One thing that unites every gamer who went to school in the 80s and 90s, is that we all had a friend who had an uncle who “worked” for Nintendo. That friend had “scoops” about all the secret things he could do with his NES which nobody else could. He could jump over the flagpole in Super Mario Bros. and get infinite extra lives at the far end of the stage. Or he could access a store that had free red potions in The Legend of Zelda by putting a bomb in the right spot.
Of course, nobody really had any relatives with all kinds of insider access who worked for Nintendo (unless you lived near Seattle). Nevertheless, a lot of us wanted to believe so badly in the awesome stories that the school’s resident pathological liars were spinning, that some of those stories took a life of their own. After all, if the Konami Code exists for real, and you can indeed get 30 extra lives in Contra, then why wouldn’t developers include something similar in every other game? The possibilities were certainly fascinating, and the absence of widespread internet access made these fables hard to verify.
Thankfully, the internet is now ubiquitous, so we were able to compile a list of fifteen of the most enduring urban legends in old school games. Some of those rumors persist to this day, but we guarantee that they are all verifiably false.
15 Holding Down+B
Nobody knows for sure where the superstition comes from, but ask any Pokémon fan around you: many of them have a ritual for catching a Pokémon, and while the one that seems to the most widespread is holding down on the d-pad and pressing B at the same time. Some people also swear by “up + B,” or even alternating between pressing A and B. The thing is, none of these work, and yet, I am still guilty of it twenty years later.
The code of the first generation of Pokémon has been looked over many times, and we now have a really good understanding of what comes into play when the game calculates how likely you are to catch a Pokémon. Long story short: It’s a lot of numbers and calculations, but pressing buttons has nothing to do with it.
14 Beating The Running Man
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time features many non-playable characters, all of which seem to have a purpose. Do something for them, and you will get a reward. This is why the running man is such a mystery. As an adult, Link can challenge the man to a race from Gerudo Valley to Kokiri Forest. No matter what you heard, it is impossible to defeat him. You can use any shortcut you know, but the running man will always beat you by one second, every single time. Analysis of the game’s code shows that there isn’t even a line of dialogue that addresses the possibility of Link winning. So what is the purpose of the challenge, then?
The short answer is: Nothing. The only reason to challenge the man is to beat your own time, which is then posted in Link’s house in Kokiri Forest. After that… I guess you can compare it with your friends’ own records for bragging rights, but that's about it.
13 Blowing On Cartridges To Make Them Work
If you pop an NES or SNES game into its console and it doesn’t work, what do you do? You pull it out, blow on the connector, then put it back in. Works most of the time, right? It’s a trick that is as old as gaming itself, but as it turns out, the blowing part doesn't actually do anything. What corrects the problem is the act of taking the cartridge out and placing it back in, as it can correct an improper connection between the game and the console.
As for the extra breathing, it might actually be responsible for making your game refuse to work in the first place. The moisture of your breath can corrode the connectors, and is such a problem that Nintendo eventually started putting a warning on its games. Retro collectors might want to keep this one in mind.
12 The Secret Cow Level
In the original Diablo, cows could be found in Tristram, which is pretty inconsequential by itself. However, when a player clicks on those same cows over and over, their character will start saying humorous lines such as “Yup, that’s a cow all right!” and other assorted statements. That kind of Easter egg led players to believe that if they clicked long enough on a specific cow, they would gain access to a “Secret Cow Level.”
No matter how much Blizzard would deny this rumor, players would not be deterred, so the developers did the sensible thing: in Diablo 2, a portal can be created which will take the player to the “Secret Cow Level,” an area populated by murderous bovines wielding axes. The level has since spawned imitators in games ranging from World of Warcraft to Goat Simulator, but no matter how many clicks you waste, the original Diablo will remain devoid of killer cows.
11 The 24th Cheat
One of the great features of Goldeneye 007 was its plethora of cheats which could be unlocked, giving the players access to anything from invincibility to the famous DK mode. The cheats could be activated from a menu, where they were neatly organized in two columns. One of those columns had one less cheat than the other one, however. It just looked like there was another one waiting to be unlocked, and that’s how the legend of the 24th cheat code was born.
