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Game Genie (for the NES)

Game Genie (for the NES)

It seems like more and more people are forgetting about this clever tool, which is really a shame.  I still have foggy recollections of the commercials advertising infinite lives… infinite lives was the big selling point.  We all know an endless supply of lives isn’t the only factor when it comes to beating many NES games, but boy is it an appealing possibility when you’re 6 years old.  I was lucky enough to get one of these as a child, and what’s more, my parents even let me sign up for the code updates that were sent through the mail.  I still have several, if not all, of these, and the original code book is no more than 10 feet away from me right this second.  Yes, I am a cheater, and yes, I’m OK with that.  Original Nintendo games are way too hard!

Game Genie (NES)This item was an essential part of my NES experience as a child and still is today.  The only other comparable cheat device I had as a kid was a Game Genie for the Game Boy, but so enamored am I with these “game enhancers” that I expand my collection of them every chance I get.  Around the time that CD-based media was becoming popular many games utilized built-in cheat codes.  They didn’t always give the player as much of an edge as the Game Genie, but they often included options to skip around to different levels, provide infinite ammo, or lift other restrictions that resulted in an easier game.  Several games made in the last 10 years or less measure success in different ways that don’t exactly translate to clear cut codes.  But back then, when shit got tough, you had 3 choices:

  1. Play it so long and get so frustrated that you started crying and screaming and your parents outright took the console away.
  2. Quit, and add it to your stack of HARD ASS GAMES that’s now bigger than your stack of NOT HARD ASS GAMES.

What is a Game Genie?

Game Genie (NES)For you squares out there, a Game Genie (more specifically the NES Game Genie) is a device that acts as an intermediary between the NES Control Deck and the game cartridge.  It’s roughly half the size of a regular NES cart and has some flimsy black plastic to give the illusion of stability.  You stick the game into the Game Genie, and the other end goes into the NES.  [See “Problems with the Game Genie“]  Upon powering the system on, there’s a simple code entry screen.  It uses roughly half of the alphabet and has enough space for 3 lines of code, 8 characters each.  Some codes use 6 letters while others use 8, but I don’t really understand the reasoning.  The point is that the Game Genie interface couldn’t be more user friendly.  All you’ve gotta do is find the code(s) you want and punch ’em in.  Then you hit Start, and the game begins plus any changes you’ve initiated.


How Does it Work?

I don’t know, I didn’t build the damn thing.  Seriously though, there is some good information out there explaining what’s happening between the cart, the device, and the console, but I’ve never taken enough time to sit down and read through it.  What little I do remember involved the simplicity of NES games, and how each letter of Game Genie code represented some piece of code within the game.  The entire point to understanding all of this is to be able to essentially create your own codes.  This would’ve been fantastic when the Nintendo was all the rage, but by now all useful codes for all useful games have been discovered.

Basically the Game Genie is taking code from the game and mixing it up a bit before it gets to the console.  Yes, that’s right, the Game Genie actually facilitates a system of orchestrated and controlled glitches.  This explains why sometimes 2 different codes will have the same effect, or why some codes have bizarre “side effects,” or why “Infinite Energy” in Mega Man 3 is expressed in the form of the energy meter being drained by roughly one sixth and then filling back up and “Infinite Energy” in Castlevania II results in Simon never losing any of his energy.


The Codes

Game Genie (NES)While the Game Genie was a “living product,” it came packaged with a fairly large code book.  Plenty of games were included, but as time went on, you may begin to notice some of your newer games weren’t included.  Well, the folks at Galoob were way ahead of your 8 year old brain and devised a wonderful little system to take money from mom and dad by offering up “code updates.”  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great idea, and I don’t remember it costing that much, but it was difficult to convince your parents to purchase a subscription for you at that age.  Thankfully, mine did, and every quarter (I think) a new, smaller code book came in the mail with new codes for around 20 different games.  Before the days of the internet, this was essential because there was no way to quickly tap into a database of codes.  You could blindly type letters in or try your best to spell words with the limited set of letters (TULANE), but this tended to lead to more problems than it solved.

Some people erroneously believe that there is one single code for “Infinite Lives.”  Not true.  Each game had it’s own specific set of codes.  Furthermore, not all codes were available for all games.  It wasn’t exactly the kind of situation where you could dream up a scenario or cheat and there’d be a code for it.  The Game Genie has to work within the confines of the original games, so sometimes certain features weren’t available.  As I grew older, I came to learn that this wasn’t entirely the truth, but it may as well be.  Let’s say a specific title has no code for “Infinite Lives.”  99% of the time what this means is that sure, there is a combination of letters that will result in infinite lives, but it also creates another issue where the game is virtually unplayable, and this issue cannot be separated from infinite lives.  The abilities of the Game Genie have always been good enough for me, however I have found that once I tell people something like “the Game Genie is a cheat device that lets you play NES games with infinite energy or super-high jumps” they misunderstand what the device is capable of and expect far too much.


