The Best Kept Secrets in Retro Games

If you’ve read my pieces on Funstock in the past few months, you’ll know I really throw myself into whatever the subject is at hand. This time round, I thought I’d have a bit of fun, relax a bit, and do a bit of a broader article. So here I am taking a look at some of the biggest in-game secrets. Those secrets that were hidden for absolutely ages after a game was released. Or secrets that were so ridiculously tough to unravel, that it took players months (and even years in some cases!) to successfully succeed in unveiling them. Secrets that developers themselves had to tell us about because they were surprised gamers hadn’t done it for themselves. Enjoy!

Goldeneye, 1997 (N64)

One of the greatest and most important FPS titles ever released was an absolute revelation on release. Fans loved the movie-inspired story-line, and its massive multi-player component featuring a huge roster of playable characters and features to include in your death-matches. What went unbeknownst to gamers for an incredible 15 years was that there was a hidden ZX Spectrum emulator found within the game. Plus 10 games to play on it.

The story goes that when Goldeneye was in development, Rare wanted to test if a Spectrum emulator could run on an N64 cartridge. It could, but was never intended to be shipped with Goldeneye, it just so happened that that was the game Rare were developing at the time of undergoing this experiment. In the rush to release Goldeneye to the masses, the emulator was left in the cartridge, albeit inaccessible to the average gamer. Cut to 15 years later when our reliable hackers uncovered the code buried in the game which suggested there was such an emulator hidden and 2012 saw the unveiling of one of gaming’s best kept secrets.

Hackers later tried to find if this emulator was what was used when we were playing Jet-Pac and Donkey Kong on Donkey Kong 64, but not so.

Read the original thread here

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Not the usual passport selection screen

 

Arkham Asylum, 2009 (PS3, 360, PC)

This one is just mind-blowing due to how thorough gamers are today. Most secrets in games can be found by simply hacking the games code. It’s how most great secrets are ruined. Rocksteady somehow subverted all this and planted a massive Easter egg in the game which was only revealed when the developer came out themselves and announced the secret room of Arkham Asylum. The room could only be accessed by bombing the outer wall 3 times, something no-one would try as a 3 time wall isn’t used anywhere else in-game. There were no visual clues to indicate the hidden wall was there, and I can only guess that whatever hackers would normally do to ruin these hidden gems, didn’t work this time!

What was in the room? A few teasers as to the content of the sequel Arkham City; which wasn’t due to be released for more than two years. If you found this on the day of Asylum’s release, you wouldn’t have known what the hell you were looking at.

Lead designer explains reasoning behind the room

Such a nice office to have hidden away behind a concrete wall

Such a nice office to have hidden away behind a concrete wall

 

Rogue Squadron, 1998 (PC, N64)

This one’s very similar to Arkham Asylum. The ‘Naboo Starfighter’ ship appears in Rogue Squadron as a secret unlockable vehicle. In and of itself, this doesn’t seem a big deal BUT… the ship was first featured on-screen in ‘The Phantom Menace’. Rogue Squadron was released 6 months before the movie even came, and technically had no major references to the movie as it was set during the original episodes IV – VI. Lucasarts decided it would be a cool secret, but it was so secret it took the developers themselves to reveal that the ship was even there before anyone figured it out, this nugget of info coming AFTER the movie had been released.

This would be like if the original Iron Man video game featured a super-secret hidden Avengers level featuring all the characters who would appear in the ensemble movie years after the first Iron Man movie came out. Only not as cool because everyone is sick of the Avengers now.

Method to unlock the Starfighter, amongst other codes

Picture of a Starfighter, yesterday

Picture of a Starfighter, yesterday

 

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, 1987 (NES)

Punch-Out is a classic NES game. Arcade boxing at its best. More of a timed puzzle game than anything else really. And those opponents are bloody difficult too. One such opponent was Bald Bull, a massive meathead of a fighter whose most popular attack is the ‘Bull Charge, a move which sees him charge at you lightning fast before delivering a huge uppercut which can see you as Little Mac hit the deck in one hit.

What wasn’t picked up by fans of the game for 22 years, was that there is a sure-fire way to counter attack this with a 100% success rate every time. When Bull charges at you, look to the right of the crowd. The point at which Bull places his feet on the mat a second time, a photo will be taken in the crowd, accompanied by a solitary flash. This indicates the moment where if you take one swing at Bull, he’ll go down for a guaranteed sweet victory. NO-ONE who’d played the game knew of this method until the President of Nintendo himself, Satoru Iwata, revealed the secret back in 2009.