Rumors said it could be anything, from a “line mode” which removed all textures, to an “All Bond mode” which made Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton (George Lazenby was never mentioned) available in multiplayer games. That one turned out to be more than a rumor, but was only available through GameShark. Therefore, there was never any official 24th cheat.
10 Killswitch: The Russian Game Which Deletes Itself
The mere existence of Killswitch cannot even be verified. That is because according to the legend, only 5000 copies were ever produced, and those copies were set to self-delete as soon as the game was finished. The game was supposedly about a girl named Porto, who was stuck in a mine and had to escape by dodging possessed miners, demons, and other unpleasant entities. According to the reports, it was also possible to play as Ghast, who was invisible. Not only to the enemies, but also to the players. Navigating the maze was thus next to impossible.
The game was supposedly made by the mysterious Karvina Corporation, a Russian company which no one has heard from before or since. Since no copy of the game remains (or has ever been seen, in fact), it is believed that Killswitch is nothing but an early version of a creepypasta. For those dying to play such a game, fan “remakes” have been created, whihc follow the urban legend as closely as possible.
9 Capturing Mewthree
Arguably the most powerful Pokémon of the first generation, Mewtwo, is supposed to originate from a genetic experiment, a sort of weaponized clone of the original Mew. Mew, Mewtwo… it might not be the most original naming pattern of all time, but it has the merit of being clear. The concept was good enough that the Pokémon manga expanded on it, basing a storyline around Mewthree, a mix of Clefairy and Mewtwo’s DNA. The readers’ imagination immediately started running wild, and it wasn’t long before they were looking for Mewthree in the games.
Different methods were mentioned to make the fabled Pokémon appear, some of which involved voluntarily deleting your save file. These were nothing more than mean-spirited hoaxes. While screenshots of Mewthree eventually surfaced, all of them are from ROM hacks and fan made games. He never officially appears in any of the games.
8 The Triple Ship
Seasoned Galaga players all know this little trick: if you allow your ship to be captured, it is possible to free it, and it will join your new ship to form the deadly “double ship.” It doubles your firepower as well as the amount of screen space you can cover, and is an effective way to quickly rack up points. So if it's possible to control two ships at the same time, players asked: “why not three ships”?
Casual players swore that if the circumstances were right and certain conditions were met, it was indeed possible to add a third ship. Though it is impossible to create a “triple ship” in the original Galaga, the rumor persisted for a long time. It got to the point where the developers became aware of the legend, and decided to have some fun with it. With the release of Galaga ’88, the famous triple ship was added to the game, finally making this myth a reality.
7 Shooting The Dog
For those of us who experienced Duck Hunt on NES, there are few characters more annoying than the Duck Hunt Dog. The character doesn’t really do much: the dog shows you how many ducks you successfully shot, and if you didn’t get any, he laughs at you with his obnoxious, annoying grin. His only purpose is to be an illustration of your failure. Out of frustration, most players have probably tried to shoot the damn dog a few times, but he stays unaffected. He will keep laughing no matter what.
And yet, there are some players who have been swearing that by using the right method, it is possible to take down the dog with a well-placed shot. This is a myth which was popular because of the existence of VS. Duck Hunt, an arcade version which did allow players to take out their frustration on the poor dog, though it was a feature which never made it to the NES version.
6 Fighting Donkey Kong
Another NES game which had an arcade counterpart was Punch-Out!!, and it was popular enough to have a second arcade version, titled Super Punch-Out!!. The arcade version had a detailed crowd which was visible in the background of each fight, and in the crowd was Donkey Kong, who was enjoying the peak of his celebrity in the mid-80’s. According to the legend, fulfilling an unknown set of conditions would cause Donkey Kong to jump in the ring as a secret opponent.
As with everything else on this list, the rumor turned out to be just that, and Donkey Kong was never intended to be anything more than a cameo. However, the persistence of this legend caused Nintendo to included DK as a secret character in the Wii revival of Punch-Out!!. To face him, simply take Little Mac to the end of Last Stand Mode, but be aware that he might be the one character in the series to give Mike Tyson a run for his money.
