The Sonic Second: The First Sonic Hackers

19, 65, 09, 17

1, 9, 9, 2, 1, 1, 2, 4

4, 1, 2, 6

A lot of video games had cheat codes, but the codes in Sonic were the best, and the best of those were in Sonic 2. The codes were hardly secret, being circulated in most of the gaming magazines of the time, and the Level Select menu was clearly intended for players to access, with a polished user-friendly interface and unique graphical icons for each zone. You didn’t even need quick fingers to press an obtuse combination of buttons, but merely had to input a sequence of numbers into the Sound Test. The sequence of numbers was Yuji Naka’s date of birth, with the results being an easily memorable code and him having the most famous birthday of any game developer.

Entering another date (the game’s own international release day, 1992-11-24, a.k.a. “Sonic Twosday”) on this screen would give up another goodie – Debug Mode. In addition to being a great name for a 16-bit Depeche Mode cover band, it was the coolest cheat code ever; it allowed the player to turn Sonic into myriad other objects from the game and place them in the layout (where they would remain until the screen scrolled far enough way that they were cleaned up by the object manager). It wasn’t a fully-fledged level editor, but it was the next best thing.

Sega clearly wanted us to find and enjoy Debug Mode. It would have been trivial to disable it. It’s not really talked about much, but this feature really made the Sonic games stand out. They all had it, not just Sonic 2, but no other game I played at the time – or, for that matter, since – has had anything like it. Certainly not the Mario games that were the direct competition. This, plus Sega’s endorsement of the Game Genie for Genesis while Nintendo sued Galoob, made Sonic perfect for players who liked to get their hands slick with the guts of a game. With Debug Mode, we poked and prodded the running game for a response like gaming Galens.

While the leaked Sonic 2 beta would be the flame around which the hacker moths of the early online Sonic scene would circle, I believe that Debug Mode and the Game Genie were already sparking the hacking attitude in players back in the early ’90s. In some sense, you could say those who used these codes and features were the first Sonic hackers.

I honestly think that this is yet one more of the ways the Sonic series is so special. The games themselves fostered an ability to enjoy them from any angle, from front to back and inside out, and that’s part of the reason why there’s such a vibrant and talented hacking scene surrounding them today.


Next time on The Sonic Second, I’ll be counting down my favourite Sonic hacks, but for now I’ll leave you with a video of one of the silly and fun things I did with Debug Mode back in the day. (I’ve recreated it using emulation so I can record it and provide a savestate, but I used to do it on hardware.)

I love the classic physics! Here’s the savestate (for Gens). Can you jump up all the doors without falling down?


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