Video games are just chock-full of secrets, and many gamers strive for 100 percent completion. Sure, you can try to beat your or your friends' best scores, but it's more entertaining to stumble across hidden rooms, secret levels, concealed items or trophies. Sometimes you can even unlock hidden characters and new adventures.
Some of these hidden treasures are easy to find, while some are achievable only by executing difficult feats, solving complicated puzzles, reading walkthroughs or using cheat codes. Rumored Easter eggs lead players to pour countless hours into finding them — whether they exist or not.
A few game myths began as April Fools' gags, some were spurred by misleading promo materials or apparent in-game clues, and others were just made up by tricksters. Game cheat rumors (or sometimes flat-out hoaxes) are usually followed by people posting complicated instructions or pictorial "proof" that someone actually found them, leading the more trusting or obsessed on a long, disappointing journey. And occasionally, the fan longing will be so great that an unobtainable secret will become a reality, one way or another.
The original "Tomb Raider," developed by Core Design and published in 1996 by Eidos for the Sega Saturn, was wildly popular. It and its many sequels ended up on a plethora of gaming systems. The game's hero was British archaeologist and adventurer Lara Croft, who was as famous for her iconic outfit, ponytail and buxom figure as for her serious sleuthing, acrobatic and fighting skills.
It's no wonder that so many players wanted to undress Lara. Rumors abounded involving various cheat codes or hidden areas of the game that would purportedly let you play the main character in the nude. Photos even surfaced of the in-game character in the buff that seemed to substantiate the claim. But they were hoaxes, and despite all the man-hours put into disrobing Ms. Croft, players of the unadulterated game had to settle for seeing her hunt for ancient treasures in her signature shorts and tank top.
However, industrious pixelated-nudity enthusiasts have since created mods for some versions of the game that replace the character skins and make Ms. Croft adventure sans clothing, so this is a myth that's been hacked into reality.
Keep Aeris Alive
"Final Fantasy" is a well-beloved, fantasy RPG (role-playing game) by SquareSoft (now Square Enix) that originated on Nintendo and spawned a series of games and other media that crossed platforms and genres and sold lots of copies. One of its sequels, "Final Fantasy VII," was first released for the original PlayStation and was the subject of one of the more famous game cheat myths. If you've been meaning to get around to playing it since 1997 but still haven't, you may want to skip the rest of this section. In other words: Spoiler alert!
Halfway through the game, and to the utter disbelief of many a player, a major character named Aeris is killed by another character named Sephiroth in a dramatic, emotional cut-scene. Her death understandably upset a lot of fans, and pictures of her in a battle later in the game surfaced, so some people latched onto rumors that you could either keep her from dying or bring her back to life. The various reported methods included completing quests; acquiring certain gems, potions or other items; and locating characters that didn't exist. But alas, they were all just that — rumors — and fans had to settle for a complex game with a dramatic story arc that ended sans Aeris.
Unlock Sonic and Tails
In December 2001, Nintendo released a fight game for their GameCube system called "Super Smash Bros. Melee" that let you play and battle any of 25 or so different characters from past Nintendo games, including Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Link and Pikachu. It was believed by some that you could even play two characters from another system: Sonic and Tails from Sega's "Sonic the Hedgehog." As unlikely as that seems, some credence was lent to the rumor by the fact that Sega was, indeed, starting to license their characters to third-party game developers around that time.
An issue of popular game magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly printed an article stating that you could unlock Sonic and Tails as playable characters by achieving 20 knockouts in Cruel Melee mode with any one character and then beating Sonic and Tails when they appeared and challenged you. It even hinted at a "special surprise" if you finished Classic mode with either of the characters. Many a player tried this arduous task and failed. Unfortunately for them, that Electronic Gaming Monthly issue was from April 2002. It was all just an April Fools' joke. Nintendo did, however, include Sonic in games years later, starting with "Super Smash Bros. Brawl."
The Secret Cow Level
The original "Diablo" game, released by Blizzard Entertainment in 1996 for PC and Mac, had players traversing the village of Tristram to fight various evil creatures, demons and powerful boss characters. But not all the fauna of Tristram would try to kill you. There were also harmless cows, and their existence was apparently enough to spur a rumor that you could enter a secret cow level by clicking on a particular cow a bunch of times.
It wasn't true. No number of cow whacks would cause a portal to a bovine-filled realm to open. But the rumor had such traction, and Blizzard got so many questions about it, that it was referenced in later official Blizzard games and eventually became a real thing.
The game "StarCraft" included a cheat code, "There is no cow level," that would apparently cause you to get instant victory on the current level. And in "Diablo II," a real secret cow level can apparently be reached by completing the Eve of Destruction quest on one difficulty setting, traveling back to the Rogue Encampment and using the Horadric Cube to transmute the Tome of Town Portal and Wirt's Leg. After all that work, a red cow portal will appear to take you to a level not full of the docile creatures you would expect, but to one full of armed and dangerous Hell Bovines and a boss character called the Cow King who throws lightning bolts. Also, in Blizzard's MMO (massively multiplayer online) RPG game "World of Warcraft," you can obtain an item called the Cow King's Hide.
