Friday, March 22, 2024

10 of the Most Iconic Cheat Codes of the 8-bit & 16-Bit Video Game Eras

The golden age of 8-bit and 16-bit gaming was not only defined by groundbreaking gameplay and storytelling but also by the secrets hidden within these classic games. Among these secrets, cheat codes stand out as a fascinating aspect of gaming culture, offering players new ways to experience their favorite games. From granting invincibility to unlocking hidden levels, these codes have left an indelible mark on the hearts and memories of gamers worldwide. Here are 10 of the most iconic cheat codes from the 8- and 16-bit eras, each a key to unlocking part of gaming's rich history.

1. Konami Code (Contra/Gradius) - The Konami Code first appeared in Gradius but gained legendary status with Contra, where it granted players 30 extra lives. This sequence of Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A became an iconic cheat, transcending the world of gaming to become a part of pop culture lore. It's celebrated for making tough games more accessible and for its sheer memorability. Today, the Konami Code represents a universal symbol of gaming secrets and Easter eggs, even appearing on T-shirts and other merchandise.

2. Super Mario Bros. (NES) - Infinite Lives Trick - Discovering the trick to gain unlimited lives in Super Mario Bros. felt like unlocking a secret of the gaming universe. By exploiting a glitch with a Koopa shell in World 3-1, players could secure endless lives, empowering them to tackle the game's challenges without fear of running out. This trick became a staple of playground lore, a testament to the ingenuity of gamers. It reflects the deep-seated human desire to find and share secrets, a trait that unites players across generations.

3. Mortal Kombat (Sega Genesis) - Blood Code - The A, B, A, C, A, B, B code unlocked the game's signature blood effects on the Sega Genesis, directly challenging the era's concerns over video game violence. This not only preserved the game's gritty aesthetic but also sparked important conversations about censorship and creative expression in video games. The Blood Code is emblematic of the era's cultural battles, remembered for its role in the establishment of the ESRB video game rating system.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sega Genesis) - Debug Mode - Sonic 2's Debug Mode offered an unprecedented peek behind the curtain, allowing players to manipulate levels in real-time. Entering Sound Test: 19, 65, 09, 17 unlocked this mode, where creativity and curiosity led to endless fun. This cheat not only enhanced replay value but also fostered a deeper appreciation for game design among the player base. Debug Mode in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 remains a prime example of how cheats can open up new ways to interact with video games.

5. Street Fighter II (Various Platforms) - Play as the Same Character - This code broke the mold by allowing both players to choose the same fighter, adding a new twist to competitive play. It illustrated the game's flexibility and the developers' openness to fan experimentation. Such innovations deepened the game's strategy and replayability, making every match a unique experience. This cheat remains a beloved memory for fans of the franchise, a nod to the creativity and camaraderie that define the gaming community.

6. Metroid (NES) - Justin Bailey - A pivotal moment in late ‘80s gaming lore emerged with the revelation that Samus Aran, the protagonist of Metroid, was, in fact, a woman upon completing the game. Completing it in under three hours rewarded players with an ending where Samus appeared in a simple pink leotard, defying expectations. Inputting the password "Justin Bailey" granted players control of Samus in a revealing one-piece swimsuit, alongside her power-ups, departing from her iconic Power Suit. The etymology of "Justin Bailey" remains an enigma, not tied to any known creator, perpetuating the mystery surrounding this iconic cheat code.

7. The Legend of Zelda (NES) - Second Quest - Entering ZELDA as a new save file name unlocked an entirely new adventure, doubling the game's content. This early example of a "new game plus" mode challenged players to rethink their strategies in a familiar yet altered Hyrule. It was a groundbreaking feature that showcased the developers' commitment to providing players with lasting value and challenges. The Second Quest is revered for its innovation, adding layers of depth and replayability to an already rich game.

8. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (NES) - Direct to Tyson - The code 007-373-5963 became legendary for skipping directly to the final challenge: Mike Tyson. This not only allowed players to practice against the game's toughest opponent but also became a rite of passage for many. It demonstrated the game's cultural impact, with the final fight against Tyson becoming a shared goal and achievement within the gaming community. The ability to jump straight to the bout with Tyson transformed how players engaged with the game, turning what could have been a lengthy journey through the ranks into an immediate test of skill and reflexes.

9. Final Fantasy III (SNES) - Vanish/Doom Trick - The combination of Vanish and Doom spells in Final Fantasy III allowed players to defeat almost any enemy with ease. This strategy, straddling the line between a cheat and a glitch, showcased the game's complex mechanics and depth. It became a piece of gaming folklore, a clever tactic passed among players to conquer the game's most formidable challenges. This trick is a symbol of the communal nature of gaming, where sharing knowledge enhances the experience for all.

10. Aladdin (Sega Genesis) - Level Skip - By pausing the game and entering A, B, B, A, A, B, B, A, players could leap forward, bypassing troublesome levels. This code provided a lifeline for gamers eager to see Aladdin's story unfold without getting stuck. It exemplifies how cheat codes can tailor the gaming experience to individual player needs, ensuring that the magic of the game's narrative and design could be enjoyed by all, regardless of skill level.

What is your favorite cheat code? Let me know in the comments!


Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Sims Franchise Leaps to the Big Screen: Margot Robbie Takes the Helm as Producer


In an exciting development for fans of the iconic life simulation video game series, The Sims is set to make a transition from gaming platforms to the silver screen. Spearheading this ambitious project is none other than Margot Robbie, the Australian actress renowned for her roles in such blockbuster hits as Barbie, I, Tonya and Birds of Prey. Hopefully, her involvement suggests a strong interest in bringing the complex, vibrant world of The Sims to life and will be a project filled with the creativity that the series is known for.

Since its debut in 2000, The Sims franchise has entertained millions with its unique blend of life simulation and gameplay, allowing players to create and manipulate virtual people, known as Sims, in a variety of settings and scenarios. Its popularity has spanned numerous sequels and expansions, each adding layers of complexity and engagement to the immersive world. The leap to a feature film represents a new frontier for the franchise, one that offers both challenges and exciting possibilities in translating the essentials of the game to a narrative film format.

Known for her versatility and dedication to her craft, Robbie's involvement is a promising indicator of the project’s ambition and the team's desire to capture the game's spirit. The film's premise, while still under wraps, is speculated to explore the themes of creativity, control, and the simulation of life, central to the game's appeal. The challenge lies in adapting a title known for its open-ended gameplay and the absence of a traditional storyline into a cohesive and engaging movie that people will enjoy.

The project should prove to be a fascinating experiment in video game adaptations, a genre that has seen mixed success—to say the least—in the past. The key could lie in The Sims' inherently narrative-driven gameplay, which has always encouraged players to tell stories through their Sims' lives. This aspect offers fertile ground for a film, potentially allowing for a rich, character-driven story that captures the game's essence while providing a new, standalone experience for audiences.

As the film is in the early stages of development, details about the cast, director, and specific plot points remain eagerly anticipated by fans. What’s hoped for by video game fans is that Robbie and the creative team behind The Sims movie are poised to redefine what a video game adaptation can be. By focusing on the thematic core of the game, the filmmakers could transcend the traditional boundaries of the genre, offering a fascinating glimpse into the simulated lives of its characters.

For fans of the The Sims, those who barely know what the game is, and everyone in between, let’s hope the movie will be a compelling exploration of life, creativity, and the endless possibilities that define the human experience—both virtual and real.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Celebrating 25 Years+ As a Freelance Writer

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. At least as far back as I can remember. And last year, I celebrated 25 years of being a professional in my chosen field.

My interest in books, reading, writing, and the like goes back to when I was a little kid and would read anything we had lying around the house, whether it was the children’s books in my room—Billy Goat’s Gruff, Flat Stanley, and Charlotte’s Web immediately come to mind—to the more grownup stuff in the living room, including a pair of encyclopedia sets: a standard edition and one based on science. And I absolutely LOVED the Guinness Book of World Records; I would pour over that thing for hours, marveling at all the freaks, geeks, and amazing feats. I still remember the name of the world’s tallest man—Robert Wadlow!

