Cheat Codes or ‘Cheats’, as they were almost universally known, were nifty little things you could input into a game. This was usually in the form of button combinations, amongst other things. They were often sought out by those people familiar with a game who wanted to add a little bit extra to add to their experience.
Cheats kind of still exist today, more commonly in the form of mods and hacks, but it was really the mid to late ’90s which showcased the ‘Golden era’. This was of course the pre-internet era (when the world was black and white), and people couldn’t get much information for free. Cheats would either be found in gaming magazines or booklets that came with them. Cheats pretty much developed into somewhat of a playground currency. For example, everyone was aware of that one kid, who was the only person that knew exactly how to unlock every character in Tekken 2.
Power Up Cheats – Now you’re playing with Power!!
These cheats were used to give your character extra lives, invincibility etc. Something to either let you cheese the main game or get one up on your friends during multiplayer. Yes, picking Oddjob in Goldeneye counts.
These would mainly be typed during gameplay. My favourite was the ‘All weapons’ cheat in Duke Nukem:Time to Kill. I used this one so much, I can still do all the finger movements without a controller; misspent youth or what?! This was a great cheat because inputting the code was confirmed by a splashing noise, giving my friend just enough time to be confused before a rocket ripped him apart.
The Original Doom was great for these things too; plus the codes were usually based on clever puns to make you feel like a comic genius as well as a literal in-game God. Here are a few examples:
IDCHOPPERS Let you Murder a bunch of aliens with a trusty chainsaw
IDMYPOS printed your co-ordinates on screen
IDDQD is God mode
Alternate Characters and Costumes
Back in the days, before microtransactions and DLC, it was commonplace to have to unlock all the characters and alternate costumes by fulfilling certain conditions in the game. While these weren’t necessarily cheat codes, the things you needed to do were often non-intuitive to players at face value. Sometimes playing as another character was superficial, but playing as others could help you cheese the game completely. Shout out to Tekken 3‘s Gon for helping me smash through Tekken Force mode in about 20 minutes flat.
If these cheats appeared in Magazines or books, you could usually trust that they worked, but there were always those dodgy ‘Word of Mouth’ tips that kids would try and get you to waste your time doing.
If you use Strength on the truck next to the SS. Anne in Pokemon Blue, you can get Mew!
Random Kid From School
Possibly the most infamous of these ‘Word of mouth’ tips was the rumour you could play as the Villain Nitrus Oxide in Crash Team Racing if you best him on all the games tracks. You couldn’t by the way. I knew a few kids who managed this mammoth task, with nothing to show but sore thumbs and less time. I’m sure whichever evil person started this lie is probably stroking a cat and plotting world domination right about now…
These were more party pieces than serious tips. The kind of thing your mate would show you with glee when they would come round your house for tea after school. The Tomb Raiderseries had a few of these. There was a rumour in the ’90s that you could cheat and make Lara strip naked. Thinking back, this was probably something dreamt up by desperate men, but I’m pretty sure most ten-year-old kids just wanted to see if it was true.
Many were duped by a button combination, which was actually the ‘Exploding Lara’ cheat. This was pretty much what it sounds like. So instead, of Lara dropping her kit, players exploded.
You could also lock Lara’s Butler in the freezer. Ol’ Winston was programmed to follow you around Croft Manor in the Training Stage. All you had to do was walk into the Freezer, let him follow you in and then leg it out, locking the door behind you. We were twisted children back then, and Winston did need to cool off.
Walkthrough Cheats are pretty self-explanatory. Many older games had notoriously tricky bits to get past, so a short explanation of what to do was pretty useful. You wouldn’t usually need to read it though, because some kid would probably just trade you the knowledge for a Pokemon card, or something with equal Playground value.
A pretty popular one was how to locate all the coloured Gems in Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. Fortunately, I was the one who knew this in school. However, I never profited from any special Pokemon cards.
Level Skip Cheats
These were for the people who couldn’t be bothered to actually play the game, which kind of seems a bit pointless. Though thinking about it, this could potentially be compared to skipping an episode of a long TV show; like any episode of Star Trek with Lwaxana Troi or the entirety of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Back in 1997, we all learnt of the Super Password to get to the last level of Crash Bandicoot. I remember I was messing around with a friend who could type the whole thing from memory. Although, we were both surprised when it took us straight to the final level.
Someone was also kind enough to write a similar password in the manual of my second-hand copy of Croc: Legend of the Gobbos. However, this took away my bragging rights for ‘beating the game’ and lost me street cred with the cool kids who owned the aforementioned rare Pokémon cards.
We’ll Cheat Again
Cheats still exist in the modern gaming world. However, they aren’t the same. A lot of the mystery surrounding them is gone. A simple web search is all it takes to find everything you need to know.
I can’t imagine a childhood without the mystery of knowing whether cheats worked before I got home to pop the game in type them in or the 5 minutes of fame when I was the only kid who knew something no one else did. Hopefully, in some way, shape or form, something has come along and replaced cheats, so kids can gossip and deceive each other on the playground.