Friday, May 8, 2015

Papers, Please: I Know a Code

When the topic for May's Monthly Musings was decided upon, I got really excited. Being a man who is ever-so-desperately pretending he isn't about to turn 30 (actually, it's not that big of a deal), I have lots of fond memories of videogame magazines. I have a nice little collection of Nintendo Powers tucked under my television stand that I like to take out and peek at every so often, as well as a large bank of memories of staring at GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly. But magazines are not what I want to talk about today, at least not in the traditional sense.

I'm a collector of many things: Terminator, Simpsons, and wrestling memorabilia, and videogames. Okay, so, like four things, I suppose that still constitutes the use of the word "many." But one of the sub-genres of videogame merchandise that I collect is strategy guides. The only problem here is that I've already written in the past about my weird obsession with game guides, so how do I approach this without treading the same ground? By talking more generally and also by speaking about a specific type of strategy guide: the password/code book.

With the explosion of retro-styled indie games in recent years, the thing that continuously and tragically gets overlooked in these endeavors is the inclusion of codes. Axiom Verge gave you the ability to input the exact same code from Metroid and allow you to play as a sexy lady. I mean that literally, too. It's the exact same "Justin Bailey" code from Metroid. At least change it up a bit there, Tom. But before that unoriginal example, I can't even remember the last game I played where I used a series of button presses, whether from the menus or otherwise, that changed the game in any significant way.

Oh yeah, I remember now...

Lots of modern developers include perks and unlockables for use in their games (often always used as pre-order bonuses and paid DLC), but when was the last time a modern, top-tier game allowed you to skip to the final boss from the start menu like they did in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!? How awesome would it be if From Software made it possible for you to go right to the endgame from the very beginning of Bloodborne? It would be very awesome. That's how awesome it would be.

Every early issue of Nintendo Power included codes, maps, and revealed secrets that had previously gone undiscovered to all but the most elite of NES savants. Those tips and tricks sections (or "Classified Information" for the NP reader) shaped the way that I play games today. It was these few colorful pages that taught me to check around every corner and leave no stone unturned. It's the reason that any time an NPC says "follow me," I tune that garbage out and walk in the opposite direction, usually resulting in the acquisition of some sort of collectible.

But there's something to be said for a dedicated videogame password guide. The publisher of these books (whether written as a novel or in the traditional magazine format) did an incredible service for the children of the late 80s/early 90s. These books introduced me to the Konami Code, enabling me to finally ward off the hordes of the Red Falcon invasion. They proved to me that Battletoads continues past that first speeder-bike level.

Pictured: The most useless cheat sheet ever.

Unfortunately for me, the rise of the Internet became the death knell for codebooks. GameFAQS now provides tips and tricks for free, as well as a very active forum that answers any and all questions almost immediately. YouTube took it up a notch and not only tells you what to do, but shows you as well, leaving zero room for error.

I don't know which I'm lamenting more, the medium of password guides, or the loss of codes as a gaming concept. Either way, it's an era that we'll never see return, and an aspect of my life that I'll always cherish.

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