When was the last time you cheated in a video game? I’m not talking about downloading some trainer to help you do well in a title. Or suggesting you think about the time you grabbed a mod that bent the rules for you, letting you become some sort of gaming god. And I am definitely not discussing exploits caused by an inadvertent bug or glitch that suddenly made impossible things possible in a game due to developers messing up. I am talking about actual, official cheats left in by a developer.
It might have been a while. Why? Because it can sometimes feel like cheat codes are more of a retro thing. Back in the day, which is the 80’s and 90’s, various official exploits were everywhere. Developers went out of their way to add something special in their games. There were entire magazines (like CheatCC!) and books released that compiled all of these codes into one easy place, so you could grab that, leave it by your console, and immediately make your life a little more awesome. Those days are long gone, but does that mean cheat codes’ glory days are gone?
These exploits are something we will likely miss and yearn for more and more, now that we are in the microtransaction era. NBA 2K18 lets you pay real cash to progress. Forza 7 took its VIP pass and changed from a system that would give you a permanent switch in the options to increase your gains to temporarily Mods that will only provide that kind of boost for a limited number of uses. With money talking and both developers and publishers getting greedy, it means it can be difficult to still find opportunities to cheat our way through things.
But maybe the future isn’t entirely bleak. After all, some of these games are really great at holding their secrets. Sonic 3D Blast only just offered the revelation that jostling the Genesis while the cartridge is in will unlock a secret menu that lets you select specific levels. And this is a game from 1996! It took over 20 years for the arcade version of Mortal Kombat’s secret level to be discovered. That was quite a surprise. Developers buried secrets deep, and you never know when we could be surprised by some sort of new feature or cheat.
Besides, we still have some companies that take the whole notion of cheating rather seriously. Sonic Mania is a fantastic example. Tantalus Interactive and Sega went out of their way to include extras. There is a debug mode, which lets you alter levels on the fly. You can put together Knuckles & Knuckles mode. There is a level select. You can access all of these little extras, either by meeting objectives or using specific button inputs. It’s great and a reminder that these glory days might not be completely gone.
Cheats are wonderful things. It is disappointing that so few games offer these extras and exploits anymore. After all, there was nothing more satisfying than being in on a secret and temporarily feeling like a god when you knew the correct code. While sometimes it can feel like microtransactions are ruining everything or companies are abandoning such options, we still get some surprises. A few recent releases, like Sonic Mania, get it. And we’ll always have retro games with undiscovered options. Perhaps we could still find and savor such surprises.