Five of the Best is a weekly series about the incidental details we don’t celebrate enough. We’ve talked about all kinds of things so far from Game Over screens to Scares and Villains – there’s a whole Five of the Best archive if you’re interested. But there’s so much more to talk about too.
Five of the Best works like this. Various Eurogamer writers share memories and then you – probably outraged we haven’t included the thing you’re thinking of – can share that thing you’ve been thinking of in the comments below. Then we all have a lovely chat about it. Your collective memory has never failed to amaze us – don’t let it stop now!
No, no, I won’t do it, I won’t cheat, you can’t make me. I’m going to play this game properly and if it gets hard then so be it. That’s the challenge, that’s when I really learn the game. If I cut corners then what kind of player am I? But gosh this section is hard, I don’t think I can take dying again. Maybe I’ll just pop in one little code in to help…
We’ve all done it. Tell me you’ve never used a cheat code and I’ll call you a liar. But are they really so bad? Was typing PANZER to drop a tank on your location in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City really that bad? No! It’s hardly unfair to have a tank is it? Precisely. And aren’t cheat codes secretly what games charge us for in their stores these days anyway?
So here’s to cheat codes, those little developer hacks we don’t like to admit we can’t live without. And here are five of the best.
Blind-typing in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
When I arrived back from three months in Australia, many years ago, I had a broken heel and a broken wrist. I had been a silly boy and jumped off a roof. Both breaks were on the same side of my body, I should add, so I was only allowed one crutch and hobbled around like a pirate. It was a strong look. You should have seen my dad’s face when he picked me up at Heathrow.
Anyway, it meant I couldn’t do much that summer but stay in and play games (I’m sure there probably were other things I could do but I didn’t want to), and one of the games that kept me – and my lovely friend Tom, who kept popping round to see me – busy, was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. We loved it, pootling around 80s Miami getting into all kinds of trouble.
Pretty soon, though, trouble piled up and, well, GTA games can be really annoying sometimes so we reached for a bit of help. We cheated. We began blind-typing (we couldn’t see what we were writing) cheat phrases that would do all manner of wonderful things. “PANZER” to spawn a tank – it just fell out of the sky next to us. “GETTHEREFAST” to spawn a speedy Sabre Turbo. “BIGBANG” to blow up all vehicles nearby. (There’s a whole list of GTA: Vice City cheat codes elsewhere on Eurogamer but fair warning, some haven’t aged well.)
We got really good at typing them – hey, some weren’t easy! And I’ve got fond memories of us both knowing instinctively which phrases to deploy and when. Ah, that was a lovely summer.
Sheng Long in Street Fighter 2
There were a lot of fake Street Fighter 2 cheats floating around my school. I remember someone (could have been me, honestly, it was that long ago) claimed you could unlock the bosses – Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison – as playable characters. That was rubbish. Someone else (again, could have been me) told everyone there was a cheat code to get blood in the censored SNES version. Again, rubbish.
But one that definitely got me was Sheng Long. “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance,” Ryu would say after winning a match. What a troll. There was no Sheng Long. No cheat code to unlock him. And yet, I spent hours trying to.
I can’t remember exactly how I became aware of this infamous Street Fighter 2 hoax, but I think it originated from an import copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly, a US magazine the newsagent around the corner from my secondary school on Beulah Hill in South London would sell a couple of months late (I used to get so excited for EGM as it had screenshots for games we wouldn’t see sold in the UK for months, sometimes years).
In early 1992, EGM ran an April Fool’s article explaining how to unlock Sheng Long, complete with photoshopped screenshots. To unlock Sheng Long you had to beat all the computer players without taking a single pixel of damage. Then, when you got to evil boss M. Bison, you had to draw 10 rounds in a row without taking any damage. Do that, EGM said, and Sheng Long would appear on-screen, chuck M. Bison out of the arena and fight you. This was all, quite clearly, bollocks, but 11-year-old me didn’t realise it was a joke. I didn’t realise this joke was supposed to be about the arcade version of Street Fighter 2, either. I didn’t even realise Capcom changed the mistranslation in Ryu’s win quote from “Sheng Long” to “Dragon Punch” for the console release. I was 11.
