For a kid in the early ‘90s, knowing somebody with a Game Genie was tantamount to knowing a character from the movie Hackers. Somehow, this awkward-looking chunk of plastic billed as a “video game enhancer” could give you infinite lives, better weapons, or let you skip levels altogether. It was essentially magic, and everybody wanted one. But, as a new piece from Tedium explains, the designers of the Game Genie didn’t initially create the hardware to make playing Super Mario Bros. more fun. Instead, the “plug through”-type cart was originally used to bypass the NES’ lockout mechanism so users could play unlicensed games.
As Tedium writes, Codemasters was one of the most popular UK game developers in the late 1980s. Founded by Richard and David Darling, the company specialized in affordable titles for 8-bit systems like the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum, which were more popular in the UK than the new Nintendo systems. As their popularity grew, the Darlings teamed up with another pair of brothers, the Oliver twins, and expanded their company, launching new and successful titles like Ghost Hunters and a line of games starring Dizzy, “a cartoon character based on an egg.” Still, they’d yet to make their mark in America, where the NES was king.
Nintendo didn’t exactly make it easy for companies to break into their market. The original NES consoles had a lockout chip called 10NES that would only allow games from Nintendo-approved companies like Konami and Capcom to be played. Unlicensed game companies, like Camerica, the company that owned the rights to distribute Codemasters games in that states, had to find creative solutions to this problems. That’s when the Darlings developed a workaround based on a piece of hardware they’d already developed—the Game Genie. The new peripheral was used to “hijack” a licensed cart, bypass the lockout, and allow users to play Codemasters games like Mig 29: Soviet Fighter and Micro Machines.
Despite the success of this repurposed technology in the Game Genie, Codemasters still struggled to find its footing in the American market. A few mismanaged product launches and a couple lawsuits from Nintendo eventually forced Camerica to go bankrupt and cease operations in 1993. According to Tedium, there are a small number of collectors out there dedicated to finding all the American Codemasters releases, but it’s clear the company’s real legacy is that magic hunk of plastic that gave you the power to break your favorite games.
You can read the whole piece here.