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A lot of classic arcade games have straight-forward, logical plots that drive them: Turtle dragon stole your woman, stomp mushrooms until he gives her back. That's cool; we're on board with that. But some of these other classic, seemingly self-evident games actually hid madness and dementia behind their fun, childish veneers.

5
Donkey Kong

Via Video Game Obsession

What we thought was going on:

We all know the story of Donkey Kong, right? It's just the plot of King Kong, Japanified: Giant ape escapes, kidnaps a woman, runs to the top of someplace high, is put in its ape-place by a plumber who isn't entirely clear on his job description.


"Well, there's your problem."

The WTF Backstory:

Except that Mario is the villain in Donkey Kong.

According to the game's manual, Donkey Kong was actually Mario's pet ape. Without even venturing into the shaky moral and legal issues of primate ownership, it gets way worse from there: The reason Donkey Kong escaped in the first place was only because Mario was abusing him. That's not our accusation; the manual spells that out, plain as day: "[Donkey Kong] is actually [Mario's] pet who was mistreated." The manual doesn't get really specific as to exactly how DK was being abused -- presumably because even jaded 1980s game designers figured that was some heavy shit to lay on a kid -- but it's not hard to fill in the blanks: Here's a screengrab of Mario sticking Donkey Kong in a cage, chaining him up, and what's that in his hand? A whip?


Isn't this basically how the Planet of the Apes got started?

The poor beast suffered years of physical abuse and neglect, can you blame him for reacting poorly when he finally got his shot at freedom? We don't blame the abused dog if it bites the mailman, can we blame DK for grabbing Mario's girlfriend, Pauline (safe to assume also an animal abuser, if only by proxy) and simply running away? He didn't even hurt anybody, he just ran. And we all know what happens next: Mario, possessed by the invincibility of rage, hurdles every obstacle in the pursuit of his frightened pet -- barrels will not stop him, fireballs will not stop him, ramshackle construction sites will not stop him, nothing will stop him, not even death (he's got extra lives) -- until he slowly but surely chases down the cornered, abused, terrified monkey, and drops him from the top of a skyscraper.


Teaching children around the world a valuable lesson about pet care.

We should probably tell you that the Donkey Kong of today -- the one seen happy and healthy in all the current Nintendo games? Rare made a very specific point of mentioning that he's not the original DK; that's his son. Now, they're not outright saying what happened to the original Donkey Kong, but it's best not to look too closely between the lines.

...

Because you'll probably find Mario there, covered in ape-blood, screaming in unearthly fury.


"When they talk to you, you just fell down the stairs, right?"

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4
Super Street Fighter II

What we thought was going on:

A bunch of characters fighting one another in a martial arts tournament. That's a wholly encapsulated backstory right there: Here are some dudes (and dudettes). They are in a tournament. They would like to win said tournament, and plan on doing so via the liberal application of punching. It's like Bloodsport, but with fireballs. We're done here, right?


Although we wouldn't mind learning the backstory behind that one-piece.

The WTF Backstory:

You get hints of crazy throughout the game (especially if you were the kind of lonely child who played fighting games single player and actually saw the endings) but the depth and complexity of Street Fighter's completely needless backstory still might surprise you. To find it, you need to grab the character bios from the obscure Street Fighter role playing game. Here's a glance to give you a hint of the scope of M. Bison's backstory, for example:


We always assumed his backstory began and ended with "steroids".

M.Bison, the man holding the tournament, who you thought was just kind of a dickhead -- maybe a dickhead with some kind of military background -- actually has a larger agenda: He's only hosting the matches in the first place so he can corrupt the street fighters with his psychic abilities.

All that crazy shit he can do in the game, like flying horizontally, bursting into flame, or wearing absurd power-lesbian shoulderpads? It's all the result of psychic abilities that he's developed ever since he found a meteor in a cave and started sleeping above it.


Step 1: Sleep on a rock. Step 2: Burn half-naked women with your thoughts.

Bison also heads an evil organization known as Shadoloo, which he took over with the help of his power-meteor, and the whole point of his plan to psychically corrupt martial artists is to eventually recruit them into said organization. How does this weirdness affect the actual gameplay? Well, let's look at Cammy:


Ok, that's long enough -- she's a cartoon, you sick freak.

If you're the kind of person who worries about spoilers for a twenty year old fighting game, you should probably click away now (we suggest visiting whatswrongwithmypriorities.com).

If you beat the game with Cammy, she's revealed to be a double-double agent -- that is to say, she thought she was working for the British Special Forces as an undercover agent in the competition, but that's only because she has amnesia. In reality, before she lost her memory, she actually was a member of Shadaloo, as well as M. Bison's brainwashed lover.


Above: The least appropriate use of a cheering crowd in video game history.

When Street Fighter takes place, Cammy is 19. According to her backstory up there, she suffered her bout of amnesia -- the one that made her forget her torrid love affair with Bison -- starting at age 18. Which means that fun little fighting game round you just played? Where you thought the story was "beat that guy because you're supposed to beat that guy"? Yeah, that was actually the brutal revenge of a psychologically traumatized amnesiac with sexual identity issues (punching dudes while wearing a thong falls a little outside of even Great Britain's freaky sexual norms) against the psychic pedophile that hypnotized and molested her as a child.

Wasn't that fun? Put another quarter in, kids!