Nods to the secret cow level aren't confined to Blizzard. The MMO expansion of "Goat Simulator," a game by Coffee Stain Studios that is exactly what it sounds like it is, includes the town of Twistram, where you can find a passage to a level full of killer cows — although these shoot laser beams from their eyes.
Let Luigi Loose
One of the first titles for the 64-bit Nintendo 64 gaming system in 1996 was "Super Mario 64," a sprawling 3-D world which had its share of unlockable secrets and surprises, including a Yoshi cameo. But Mario's brother, Luigi, was nowhere to be found in the game. As a sequel to a franchise that included several "Mario Bros." titles, his absence seemed conspicuous.
A statue in the courtyard of the Princess's castle included an illegible, pixelated inscription that some people thought read "L is real 2401." Someone creatively interpreted this as a hint for a cheat where you could unlock Luigi if you collect all 2,401 gold coins in the game and then return to the statue. Many tried, but nothing happened. People posted fake codes claiming they would unlock the missing brother. The website IGN even offered $100 to anyone who could find Luigi and prove it.
But no one ever did, because he was not programmed into the game. The statue inscription was unreadable gibberish, and the number of coins in the game apparently wasn't even 2,401. It was all just wishful thinking.
Evolve Into Yoshi and Luigi
In the popular 1998 Nintendo Game Boy titles "Pokémon Red" and "Pokémon Blue," the aim was to catch, train and battle various types of Pokémon (or "pocket monsters"), of which there were 150 total. You could evolve them into other stronger Pokémon, sync up your Game Boy with another player's device and swap the creatures.
An article in Expert Gamer magazine issue No. 58 detailed a difficult method for evolving a particular Pokémon into the character Yoshi from the Mario line of games. Two players, one with the "Pokémon Red" version and one with the "Pokémon Blue" version, would both have to beat the game, having attained all 150 Pokémon. The "Blue" player would get the character Dratini from the "Red" player, evolve it into Dragonite and trade it back. Then the "Red" player would go to the basement of the Unknown Dungeon, surf to the location where Mewtwo was found, take a Fire Stone and use it to evolve Dragonite into Yoshi. The article was complete with screen captures showing the transformation, and the new Yoshi Pokémon's designation as number 999.
That Expert Gamer issue was, of course, the April 1999 edition, and the evolution into Yoshi was an April Fools' joke. But the supposed cheat continued to pop up on message boards for years to come.
A similar rumor was spread that you could evolve Lickitung into Luigi by capturing it in a type of Pokéball, holding your Game Boy upside down and giving him a Rare Candy, but this, too, was an April Fools' joke, this time perpetrated by an official Nintendo website, no less.
Gotta Catch the Mew
"Gotta catch 'em all!" was a Pokémon slogan, and that's precisely what a lot of players tried to do. But unlike the mythical Yoshi, there was one real Pokémon who was very hard to attain: Mew, Pokémon number 151. In "Pokémon Red" and "Pokémon Blue," rumor had it that you could unlock Mew by surfing to a particular shore that had a hidden pickup truck, doing something to the truck to reveal Mew (possibly including slashing the truck's tires with the cut ability and pushing it with the strength ability, or unlocking the truck with a card key) and fighting Mew when it emerged.
The lone pickup truck did exist in a hard-to-access location, likely fueling speculation that it had to be there for a reason. It was near the ship S.S. Anne in Vermillion City, but it wouldn't budge. The truck was actually in an area that players were never likely to see; you could only get to it by traversing water, and the surf skill was available in the game only after boarding the S.S. Anne. But Game Boy allowed you to hook up your device with another Game Boy and swap characters with friends, so you could receive a character with the ability before reaching that point in the game and surf on over to find the apparently secret truck.
As was mentioned above, some gamers did legitimately have the character Mew, but they got it by attending a Nintendo event and linking up their Game Boy with that of a Nintendo representative (the only official way to get Mew). Mew could also be obtained by hacking your Game Boy with a Gameshark, Game Genie or Pro Action Replay device and using a cheat code. But alas, Mew was nowhere to be had in the actual unadulterated game.
Mythical Sheng Long
In the 1991 Capcom arcade fighting game "Street Fighter II," at the end of each match, static images of the two competitors would appear on screen, the loser all bloodied and the winner spouting boasting dialog via a text caption. In the U.S. version, one of Ryu's dialog cards said, "You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance." Some players took that, along with the absence of any Sheng Long in the game, to mean that Sheng Long was a hidden character you could unlock.
Electronic Gaming Monthly even published a story that confirmed the cheat, saying that Sheng Long would be unlocked if a gamer played as Ryu, got to the end of the game undefeated with no damage, and, in the final battle with M. Bison, neither dealt out nor received any damage before each round timed out. After all that, Sheng Long would reportedly throw M. Bison off screen and fight you in his place.
