What Was the “Game Genie” Cheat Device, and How Did It Work?

Galoob Game Genie SNES and Game Boy setsGaloob

First released in 1991, Game Genie allows gamers to enter special codes that facilitate video games or unlock other functions. Nintendo didn’t like it, but many gamers loved it. Here’s what made it special.

genie in a bottle

Game Genie is the brand name of a series of video game enhancement devices developed by Codemasters and sold by Galoob in the United States. The first Game Genie model worked with the Nintendo 8-bit entertainment system and was released in the summer of 1991 for around $ 50. Game Genie devices for Super NES, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, and Game Gear followed suit.

The NES Galoob Game Genie box set.Galoob

Like a legendary genius, the Game Genie has made your wishes come true. To use one, you first plugged a game cartridge into the Game Genie unit and then plugged both devices into your console. When powering up, you saw a screen where you can enter a series of alphanumeric codes. These codes data injected between the game cartridge and the system, changing how the game works and effectively reprogramming it on the fly in minor ways.

NES Game Genie use photos of Galoob box art.NES Game Genie instructions on the back of the box. Galoob

Using these codes, you can add amazing new features to games (like invincibility or the ability to fly), or just make them easier to play. Each Game Genie model comes with a booklet filled with codes for popular games, and Galoob has posted updates over time in magazine ads and on free paper flyers to take away in retail stores.

Game Genie update codes for Mortal Kombat.A free hard copy Game Genie codes update flyer, available in store. Galoob

The gift that kept on giving

Video games were quite expensive in 1991, with the average NES game selling for between $ 30 and $ 50 in the United States, or around $ 60 to $ 100 today after adjusting for inflation. Many gamers only bought (or received) a few games per year. If you spent that kind of money on a very difficult game, it often seemed like a scam if you couldn’t play most of the time.

Back then, most new games were very difficult (by modern standards), with many borrowing the playing philosophy of arcade games designed to mine endless neighborhoods. Players who didn’t want to spend endless time mastering a game often relied on cheat codes to gain access to later levels that they might not otherwise see.

The NES Game Genie code entry screen.

In this environment, Game Genie felt like an unlimited fountain of cheat codes in a box. By using the Game Genie, you can empower your in-game character to overcome the more difficult parts of a game or just automatically move on to the later stages. This gave new value to your old games, making them fun to play, even if you had already completed them without cheating. It was like a gift that kept giving itself.

But the Game Genie was not seen as a gift by everyone. Just like today, there was a group of players who competed for high scores, and some of them viewed Game Genie as a cheating device. Nintendo might also have feared so much, as it ran contests in Nintendo Power magazine based on the high scores submitted by players.

I think there is some truth to [the idea that Nintendo feared] it would devalue games if you could easily cheat to the end, ”says Frank Cifaldi, founder and co-director of the Video Game History Foundation.

But in-game cheating was not the only controversy surrounding Game Genie. The product itself looked like a cheat for Nintendo, which sought legal recourse in court.

Nintendo problem

Galoob originally intended to launch Game Genie in the summer of 1990, but Nintendo first got wind of it and sued Galoob for copyright infringement, claiming that Game Genie had created non-derivative works. authorized of its games.

Perhaps more irritating to Nintendo was the fact that the Game Genie was an unlicensed device, not endorsed by Nintendo, and that Galoob intended to make a final spin around Nintendo’s strict NES licensing system.

A linear diagram of the insertion of Game Genie in the NES of the Game Genie manual.Inserting a Game Genie into a NES console, from the Game Genie manual. Galoob

Nintendo was successful in obtaining a court order to prevent Galoob from marketing the Game Genie for about a year, until a US District Court in San Francisco. ruled in favor of Galoob. (He ruled that in fact the Game Genie did not create any derivative works.) The NES Game Genie finally entered the market in the summer of 1991, and it sold well enough to inspire similar products for other consoles such as the Super NES, Genesis, Game Boy and Game Gear. The Game Genie never became a licensed device for Nintendo consoles, but it did gain Sega’s approval for its consoles.

Codes galore

The best fun you could have with a Game Genie back in the day was trying to create your own codes for your games. If you were persistent enough, you might find ways to tweak your games in weird and fun new ways, such as “ice skate” Mario everywhere or use a fire flower while staying small in Super Mario Bros.

The Game Genie could produce some fun and new effects, like swimming purple raccoon MarioThe Game Genie could produce new effects, such as the swimming purple raccoon Mario. Benj Edwards / Vintagecomputing.com

In the mid to late 1990s, gamers started sharing their own homebrew game codes online, and even today you can still find websites like GameGenie.com that list thousands of Game Genie codes.

Ultimately, Galoob never released Game Genies for consoles after the 16-bit era, but later devices like the Pro Action Replay and the GameShark picked up where Game Genie left off, allowing players with new consoles to continue to breathe new life into their existing games.

Today most games are much easier and more forgiving than they were during the Game Genie era, so the need for cheat codes isn’t as great. But Game Genie led the way in putting more power in the hands of gamers.

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