Launching in Japan as the Family Computer in 1983 and later in the West as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, the NES kicked off generations of memorable video games.
This original 8-bit home video game console was Nintendo’s first for Western audiences. While Nintendo had already been successful in the arcade world, it decided to put all of its success into homes as well.
Halfway through 1989, the Japanese version of the NES had made itself a spot in 37% of the households in Japan. Around a half a year later, 30% of households in the West also contained an NES whereas only 23% contained personal computers.
By the end of its run, over 60 million NES consoles had been sold.
Although the NES came out over 30 years ago, the programmers stocked it with plenty of secrets. From cheat codes to secret worlds to Easter eggs, the NES has been brimming with mysteries from the start. Fans are still discovering some hidden things today.
If you’ve ever wondered why those Wii Sports gold courses look so familiar, how Star Wars broke into the video game world, or why Kirby’s world is so colorful, this list is for you.
If on the flip side you know everything there is to know about the NES, why not test your knowledge? Some of these things might surprise you.
Put on an 8-bit track and get ready for a blast from the past. We’re going retro with all the best secrets of the NES.
25 Super Mario Bros. Is The 2nd Best Selling Game (After Wii Sports)
Although it’s been years since the original Super Mario Bros. released, it remains the second-best-selling video game of all time only behind Wii Sports, which was included with Wii purchases. The NES itself is also a huge-seller. In its first year on the market, over 2.5 million NES consoles were sold in Japan.
It took a couple of years for the system to make its way to the West, but it successfully kicked off a stream of well-liked Nintendo consoles and games.
24 ALERT: There Is A Second Quest In Zelda
As aforementioned, some games offered cheat codes to jump to levels. Other games, like The Legend of Zelda, offered other clever ways to skip to later parts of the game.
This Zelda game's cartridge actually had an internal battery that made it possible to save your progress.
If you could finish the main quest in the first Zelda game, you could embark on a challenging second quest. But why play through all of the original difficulty when all you had to do was name your saved game “Zelda?” Doing so automatically shoved you into the excitement of the second quest.
23 The Game That Sold For $100,000
When NES games were first released, their prices were comparable to what we pay for games today. This hasn’t lasted. While you can get some NES games for low prices, others have been known to sell for ridiculous prices. A Nintendo World Championship cartridge once sold for $100,088 on eBay and a Stadium Events cartridge sold last year for $41,977.
I guess it’s time you dig through your game pile to find out if yours are worth selling!
22 The Secret Levels Of Super Mario Bros.
While it may seem that there are only 32 levels in the original Super Mario Bros., it turns out you can access hundreds more if you have the right tools. All you need is the NES game Tennis, a top-loading NES, and a Super Mario Bros. cartridge.
There are guides on how to access these levels online, but following the instructions could damage your game, so follow them at your own risk. That being said, it might be worth it if you want to mix up this classic Mario game and literally take it to the next level.
21 They Didn't Think Zelda Would Be Popular (Because It Had Too Much Reading)
Although The Legend of Zelda franchise has rocked the Nintendo world for decades, the president of Nintendo’s State-side division didn’t think the original game would go over well in the U.S. He thought that the difficulty of the game and the high-amounts of text would make it one people would want to skip.
It seems we got over all the reading. The dungeons were fun to explore and the game became well-played far outside of Japan.
20 Infinite HP In Metroid... Seriously?
We already covered the whole thing about Metroid being cool, but like most NES games, it was challenging as heck. Thanks to some love thrown in by the programmers, there were actually some freakishly helpful cheat codes built into the game. One specific code actually allowed players to gain infinite HP, all upgrades, and missiles. How awesome is that?
Say goodbye to the days of never being able to beat the game. With this code, you’ll fly to the finish.
19 It Launched With 17 Games (Two Were Included FREE)
While we’re used to hundreds of games coming out for our favorite consoles, the NES launched with only 17 games made for it. Both Duck Hunt and Gyromite came with the system leaving the other 15 to be bought by players.
