If These Bugs Are Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right
Game writers love to whine about glitches. We blame hurried development schedules, the luxury of patching, overly complex code -- but honestly, we're not sure why games are buggy. The only thing we know for certain is that things used to be different, dad-gummit.
The thing is, gaming history is full of glitches. They're nothing new. Combine human nature with code more than a few lines long, and you're going to get mistakes. In the happiest cases, though, programming errors actually make the games better than they would have been in a "perfect" state. Don't call them bugs. They're features.
Street Fighter II (arcade): Guile's Handcuffs
The bug: Playing as Guile, execute a Flash Kick a split-second after throwing an opponent. Your hated rival is now frozen in a stunned pose, "handcuffed" to Guile's side. Point and laugh accordingly, but be sure to break the handcuffs before the timer hits zero (by executing yet another glitch, Guile's "phantom throw"), or the game will hang.
It's a feature because: Any persistent button-masher can eke out an occasional victory on the novice-friendly Street Fighter II, so at the arcade, you have to try for more than a simple win. If you want the admiration of your peers, you have to win with style -- i.e., by finishing off your challenger in the most humiliating way possible.
In terms of schoolyard bravado, nothing tops Guile's Handcuffs, the gaming world's equivalent of a noogie. Just get an early lead, handcuff your opponent, and run out the clock. Watch the demo video above, and you can practically hear Ken's player pounding the cabinet buttons in frustration. In its day, this move likely caused a lot of actual street fighting -- albeit of a slappier, weepier sort.
Mega Man (NES): The Pause Trick
The bug: Fire a special weapon like the Thunder Beam at an enemy. When your shot makes contact, rapidly press Select to pause and unpause the game. The enemy's period of invincibility (i.e., that annoying flashing effect that keeps him from getting hurt) wears off while the game is paused. When you unpause, he's vulnerable again, and with your Thunder Beam still coursing through his body, he takes more damage. As a result, many bosses can be killed with a single shot.
It's a feature because: The Pause Trick adds a de facto "easy mode" to a game that, for many players, desperately needs it. Mega Man die-hards swear off such chicanery, of course, but for the hapless schmo who's spent hours trying to defeat Dr. Wily's Yellow Devil, this glitch is a welcome respite. Since the widely known bug made Mega Man accessible to a population of gamers who might otherwise have given up on the title, you could argue that this programming screw-up played an important part in broadening the Blue Bomber's early fanbase.
GoldenEye 007 (N64): Director's Cut Scenes
The bug: Switch the control setting to a two-controller mode, such as "Domino," that puts the fire button on Controller No. 2. Finish a mission. When the cut scene plays, the game neglects to lock out input from the second controller, so you'll be able to fire the last gun you had equipped, wreaking havoc on the scripted action.
It's a feature because: It's sweet revenge for every boring cut scene you've ever had to sit through. From Duck Hunt's chuckling dog to the Final Fantasy series' ponderous interludes, gamers have yearned to mess around in the cinematic bits that gum up our interactive fun. GoldenEye 007 scratches that itch, courtesy of some exotic control configurations.
The results of this glitch depend on the scene. Your gunfire may harmlessly ricochet off the wall, or you might take out a Bond girl. The most satisfying use of the glitch, by far, is at the end of the Egyptian level, when Baron Samedi from "Live and Let Die" rises from the dead and laughs in your face -- just in time to get popped with a point-blank headshot.
Super Mario Bros. (NES): The Minus World
The bug: Jump backward into a solid wall near the end of World 1-2. If you hit the wall in the right spot, you'll slide through it, ending up in what would normally be a warp zone. Jump down the first pipe to enter a stage that the game designates "-1," hence "Minus" World.
It's a feature because: Maybe the most famous glitch in videogame history, the Minus World introduced a generation of players to the idea that they could explore realms beyond what the programmers intended. At the time, there was a palpable sense of scandal when you dove into that bizarro level, a "We're not supposed to be here!" excitement. It was like you had just uncovered Shigeru Miyamoto's crawl-space Playboy stash.
Those annoying Nipponphiles who always think "the Japanese version is better" are correct in this case. On the NES, the Minus World is an endless but otherwise standard underwater level. On the Famicom, though, that malfunctioning warp pipe takes you to a hallucinatory bastardization of World 1-3 where princesses are plentiful and Mario swims through the air.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Lumines (PSP): Downgrade Your Unit
The bug: Copy a specially crafted, hacker-certified executable file from your computer to the PSP. When the game attempts to load save data, it runs the code in the file instead, allowing you to downgrade your PSP's firmware to an earlier, more liberated version. The exciting process is documented in the footage above, part of Fidgety Kid With a PowerShot: The Criterion Collection (available on DVD and Blu-Ray this fall).
