In the age of the internet, it generally doesn’t take long for secrets to get found out. Entire movie plots are spoiled before the movie is even released and anonymous sources dish on the secrets of everything from politics to pop culture. Gamers love to discover every last bit of information about their favorites, so it is practically impossible for an in-game secret to stay hidden for long.
Sometimes, however, they do.
We’re taking a look at some video game secrets that stayed hidden for years at a time — decades in some cases. Some of these secrets are hidden Easter eggs that reveal more about the plot, others are random glitches that are most likely throwbacks to earlier builds of a game. Many found traction from fans digging around in the source code. Regardless of where they come from, these are secrets that stayed out of the limelight for years after the game released.
Uncharted’s Nathan Drake sees his luck run out, not his health
The Uncharted series has long served as an homage to classic action adventure films like Indiana Jones, but the amount of bullets protagonist Nathan Drake can absorb before succumbing to his injuries has always stuck out a bit. As silly as the series can get, Uncharted tries to maintain a fairly "real world" tone, so how can a seemingly regular guy get shot repeatedly with no real problem? Engadget actually spotted the answer on Twitter, and it changed the entire dynamic behind the series.
Jonathan Cooper, an animator for developer Naughty Dog, dropped the tidbit that Nathan Drake is actually not being shot at all: "Drake doesn’t ever take bullet damage. The red UI that shows ‘hits’ is to represent his ‘luck’ running out. Eventually enemies will get a clear shot and kill him if he takes enough near-misses." This was confirmed by Amy Hennig, the series’ creative director, and she stated that the decision was made "to stay more aligned with the spirit and tone of the films we were homaging."
GTA 5 hid a bizarre cell phone bomb for years
Grand Theft Auto 5 contains a surprising number of secrets and "long con" type mysteries, and a Reddit community of gaming sleuths have pooled their resources to try to solve them all. Whether Rockstar actually has plans for all their Easter egg content or they just like a messing with their fan base is uncertain, but whenever a new secret pops up, it causes a stir in the community.
Many cheat codes for Grand Theft Auto 5 are unlocked by dialing a number on your in-game cell phone. You can lower your wanted level, unlock all the weapons, gain invincibility — typical cheat codes. However, Kotaku reported that a cell phone code went hidden for years: dialing 1-999-367-3767 will contact "Black Cellphones," which causes an explosion above your character’s head and changes your cell phone’s color.
Kotaku also wrote that this code might have gone undiscovered because it may have been patched in at a later date. You can watch a video of the bizarre "cheat" right here.
You can play as Master Hand in Super Smash Bros. Melee
Rumors have long floated around arcades that you could play as fighting game bosses if you met a very specific set of requirements. Playing as M. Bison or Shao Kahn were just fifty straight perfect victories away — or so the whispers said. Therefore, when you start hearing talk about playing as Master Hand in Super Smash Bros. Melee, you’ll probably dismiss it as just another rumor.
Not so fast: a weird glitch in Melee does indeed allow you to take control of the game’s boss. GameTrailers seems to be the first to have scoped the story (its video appears to have been since taken down; this video is a reposting on a different channel), although Kotaku wrote that it appeared in the unofficial Smash Bros. Wiki before that.
Playing as Master Hand requires split-second timing that essentially confuses the game into starting with no character selected, which causes your character to default to the boss. Although the character is playable, it cannot be defeated (due to Master Hand not having knockback characteristics) and it tends to cause the game to glitch and crash.
Super Mario 64’s "Impossible Coin" is collected … 18 years later
Super Mario 64 seems rife for glitch and secret hunters to explore: when the game was released in 1996, the levels were enormous and the technology was extremely advanced, so there were bound to be strange things popping up. One such mystery was dubbed the "Impossible Coin" by the Super Mario 64 community. There is speculation that the coin was simply forgotten by the designers: a small glitch made the coin load just under the ground of Tiny-Huge Island. It requires careful camera manipulation to even find. For almost two decades, the coin remained "impossible" to reach.
But YouTube user Pannenkoek2012 is credited as the first to actually nab the coin. They write that they used a tool-assisted hack of the game in order to do it, but that it could feasibly be done with precise timing and lots of practice. Pannenkoek2012 has become somewhat of a legend in the Super Mario 64 community due to achievements like this: their YouTube page is full of in-depth Mario 64 accomplishments, and Kotaku writes that they are also attempting to kill what the community calls the "Unkillable Goomba."
