Playing with Power: A cheat that stands the test of time

For gamers in their late 30s and early 40s, one of the most memorable aspects of the games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System is their brutal difficulty.

The concept of “Nintendo hard” didn’t come about until years after the game system’s original run, when players wanting to play the games their older siblings and parents played sat down and discovered the games were unforgiving.

Part of this is due to how games are developed and released now as opposed to 30 years ago. Games on those early home consoles were largely influenced by what was popular in arcades, with home versions of “Pac-Man,” “Space Invaders” and other hits being major sellers. This also means that a lot of those games retain the main aspect that made arcade owners large profits off those machines: an unforgiving difficulty level.


“Gradius” is one of a number of early space shooting games popular in the 80s. The gimmick for “Gradius” is that players have control over how they activate their power ups. Players choose when to speed up, equip missiles or lasers or even create energy balls called Options that would fire the same weapons active on the player’s ship, increasing their firepower. Originally released in arcades in 1985, the game was popular enough to warrant a release on Nintendo’s system.

“Gradius” is tough. Regardless of how powerful the ship is when it’s destroyed, the player will restart with their ship at its base speed and firepower and will be tasked with navigating through the area their previous ship was blown up in. Sometimes, it feels like a hopeless endeavor as the player’s lives are whittled away until the inevitable Game Over screen appears. That might be the reason for the game’s enduring legacy.

A programmer testing the Nintendo version of the game found it too difficult for him to play through and decided to add a secret code that would instantly give him all the ships’s abilities at any point in the game. The programmer then forgot to remove the code before the game was shipped, but figured players wouldn’t stumble upon the specific button inputs needed. He was wrong.

Named after the publishing company where the code originated, the Konami Code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A) is the most famous secret in video games. Dozens of games utilize variations of the original code to let players do anything from gaining 30 lives and skipping levels to unlocking fun Easter eggs that wouldn’t be available otherwise. Outside of video games, the code can be used on many popular websites as an in-joke. The code was even referenced in the Disney movie “Wreck It Ralph” as the password King Candy uses to access a hidden room.

“Gradius” might not be a name everyone is familiar with, but the game itself has become a timeless example of arcade space shooters. Beyond that, the code it popularized is a small pop-culture phenomenon itself. Because sometimes all you want to do is get to the good stuff as fast as possible.


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