The average NES game cost around $50 in 1990 though, so it wasn’t as cheap as you might have expected. The system itself cost $200 in 1985. If you do the math and calculate in inflation, it was actually pretty expensive compared to the price of later Nintendo systems.
18 Most 2-Player Games Let You Steal Lives (If You Knew How)
Many NES games that were two-player actually allowed the second player to steal lives from the first and vice versa. If your character was eliminated, all you had to do was press a few buttons to take a life from your partner, and voilà — You could continue playing.
This feature was easy in Contra where all a player had to do was press the A and B buttons at the same time. In Bubble Bobble, the life-stealing feature could be accessed from the pause screen.
17 There Was No Playtesting (Which Is Why Games Were Too Hard For Kids Today)
Have you ever noticed that NES games are darn hard compared to most of today’s games? This is because back in the day, much fewer people programmed games.
There weren’t solid tests or standards to make sure that games weren’t too hard.
The programmers ultimately decided how hard the games would be, and because they got good at them, they upped the difficulty. They started to believe they were too easy.
News flash: They were not.
16 The Origins Of The Konami Code
If you’re a video game fanatic, you’ve probably heard of the Konami Code. It is a cheat code that players can use in certain games by pressing a specific sequence of buttons on their controller.
This code was first used in NES’s Gradius but was popularized by the players of NES’s Contra. In both of these games, players could gain 30 lives using this secret code. Because NES games were hard, it’s nice that there were ways to curve the difficulty under certain circumstances.
15 Balloon Fight Was Developed By Satoru Iwata
Satoru Iwata, who was one of Nintendo’s most notable presidents, didn’t become CEO overnight. He started out as one of Nintendo’s many employees and became the programmer for Balloon Fight and Golf on the NES. These were some of his earliest projects.
Balloon Fight has been referenced on many later Nintendo consoles.
A trophy for it can be won in Super Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube and an attraction is based on it in Wii U’s Nintendo Land.
14 Hidden Signature ... On The Home Screen?
The programmer of the original Donkey Kong for the NES left his initials in the game as an Easter egg. It’s doubtful anyone realized this when it was first released, and it was years before the internet caught on. In order to see the programmer’s initials, “LMD,” on the home screen, a player has to set a high score of the very specific 37,000, 73,000, or 77,000 points. They then have to meet their end by falling and set the game difficulty to 4. Sounds complicated, right?
13 Breaking The Game Or Finishing It?
Lots of early Nintendo games had kill screens due to the limited technology upon their release.
A kill screen is a level in a game that halts a player’s progress, usually when a value (such as a level counter) exceeds the memory available.
Early games like Donkey Kong and Duck Hunt had these screens pop up if you got too far into the game.
Duck Hunt's version can actually be accessed after you finish level 99. The game goes back to 0, ducks will fly oddly across the screen, and the dog will laugh as if he is on a loop.
12 Multi-Player Duck Hunt
Speaking of the notorious Duck Hunt, did you know that it was actually a two-player game? Not everyone knew this, specifically because there was only one plastic gun that came with the game.
If you plugged a second controller into the NES, the second player could actually control the duck. If the game wasn’t hard enough, your friend could find a way to make it harder.
Because of this, it’s probably a good thing that this feature wasn’t heavily advertised. It was probably shocking for some people to learn they didn’t have to wait to play alongside… or more accurately, against their friend.
11 The Legacy Of Golf Lives On
One of the NES’s most iconic games is Golf. Up to two players can try their hardest to end up with the lowest scores, just like in regular golf.
What many people don’t know is that if they own a Wii, they’ve actually played the original Golf courses in a different form.
Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort feature three-dimensional versions of the courses on NES’ Golf.
It’s neat that these iconic course layouts were recycled to be enjoyed once again.
10 Kirby’s Levels Spell Out "R O Y G B I V"
Kirby’s Adventure came out later in the NES’s history, but it quickly became popular.
There are seven levels, and if you reverse the order of them and steal the first letter of each, it spells out “R O Y G B I V,” which is a pneumonic device used to remember the colors of the rainbow. The backgrounds displaying each level contains the color that matches its initial.
It seems Kirby’s world was so colorful it seeped into every part of the game!