Iwata discusses the long-hidden ‘flash’

Yep, that's definitely a photographer helping a fighter win by scrupulous means

Yep, that’s definitely a photographer helping a fighter win by scrupulous means

 

Donkey Kong, 1983 (Atari 400)

This is one of the longest hidden secrets found, decades after the title was released. Don’t expect mass secret levels or anything like that, but the fact this secret remained hidden for as long as it did is incredible considering how dedicated gamers are to breaking apart games these days.

One guy pretty much single handedly ported Donkey Kong to the Atari 400, a chap by the name of Landon Dyer. Naturally, with such freedom on his own, he created his own Easter egg. And it wasn’t easy to see. The secret involved the player having one of 3 specific high scores, then committing suicide constantly until your last life which must then see you die by falling, then you change the game difficulty to a specific level, and finally allow the title screen to sit idle for a short while before… Landon Dyer’s initials pop up. Some secret, but it wasn’t found for 26 years and even then it was only found because, like Batman, the developer came out with knowledge of it publically.

In-depth explanation of the Easter egg

Definitely worth the heartache and pain leading up to THIS

So worth the heartache and pain leading up to THIS

 

Sim City, 1989 (SNES)

Unveiled around about the same time as the Donkey Kong secret, this was a massive surprise to both the owner of the cartridge, and the Sim City fandom. In 2009, a guy innocently walks into one of his local gaming stores and buys a normal cartridge of Sim City for the SNES, one of the earlier releases for the classic Nintendo console. He gets the game home, pops it into his console, and immediately starts coming across what seems like odd random glitches. He could turn water to land, spending money saw his cash levels untouched, and on trying to save his game, he suddenly found himself presented by a debug screen, something totally unknown to the gaming community at the time.

Naturally fans went to work on the game to find how this was hidden in the game, and eventually an unlock code was revealed which works on any copy of the game. The game had been released 20 years earlier at the point.

The original thread with the confused new owner

You can say that again

You can say that again

 

These massively hidden secrets are everywhere. Did you know you can unlock Ryu’s HADOUKEN fireball for use in Megaman X on the SNES and it’s an absolute horror to do? You can even say the word ‘f***’ in Discworld if you search hard enough. You can unlock a sarcastic announcer in Wave Race: Blue Storm. Player 2 controls the duck in Duck Hunt. Apparently we are all MR. GAY if Super Mario Galaxy’s game cover is to go by. Some even argue that the entire Legend of Zelda map can be found downsized in The Adventure of Link. Sonic the Hedgehog takes place over the course of a day. Did you know there’s a secret room in Zelda: a Link to the Past which… oh come on, EVERYONE knows about that!

There’s even potential secrets within games which we, the gamers, are still yet to uncover. How about the bug-jars in Skyrim which heavily suggest some sort of hidden quest, but still no-one has figured out what they mean? There’s still a secret in Mega Man 9 which has never been found but the developer insists it’s there. Some fans of Shadow of the Colossus are convinced there is a major hidden 17th colossus within the game and it takes one of countless possible methods to unveil it. If all of these are actually there, none of them have been figured out as of yet.

An average day in the life for Sonic the Hedgehog

The point is that secrets to games are still being found all the time, but it’s these special hidden ones that amaze us for the length of time that they’ve gone unannounced. We don’t really see cheat codes anymore, unlockables are often available only after paying for the privilege or buying some plastic model, and we’ve lost that pleasure of uncovering something after hours of time spent with a game.

We’ve lost a lot of discovery. The Binding of Isaac is a recent series that has tried its hardest to subvert this trend by including a HUGE amount of unlockable content, and one particular secret that was so well hidden, but sadly ruined by hackers who figured it out too soon. The secret involved a super-hidden character, The Lost, who could only be unlocked through VERY specific conditions, but naturally, today’s gamers couldn’t resist data-mining the game and ruined the secret for everyone else. Edmund McMillen, developer of the game said of the incident, “It’s disheartening. It sucks because we’re gonna start working on an expansion soon, but we sure as hell aren’t gonna ****ing take all the time that it took – especially with Simon, who tried his best to really bury the stuff so it would deter people from doing this, but all they see is a challenge, so they’re going to dive right in and do it anyway. I can say right now that I don’t think the expansion is going to feature any buried secrets that anybody will care about.” I love the Isaac games and seeing this be the stance the developer feels he needs to take is just sad.

And a month-long headache in trying to complete a full run-through with him

And a month-long headache in trying to complete a full run-through with him

 

In the meantime, enjoy the secrets that are out there. Try to avoid game guide sites, or physical guides. Who buys those guides when a brand new game comes out anyway?? Enjoy the games, marvel at the effort put into one with a ton of extra stuff to plough through, and relish the secrets hidden away, sometimes for years on end!

And don’t even get me started on the Stop ‘n’ Swap debacle, that’s an article in itself.

Follow Carl on Twitter: @Auto2112

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