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—A Metroid password responsible for a lot of Wild Mass Guessing

A classic of oldie video games, this is the method of saving your progress in a game without being required to actually store it on the console or game cartridge: Encode it as a string of letters, numbers, or other symbols and have the player write it down on a nearby piece of paper.

These have an advantage of being portable compared to traditional save files -- you can take that slip of paper pretty much anywhere (like a friend's house), and input the password to resume the game more or less right where you left off. On the other hand, you have to make absolutely sure you wrote down the password correctly, because messing up a letter here or number there will probably render the entire thing (and whatever game progress it represents) unusable.

Also present on some newer console games where the data to be saved was too small (like just a level number) to justify the cost of a battery-backed saving chip or an extra file block in the memory card.

Usually, there are two kinds of passwords:

  • "Level" passwords: The password records what level you're on, but that's about it -- don't expect information such as your score, lives, stats or items to be stored. In other words, the password basically doubles as a level-select. Obviously, this is limited mostly to puzzle games, and games with linear level progression, where collecting secondary items isn't necessary for advancement. They are usually human-legible words or phrases, and may contain inside jokes from the developers.
  • "Game state" passwords: A lot more complicated than level passwords, these record essentially all the information that a Save Point would: What items you've acquired, your character stats, key event flags, and so on. Enter the password and you can pick up from (almost literally) the exact moment you left off. The length of the password will depend on how much information is being "saved", so a "game state" password that records a lot of things will require a longer password. Also, to discourage players from attempting to cheat the system by inventing their own passwords, the password may incorporate a "checksum", a small combination of symbols whose only function is to verify that the rest of the password is (or at least looks) legitimate.
Examples of "level" passwords:

  • The Smurfs (though using them was usually a bad idea, because playing from the start allowed to collect more Extra Lives for the very difficult endgame)
  • Command and Conquer for the Playstation
  • Mega Man 2 up to 6 used a simple password system of dots on a grid; all SNES games (7, and Mega Man X 1 thru X3) used a 4×4 grid of numbers.
    • 2 and Mega Man 3 also saved the state of the game in the form of how many E-tanks you collected. II for the Game Boy did the same thing.
    • There's a few middle cases, however. Passwords also stored a limited amount of information besides which Robot Masters you defeated. Mega Man X, for example, stored how many Heart Tanks/Sub Tanks and which armor pieces you'd collected; Mega Man 5 recorded which BEAT pieces you had.
    • Mega Man based fan games, like Rosenkreuzstilette and Rokko Chan, often use this as a nod to the older games.
  • The Lost Vikings had passwords that were actual words, with numbers replacing vowels they resembled. This meant you could plausibly skip ahead by guessing words that were likely to be used, like H0M3, or H4RD.
  • Block Dude and Puzzle Frenzy on the TI-84 calculator both use this system — a three-character code will get you to a given level.
  • 1943 was another example, with its five-letter passwords such as "IGPOD".
  • Apple II game Diamond Mine.
  • Modern games on the Net:
    • Moon Sweeper: to a specific moon. All are related to science or science fiction (Plasma, Photon, Xenomorph, etc.).
    • Turbo Tanks: to a specific stage (level).
  • Chip's Challenge gave you a four-character password every level.
  • Pipe Dream had passwords every few levels.
  • Micro Machines V3 for the Game Boy Color had that.
  • So did Asterix and Obelix, same console.
  • And Ecco the Dolphin had them on the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis.
  • Pop Up for the Game Boy had passwords giving access to each level, although your total score, and items, still start over at 0 if you use them. (Which meant that on some levels, using the password access could make the level Unwinnable.)
  • Zombies Ate My Neighbors: You received a password every four levels, which allowed you to start over from that level with that number of surviving neighbors — passwords didn't include your weapons/ammo, so late-game passwords could make the game even harder.
  • After every level in the SNES game The Adventures of Batman and Robin, the "password" was a 4×4 array of icons and blank spaces.
  • The first Populous.
  • The first Prince of Persia, on platforms without disk saves.
  • Solar Jetman, though it does store your score, extra lives, and a few other things.
  • The Incredible Machine, using a combination of password and optional score code.
  • Pac-Attack
  • Goof Troop for the SNES had this in form of fruit.
  • Aladdin Capcom had level passwords which used neither letters nor numbers but pictures of Aladdin, Abu, Jafar, Jasmine and the Genie and Sultan.
  • The Return of Ishtar, one of the few arcade games to have these.
  • Dr. Robotniks Mean Bean Machine used the same coloured beans that are used in the game.
  • Rocko's Modern Life had a licensed game that used level passwords.
  • Bubble Bobble. Considering how little the passwords changed from level to level, it is thought that the 5-letter combination is just the level number times some constant converted to text.
  • Worms 2 implemented level passwords, which form a short story if you list all of them together.
  • X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, another SNES Licensed Game by Capcom, has level passwords consisting of eight portraits of X-Men.
  • Puggsy
  • Ninja Gaiden Trilogy had level passwords, though the NES versions had no save feature.
  • The level passwords of Ugh!, a cute, humorous game about cavemen, are song titles of the deathrock band Christian Death.
  • Dragon's Lair on Super NES had password that had to be entered through a difficult minigame. Where it's possible block a letter into a corner (making it Unwinnable By Mistake) or even die.

