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The ‘Konami Code’ turns 35 years old

By Kara Santos Published Apr 27, 2021 5:00 pm

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A.

This iconic sequence of button presses known as the Konami Code, which first launched as part of Gradius for Nintendo's Famicom in Japan in 1986, turned 35 years old this week.

The well-known hidden command often spelled the difference between life and death in video games back in the '80s and has since achieved pop culture status, featuring in countless video games and other media.

Origins

The Konami Code originated as a cheat code to unlock secret features in a video game, usually making it easier to play.

The first-ever game to feature the Konami Code was Gradius for the NES, published by Japanese third-party developer Konami and released on April 25, 1986.

In the horizontally-scrolling shoot ‘em up game, the player controls a ship known as the Vic Viper to pick up weapons. Gradius is known for being one of the most notoriously difficult shooters where contact with anything other than the power capsules enemies drop meant instant death. If you pause the game and enter the hidden command "↑↑ ↓↓ ← → ← → BA", it activated several helpful power-ups that gave you a fighting chance.

The inventor of the Konami code, Kazuhisa Hashimoto, previously revealed in a 2003 interview that he created the code to make play-testing the game easier for him. While he sadly passed away in 2020 at the age of 61, his legacy lives on in over hundreds of video games and other media that reference the code.

Extra Lives

The Konami Code achieved its legendary status thanks to another Konami game called Contra, a run-and-gun shooter with satisfying two player co-op, released for the NES in 1988. 

Entering the Konami Code at Contra’s title screen just before starting the game granted players 30 extra lives, which most players badly needed to last long enough to play through the first few of the game's eight stages. The 30 extra lives would carry over the next three times you had to continue a level, giving you a total of 120 lives.

As reported by How to Geek, American audiences learned about the hidden command through Nintendo Power, a widely-distributed video game magazine owned by Nintendo itself, which introduced Contra’s Konami Code as part of its “Classified Information” column in its first issue in 1988, and the trick was passed around until it become a worldwide standard among young gamers everywhere.

Video games that use the code

Since its launch over three decades ago, the long and easy-to-remember command has become a fixture of virtually all of Konami’s releases following Gradius.

But it’s not just limited to NES games. The Konami Code has been used in various video games including non-Konami titles and modern day video game titles such as Bioshock Infinite, Fortnite, Rocket League and League of Legends.

Here are a few examples of the Konami Code’s usage in different video games.

  • Gradius (NES): The first to use the code. Pausing the game and entering the code activates all powerups except for Speed Up, Double, and Laser.
  • Contra (NES): Entering the code at the title screen gives the player 30 lives. If the two-player option is picked using the Select button before or after entering the code, both players will have 30 lives. In the Japanese version, the 30 lives code can be used alongside a stage select code exclusive to that version.
  • Gyruss (NES): If you enter the Konami Code in reverse order at the title screen (A, B, Right, Left, Right, Left, Down, Down, Up, Up), you’ll get 30 extra lives.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (GB): Pausing the game and entering the code will replenish the player's energy. This code will only work once per game.
  • Mario Party (N64): During player 1’s turn, pause the game with controller 2. Then, with controller 1,  input Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A and you’ll hear Toad’s shout. Then Press C-Left, and a debug menu will pop up.
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA): When the Konami logo appears, enter Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, and then choose Boss Rush mode. You’ll be able to play as Simon Belmont from the NES version of Castlevania.
  • Dance Dance Revolution 2ndRemix (PS): Entering the code on the Mode Selection Screen will unlock Super Mode.
  • Bioshock Infinite (Windows, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Switch): A variation of the Konami Code at the game's menu unlocks the challenging “1999 Mode” from the start.
  • Silent Hill Homecoming (PS3, Xbox 360): Entering the code during the main menu will unlock the costume young Alex. This version of him appears in the game during flashback cutscenes.
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Shield): Entering the code at the title screen unlocks the Very Hard and Revengeance difficulty settings, as well as unlocking every mission in the game. Raiden will announce the game's title if entered correctly.

Pop Culture Icon

Because a whole generation of gamers grew up with the Konami Code, it’s not surprising that it’s made its presence felt in different forms of media.

The Konami Code was previously used to access secret settings on Netflix, has been referenced by Amazon’s Alexa and featured in Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph movie. A Fisher-Price baby toy called the Game & Learn Controller also featured an Easter Egg of the code: When the code is entered, lights flash, and a voice says, “You Win!”

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Legendary code this year, Konami has released a 33-minute “lo-fi hip hop” music remix on YouTube, designed “for chill, study [or] relaxing beats”.  

The remix which shows a pilot chilling in space playing video games, features "chill" versions of music from Gradius, as well as Konami classics Yie Ar Kung-Fu, TwinBee’s Home Town Song, and Salamander. You can listen to it here.

Happy 35th anniversary to the Konami Code!

(Images via Konami)