My mom, who introduced me to writers like Tom Tryon and Mary Higgins Clark, would take me to used bookstores, where I bouight as many Peanuts paperbacks as I could afford, as well as comic books. We also went to thrift stores. I distinctly remember buying a stack of Mad magazines at Thrift Town for 10-cents each—a bargain even back then.

Mom let me order three items per month from the Scholastic Book Club. I always selected Dynamite Magazine—a pop culture treasure trove of fun celebrity profiles, cartoons, puzzles, etc.—and two books, usually a non-fiction title like Ripley’s Believe it or Not or Strange But True Tales and a novel. This is how I discovered the greatness of H.G. Wells. War of the Worlds is the first “grownup” novel I remember reading. Later, I got into Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, and too many others to count.

In short, I was a veracious reader from a young age, which played a big role in my opening a pair of comic book stores with my brother-in-law during the early ‘90s and later working at Waldenbooks. During my stint at Waldenbooks, which was a lot of fun—I got to hang out with Charlton Heston, Richard Simmons, Waylon Jennings, and other celebrities during autographings—I tried writing fiction, which was met with limited success. I had a few short stories published in small press magazines, I got a hand-written letter of rejection from The New Yorker asking me to submit more stories, and I was a quarter-finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard Writer’s of the Future Contest. This was an interesting and fun time of creativity, but it hardly paid the bills. (I’ve since collected these stories in a book called The Arcade and Other Strange Tales.)

In 1997, my aforementioned brother-in-law emailed me a want-ad from a company looking for people to write about video games for such vintage consoles as the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Commodore 64, as well as for what were then newer systems like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. This began my association with the All Media Guide, the company behind the All Music Guide and the late, lamented All Game Guide, which was an amazing website dedicated to describing, reviewing, and cataloging every video game ever published for every console, handheld, and computer in the history of forever. I was dumbfounded that I actually got paid real money to write about old (and new) video games.

Oh, did I not mention that I’m into video games? I’ve been gaming since 1975 when I discovered Pong and Midway’s Gun Fight at the local bowling alley, and I’ve been collecting since way before retro gaming was considered cool. During the 1990s, you could find tons of older games for pennies on the dollar at garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets, and discount bins at various retail stores. Working for the All Game Guide kicked my collecting bug into overdrive. After all, video games were both research and a tax write-off!

In addition to cranking out a ton of game synopses and reviews, I became an editor with the All Game Guide. I also began writing for the Comic’s Buyer’s Guide (which older readers may remember as The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom), as well as other publications. Between these writing gigs and selling stuff on eBay, I was able to quit my job at Waldenbooks and work at home, which was awesome: I was living the dream! And changing a lot of dirty diapers as our kids—Ryan and Katie--were little at the time. Speaking of family time, my wife Charis—a high school English teacher—was a HUGE help during this point in my writing career. She’s a fantastic writer and editor in her own right and would look over my work on a regular basis, offering all kinds of great advice for polishing up my prose.

Writing steadily for the All Game Guide and the Comics Buyer’s Guide helped me hone my craft to the point where I was ready to write a book. In 2006, I went to San Diego Comic-Con, where I met an editor with McFarland Publishers. I left a business card, and three days after I got home, they emailed, asking if I had any interesting book ideas. This contact and my fascination with reference volumes and electronic entertainment led to my Classic Home Video Games series, the first installment of which came out in 2007—right around the time retro gaming started becoming super mainstream. Later, I wrote more books, including some for Schiffer Publishing, such as the Omnibus books and my newest, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998.

