Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Top Secret Passwords: A Nintendo Power Player's Guide

Top secret? Not any more.
It was 1992, and 10-year-old Matt was punching his way past the pugilists of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior on a daily basis. After slogging through eight hours at whatever you call that place that teaches you math while you should be playing Mortal Kombat, a package arrived for our young protagonist from Nintendo Power. Tossing down the controller, Matt tears open the package. Well, let's see here... There was a Top Secret Passwords Player's Guide inside the box!

To this day I'm not sure why I received such a wonderful gift - perhaps my mother renewed my subscription to Nintendo Power when I wasn't looking, or maybe she pummeled the ugly neighbor boy with Marioesque fireballs and stole it for me - but the fact remains that NP was awesome enough to send Top Secret Passwords my way. As you can see from the included picture, my copy is a battle worn veteran of the video wars, and for good reason: In the days before Al Gore's amazing  internetz, this was one of the few and best resources for both lazy gamers who didn't feel like writing down passwords and those of us who had a tendency to lose that little scrap of paper that contained our Metroid progress every damn time. And speaking of Metroid:

Remember the old JUSTIN BAILEY trick for Metroid? It's in this guide and I'm totally naming my first son after it. (The code, not the player's guide.)

Top Secret Passwords was printed in the early days of the Super Nintnedo, which means that there wasn't too much coverage for SNES games. And even though it was the heyday the pea-soup green Gameboy, there weren't too many portable paks out there that utilized a password feature. However, this guide had a field day with Nintendo Entertainment System; about a hundred NES games took the spotlight. For a kid who had plenty of unfinished Nintendo games, the Top Secret Passwords Player's Guide was a Godsend. It brought a brand new life to plenty of my old games, not through actually using the included passwords, but by showing me the later stages and inspiring me to take another crack at it.

And another. And another.

Not that Mega Man II was really difficult or anything, but this guide had your back regardless. Plenty of games got a one or two page treatment like this, with a variety of passwords for your cheating pleasure.

Top Secret Passwords, true to its name, had passwords and stage select codes for almost 150 games. But more importantly, it also had a bizarre spy theme in the form of chapter introduction illustrations featuring a clumsy twit in a yellow trench coat. This 35-year-old Dick Tracy wannabe apparently spent his days doing nothing but gathering passwords and stage select codes for a passtime that was generally considered "kids' stuff" at the time. Worse, the people around him encouraged his strange behavior. Check out this old lady's reaction when, at "NIN" Airport, the lock breaks on Fake Tracy's crappy suitcase, sending his Gameboy, "secret documents" and disembodied Super NES controllers spilling out on the floor:

She thinks she's doing him a favor by playing along, like when your dad buys five glasses of lemonade from your stand because you set it up at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday so no one shows up and the sugar is starting to migrate the the bottom of the pitcher, but she's just making it worse. Thinking his insatiable quest for passwords was actually having an important impact on society, Cheap Tracy took things too a little too far:

Breaking and entering into the government's secret Branch of Nintendo Codes and Affairs? Hiding from unobservant and underpaid night watchmen? Stealing unmarked and possibly empty manila envelopes and scattering random papers on the floor?

Wearing his sunglasses at night!?

Weird Tracy's actions were getting out of hand. It seems our garish gumshoe has an addiction to game-breaking cheats and techniques. As you can plainly see, back in the early '90s while he was compiling  information for the Top Secret Passwords guide, he wasn't just playing with power or even SUPER power; he was just playing with FIRE. And not like Super Mario does. You know what I mean.

I'm sorry to say that it only got worse from there.

Jiminy Christmas! How much sugar is in the coffee? ...hey, wait a minute! Is that a f***ing gun on his desk?! How many people have you killed in your quest for powerful passwords, you monster?!

Cheap Tracy, you've become a power animal!

Yeah, like this guy! Only less '80s! And Fake Tracy at least knows which end of the controller is "up."

It would take months before the true damage incurred by Weird Tracy's attempts to "radicalize his game" could be calculated, but in early 1993 - coinciding with the release of Star Fox on the SNES - the reports started pouring in to the national papers and 5 p.m. news shows: Tracy's terror caused $800,000 in destroyed suitcases and busted file cabinets, 6.99 for new manila envelopes, and countless billions spent by the hottest gaming companies of the '90s undoing the damage caused by the massive leak of such sensitive NES information. The media had dubbed Fake Tracy the "Video Vigilante," and he was charged with breaking and entering, unlawful possession of a weapon, willful destruction of property and six counts of first degree murder. After a lengthy trial, he was sentenced to 94 years in a maximum security penitentiary. Cheap Tracy, or as his mother called him, Nester H. Phillips, died in prison in 2006 from an overdose of the powerful narcotic Starman, so named because it gets the user high enough to "see the stars an feel invincible." He was 49 when he ran out of continues.

In related news, the Power Animal remains at large, but it is believed that during his search for "the key to unlimited power," he may have choked to death on a copy of Battletoads in a blind rage after losing all of his lives to the jet scooter stage.

But yeah, the Top Secret Passwords Player's Guide is still awesome despite all the scandal that surrounded it, kind of like Micheal Jackson's Thriller album. It's an inspired collection of codes that still captivates the 10-year-old inside me. It will always have a special, secret place in my heart.

*   *   *

And now for my very own Top Secret Password, revealed here for first time ever: Grab a copy of Metroid on the NES and a Game Genie. Now enter the six character code KAGNAS. You'll find that the properties of the Freeze Ray have been bestowed to every available weapon, including the Wave Beam and even missiles! No more picking between power and functionality!

Take THAT, Mother Brain!

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