Cheats, hints, tips – call them what you may, but us Mega Drive gamers couldn’t get enough of them. From invincibility codes, to extra lives, and debug modes, if we weren’t playing a game, we were feverishly hunting down that illusive cheat, the one to – quite literally – take our gaming to the next level.
Those of us who remember the early-to-mid 90s will also recall one glaring factor – there was NO internet! Back in ye good olde 1990s, if we wanted a gaming cheat or strategy guide, our options were severely limited. More often than not, we had to rely on word of mouth – gaming secrets handed down from friend, to friend in some obscure alpha-numeric Chinese whisper.
I was recently thrust back into this mindset on a recent holiday, in which time I became re-acquainted with Sonic CD on iOS. A browse through the game’s menus revealed a number of unlockable extras. But how to enable them? A quick Google search would usually reveal all, but not in this case, not on this holiday. On this occasion I’d chosen to spend my vacation in a place beyond the far reaches of civilisation, a location where the concepts of wifi and 3G are as alien to its locals as a decent phone reception was to E.T. That’s right, I was in Cornwall.
Stuck as I was, I swiftly became aware of one key fact – I was back in the 90s, to a pre-Internet era, where I’d actually have to work to unlock Sonic CD’s deepest, darkest secrets. But how did we do it back in the day? Kids, read on…
Before IGN, before Gamespot, we had the cheats and tips sections of gaming magazines. Typically situated towards the mid-to-rear section of each monthly publication, it was often a hit or miss affair.
Sega Pro, Sega Power, Mean Machines Sega, GamesMaster Magazine – with the coming of each new issue, I recall countless trips to the local newsagent. More often than not, my entire purchase would depend on the cheats published that month. If they were of no use, then my pocket-money went elsewhere – namely towards the odd pack of Space Raiders, or two, or five.
When he wasn’t gazing longingly into the night sky, Patrick Moore spent the majority of the 1990s encased within pneumatic machinery, with an aluminium plate atop his scalp. No, Patrick Moore was not the Terminator – he was the GamesMaster.
Although the man himself is sadly departed, I have fond memories of numerous evenings, glued to my TV set, watching contestants fight for the coveted Golden Joystick. More to the point, I recall the sense of anticipation as the show reached its cheats segment and the appearance of the GamesMaster himself.
Early series would see volunteers don a VR headset, where they would be thrust into the ‘Consoletation Zone’ and find themselves stood before the GamesMaster. Upon request, the GamesMaster would solve the gaming woes of each individual, seemingly infinite in his gaming knowledge. Myself, I would be sat there, pad and paper in hand, ready to quickly scrawl down that all important cheat or strategy guide. Sadly, as with the magazines, it was a real hit and miss affair. It was a rare occasion when one of my games was mentioned. Thank God we also had Bad Influence’s Nam Rood to back us up!
The cheat book
Failing the above, another alternative was the cheat book. To any child of the 1990s, the contents of these publications were positively epic in proportion – their contents sourced from kings, their binding seemingly forged by the hands of Zeus. My weapon of choice was the Sega Pro-Master Player’s Guide (Volume 1) – a title I happened to come upon during a book fair at school, circa 1993/94.
Remember that scene in The Neverending Story where Bastian seeks refuge from his bullies in a book shop, only to be confronted by that creepy storekeeper? “Your books are safe,” he tells the boy. “And this one isn’t?,” Bastian asks of the eponymous book. “Forget about it,” the storekeeper replies. Then, quick as a flash, the thieving child snatches the book, in exchange for an IOU note.
Contrary to the bowl-haired Bastian, I was a law-abiding child and paid cold-hard cash for my book – £2.50 to be exact, along with a copy of the Sonic in the Fourth Dimension paperback. (That’s right, I was the cool kid at school.)
If I’m completely honest, the very act of owning one of these books felt like a cheat in itself. In my possession, the thrill of the hunt was lost – as was the book itself, over time. Having said that, during the writing of this post, I managed to hunt down a second-hand copy on Amazon Marketplace for £2.81. Damn inflation!
Word of mouth
For those of us that sought not to divulge in the above methods, there was another we could resort to – word of mouth. Although it wasn’t perhaps the most reliable of sources, it was in this way that I finally solved the riddle of Sonic 2’s level select cheat.
Here’s a bit of background – In order to activate the cheat in question, you must enter Sonic 2’s options menu. In the sound test, activate the sound files numbered 19, 65, 9, 17. If entered correctly, you will hear a chime. By pressing start, you are then presented with the title screen… Now, it was here where I reached my stumbling block.
At the time, I remember Bad Influence presenter Violet Berlin reciting the above method on TV. On Sonic 2s title screen, she told the viewer to press start, then A twice on the joypad. In so doing, the gamer is simply guided to level one, as normal. My cheat book told me to just press start and A. Again, this only took me to Green Hill Zone, Act 1.
Months passed by. I had been failed not only by television, but also by my all-powerful booklet. What hope did I have? Of course, I could have resorted to a Game Genie, or Action Replay cartridge. Although, surprisingly enough, these innovations completely passed me by during my childhood, and as such, do not feature in this post (I could tell you were wondering).
No, no. My solution came from a much more basic method. Once again, I was at school, it was home time and the conversation inevitably turned to gaming, at which point, I shared my gaming troubles to my Mega Drive owning companion. “What do you mean you can’t work the Sonic 2 cheat?,” he said through a mouthful of strawberry laces. “It’s easy. On the title screen, press A, THEN start.” I rushed home, powered up my console and there it was – the level select screen. Mission complete.
Of course, failing all methods outlined in this post, there was ONE further solution available to the desperate, or clinically insane…
Although us Mega Driving gamers of the 1990s were without the convenience of the Internet, our loss meant for something that is fundamentally lacking in the life of the modern-day gamer – that magical aura, the sense of mystery surrounding the cheat and the satisfaction when we finally found it and pulled it off – this was ultimately our gain.