In 2009, I wrote my first cover feature for AntiqueWeek, where I have a pop culture column. My friend—former AntiqueWeek contributing writer Rick Kelsey—gave me contact info for the paper, which is obviously still going strong. My first AW article was about video games (the Atari 2600, in this case), but I’ve written about countless other topics related to collecting. In 2010, I started a near-decade-long career as a freelancer for a major metropolitan newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I loved that job, but they downsized like so many publications during the past few years and now rarely use freelancers for entertainment-related articles.

The past two-and-a-half decades have been hugely gratifying careerwise. At least most of the time. Writing articles for Game Informer, Filmfax, Fangoria, Robot, Native Peoples, Back Issue, Alter Ego, and other mainstream publications has been a dream come true. I’ve interviewed numerous celebrities. I called Adam West, and he answered the phone, “Hello. Batcave.” I had an argument with William Shatner. I’ve been on tons of press junkets, getting wined and dined at museum galas and restaurant and bar openings. Getting press passes to comic book conventions is always fun. Even better is being invited to video game conventions across the country as a guest author, YouTuber, and panelist.

It’s been a good run, but I’m far from finished. These days, I’m cataloging video games and writing blog posts for Heritage Auctions, as well as continuing to do my own stuff. I hope to keep at it in one form or another for another 25 years!

As always, thanks for reading! And thanks for your support!

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Atari 2600 Game Review - Squeeze Box (1982) by US Games

Squeeze Box

Atari 2600

Publisher: US Games. Developer: James Wickstead Design Associates.

Genre: Action


Squeeze Box for the Atari 2600 intrigued me right from the start, offering a concept reminiscent of the MCP level of the classic Tron arcade game from 1982. In Tron, players face off against the Master Control Program, breaking through rotating walls in a colorful environment. Squeeze Box attempts to capture a similar vibe, placing players, as a jailbird, in a claustrophobic scenario where the walls literally close in on them from the sides. Despite the potential excellence, Squeeze Box falls far short of delivering the well-balanced and strategic gameplay that made the MCP level of Tron a favorite.

The protagonist is significantly larger than most characters found in Atari 2600 games. This size aspect adds an interesting dynamic but also contributes to the game's imbalance. The prisoner is trapped in a continuously shrinking jail cell, with the goal being to shoot at the walls to create an escape route before being crushed. Conceptually, this setup is engaging and should offer players a tense, strategic challenge. However, the execution leaves much to be desired.

One of the main issues with Squeeze Box is the lack of balance in gameplay. As the walls inexorably close in, players quickly find themselves in situations that feel cheap and unavoidable. Unlike Tron, where skillful maneuvering and timing provide a fighting chance, Squeeze Box soon puts players in positions where any escape attempt is futile—it goes from easy to impossible with not much in between. This feeling of helplessness detracts from the overall experience, making the game feel more frustrating than fun.

Moreover, the game suffers from a lack of strategic depth. In superior games, even when the action becomes frantic, there remains a sense of control—a belief that a clever strategy or a well-timed move can turn the tide in the player's favor. Unfortunately, Squeeze Box lacks these moments of strategic brilliance. The gameplay devolves into a doomed scramble to shoot at walls, with little room for tactical decision-making or foresight. Arcade-style games inherently make you feel like you are doomed, but the better ones give you a fighting chance, or at least trick you into thinking you can survive.

Squeeze Box tantalizes with its concept but ultimately disappoints in its execution. The potential for a compelling, strategy-based challenge is undermined by unbalanced gameplay and a lack of meaningful strategic options. The comparison to the MCP level of Tron highlights what Squeeze Box could have been—a game where skill and strategy lead to satisfying victories against daunting odds. Instead, players are left feeling that their fate is more often dictated by the game's brokenness than their own actions. While Squeeze Box may hold some nostalgic appeal or curiosity for Atari 2600 collectors, it does not stand up as a nicely programmed example of the system's capabilities. What a missed opportunity…

Friday, March 8, 2024

The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998 Writer Spotlight - Patrick Hickey Jr.

