The Konami Code - It Can Do Anything! (Almost)
Since the earliest days of video gaming, cheat codes have played a central role in both gameplay and wider gaming subcultures.
There is no shortage of culturally resonant and even iconic cheat codes that gamers the world over can recite from memory.
There is "rosebud", the money-generating cheat from the first Sims games.
There are the mind-bending cheats from the Grand Theft Auto game series, such as "Kangaroo" which allows your character to jump 100 feet in the air, or "BSXSGGC", which makes anything you touch explode instantly.
Then there is the instantly recognizable god mode cheat that runs across all Bethesda open world games, activated by simply opening up the text box and typing in "tgm".
While cheats of all stripes have had a significant impact on our cultural memory of video games, there is only one cheat code that stands head and shoulders above the rest, one that can confidently claim the status of being the most famous cheat code of all time.
We are talking, of course, about the Konami cheat code. This is the life-enhancing, strength boosting, level-clearing cheat code that is so well-known that it has been imported into literally hundreds of bestselling games.
But what is the Konami cheat code exactly? In its original and most widely-recognized format, the Konami cheat code goes as follows:
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A
This is the code that has saved millions of virtual lives, and helped countless gamers get through levels previously thought to be unbeatable. But what is the Konami code used for, specifically? For this, the answer is broad.
Ever since it landed on our controllers in 1986, when the NES shooter game Gradius became the first to use it, the code has evolved and adapted.
As we shall see further down below, the code has become so ubiquitous within gaming culture that it continues to be made available in games that the developer Konami has literally nothing to do with.
Enter the Konami code (or one of its close variations) into your keyboard or controller, and what you get depends entirely on the game you are playing. You might get some extra lives or health power. You might be gifted a turbocharged weapon.
You might be given the power to instantly vanquish an opponent, or spawn a new vehicle, or sink a battleship.
Sometimes, all you'll get is a pop-up box telling you to stop cheating. Whatever the result, the Konami code was and continues to be a treasured and self-referential piece of gaming culture, as well as an occasionally useful resource.
So how did the legendary Konami cheat code come to be?
History of the Konami Code
As you might have guessed, the cheat code first started appearing in games developed by the Japanese video gaming behemoth Konami, the studio responsible for smash-hit franchises such as Metal Gear, Silent Hill, and Castlevania.
More specifically, the Konami code first appeared in the 1986 NES shoot-em-up Gradius, in which you could pause the game and enter the code to instantly unlock various in-game power-ups.
However, the code did not reach mainstream renown until a year later, with the release of the futuristic war game Contra, one of the most iconic early PvP games to this day.
The game is notoriously difficult if you follow the story mode, which helped propel its reputation within gaming subcultures as an elite title.
To help lay-person players actually progress to the next level, the team at Konami decided to throw them a bone by including the Konami code, which instantly gives you 30 extra lives if you enter the code at the starting menu.
The buzz and lore around the Konami code began to gather pace later that year, when Nintendo included it in the "classified information" column of Nintendo Power Magazine, a monthly gamer guide that was a cult hit among serious players.
From this point on, NES players began to treat the Konami code as sacred text, and it wasn't long before t-shirts, mugs, hoodies, and posters emblazoned with the code began to proliferate across Japan, North America, and beyond.
The savvy team at Konami quickly caught on and decided to incorporate the code into all of their prestige game releases in the subsequent years.
In the immediate years following the runaway success of Contra, NES blockbusters such as Life Force (1987), Nemesis (1990), and Parodius! From Myth to Laughter (1991) all contained the Konami code, cementing its position as a mainstay of gamer culture.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Konami Games That Use the Code
So, what is the Konami code used for? To illustrate this, it's worth looking at the Konami titles that are most well-known for including the code in creative and often contradictory ways.
Dance Dance Revolution
The world's most famous arcade dance game, one that has caused countless twisted limbs to collapse under the weight of routines that require superhuman agility and flexibility.
You might wonder how one could incorporate the Konami code into a game like Dance Dance Revolution, but the team at Konami certainly did a good job, with the code appearing in nearly all of the releases in this franchise.
In the second release of the series, entering the code on the title menu will unlock a secret "super mode" that is exceptionally difficult. In the 5th version, the code unlocks new pictures and characters.