Cutesy platformer The Apprentice has some NSFW secrets
It seems doubtful that too many people remember The Apprentice for the Philips CD-i. First off, it was for the CD-i. Second, it was a goofy little platformer featuring bright, cartoonish graphics: perfectly forgettable in an era full of similar titles.
It may come as a bit of a shock, in that case, that The Apprentice has codes that make the cartoon women’s clothes fall off.
According to a former CD-i developer, there were several codes hidden in the game that made it past censors with no problem. All players need to do is input a series of button presses on the game over screen in order to execute "fatalities, animalities, and nudalities" against the anime women who appear. Yes, they’re called nudalities.
A Reddit post refers to the codes as "Hot Coffee," after the infamous Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas mod. That mod opened content that was cut from the game, however, rather than something a developer smuggled in. Who knows if any other off-the-beaten-path games have hidden codes like this?
Trials HD devotees pieced together an obscure riddle
Trials HD may not seem like the type of game to hide secrets for a long time. As fast, loud, and over the top as the game is, noticing tiny, related background details across different levels may seem like an impossibility. However, Kotaku Australia‘s FatShady did just that, and he and a cadre of internet sleuths pieced together a mystery that permeates the entire game.
It started with FatShady noticing some out of place pieces of artwork in the background of certain levels. After posting findings of depictions of things like the Fibonacci sequence and some of the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, the Trials HD community started piecing together these different details to unravel the mystery.
Almost a year later, FatShady compiled a video that explained the group’s findings. It is … lofty, to say the least. Check it out, and remember that even silly motorcycle games can provide some serious introspection. Bonus fact: FatShady went on to start a YouTube series called "Trials University," and actually appeared onstage at E3 in 2018 to introduce the upcoming game in the series.
The first video game Easter egg took years to find
According to Forbes, Atari did not want their programmers to receive credit for the games they created: they were worried that developers who created a string of hits might start asking for royalties or even be lured away by other companies. This reluctance bred the very first in-game Easter egg: a hidden screen that merely tells players who created the game. It may sound like a far cry from the video game secrets of today, but Adventure‘s hidden screen is the first known Easter egg; it is even where the name "Easter egg" comes from.
IGN has a short write up on how to find the screen in Adventure, which involves finding a seemingly useless object, taking it to another screen, and activating it on a specific pixel. This will take you to a screen that informs you that Adventure was "Created by Warren Robinett."
Yes, that’s it. But, again, this was a big deal at the time it was discovered. First Person Scholar writes that, nine months later, a player found the secret and wrote to Atari about it. Manager of Atari Steve Wright, rather than being upset about the secret, was amused and likened it to "finding an Easter egg." This is still the term we use today for hidden content in games.
Even with this relatively fast discovery, in this pre-internet era it still would have taken years before this Easter egg — or even the idea of an Easter egg — was broadly known.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has Wind Waker’s island
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a game full of secrets and hidden details, so it makes sense that certain aspects are still turning up years after the game’s release. John from GameXplain points out one such secret links Breath of the Wild back to its 2002 predecessor, The Wind Waker. Turns out that the starting location in The Wind Waker, Outset Island, is located in its entirety in the southeast corner of the map in Wild.
It’s actually fairly obvious once the similarities start to come together. The biggest giveaway is the massive lookout tower, which gives you a view of the entire village of Lurelin. If you watch the video, he points out many other connections that make it fairly obvious that the village is indeed Outset Island.
Legend of Zelda games have always been good about hiding secrets, so it seems likely that some more will crop up in Breath of the Wild before too long. That’s especially true when you consider that the Easter egg isn’t even much of a secret; it was just unnoticed!
Resident Evil 4 hid a cardboard cutout for twelve years
Some secrets offer outrageous new ways to play through your favorite games. Others break the game in extremely interesting ways, and still others reveal a whole new outlook on why certain things happen in a game. This secret from classic Resident Evil 4 does … none of those. It’s a cardboard cutout of a random man. That no one found for twelve years.
Finding this odd image in-game involves aiming an enhanced rifle scope in the complete opposite direction of where you should be looking, and then only from a specific angle on a specific platform. Game Informer notes that, without tools to manipulate the game’s camera, you would probably never even notice the two-dimensional, green-jacketed man in the distance. They also note that you may need to turn up the brightness of your screen to even pick the image out.
To see how to find this odd hidden image for yourself, check out YouTuber Slippy Slide’s video here. Prepare to be underwhelmed.