5 Play As Simon Belmont In TMNT 2
Before the internet became popular, there were few ways to expand your knowledge of video games. A reliable way to do so was to subscribe to a magazine. For a long time, Electronic Gaming Monthly was considered one of the best publications in the industry. And unfortunately for its readers who only skimmed through the articles, it also had a habit of publishing April Fools.
The 1991 edition centered on TMNT 2 for NES, a game developed by Konami, who also happened to make the Castlevania series. In that year’s April issue, a reader sent an elaborate trick which made Simon Belmont playable in the Turtles’ own game. The set-up and screen shots were convincing, but the giveaway was the name of the reader who had sent in the tip: “A. P. Rilphuuls." Get it?
Ha ha ha.
Unfortunately, it was an idea so cool that readers wanted it to be true. It spread around school yards like wildfire, and it was too late to convince anyone otherwise.
4 The Purple Yoshi
Yoshi’s Story might have been the simplest and easiest game in the Yoshi series, but before it was released, the hype for it was pretty high, mainly because people were expecting the second coming of Yoshi’s Island, but also because Nintendo Power was a pretty big cheerleader for the upcoming title. Early screenshots showed an entire rainbow of Yoshi available to the player, including a purple one. When the game was finally released, the purple Yoshi was nowhere to be found, but a black and a white one were unlockable. Surely, the purple Yoshi had to be hidden in the same way.
Unfortunately, while the purple Yoshi was indeed part of an early build (along with a brown Yoshi), he was taken out of the final game, and rumors that he could be unlocked by collecting every coin in the game were false.
3 Collecting The Ice Key
If you have played through Banjo-Kazooie around the time of its original release, then you know about the Ice Key of Freezeezy Peak, and you know the feeling that comes with spotting the key behind its unbreakable wall. The key is unobtainable through conventional means, no matter what you heard. It’s only collectible with the use of a cheat device, and even then, it serves no purpose whatsoever within Banjo-Kazooie. So why was it put there in the first place?
Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie, were originally going to be connected through something called “Stop N Swop.” In theory, the cartridges would be switched while the Nintendo 64 was still on, and data from one game would transport to the other one. Collecting the Ice Key was going to open up something in Banjo-Tooie, but some changes in an N64 hardware revision made the “Stop N Swop” idea unfeasible. Fans of Banjo-Kazooie would need to wait until the Xbox re-release to be able to collect it through legitimate means.
2 The Blood Code
The arcade version of Mortal Kombat was extremely controversial for its time. It was so controversial that the American government got involved in the whole debacle. Acclaim, the company adapting the game for home consoles, understandably got a little bit shy, and released Mortal Kombat for SNES and Genesis with the blood being coloured white to resemble sweat.
The big reason why the Sega version ended up being more popular is because of the existence of a code which reenabled blood. The poor people (such as myself) who happened to be stuck with the SNES version wanted to believe that their game also included a blood code, but Nintendo used to be notoriously timid when it came to “offensive” material. The code was nothing but a myth, and those who wanted a little bit of gore with their fatalities had no choice but to go with the Genesis edition. Nintendo did learn their lesson from this defeat, and Mortal Kombat 2 had the same blood as every other version.
1 Hidden Characters
NBA Jam is famous for its cheat codes, which unlock brand new characters ranging from mascots to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. The sheer quantity of Easter eggs in NBA Jam made it easy for the imagination of gamers to run wild, and it wasn’t long before more names were rumored to be playable characters. After all, where was Michael Jordan? Or Shaquille O’Neil?
The Shaq was indeed playable… sort of. He was available in the arcade version, but his likeness did not make it to the console ports. As for Michael Jordan, since he was not part of the NBPA group license agreement, he was not in any version, be it arcade or console. However, he is playable (along with Gary Payton) in an NBA Jam cabinet which was made for his own, private use. Such are the perks of being the best basketball player to ever live.