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Friday, January 9, 2009

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

f you’re a gamer and haven’t heard of this famous button sequence, you likely fall into one of two categories: one, you’ve got a problem with lying, or two, you’ve got some sort of amnesia going on… and you might want to get that checked out. Or maybe you’re just really good at Contra.

First executed on an NES game (not Contra!) developed by Konami in 1986, the Konami code (and slight variances of it) can now be inputted in more than 125 different computer, video, and
arcade games—some of which aren’t even developed by Konami, the company that created the code in the first place! At first the Konami code was strictly used to grant your character something very beneficial, such as weapon power-ups or a boatload of extra lives, but over time, the special button configuration has served other purposes, like providing humorous easter eggs that could only be discovered by inputting the Up-Up-Down-Down at certain times in the game. And it may or may not leave your character in nothing but his underwear. What!? The code has even reached pop culture, appearing in comics, TV shows, music, tattoos and more.

Game Informer attempts to recognize the Konami code and discover its origins. Who made it? Why was it made? What are the coolest uses of the code? How popular has it become? And for the love of 30 lives, if the code wasn’t first seen in Contra, what game used it first?

Because Contra was one of the more popular NES titles in the day and basically required the Konami code for the average player to complete (the code granted 30 lives from the start, instead of three), most people associate the code’s existence with it. In reality though, the Konami code first appeared in Gradius in 1986, two years before Contra.

Although Contra is most known for using the Konami code, Gradius was the first game to use it

Gradius was a horizontally scrolling shooter by Konami first released for arcade in 1985. Developing the home port of the game for NES, designer Kazuhisa Hashimoto found the build too difficult to play during testing. So, Hashimoto created a code that gave the player a full set of juiced-up weapons without the hassle of acquiring the power-up items during play. The code was left in the final program of the game, and the rest is history. Every subsequent Gradius game used the code in some way or another.

As mentioned, well over 100 other games use the button combination as well, involving slight differences in its input. For example, Contra: Shattered Soldier for PS2 requires you to enter Up, Up, Down, Down, L1, R1, L2, R2, L3, R3 on the second controller to start the game with 30 lives. But let’s talk about some of the more interesting uses of the Konami code.

In Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance for GBA, entering the code when the Konami logo appears at the title screen allows you to choose Boss Rush to play as Simon Belmont, and the game gets a complete facelift, featuring music, animations, and subsequent gameplay mechanics from the original Castlevania on NES. In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on PS2, entering the sequence at the end of the game has the main character, Snake, barking, “STOP FOOLIN’ AROUND KID!” At the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for PS2, Snake confirms “One More to Go…” referring to the fourth and final installment in the series on PS3.

In Silent Hill 3 for PS2 and PC, entering the code at the title screen after beating the game will cause Douglas Cartland, a supporting character, to appear in his underwear in each cut scene. There are a number more of hilarious consequences for using the code, like it causing your main character to self destruct in Contra 4 if you use the code more than once per level to power-up your guns or in the Dog-developed NES title 3-D World Runner, a message pops up that exclaims, “I AM NOT KONAMI.” The code can even be used in Google Reader of all things, enabling a different background color for the left-hand navigation and updating all unread counts to 30 (a homage, no doubt, to Contra’s 30 lives). You know the code has reached pop culture when Google starts using it.

The Code grants 10 extra lives in Turtles in Time for SNES and restores 25 health points to your suit in Half Life 2 on Xbox

The Konami code has become so recognizable now that it’s made appearances in music, on T-shirts, on TV and more. In the 2008 Spike TV Video Game Awards, proudly displayed on the bright-light jumbo screen alongside the likes of Pac-man and Mario 1-Up mushrooms was the famous “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.” At one point in his opening monologue of the show, host Jack Black screams the famous button configurations out loud to “defeat” the evil “boss” that stood in his way. Exclaiming the code granted Black a special weapon power-up that allowed him to shoot sparks from his… well… umm, let’s just say Black was wearing only underwear and the boss stood no chance. (He could have covered up a little bit with one of the many shirts available online that further immortalizes the cheat.)

The Industrial Gothic video game-influenced band, The Gothsicles, attributed an entire track to the code used in Contra. The song, Konami Code IV, can be heard on their MySpace page in all its repetitive, yet strangely catchy glory. Other (slightly more disturbing) musical endeavors of the famous code, complete with video, can be found online as well.

Many, many more appearances of the code can be found
elsewhere, such as in comics, as tattoos, and on the backs of bathroom stalls nationwide. It’s everywhere. And it can only get bigger and bigger. Don’t be surprised if that last game you bought uses the code as well. In fact, if any game is proving too difficult for you, follow these three simple steps:

1. Pause the game by pressing Start
2. Enter Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A
3. Press Start again to resume play

Doing this might give you the lives or weapons you need to beat the game.

But if you self-destruct, don’t tell us we didn’t warn you.