Back in 2017, Patrick Hickey Jr. sent me a DM, asking if I wanted to write the foreword for his forthcoming book, The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers. He was a pro introducing himself and told me that my 2016 book, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, inspired him to write a book of his own. Better yet, the book was going to be released by McFarland Publishers, the company that published my Classic Home Video Games series. Needless to say, I was incredibly flattered and happily agreed.

In the intervening years, I’ve gotten to know Patrick and discovered him to be a big personality with a big heart and an even bigger desire to succeed as an author, a professor, and, most importantly, as a good husband to his wife and a caring and attentive father to his two kids. Via speaking with him in person and observing his (many) social media posts, it’s clear that he gets his kids involved in his projects and makes sure they know why he works so hard—it’s for them. It’s also to leave a legacy behind. And to be sure that many of the unsung heroes in the video game biz—namely the developers and programmers—get the credit they deserve.

One of the coolest things about Patrick is that he loves to support other content creators by encouraging them, sharing their successes and posts, and collaborating with them. He wants his friends and other content creators he respects to succeed; he’s pretty much the opposite of a gatekeeper. He sees the retro gaming community as just that—a community. He’s a positive force in this business, which is nice considering all the ridiculous drama that occurs.

I’ll always be thankful for my friendship with Patrick and the fact that he wrote a pair of awesome essays for my latest book, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games:1988–1998. Thanks, Pat! See you on Facebook and at a future convention!

Monday, March 4, 2024

Top 5 Reasons Retro Video Games Have Gotten Expensive: An Historical Perspective

Top 5 Reasons Retro Video Games Have Gotten Expensive

The escalating prices of retro video games have sparked excitement, frustration, and widespread bewilderment over the years. This intriguing rise in the value of classic games is more than a fleeting trend; it's an historical journey worth exploring. Delving into this phenomenon reveals a wide array of factors that have propelled these plastic pieces of old technology to the status of prized collectibles, along the lines of coins, stamps, trading cards, and comic books. Let’s explore five key reasons behind this evolution—beyond the fact that many retro video games are still a ton of fun to play and offer unique experiences—shedding light on why video games have become treasured collectibles and not “just” entertainment.

1. The Rise of Fanzines

In the early 1990s, the gaming community saw the debut of fanzines like Atari 2600, Digital Press, and Slap-Dash, dedicated to the celebration and discussion of retro video games. Along with reviews, nostalgic stories, and the like, these publications sometimes included cartridge listings and rarity/price guides, serving as an early form of market analysis for collectors and enthusiasts. By cataloging and assigning value to games, these fanzines—and books, namely the Digital Press Collector’s Guides—laid the groundwork for the collectible market, instilling a sense of rarity and worth among previously overlooked titles. This early documentation and valuation of games have played a significant role in shaping the perceived value of vintage games today. While many gamers of this era viewed outdated video games as junk (old consoles and cartridges in fine working condition were routinely thrown in the trash), a collector’s market was emerging.

2. The Advent of Retro Gaming Conventions

The late 1990s marked the birth of retro gaming conventions, with events like the Northwest Classic Gamers Enthusiasts meetups, which evolved into the Portland RetroGaming Expo, and the Classic Gaming Expo, originally called World of Atari, setting the stage. These gatherings brought together hobbyists, collectors, vendors, and developers, creating a vibrant marketplace for buying and selling retro video games. The communal experience of sharing passion and knowledge about older titles and consoles contributed significantly to the increased interest in retro gaming. As demand grew, so did the prices, fueled by the competitive spirit, the desire to own a piece of one’s childhood, and the endless endorphin rush of filling holes in the collection. Today, some of the bigger retro gaming cons, such as Classic Game Fest in Austin, Game On Expo in Phoenix, and Too Many Games in Philadelphia, each host more than 10,000 attendees. PRGE is still going strong, and you can’t have this conversation without mentioning the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee.

