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32 Cheat Codes
Game Genie Evolves the Cheat Code
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on December 25, 2016   |   Episode 32 (Show Archive)  

Welcome to the 32 Dangerous Cheat Codes, a brand new series that will run daily between November 24 and December 25. Join us as we discuss the hazardous ramifications of some of your favorite cheat codes. Today we're taking a look at the Game Genie, the controversial add-on that took cheat codes to the next level. We go through the history of the Game Genie, including what magazine readers were saying at the time. All this and more on the series finale of the 32 Dangerous Cheat Codes.

Most games from the 1980s and 90s offered at least one cheat code. Some offered more, but a large majority had a minimum of one level select, infinite lives trick or sound test. This was enough for some people, but not everybody. In an era full of impossibly-hard shoot-em-ups and frustrating platformers, gamers wanted to take control and play the games on their own terms. The 1990s player wasn't going to settle for just one or two flimsy cheats, they wanted it all.

Coming six years after the Nintendo Entertainment System launched in North America, Game Genie promised gamers the power they always dreamed of. By plugging in this huge, golden chunk of plastic, you could enter codes to make Mario jump higher, run in the air, play new stages and even get reduced down to simple letters and numbers. This simple device opened up old games in new ways, offering the kinds of cheats the developers never intended you to see.

The whole thing was the brainchild of Codemasters, a company known for skirting Nintendo's rules with unlicensed games like Bee 52, Big Nose Freaks Out and Fantastic Dizzy. Knowing they had something special on their hands, the company sold the rights to both Galoob and Camerica to distribute throughout North America. It caught the attention of every gamer with an 8-bit NES, along with Nintendo's very busy legal team.

You have to remember that this was an era when Nintendo had a reputation for being a bit litigious. Many magazines had already mocked the company for suing video game rental chains, and this Genie Genie feud felt like more of the same. Nintendo's Howard Lincoln argued that the Game Genie "creates derivative works. It not only alters Nintendo games, infringes on copyrights, but can make them less fun, too easy to play." His concern was that many gamers would opt to simply rent games rather than buy them, especially if they knew they could go through the whole thing in a single sitting.

Nintendo sued, effectively keeping the product off store shelves in the United States. This was not the case in Canada, where Camerica seized on the opportunity by running ads thanking the country for their hospitality. Of course, all this did was drive up demand, giving the Game Genie millions of dollars in free exposure.

It also became a hotly contested topic in classic game magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro. Many saw the need for the device, especially when it came to giving older titles some new life. Most of the letters pushed back at the idea that they would buy fewer games, with many saying it might actually give them a reason to buy more games. The freedom to play these games in new ways is appealing, especially when you're spending that much money on a two hour adventure.

Going back and reading through the letters now, I'm surprised by how many people were strongly against the product on principle. Not just that they wouldn't buy it, but that it would be bad for the games industry. Some predicted this type of thing could even lead to another game crash, much like the one that happened in the early 1980s.

By the end of 1991, U.S. District Court Judge Fern Smith ruled against Nintendo, thus freeing the way to U.S. sales of the Game Genie. This came as good news for the millions of gamers waiting to get their hands on the cheat device, but not before the water had been poisoned. Thanks to the legal issues and secrecy surrounding the controversy, rumors started to take hold. You would often see gamers making the argument that the Game Genie could ruin your games, despite no evidence backing up those claims.

With the success of the NES device, we saw Galoob quickly come out with versions for the Game Boy, Genesis and Super NES. This also led to a number of Game Genie clones, including the Pro Action Replay and Game Shark. This was a golden age for console gamers looking to mod their favorite carts.

For me, it's not the level select or infinite lives tricks that stand out, but how many of the codes verged on being completely broken. Everything would look and act normal, but a few things would be off. And then everything would go crazy and the game as you knew it ceased to exist. This didn't necessarily make the games better, but it did make them memorable in some pretty psychedelic ways.

I have a hunch that's how I'm going to view 2016. Change one number and suddenly everything goes to shit in a million different ways, leading to a world that is barely recognizable. It's true, 2016 is one busted-ass Game Genie code of a year.


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