Predictably, the story was another April Fools' gag. Electronic Gaming Monthly even mocked up pictures of the imaginary character on screen with M. Bison and Ryu. The tip was presented as a write-in from W.A. Stokins from Fuldigen, HA (or, sounded out, "waste tokens from fooled again, ha").
In actuality, Sheng Long was one of Ryu's punches (shoryuken) badly translated from Japanese into a Chinese dialect and then again into English. In the original Japanese version, the dialog read something like, "If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!" For the Super Nintendo port of the game, probably to avoid similar confusion, the dialog was changed to read, "You must defeat my dragon punch to stand a chance!" Electronic Gaming Monthly even reprised the trick for an April 1997 article detailing the Sheng Long character in the upcoming "Street Fighter III."
As happens sometimes with video game myths, Sheng Long was eventually incorporated into the lore of the game when Nintendo included him in the instruction manual for the Super Nintendo version, which stated that he was Ryu's former martial arts master.
The Hidden Triforce
The Triforce was an item in Nintendo's Zelda games that granted the holder great power, and finding and assembling its pieces was a major plot point in the original game "The Legend of Zelda." It looked like a metallic triangle made up of three smaller triangles. The item also had an influence on the plot of the 1998 game "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time."
Before "Ocarina of Time" launched, Nintendo released promotional material that included an image of the Triforce. And on the Quest Status screen in the released game, there appeared to be a spot for it in the middle of a ring of Spiritual Medallions. These things understandably led people to believe that the Triforce would be somewhere in the game for the taking, and many methods for locating it were concocted and spread. As with other gaming myths, photographic evidence even appeared. But those pictures were hoaxes, and all searches for the Triforce were fruitless, because the item was nowhere in the game. The Quest Status screen Triforce logo was just decorative, and the promotional material was just that, not actual in-game reality. Nintendo got enough queries about it that they tell players it doesn't exist in the game's online FAQ.
Unlock Ermac, the Red Ninja
The stand-up arcade game "Mortal Kombat" was created by Ed Boon and John Tobias and released by Midway Games in 1992. It included a Game Audits page that would usually be accessed only for diagnostic purposes or seen by owners of the consoles at boot up. This screen showed counts of various occurrences, like "WINNING STREAK RESET COUNT" and "DIFFERENT CHARACTERS PICKED." The last three items in the list were "REPTILE APPEARANCES," "REPTILE BATTLES" and "ERMACS."
There really was a hidden character in the game called Reptile (a green-tinted version of the character Scorpion), who could be unlocked by winning two consecutive rounds in a certain arena through scoring a fatality after never blocking or taking damage. This gave some gamers the idea that there was another secret character called Ermac. Someone named Tony Casey fed the rumor by writing in to popular gaming magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly claiming to have fought Ermac. He sent what was purported to be a picture of the Ermac victory screen that showed the text "ERMAC WINS," and the story and photo were printed by the magazine. The tale was that you could unlock the secret character much as you did Reptile, but by scoring those flawless victories against all opponents in the game.
Developer Ed Boon set the record straight in a 2011 tweet saying that it was a macro he wrote for catching code errors [source: Boon]. The listing on the audit screen was just an audit of the number of times the error macro had run. As a nod to the myth, the nonexistent character was referenced in "Mortal Kombat II," where Jade's dialog included, "Ermac who?" and one of its jumbled messages read, "CEAMR ODSE NTO EXITS" ("Ermac does not exist.").
But Ermac was included in "Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3" as an actual character that players could unleash by entering a 10-digit code, and he appeared in subsequent games. So some diagnostic listings really are just for diagnostics, but occasionally wishful thinking does come true.
How much do you really know about the iconic video game series? Take HowStuffWorks' Super Mario quiz to find out.
Author's Note: 10 Myths About Gaming Cheats
Playing games to completion, finding all the hidden goodies and leveling your characters up as high as they can go can be time consuming (sometimes life consuming) tasks. And fake secrets can be maddening, derailing time wasters on your path to success. I'm just glad "porntipsguzzardo" was a real "Sim City" cheat code, or most of my early simulated cities would have gone bankrupt in minutes. At some point I learned how to build slowly and achieve steady growth, but building a huge, crazy city as fast as possible is its own sort of fun.
And although I never played "Final Fantasy VII" (an omission I intend to rectify due to my research), I can relate to trying to save Aeris. Character deaths are very upsetting. In "Sims 3" when Mortimer eventually died, I reloaded a saved game several times to try to save him, and when I realized it was impossible, I turned off aging for all characters because I just couldn't handle it. And that game doesn't have a story arc that gets you attached to its characters.
Playing by the rules might feel more virtuous, but sometimes quick rewards or cheats to get you past a level where you're stuck are necessary to preserve sanity or enhance fun. Just beware the myths, research any cheats you find and definitely question the ones from articles posted on April 1st. The cake isn't the only lie in the world of video games.
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