The Contra Code: Konami’s “One Size Fits All” Approach to Cheat Codes

Contra

The Contra code is ingrained into the brains of every gamer who grew up in the 80s. Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start. 30 lives. I can recite that shit in my sleep, yo.

I’ve heard several variations of it through the years. Some of my schoolyard friends would hit the B, A part twice; some would hit Select before hitting Start. It seemed like all of these variations still somehow worked.

Now, I acknowledge that I’m not being completely fair in my use of the terminology here.

See, the phrase “Contra Code” is kind of a misnomer. More accurately, this was called the Konami Code, since Konami used it in a whole slew of games since the NES era. By doing a quick Google search, you’ll find that instances of it being called the “Konami code” seem to drastically outnumber the alternate terminology. Still, “Contra code” is what we called in on the playground in my small hometown, and it’s a popular enough phrase that there’s a punk band in Vancouver that took it as their band name.

The code original turned up in the game Gradius, where entering it when the game was paused gave you a slew of power-ups. So why did we not call it the “Gradius code?” I really don’t know. I assume it’s because Contra was so ball-blistering hard that the game was damn near unplayable without the 30 lives granted by the code. Entering that code was just understood as a part of playing Contra.

Contra

In the decades since, the code has just become a part of gaming culture. It’s shown up in an enormous list of games (here’s Wikipedia’s list, in case you don’t believe me), and it’s a common Easter egg that results in strange behavior across a myriad of websites.

There’s a part of me that has always wondered why Konami was so insistent to keep re-using the same code  when there are so many other button combinations to use. Another part of me just delights in the fact that they showed some consistency. It’s weirdly charming.

Either way, the Contra code — or Konami code — is just a thing that gamers almost instinctively know and understand, and I’m happy it’s a tiny little piece of gaming culture’s esoteric language.

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