Enemies always miss with their first shot in BioShock
Another game already rife with mysteries, BioShock hid a lot of what made its world tick under the hood. Some of the best secrets in games are the ones that affect the world without you even realizing it, and a simple bit of code hidden in the game’s enemies actually helps to make the shootouts in BioShock so memorable.
Ken Levine, the Creative Director of BioShock, posted this little gem on his Twitter account in September of 2017: "First shots from an enemy against you in BioShock always missed … that was the design, think it got fully implemented. No ‘out of blue!’"
Levine’s "out of the blue" statement probably refers to the annoying feeling in video games when you are killed by an enemy that you didn’t even know was there: it seems unfair and lazy. Therefore, Irrational Games decided to do something about that and make it so enemies always miss their first shot. This means they give you a bit of a heads-up: you are still ambushed, but you have a bit more time to react and live out those "action hero" moments of diving for cover against an encamped enemy.
An obscure Apple II game held a secret for 33 years
We’re talking about some iconic games on this list: Grand Theft Auto V, BioShock, Gumball … wait, you don’t remember Gumball? 1983’s Apple II classic Gumball? Ok, chances are a lot of people don’t have Gumball on their radar. Which is probably why it held a secret in its code for over three decades, the longest wait on this list.
Motherboard had the whole story on an encryption cracker who goes by the moniker "4a.m." His specialty is cracking the DRM for old Apple II games, a task which is generally a trivial process. However, Gumball‘s copyright protection was created by Roland Gustafsson, who is somewhat of a legend in the field. After all manner of keystrokes, password attempts, and other cracking techniques, 4a.m. found a hidden screen congratulating him on the discovery and informing him that he is one of the few people who will probably ever see it. After 4a.m. posted his findings on Twitter, Gumball‘s creator, Robert Cook, chimed in with "WELL DONE. I assumed it would take a thousand, but you solved it in a mere 33 years."
GameCube’s Animal Crossing included a "load your own ROM" emulator that stayed hidden for 18 years
If you played Animal Crossing on the Nintendo GameCube, you may remember that your character in the game could purchase an original NES, and there were even a few games that you could play on it. What you might not know, however, is that Nintendo may have had bigger plans for that little item, as it was actually a full-blown NES emulator. Ars Technica writes that, almost twenty years later, a security expert discovered this secret and how to load any ROM you want onto it.
James Chambers is the security expert in question, and he discovered that the game actually searches your memory card for compatible ROM files when you use the item, and a bit of debug trickery can actually make the game recognize commands to load up pretty much any ROM file you stick on there. He published his findings on his personal blog, which included loading a home-brew ROM that he himself cooked up.
This raises all sorts of questions about just what Nintendo planned with this Animal Crossing item. The most likely theory is that they could have released GameCube memory cards with preloaded ROMs. For whatever reason, however, that idea seems to have been left on the cutting room floor.
Silent Hill 2 held a few hidden tricks to make the game easier
Kotaku reports that fans of the PlayStation 2 classic Silent Hill 2 have recently discovered a few things that make the game not quite so difficult: a mini-map feature and a "save anywhere" option. The only problem: they are only accessible after viewing the infamous "dog ending," which means you will have already completed the game multiple times. Just why you would want to go back through the game again with these features seems a little strange, but who knows? Maybe they unlock something else even further down the line.
Silent Hill 2 came out in 2001, so it has been sitting there awhile before these secrets came out. Twitter user punk7890 posted exactly how players can unlock these two things (which are apparently exclusive to the PS2 version of the game), building off of data mining rumors of their existence in the Silent Hill community that have been around since 2015.
After years of speculation, a Metroid is found in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Kotaku writes that gamers have been hunting for Metroid secrets in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze ever since an eagle-eyed player spotted Samus Aran’s ship in the background of the level "Busted Bayou." It took four long years, but a never-before-seen secret was discovered, and it wasn’t even hidden. Just like a good Metroid game, uncovering this little bonus took some backtracking.
Shane Marchis is credited as the first person to find the hidden Metroid, posting it on his Twitter account on August 2, 2018. It is swimming in the background of level 4-3, Amiss Abyss, but it takes a little outside-the-box thinking to locate it. About halfway through the level, reaching the checkpoint opens up a path in some electrical plants. If you swim forward to the next section of the level, then return to the checkpoint (swimming through the plants and taking damage), Samus’ little buddy will swim by in the background.
Kotaku confirms that it works in both the Nintendo Switch and Wii U versions of the game. Maybe Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze holds even more well hidden secrets?