3. The Impact of eBay and Online Sales

The advent of eBay, initially launched as AuctionWeb in 1995, revolutionized the way retrogames were bought and sold. This platform allowed sellers and buyers from across the globe to connect, significantly expanding the market. The convenience of online shopping, coupled with the ability to find almost any title, no matter how obscure, led to an increase in demand. This demand, paired with the auction format encouraging competitive bidding, drove prices upward. As more platforms emerged and the online marketplace matured, the accessibility to rare and sought-after titles became easier, further inflating the cost of vintage games. There were even auction sites, such as Game Gavel, dedicated strictly to video games. Similarly, online message boards such as AtariAge and Digital Press (an outgrowth of the fanzine) helped collectors connect for buying and trading. Today, many people buy, sell, and trade video games through such outlets as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. The proliferation of retro gaming stores, both online and brick-and-mortar, has also played a significant role in expanding the market.

4. The Influence of The Angry Video Game Nerd and the Wii Shop Channel

In 2006, the world first witnessed the phenomenon of The Angry Video Game Nerd (originally The Angry Nintendo Nerd) and the launch of the Wii Shop Channel. AVGN, through his comedic rants about the frustrations of retro games, inadvertently sparked renewed interest in the titles he critiqued. Similarly, the Wii Shop Channel, by offering classic games for download, rekindled nostalgia for the original cartridges and consoles. This dual push of modern media celebrating retro content led gamers and budding collectors to seek out physical copies, driving up demand and, consequently, prices. Over the years, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, TikTok, and other such platforms have kept old video games in the spotlight. Hidden gems videos in particular seem to accelerate the desirability and value of harder-to-find titles. Certain famous influencers, such as Metal Jesus Rocks, have even been highly criticized for their roles in popularizing old games and, therefore, increasing the demand for them. Since MJR’s job is to discuss video games, and since that’s what his fans want, this criticism is pointless and even absurd.

5. Collecting Sealed and Graded Games

A more recent phenomenon impacting the cost of retro video games is the collecting of sealed and graded games. The practice of grading games, evaluating their condition, cataloging the variants when applicable, and sealing them in protective cases, has turned game collecting into a serious investment hobby. Collectors vie for the highest-graded copies of key titles, seeing them as valuable assets. Wealthy investors who may not even be gamers themselves nevertheless diversify their portfolios by purchasing retro games. Collectors from other categories, such as baseball cards and comic books, have taken an interest in retro game collecting. This shift towards viewing video games as collectible commodities rather than mere entertainment has significantly driven up prices, especially for titles that are complete-in-box (CIB) or factory-sealed. Early and rare variants (such as a hangtab Super Mario Bros.), factors that were barely noticed previously, are highly sought-after in today’s collector’s market. More desirable games can sell for six figures and, in rare cases, seven figures.

In Conclusion

The rising prices of retro video games can be attributed to a complex interplay of cultural, economic, and technological factors. From the early days of fanzines and conventions to the modern era of online sales, media influence, and professional grading, each has played a part in transforming the landscape of game collecting. As nostalgia remains a powerful force, the community around retro gaming continues to grow. There are even new consoles coming out, such as the Atari 2600+, that can play original software. With this in mind, it’s likely that the demand for these digital relics will only continue to increase, at least for the foreseeable future.

While recent trends have seen some marquee titles dip from their peak highs, a significant number of games continue to climb in value. For example, a CGC 9.2 A+ Early Production copy of Pitfall! for the Atari 2600 recently sold for $8,400 through Heritage Auctions (, breaking a record for that title. On Feb. 23, a VGA 90+ copy of Super Mario Bros. for the Famicom went for $26,400 via Heritage, far surpassing the previous record for that version of the game.

As the gaming consoles of today gradually transition into the classics of tomorrow, their game libraries will inevitably gain the "retro" label, sparking a new wave of nostalgia-fueled demand. Collectors on the fence about acquiring these soon-to-be classics might find themselves regretting not securing these games when prices were more accessible. However, the timeless advice for enthusiasts remains unchanged: focus on acquiring games that resonate with you personally, whether for the joy of playing or the passion for collecting. This approach ensures that, regardless of market fluctuations, the true value of your collection is measured in the enjoyment and satisfaction it brings to you.