But as people in my school claimed they’d managed to unlock Sheng Long by doing this cheat (the liars!), I tried my hand. I tried. And tried. And tried. And tried, for hours and hours and hours until my fingers literally bled on the SNES d-pad. Every now and then I’d get to M. Bison without taking any damage, but the bastard dictator would always nick a pixel off me, usually through cheap chip damage. I raged.
Eventually I gave up, and the Sheng Long hoax sort of just went away. But it got me. I could not defeat Sheng Long. I did not stand a chance.
Going west in Wonder Boy 3
Wonder Boy 3 was one of those crucial games that blew my mind – one of the rare games that pops up every now and then to tell you that everything you thought about the possibilities of video games has to be re-evaluated. It was an RPG that behaved like a platformer. Since platformers were linear, this was a revelation – a platformer in which you could go everywhere! I played it endlessly with my school friends. And there was a rumour in the playground about this cheat code for it.
“Type in West One” someone told me one day. The game used a password save system. Couldn’t be too hard? But what my friend and I heard was “Type in West 1.” So we did. Nothing. We retyped it. Retyped it again. And again.
Then we started adding ones. Or 1s. Anyway something magical happened. West 111111 worked. It’s a weird cheat – drops you about halfway through the game with a fair amount of loot and also casts you as Wonder Boy, who you don’t get to play as very often here. It’s not as good as West One, which drops you at the end of the game with everything.
But it felt special: it belonged to us, my friend Gareth and I. We found it. We were the only people who knew about it.
Years later I discovered that West One is actually Westone, the developer of the game. Years later than that a beautiful new version of the game came out. And West One still works! As does West 111111. An incredible feeling.
BTW, I think it was actually We5t One back in the day, because the system didn’t have an S.
I’ve got a confession to make: You know Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines? I cheated at it. I pulled down that console and typed ‘god’ and never looked back. It’s hardly my fault if they make it that easy to do, is it? Plus which, vampires kind of are gods, aren’t they? I don’t think it was unreasonable of me to try and role-play one that way (they’ll never buy it Bertie).
Truth is it’s not the first game I’ve done it in, either. God mode propelled me through a few games from what I can remember. Jedi Academy; Duke Nukem 3D; the Quakes. And that’s where it all started: Quake. By pulling down the console with the tilde key, or the key above TAB in my case, you could enter the code IDDQD and become invincible. This was quickly coined as “god mode” by the community and so the code became “god” ever since.
Ms Pac-Man and Galaga 20th Anniversary
Years ago, though of course it feels like a month or two at most, I had a gloriously tedious data-entry job in Brighton. I could pretend it was toil, but that kind of empty-headed typing gig has always brought me a certain kind of pleasure – I’m pretty empty-headed typing this right now – and even better there was another temp working with me called Stu who loved video games and actually got me back into the scene after a few years away from it all.
Every lunchtime Stu and I, and another colleague called Fi who wasn’t a temp but was allowed to come along anyway, would go down to one of the arcades on West Street. One of them had a 20th Anniversary Namco machine, Ms Pac-Man and Galaga on a single cabinet. We were terrible at these games but we’d each have a go, and we were soon fighting a couple of strangers for regular spots on the leaderboard.
Then Stu did a bit of research and discovered that if you entered a code with the joystick before you chose your game you could play the original Pac-Man. I gather – I may be wrong – that the original Pac-Man is nowhere near as good as Ms Pac-Man. But it had rarity – just playing it on the machine felt illicit. I would love to tell you that we ended up fighting over the scoreboard with the same strangers who regularly beat us at Galaga and standard Pac-Man, but I just can’t remember.
What I remember is that the first time Stu input the code and a new game appeared. It felt impossible, like a tiny 8-bit hole had been poked in the universe. And on the other side of that hole were pixels and dots and power pills.