9 Nintendo Created Telephone Lines For Gamers
When you run into a roadblock on your favorite game today, you probably turn to the internet. After all, you wouldn’t be reading this right now if you weren’t interested in reading about your favorite video games online, now, would you?
Back when the NES released, gamers couldn’t solve all of their issues on the internet. Lucky for them, Nintendo created the Powerline, which was a telephone service hosted by players who were skilled at Nintendo games. Make a call, and maybe you could learn to defeat that tricky level in Super Mario Bros.
8 Yes, There Was A NES Star Wars Game
Far before Disney had a hold on the Star Wars franchise, it was appearing on the NES. A Star Wars game that similarly follows the storyline of A New Hope was released in 1991 in Japan. A year later, a game that follows The Empire Strikes Back also showed up on the system. The second game was also released in the U.S.
While neither of these games ended up becoming best-sellers, it’s hard to argue that jumping around a cave on Tatooine as Luke was anything but exciting.
7 Bubble Bobble Let You Skip Levels Because It Didn't Have Saving
Speaking of cheat codes, Bubble Bobble had a bunch that would allow you to skip to level 10, level 20, level 30, and so on. You could even access any level with the password “DDFFI” and a few (or many) hits of the B button.
Many NES games offered ways to skip levels since saving your progress wasn’t a possibility.
Other games similarly offered cheat codes and Super Mario Bros. 2 even had secret actions you could perform to jump worlds.
6 Hidden Metroid Worlds
Do you remember when Metroid released?
Not only did it feature the coolest butt-kicking female heroine of the time, it was also stocked with exciting levels to explore. As it turns out, there were actually a bunch of secret worlds, too. Players could access them by performing what has been referred to as the door glitch. Once inside these hidden areas, players got to jump around some different layouts. The best part? Most of these secret areas were stable.
5 The Ridiculous (Secret) Final Fantasy Game
While Final Fantasy has morphed into a huge video game franchise, it started as a single game on the NES. The original fantasy role-playing game may have lacked modern graphics, but it was stocked with elves, mermaid, and dragons. Why would you need anything else?
If you wanted to take a break from the main game, you could actually access a traditional slide puzzle mini-game by pressing “A” and “B” together 55 times in a row while on a ship. Yes, you heard us right – 55 times.
4 Mega Man 2 Codes (But Kids Didn't Have The Internet Back Then)
The sequel to Mega Man hit the shelves in 1988. This single-player action game dragged players through all sorts of challenging robotic worlds. Like many early games though, there was an easy way to get through the tough levels.
If players used a few simple passwords, they could actually access every weapon in the game. Why search them out when pressing a few buttons could do the trick?
Huge score for NES players once again!
3 Kid Icarus Secrets
If The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Mega Man 2 have a slew of clever passwords, of course, Kid Icarus is going to have its own. If you type “PARKING PARKING PARKING PARKING,” you’ll be able to play with every item in the game. If you’d rather never go kaput, try “ICARUS FIGHTS MEDUSA ANGELS.” If you want to play the final level with invincibility, 9,999,999 points, or all upgrades, there are even more passwords you can use. The list is long.
2 Nintendo Power Was A Marketing Tool
In 1988, Nintendo created a magazine known as Nintendo Power. The first issue featured a story on the NES’s Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo used its magazine to reach the Western market with news of its newest gaming system.
Japan was dense, so the NES’ popularity spread through word-of-mouth there. The U.S. audience was large and spread out, so the magazine was created to help reach players everywhere. Information on the NES and Nintendo could literally be put into the audience’s hands.
1 Wario's Woods Was The Last Game On The System
All good things come to an end, and the NES was no exception. The system was officially discontinued in the States in 1995. It lasted much longer in Japan, going off the market in 2003.
The last game to be released to the West was Wario’s Woods.
It was the only NES game to receive an ESRB rating.
While Wario’s Woods got decent ratings, we can’t help but feel a little sad and nostalgic about it. It ended an era. That being said, Nintendo had many fun systems follow up its first, and we can't wait to see what's next.