arguably above and beyond the games that used it.
The Konami Code is used in a key scene in 2012 film Wreck-It Ralph, where King Candy needs to enter a secret vault. WWE Superstar Xavier Woods hosts an online video game segment named after the code. Even the makers of Visine eye drops recently used the code in an online advertisement apparently aimed at gamers, stating that their product was like the "up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start code for your eyes." The Konami Code is also discussed in the closing credits of the Nintendo Quest film, where a tall, handsome video game personality is able to recall it instantly.
There are many video game Easter Eggs, cheat codes, and secret tricks, but there is only one that became so famous and so popular that it is remembered alongside the names of some of the most popular video games of all time. There will never be another cheat code more iconic and remembered that the Konami Code.