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3
Centipede

Via Video Game Obsession

What we thought was going on:

Centipede was a typical 1980s top-down shooter -- kind of a Space Invaders variant. The player controls a small ship at the bottom of the screen, and the goal is to shoot a giant centipede that descends toward you from the top of the screen. In the player's way are a bunch of mushrooms that can be blown up to clear space to hit the thing, and some other bugs like spiders, scorpions, and fleas.


And of course, everything was colored LSD-neon.

The WTF Backstory:

The arcade game itself offers no story, and why would it need to? You're a spaceship fighting freaky alien bugs. Nuff said. But then the console version came out, and it included an official comic book that explained the plot in surprising depth.

See, in reality, your "ship" is actually an elf with a magic wand.


Clearly.

According to Atari, the elf -- your ship -- is named Oliver, and he lives in a magical forest with his pals the centipede, the spider, the flea, and the scorpion.

Oh, no. What?

This is a game about murdering your friends?

All of your bug-pals turn evil when a wizard decides he wants your wand, and hypnotizes the creatures of the forest into attacking you and stealing it for him. Now, you're not a monster -- these are your friends here, after all -- so your magic wand doesn't outright kill them; it only transforms them into toadstools. You know, toadstools, like the ones you have to shoot through and... explode... to hit the centipede... before it reaches... you...

Photos.com
Just shoot the colored dots, asshole.

So all that fun you were having just now, blasting away, nimbly dodging bullets and raining hellfire into your enemies? Well the only reason there weren't tears streaming out of that tiny elf-ship the whole time is because there wasn't enough memory to render them back then.

Oh, and the wizard that causes all of this? Nowhere to be found in the game. Even though the comic gets a happy ending, at no point does that happen in the actual gameplay. There is no final boss scenario here -- no ultimate showdown with the guy who ruined your life -- there's just an endless cycle of death and tragedy as you mow down wave after wave of the things that used to be your friends.

So, in a way, Centipede was the very first survival horror game.

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2
Double Dragon

Via Meulie.net

What we thought was going on:

Two brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee, wander through the streets of New York, headbutting punks until they died from too much headbutting, because it was the '80s; that's just a Tuesday night. As added incentive, the punks also took your girlfriend, and you really want her back because she never wears a skirt that covers her entire butt.


Above: how half of you got your first erection.

The WTF Backstory:

The enemies in Double Dragon aren't just another example of 1980s Japan misunderstanding what the punk movement was about: The game is actually supposed to take place in the post-apocalypse. And Billy and Jimmy aren't just chisel-jawed dudes who like ass as much as they like tanktops -- they're both supposed to be martial arts masters protecting a sacred and secret style. And the woman? She's not just your helpless girlfriend: She's also an instructor named Marian who also teaches at the martial arts school... presumably as master of Flashing Buttcheek Style. The manual also makes a specific point of mentioning that, though she's Billy's girlfriend, Jimmy has a thing for her too.

Although the setting and character relationship changes do explain some things, now that we think about it: If we're talking post-nuclear war, then these freaks...

...suddenly make a hell of a lot more sense. We just chalked them up as Sloth rip-offs, what with pop-culture of the time still riding high off The Goonies and all.

And then there's the fight at the very end. After the Lord Humungus analogue up there goes down in flames to your totally spiritual Repeated Face-Kneeing Karate Style, this happens:


"No, Steve, I get the knife this time. You promised!"

It seemed totally random at the time, and as kids, we just rolled with it because "fighting is the best!" However, in one of those text scenes that our impatient thumbs flew past, it's revealed that Jimmy is the one who secretly kidnapped Marian. So what you saw through child's eyes as a fun little section where you finally got to fight each other, you now know was a (possibly post-rape) struggle between brothers in a society that collapsed, leaving violence and death as the only laws. Suddenly, there's something just a little less innocent about the tied up woman on the wall wearing 2/3 of a skirt.


The Road: The Video Game.

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1
Arkanoid

Via Vgmastersclub.com

What we thought was going on:

It's single player Tetris-pong. This can have a story?

The WTF Backstory:

We were all sticky-fingered, not-yet-Ritalin-addled kids, so we were too busy mashing the start button to ever watch an intro, but if you watched the one for Arkanoid, you'd know that the "paddle" is actually supposed to be a space craft called the Vaus, which is "trapped in space warped by someone."

You'd also know that "Arkanoid" was the name of the destroyed mothership where all of your friends and coworkers just died, and that the block breaking is actually your attempt to escape "space warped" -- some kind of metaphysical quantum hellprison -- which, due to graphical limitations, looks like a bunch of shipping containers in a grass field.


This is basically the Event Horizon.

Imprisoned and abandoned, you're forced to fight your way to "Doh," the mysterious "someone" that initially trapped you in "space warped." After 32 levels of bouncing a ball off a paddle, Doh finally appears as a giant head.


Made of Jello.

So if you did just mash that start button -- foolishly thinking you didn't need a sci-fi novel to understand your ping pong game -- and still managed to reach the last level, this is how it went down: There you were, just cruising along, thinking you've got a pretty good sense of the game (it's basically just destructive handball, right?) and then BAM! Smug space head out of nowhere! Wait, what? Literally everything up to this point has been in block form, what the hell is this head thing? Now it's attacking you?!

And if you did keep it together enough to overcome your stunned confusion and defeat the head, the game abruptly ends and this pops up:

And then your brain implodes.

Check out 6 Glitches That Accidentally Invented Modern Gaming and our image gallery of video games as seen from the villains' point of view.

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