Examples of "game state" passwords:

  • The Addams Family implements a 5 character password. Due to a game bug, it doesn't accept passwords if either digit in the lives counter is '9'. It is also an example where someone simply entering a default password of "11111" can start the game with 100 lives.
  • Wonder Boy III the Dragons Trap
  • GT Advance
  • Golden Sun, for Old Save Bonus in the second game.
    • There's three types of passwords to use, depending on how much data you want to import into the game. Bronze passwords only import character levels, Djinn collected, and items that grant new moves like the Orb of Force. Silver passwords imports the above plus the actual character stats. Gold passwords import everything, including coins and items held, but the password is a whopping 260 characters long and the risk of making an error is quite high. If you have a second GBA and a link cable, then data transfer is easy.
  • FIFA International Soccer for the SNES
  • Lemmings
  • Legacy of the Wizard
  • In Metroid for the NES, the "Justin Bailey" password became famous for the amount of speculation over its supposed meaning. In the earlier versions, you could also use ENGAGE RIDLEY MOTHER FUCKER to great effect. The original Japanese version of Metroid had on-disk saving, being a Famicom Disk System game. Kid Icarus, also originally a Famicom Disk System game, used the same password system.
  • The first Crash Bandicoot had both types of passwords: Just beating the levels without collecting the gems earned you 8-character level passwords, but collecting a gem expands that to a 24-character Super password, which also keeps track of gems and keys, and which the game initially hides by only showing the first 8 character spaces before inputting a Super password. Unfortunately, these don't record lives, which can make later stages a pain.
  • James Pond 3: Operation Starfish had a system where you had to input a 16-symbol password, made up of about 30 different types of symbol which could be in any of four colours. You spent almost as much time writing down "Red Fish, Blue Diamond, Blue Plane, ..." as actually playing the game.
  • Faxanadu for the NES had a "Mantra" that you learned at a local temple. They tended to be extremely long and easily mis-written.
    • Notably, the password saved all your equipment, spells, and key items, but did not save your experience or money. Instead, you would get a "title" based on your experience points, and when you died or loaded from the password, you would be given a specific amount of money based on your title, and your experience points would reset to the minimum for the title as well. Titles had no other benefits, but you could abuse the system to buy something very expensive, get the password, reset and get quite a bit of money back.
  • Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the Super Nintendo had a short password for levels, and a long password for returning to a current game with all your items (sorta like a save state).
  • River City Ransom for the NES had 33-character passwords, mixing uppercase letters, lowercase letters and numbers. The Game Boy Advance remake made passwords unnecessary, though a bug would create a new save file instead of overwriting the previous one, making the game unplayably slow if you didn't erase them often.
  • Spiritual Warfare also had a long password system.
  • The Guardian Legend had 32-character passwords, again mixing uppercase letters, lowercase letters and numbers.
  • The NES Toxic Crusaders game.
  • Adventure Island IV
  • The Goonies II
  • Castlevania II Simons Quest. Insidiously, one has about a one in one trillion chance of guessing a password with random input.
  • The Battle of Olympus. Zeus's "words of wisdom" were very long and confusing.
  • Since multiplayer games in Warcraft III can't be saved with any degree of reliability, custom map makers often include passcodes, usually generated on demand, to save relevant parts of the map's Macrogame between games. The length and complexity of the codes vary depending on the thoroughness of what's being saved, as simple as eight case-insensitive letters or as complicated as thirty-six-plus characters that include upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols
    • Except that when a Map is "updated", previous version codes doesn't work at all, and most of the time, it doesn't work anyways.
  • The home computer versions of the first Ghostbusters game had a password system that allowed starting a new game with the money accumulated at the end of the previous one.
  • Tombs and Treasure. Finding out your password requirde the Ixmol Jewel.
  • Rayman GBC had passwords that specified which level you were on, and the number of cages destroyed in each level.
  • War of the Dead on the Turbo Grafx 16 had passwords that were 54 characters long and mixed hiragana, katakana and romaji to get 7 bits out of each character. The developers apologized for this.
  • The long (20-char) passwords in The Legend of Zelda Oracle Games are of two kinds: One encodes (at least) the player and baby's names, the other encodes the Ring of Power collection.
  • Blaster Master: Enemy Below
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