It's a feature because: This bug doesn't make the games better; it makes the platform better. The arms race between PSP hackers and Sony was a bizarre battle between customers who loved the device and a company that hated them for it. Annoyed that users were playing emulators and homebrew on their PSPs, Sony frantically issued firmware "upgrades" to close holes in its code. Fittingly, the anti-authority Grand Theft Auto gave us the means to flip Sony the bird and revert to firmware 1.5 in all its exploitable glory.
In 2007, when hackers found a similar glitch in Lumines, the three-year-old puzzle game shot to the top of the Amazon charts, enjoying a sales spike of almost 6,000 percent.
Tecmo Super Bowl (NES) and Super Tecmo Bowl (SNES): Nose-Tackle Dive
The bug: On defense, select the nose tackle as the player you'll control. As soon as the ball is hiked, hit the dive-tackle button. As John Madden would say, "Boom!" Instant sack.
It's a feature because: If Tecmo Bowl is war, the nose-tackle dive is its nuclear option. Not just because it's crushingly effective, but also because this despicable tactic will blow your playing session to holy hell in a mushroom cloud of rage. See, seasoned players of the game tend to be evenly matched. They know every play, every technique, every little edge that can be had in Tecmo Bowl. All that's left is the mind game, and on that count the nose-tackle dive adds a provocative wrinkle. Yes, you've both agreed not to use it, but can you really be sure? On fourth down, Super Bowl championship at stake, ball on the one-yard line, can you really be sure he won't push the red button? No, you can't, and that keeps an extra jigger of adrenaline pulsing through your bloodstream.
To sidestep the issue, some players enforce a house rule forbidding anyone from even selecting the nose tackle in the first place. Wimps.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation): Climb the Chapel
The bug: Stand near a wall in the Royal Chapel. Activate your level 90-plus sword familiar, and turn into a bat. You'll be able to pass through the wall and explore the area outside the chapel, increasing your completion-rate stats to superhuman levels.
It's a feature because: It inspires players to push the boundaries. If you color inside the lines on SOTN, the maximum completion percentage is a bit over 200 percent -- 100 percent for each of the game's two castles, and a little bonus for the extra-diligent. Yet a greedy community of Castlevania diehards wasn't sated by Konami's generous offer of 200.6 percent, so they set out to abuse the game and pilfer more delicious percentage points from the map.
And they were rewarded handsomely for their effort. As it turns out, one of the best PlayStation games is also one of the buggiest. The chapel exploit was among the first SOTN glitches discovered, but many more have surfaced since. The ongoing exploration of Dracula's back doors has uncovered so much new ground that the max completion rate now stands at a staggering 425.5 percent. In other words, the developers only had half the story.
Asteroids (arcade): Hide Behind the Score
The bug: Move your ship to the upper-left corner of the screen, where the score is displayed. Congratulations; you're now invincible.
There's no video of this bug, but if it helps you visualize the action, here's a transcript: "FADE IN: The arrow-looking thing goes behind the numbers. THE END."
It's a feature because: We like to imagine that moral dilemmas are a relatively modern construct in videogames, innovated by titles like Fallout and Fable. In fact, the internal battle between good and evil has been part of gaming since the beginning, even in the primordial classic Asteroids. This trick could earn you a spot on your local machine's high-score list, but living with your furtive misdeeds was another matter. As the screen's cathode-ray tube burned your initials into the phosphors, was it not also burning them into your soul? (Answer: Yes, it was. Jerk.)
Atari moved quickly to patch the Asteroids software because fewer deaths meant fewer quarters.
Mega Man 2 (NES): The Pause Trick II
The bug: When an enemy is shooting at you, rapidly press Start to pause and unpause the game. Every time you unpause, Mega Man will warp back into the action with a little "gleek!" sound. During that split-second of warp time, Mega Man will be invincible, and the hostile fire will pass right through you.
It's a feature because: Once again, the pause function tosses despairing Mega Man players a lifeline. I can't imagine the dev-team managers at Capcom were too pleased when they heard about this one. "Wait, let me get this straight; you closed the pause loophole from the first game -- and opened up another one?" Pause Trick II isn't quite as useful as its predecessor, but it can help you past one of the most obnoxious bosses in Mega Man history, the purple Wall Orb room.
Final Fantasy VI [originally released in U.S. as Final Fantasy III] (SNES): Psycho Cyan
The bug: Have the character Cyan use Retort, a counterattack technique. Turn Cyan into an imp. Kill him in a single blow. Bring Cyan back to life. Now Cyan is angry. He'll thrash on your enemies until they're all dead. That's right, Cyan, let it out. Let it all out.
It's a feature because: Psycho Cyan is a quintessential example of glitches gone right. It's funny, it's a blast to watch, it helps you out, and best of all, it fits the story. Cyan had a nervous breakdown after a poisoned water supply killed his family. So, yeah, if anybody is going to go truly berserk, it's this dude.