Doom 2 is at last 100%
Remember beating a level in Doom 2 and watching the percentages climb to tell you how well you did? Your completion time, the enemies killed, and those elusive secrets would all flash on the screen, ticking upwards (usually not very far) so you could trade bragging rights with your friends. Doom 2 has been around since 1994 and, oddly enough, there was one single secret that remained hidden for over twenty years. Most speedrunners thought it was impossible to get, making true 100% runs of Doom 2 "impossible."
Naturally, you know where this one is going.
The secret in question is found on Level 15: Industrial Zone, and Polygon writes that the secret to unlocking it without a cheat code was discovered by a gamer called Zero Master. It was triggered on a teleporter, but you would not receive credit for the secret by just walking onto it. Instead, Zero Master lured an enemy there, whose powerful attack knocked him into the space and triggered the secret. John Romero, the creator of Doom 2, even took to Twitter to congratulate Zero Master for finding out how to trigger the extra-secretive secret.
By discovering this secret, Zero Master seems like he has become the first Doom 2 player to completely 100% the game without cheats. You can see the video of the level run here, the secret in question is found just after the 3:00 mark.
Pikmin 2 hid a legendary secret song for 15 years
Seemingly right up there with the Contra Code, Totaka’s Song is one of those legendary secrets that has appeared in dozens of games. It is named for sound designer Kazumi Totaka, and is a simple nineteen note riff that is often hidden several minutes into other songs or buried in obscure moments of the games that the designer has worked on. The most recent game the song was found in is Pikmin 2, a GameCube title that was first released over 15 years ago.
According to Eurogamer, the song already existed in Pikmin 2, but it also was discovered in a second, even more obscure location in the game. It was apparently discovered by YouTube user QuoteBalrog, and involves waiting on a screen for much longer than you normally would.
To find Totaka’s Song in Pikmin 2, you need to enter one of the game’s cave dungeons without a memory card inserted. The game will warn you that it is unable to save, and prompt you to insert the proper hardware. At that point, you have to wait for three minutes, and Totaka’s ditty will start to play.
It seems likely that the song will appear in some of Totaka’s other works, but, as of this writing, its discovery in Pikmin 2 is the most recent. Keep your ears peeled.
A Donkey Kong 64 speedrunner found a hidden coin 17 years after release
Donkey Kong 64 tends to get forgotten when compared to similar games in the Nintendo 64 lineup, like Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie. One gamer who has not forgotten the title is a speedrunner by the name of Isotarge. Kotaku writes that the speedrunner uncovered one of the game’s undiscovered rainbow coins in 2017, 17 years after the game’s original release.
Normally, Donkey Kong 64‘s rainbow coins are buried in piles of dirt hidden in each level and require a slam attack to unearth. There is typically one hidden per level, but one level, Fungi Forest, actually has two. Isotarge discovered it by mining the data for the game and finding that a dirt pile was invisible due to being hidden by a field of tall grass. It wasn’t hard to find the pile from there, increasing the number of total collectible coins in the game to 977.
Kotaku writes that a new discovery like this is especially fun for a speedrunner: it gives them a moment where they are the only person who has gotten a 100% on a given title. Invalidating that many runs in one fell swoop has got to be a powerful feeling.
Super Mario 64 hid an Ocarina of Time reference for over twenty years
This one is a pretty big stretch, but it isn’t completely unbelievable. There was over a two-year gap between the release of Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but we do know the games were developed at the same time and that certain aspects planned for Zelda made their way into Mario; their simultaneous development might explain why Super Mario 64 features more puzzles than a typical Mario game.
An eagle-eyed Twitter user going by Hitei seems to think a reference to Ocarina of Time‘s "Song of Storms" made it into a painting in Peach’s Super Mario 64 castle.
The more brightly lit stars seem to be laid out in the same pattern as Link’s favorite ocarina tune ("A, C-Down, C-Up, A, C-Down, C-Up"). Since Hitei first posted the image, there has been a flurry of debate about whether or not this is a secret, deliberate reference to the "Song of Storms" or just a coincidence. Nintendo is a pretty tricky bunch. Regardless of intent, it’s impressive it has stayed hidden for so long.
Half-Life: Decay features an insanely resilient corpse
We usually have some time on our hands when we sit down to play video games, but not many of us have this much. Half-Life: Decay, which was a cooperative mode included on the PS2 version of Half-Life, gives players a useful reward if they take the time to destroy a specific corpse in-game. It’s just going to take you awhile.
