Cheat codes and Easter eggs may be rare to find in games today, but they used to be ubiquitous, present in everything from sports games to fighters and platformers. Racing games were no different, and today we’re recounting 10 of our favourite examples from the ’90s all the way until the early 2010s. Some award all the in-game credits you could ever want; others dole out secret vehicles — not all of which are necessarily cars — while others still are just plain creepy. They don’t make racing games like they used to, and that includes the cheats. Let’s get to it.
Ridge Racer Revolution’s Pocket Racers
We’ll kick things off by turning the clock way back to 1996’s Ridge Racer Revolution for PlayStation. Like in the original Ridge Racer, you can unlock all of the cars in Revolution by beating a round of Galaga ’88 as the game loads. Unlike the first Ridge Racer, you have the option of using a cheat to blast all of the enemy ships for you: holding down R1, L1, Select, Down and Triangle simultaneously. That will give you all the cars easily, albeit at a cost. Their bodies will be shrunken down, fitting entirely between normal-sized wheels and tires. This pretty much turns Revolution into a home version of Pocket Racer, a little-known Namco arcade game based on Ridge Racer.
Gran Turismo 4’s Holy Grail Cheat Codes
The recent discovery of Gran Turismo 4’s game-breaking money, licence and event win codes surprised longtime fans when they were revealed last month, some 19 years after the title’s initial release in Japan. Gran Turismo is not a series that typically dabbles in cheats, and it’s believed that these codes may have been implemented for testing purposes and never removed. You can’t use them out of the gate — 365 in-game days have to pass first. But once you’ve reached that point, they’ll pretty much grant you every reward car lurking in the game, so long as the car in question isn’t locked away in a Mission Hall event like that Nissan R89C up there.
Need For Speed II’sT-Rex, Outhouse and Everything Else
Need For Speed II is a strange game with an indiscriminately eerie vibe, as far as arcade racers go. It kind of treats its roster of supercars like mythical figures, and the music and track design is subtly unnerving, but in a cool way. NFS II’s lone secret track is a film studio where on-screen fantasy becomes reality, and its slate of secret vehicles contains pretty much every trackside object in the game, including but not limited to: a Miata, a school bus, a log, an outhouse and a Tyrannosaurus rex. IGN’s got the full list of cheats if you want to try them for yourself.
Daytona USA’s Driftable Horse
On the subject of driving an animal like a car, we have Daytona USA’s secret horse, named Uma. Uma comes in automatic and manual varieties, as horses are known to, and is present in all Sega Saturn and PC ports of the game. Best of all, you can drift Uma the same way you drift the Hornet; when you do, it produces a hoof squeal. And smoke, plenty of smoke.
To unlock Uma as well as all of the other secret cars in the original Saturn version, go to the title screen, hold the D-Pad up and to the left and, while doing that, simultaneously press A, B, X and Z. While we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that you can ride a sheep in another Saturn racer, Manx TT Superbike, with a “Mary Had a Little Lamb” soundtrack for good measure. Though at least in Manx TT, you’re racing other sheep.
Sega GT’s Cursed Choco Mountain
This one sort of doesn’t count, insofar as it never made it to the launch version of Sega GT. However, it’s so weird that we couldn’t possibly neglect to mention it . The secret in question is a strip of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, renamed “SonyGT2” and placed in a beta version of the Dreamcast Gran Turismo clone ahead of its North American launch. It also, for some reason, contains a disturbing model of Luigi waving a flag to start the event. Making matters stranger it’s a checkered flag, which typically comes out at the conclusion of a race, but that’s at least the sixth-most unsettling thing about all of this.
Project Gotham Racing 2’s Geometry Wars
Not many racing games spin off a sensation in an entirely different genre, but that’s how the world was first introduced to Geometry Wars. The old-school twin-stick shooter was baked into 2003’s Project Gotham Racing 2 and accessible by walking over to the curious arcade cabinet hiding in the far corner of the in-game garage. It wasn’t until the sequel, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved in the early days of the Xbox Live Arcade, that Bizarre Creations’ little experiment truly took off and became the phenomenon some of us remember today. Retro Evolved was certainly nicer to look at, but the original was fun in its own right.
OutRun 2’s Sega Racing Royalty
Sumo Digital’s masterful Xbox conversion of OutRun 2 back in 2004, exclusive to the Xbox, buried a couple of secrets that fans of the golden-era of Sega arcade racing were very pleased to see. In addition to an unlockable port of the original 1986 Out Run, players could revisit all of the tracks from Scud Race (or Sega Super GT, as it was known in the States) and Daytona USA 2: Power Edition through inputting the cheat code “TIMELESS.” Seeing as how neither Model 3 racer made it to consoles before or after OutRun 2’s Xbox release, this is still the only legal way to enjoy some of their content in the comfort of your own home.
Formula 1 97’s … Everything
It’s hard to give it to a single cheat code from Psygnosis’ Formula 1 97 for PlayStation. The game has many oddities lurking behind its rather serious demeanour, and they should all be recognised. Like the one code that removes all textures from gameplay, leaving F1 97 feeling like Sony’s take on Sega’s Virtua Racing. Or the one that places extremely crude models of the late, great Murray Walker and Martin Brundle on screen to flap their South Park-esque hexagonal heads every time the broadcasting duo dispense wisdom. Psygnosis was of course the studio behind another PlayStation classic, Wipeout, and so one of the cheats removes wheels and adds thrusters to the body of every F1 chassis. All of these delightful tweaks and more can be implemented simply by editing drivers’ names in the Grand Prix mode, as the video above illustrates.
Need For Speed Most Wanted 2012’s Warp Pipe
The newest game on our list — and yet still 10 years old — the Wii U port of Criterion’s Need For Speed Most Wanted added a suitably Nintendo-themed Easter egg. Parking a car atop one of the game’s gigantic, suspiciously green pipes transports players to an underground garage. Down here you’ll find question blocks, wall paint that reads “LEVEL 1-1” and reserved parking signs for members of the game’s dev team. Three of these pipes exist within Fairhaven, and each contains a British track toy decked out in a colour paying homage to one of Nintendo’s beloved characters.
Virtua Racing’s Secret Movies
Finally, we come to our last secret — and not unlike GT4’s, this one also remained a mystery until very recently. The Saturn port of Virtua Racing, developed by Time Warner Interactive, has a fascinating backstory. As YouTuber PandaMonium explained in his hourlong retrospective on the game (seriously, it deserves to be every second as long as it is), TWI built its version of Virtua Racing with no access to the arcade original’s code; the dev team had to replicate Sega AM2’s work from scratch, which perhaps explains some of its faults.
Out of PandaMonium’s research, we learned of the existence of a previously-unknown cheat code during the attract-mode sequence that reveals a video viewer. This cheat requires the player to press down 51 times before a series of D-pad inputs. If successful, it leads to a pair of cute stop-motion videos of an office kart race — only without the karts — and one particularly odd computer-generated video of a podium celebration. Part of this code also unlocks a secret F-2000 open-wheel car that can’t be obtained any other way. We need more cryptic gems like these in modern racing games.
Thus concludes this roundup of 10 of the strangest and most surprising cheats and secrets in racing game history. Of course, history is full of many more examples — too many to name in one list alone. So why not head down to the comments and tell us about one of your favourites?
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