In Extreme, the code is actually embedded in the song Twin Bee, allowing you to stamp it out in real time to the beat.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The TMNT franchise has always been self-referential and tongue-in-cheek, and its use of the Konami code in most of the Nintendo releases is a testament to this sense of humor.
In Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy only), the code will replenish your energy to 100% when used, but it can only ever be used once in the entire game.
Meanwhile, other games prefer you use the code to make you the butt of the joke. In The Manhattan Project, entering the code will display a pop-up message from Konami that reads "thank you for purchasing this game" in Japanese.
Likewise, TMNT: The Arcade Game simply triggers the audio "cowabunga!" whenever you use the code. Hey, we didn't say the Konami code was always useful.
The blood-curdling Silent Hill franchise is one of Konami's most revered and commercially successful creations, so it should come as no surprise that the Konami code appears frequently throughout the series.
While the Konami code does actually give you something in Silent Hill, the utility of what you get is up for debate.
In Silent Hill: Homecoming, entering the code before you launch the game will transform the character Alex into a younger version of himself from the earliest games, who will appear in all cutscenes.
Meanwhile, if you beat the game once and then enter the code in Silent Hill 3, the character of Douglas will appear in his underwear in every cutscene. Whether that is a genuinely useful cheat is in the eye of the beholder.
The Konami Code in Other Games
Given the near-legendary status attributed to the Konami code in wider gaming culture, it should come as no surprise that the code has been appropriated by other gaming studios and added to titles across all genres and consoles.
Of course, the code has often needed to be adapted for its new terrain (for example, the "A" in the code is usually replaced with "X" for Xbox games). Nonetheless, other gaming empires have done their piece to keep the code alive.
Here are some great examples of the Konami code in non-Konami games:
The BioShock series has garnered a keen following among series gamers for the retro game easter eggs you can find in all of the instalments. Probably the most famous such nod to gaming culture is the use of the Konami code in the 2013 release Bioshock Infinite.
Enter the code during the title menu and the game will automatically boot up the so-called "1999 mode", which is a retro version of the story mode that is more difficult than any of the existing difficulty settings.
Good old Crash, everyone's favorite bandicoot. One of the most iconic and enduring stalwarts of gaming culture, several games in the Bandicoot empire make ample use of the Konami code.
For example, in Crash Bandicoot: Warped, the code will unlock a secret Spyro the Dragon level that you can access via the title screen. Meanwhile, entering the code in the N.Sane Trilogy will unlock hidden trailers for upcoming Spiro games.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
While cheat codes are quickly rigidly banned in online PvP games like Fortnite in the interest of fairness, an exception can be made for something as iconic as the Konami code.
During the recent Season X event, anyone who entered the Konami code in Fortnite during a specific 36-hour period could online a hidden minigame in which the Durr Burger character must fight his way out of a black hole, with your help.
Just Dance 3
In a thoughtful and humorous homage to the use of the Konami code in the early Dance Dance Revolution series, the team being Just Dance 3 decided to include a version of the code for their players.
If you enter the code during the title screen, you can unlock an "extreme" version of the Duck Sauce song 'Barbara Streisand', should you wish to take it on.
Dead by Daylight
The chaotic horror survival game Dead by Daylight is essentially a tribute to the most famous characters in the history of horror games, with Resident Evil's Nemesis, Silent Hill's Executioner, and various monsters from Left4Dead all making an appearance.
Given the inclusion of Konami's Silent Hill canon into the mix, it only makes sense that the devs would sneak in the Konami code at some point.
Enter the code when playing as one of the Silent Hill characters and the music will switch to the theme music from Gradius, the first NES game to use the code. You will also be gifted with a charm that you can equip to boost your health and powers.
The Konami Cheat Code in Popular Culture
Unsurprisingly, the Konami code has broken out from the confines of gamer culture and has made an appearance in various parts of wider pop culture over the decades.
The examples are too numerous to list in full, but there are some that are definitely worthy of honorable mention.
The code is spoken as a song lyric in several pop songs, including tracks from Deftones, The Moldy Peaches, and Technicolor.
Meanwhile, the code is used as a gag in several TV shoes, with Family Guy, Archer, and The Amazing World of Gumball all dropping a reference to the code in the script.
While the actual usefulness of the Konami code in most games is questionable, it remains an important cultural touchstone for gamers of all generations.
It's a fun, self-referential, and oftentimes touching tribute to an earlier, simpler era of gaming. We can't wait to see where the code appears next.