Problems with the Game Genie

Game Genie (NES)Yes, the Game Genie does have a few shortcomings, but for a 3rd party accessory it’s well built, durable, and quite reliable.  I wouldn’t trade mine for anything in the world.  (Well ok, maybe an N64DD…)  I keep a spare one on hand just in case, but the one I’ve had for 20+ years is still going strong.  Don’t let these problems fool you. If you’ve ever thought about having one of these, the answer is a resounding yes, but I thought I’d point out some of the issues I’ve had with it for the sake of balance.

  • It stretches the pins of the NES.  Anyone familiar with the NES knows that once the game is inserted it needs to be pushed down for the system to recognize it.  With the Game Genie attached, it becomes too long to fit into the Control Deck.  The Game Genie fits into the port intended for the cart, but it does stick out.  When I was 6 or 7 or 8 or however old I was when I got this, it confused me to no end why it was sticking out.  I could see that there was no way that any more of this Game Genie + cartridge was going inside, but my young brain couldn’t make sense of the protrusion.  Anyway, with the device and game positioned as such, the bay where the cart sits can’t be pushed down, however the device connects well enough and exerts enough pressure on the bay that the NES will recognize it’s in the correct position to work.  Over time, this pressure will cause the connecting pins inside the system to stretch.

What does this mean?  Well, it’s not the end of the world, but they may be stretched to a point where a cart inserted by itself will no longer fit snugly enough to connect.  The console may have some trouble recognizing that a game is inserted at all.  You could open the NES and replace them, but the Game Genie will still fit, and since any cart will fit into the Game Genie, everything is perfectly functional.  Even if you don’t want to use the Game Genie, it can be bypassed entirely by pressing Start without entering any codes.

  • Codes can sometimes have unintended side effects.  This is rarely a serious issue, though there are times where codes have bizarre interactions with other codes or cause situations in games causing the player to “get stuck” and have to reset, i.e. using an enhanced jumping code to clear the flagpole in Super Mario Bros.  Once Mario runs to the right far enough for the flagpole to be out of sight, he can no longer end the level.  (This doesn’t technically count since the time will eventually run out and cause a death, thus not requiring a reset to continue, but it was the best example I could think of off the top of my head that would make sense to most people.)

Occasionally slightly different versions of carts may have been manufactured and a certain set of codes will cause all sorts of undesirable effects instead of the ability listed with the code.  The technology is so old and so well documented at this point that most games with this problem have 2 sets of codes listed.  Generally speaking there will be a widespread set and an alternate set.

  • It looks dumb.  I guess I’m used to the appearance, but it has occurred to me that other people aren’t.  I remember having friends over as a kid and them asking me what was wrong with my Nintendo.  Small price to pay for the wealth of benefits.
  • Unable to toggle between codes being “on” or “off.”  I didn’t quite realize how useful this feature was until I’d experimented with the Super NES and Genesis Game Genies a few years ago.  These Game Genies have a small switch on the unit allowing the user to dictate when the codes should be active and when they shouldn’t.  Superficially this may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re dealing with codes that affect the very fundamentals of the game you can get yourself into some tricky situations that you may not have seen coming.

For example, one of my preferred codes for Super Mario World (for the SNES) is infinite time.  Accessing at least one of the secret exits requires a certain amount of time to have passed.  With “Infinite Time,” we get a clock perpetually frozen at 400.  Without it ever going down to 399, the secret exit won’t realize the correct passage of time.  For whatever reason (and rightly so) it won’t accept 400 as a valid time since it’s physically impossible to move to that area without any time passing.  So in this instance, I get almost to where I need to be, flip the switch to off, (on the SNES Game Genie), time starts ticking, and the exit works.  It’d be nice to have this feature on the NES version because it’s easy to get stuck in some weird jams on older titles.

  • No way to change codes without powering off and powering back on.  Obviously there’s never going to be an in-game option to access the Game Genie, and I can live with that.  It is just slightly frustrating however to be forced to power off the console and turn it on again.  Later Game Genies could be accessed through a reset (and it even had the previous codes still entered too) but a reset on the NES leads only to a reboot of the game.



Game Genie (NES)With the Game Genie, you’ve finally got the power to get through those tough NES games, or just give yourself that extra push to reach new heights and access new areas.  Codes range from the mundane, to the weird, to the almost godly.  Infinite lives, infinite energy, unlimited ammo, mega-jumping, moon-jumping, re-use items, and more are just a sample of what’s possible.  Up to 3 codes can be used at once, with future Game Genies supporting even more.  NES games would’ve never been as fun without this simple device that allowed me to walk straight through enemies, dance across spike pits, and use the biggest gun for the entire game.


Links to Code Databases

  • GS Central – – Moving to a new host (as of 11/18/13) but otherwise the best place for Game Genie, GameShark, and Action Replay Codes; this site is also the most likely to have codes not found elsewhere on the web.
  • – – A decent source for Game Genie codes, though you’ll have to be a little careful how you search or else you’ll only hit generic tips/tricks/secrets instead of real Game Genie codes.
  • Other codes are scattered across the internet, but the above 2 do an excellent job of comprehensive indexing.


Game Genie (NES)

This guy is DOING IT WRONG…. (it’s like 3 or 4 GGs daisy-chained)

Written by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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  10. Haha! Dude the 4 game genies daisy chained gives you FOUR TIMES the infinite lives and FOUR TIMES unlimited time!! Didn’t you know that?!


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