Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. The Konami Code was often the difference between life and death in video games during the 1980s.
Perform those button presses in the correct sequence, and you’ll unlock cheats that help you win. But recently, the code has grown into a broader pop-culture reference, and you might be curious about how it got started. Let’s take a look.
Contra Made It Famous
The Konami Code was created as a cheat code-a series of button presses that unlocks secret features in a video game, usually making it easier to play.
Gradius for the NES, published by Japanese third-party developer Konami in 1986, featured the Konami Code for the first time. Entering the code during a pause in the game activates several helpful power-ups.
Radius is a challenging game, and the inventor of the Konami code, Kazuhisa Hashimoto, said in a 2003 interview that he designed it to make play-testing easier. (Unfortunately, Hashimoto died in February 2020.)
A Konami game called Contra, released for the NES in 1988, helped make the Konami Code famous. This run-and-gun shooter features excellent graphics and satisfying co-op play, but it isn’t easy. By entering the Konami Code at Contra’s title screen just before starting the game, non-experts can live long enough to play past the first stage.
Cheat codes that let you get more enjoyment out of a game were huge in the late 80s, when each NES game cost around $40 (about $87 today, adjusted for inflation). There are only a few new games for kids each year; if you get stuck with a game that’s too difficult to play, you might get frustrated.
In many cases, hint books and magazines came to the rescue. Contra’s Konami Code was introduced in Nintendo Power, a widely distributed video game magazine owned by Nintendo itself, in its first issue of 1988 as part of its “Classified Information” column, and players never forgot it.
Examples of the Konami Code in Gaming
It’s not just NES games that use the Konami Code. During the past three decades, Konami’s code (or references to it) has been supported by dozens of games.
As a general rule, Konami Code games for non-Nintendo systems (such as the Sony PlayStation) require minor modifications. B or A should be substituted for the cancellation or confirmation buttons on that system. For example, on the PlayStation, O is commonly canceled, and X is widely ensured. Therefore, the PlayStation-style Konami Code would be Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, O, X.
The following examples will give you an idea of the extent of Konami Code support in games over the years.
- Gradius (NES): At any time during gameplay, press Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. All power-ups are available to your ship except for Laser, Double, and Speed Up.
- Contra (NES): Press Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, then Start (or Select, Start for two players) on the title screen and you’ll get 30 extra lives.
- Gyruss (NES): You can get 30 extra lives by entering the Konami Code at the title screen in reverse order (A, B, Right, Left, Right, Left, Down, Down, Up, Up).
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (GB): Pause the game and press Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. You can use it only once per game, but your health will fully regenerate.
- Gradius III (SNES): You have to replace the shoulder buttons with Left and Right directions in this game. Pause the game and enter Up, Up, Down, Left Shoulder, Right Shoulder, Left Shoulder, Right Shoulder, B, A, and your ship will power up.
- Mario Party (N64): Pause the game with controller 2 during player 1’s turn. With controller 1, input Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, and you’ll hear Toad’s shout. You will then see a debug menu when pressing C-Left.
- 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.
- Bioshock Infinite (PS3): Press Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, O, X. You’ll unlock the challenging “1999 Mode.”
In Popular Culture and Beyond: The Konami Code
Having memorized the Konami Code as a kid, it makes sense that the code has become a broader pop culture reference in recent years. T-shirts and merchandise have been printed with the logo, and movies like Wreck-It Ralph reference it. The Game & Learn Controller from Fisher-Price supports the code as well: When the code is input, lights flash and a voice says, “You Win!”.”
A version of the Netflix website allowed users to access a hidden settings screen by inputting a modified version of the Konami Code on their remote controls around 2013. There are several prominent websites (hint, hint) where entering the code will activate an Easter egg.
I suspect the Konami Code will continue influencing media for years to come, as it has unlocked a special place in our hearts.