YouTuber MarphitimusBlackimus published a video showing what players need to do. On the game’s fifth mission, "Domestic Violence," players will come across a corpse floating in a pool. This corpse can be destroyed, and will drop several Snarks when it is. The problem, however, is that the corpse has 3000 HP, which is over three times more than a Gargantua. It takes around 600 swings with your crowbar to destroy this corpse.
This secret is only available in the PS2 version of Half-Life: Decay, and not in the PC mod that was eventually ported. So, if you want some extra Snarks, all you need is a little time and elbow grease.
Metal Gear Solid 5 players dismantled their nukes — finally
People love to push other people around in competitive video games, and few games let you do it quite like Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. In the game’s multiplayer mode, players can build their own armies, complete with nuclear weapons, to invade other players’ bases. In 2015, not long after MGS5‘s release, Konami revealed that if every player on a given platform got rid of their nukes, a secret ending would trigger. About five years later in 2020, PS3 players achieved nuclear disarmament and finally got that secret ending.
The nuclear disarmament ending had actually been uncovered before. Dataminers found it and released it not long after MGS5 came out, and a glitch in early 2018 actually triggered the ending for PC players (who, let’s face it, are the least likely to ever disarm their nukes). However, it appears the PS3 community actually came together to eliminate nukes legitimately.
The Metal Gear Solid series has always had a lot to say about warfare and weapons technology, so it was nice to see the Metal Gear Solid 5 community come together to reach this particular goal.
You can fly the Pelican in Halo 2
If you’ve ever wanted to soar over the skies of Halo 2 in your very own Pelican dropship, then you’ll want to turn your attention to speedrunner MisterMonopoli. In December 2019, he uploaded a video to his YouTube channel teaching players how to essentially trick Halo 2 into letting you fly the Pelican on the "Metropolis" level. It takes a lot of finesse, but you’ll be able to soar to your heart’s content if you make it all the way through.
Essentially, you’ll have to progress through the level without firing — unless specifically told to — and by using the Envy skull, which allows you to cloak through certain sections. You’ll also need to restart the level a few times, glitching certain portions of the level’s AI. Basically, you need to reach the Pelican without any trigger ever telling the game where you are. It involves a lot of steps, so if you’d rather read than watch a video tutorial, The Gamer has you covered.
The first time players could legitimately fly a Pelican was in Halo: Reach in 2010, whereas they could have been doing it six years prior if they’d only followed this convoluted process. Give it a shot for yourself.
A cheat code in Nier: Automata skips almost the entire game
Nier: Automata houses plenty of secrets. To reach the game’s true ending, you have to actually beat it multiple times. Once you’ve gotten to Nier: Automata‘s finale, you can actually destroy your save data to help others reach that point. This always took several playthroughs, letting you see nearly everything the title had to offer before the big purge.
Well, it took several playthroughs until January 2021, when Nier: Automata‘s final secret was unearthed almost four years after its release.
As reported by Kotaku, dataminer Lance McDonald found a cheat in Nier: Automata through "hundreds of hours of reverse engineering." If you input the code correctly after beating the first boss, you will skip straight to the point where you can sacrifice your saved game for others, unlocking the bonus modes. McDonald also insisted that this was not a glitch, but an actual code programmed into the game. Yoko Taro, Nier: Automata‘s director, backed up that assertion, as well as the game’s official Japanese Twitter account, which confirmed that McDonald had discovered the title’s "last secret."
Play as an overpowered boss in Street Fighter Alpha 2
Secret codes to unlock hidden characters in fighting games were always a major source of playground currency, so it seems weird when a new one pops up. That goes double for a game that’s over two decades old! However, that’s exactly what happened in Dec. 2020 with the SNES version of Street Fighter Alpha 2.
A popular modder by the name of Gizaha was digging into Street Fighter Alpha 2‘s code when he came across a series of inputs that unlocked Shin Akuma (known to Japanese players as Gouki), an unplayable character who served as a hidden boss. To use the character, players need to take the top spot on the game’s high score leaderboard, then input the initials "KAJ." When back on the main screen, hold the L, X, Y and Start buttons on the second player controller while using the first player controller to open Versus mode. Finally, hold Start when choosing Akuma to unlock his more powerful form.
Shin Akuma is totally unbalanced, so it seems likely this code was just used so developers could playtest him. Still, if you want to tangle with the powerhouse of Street Fighter Alpha 2, it isn’t hard to do so.