We know that video games are not, by their nature, strictly for children. They can be extremely violent, very mature and occasionally horrifying to a degree that non-interactive media can never reach. But that's why we have a rating system for them: As a parent, you just pick up a box, check the rating and verify that at least one of the characters is some smart-aleck anthropomorphic bunny rabbit or something, and then you pop that sucker into the nearest Nintendo and go get drunk under a sprinkler for a while, secure in the knowledge that your kids are being entertained in relative psychological safety.
But then, hours later, the unnatural, keening screams coming from inside the house rouse you from your drunken stupor, and you realize that you accidentally ruined your children by exposing them to one of these horrifying moments from otherwise kid-friendly video games.
Zack & Wiki is a cartoony point-and-click adventure game for the Wii about a boy pirate, his flying monkey friend and their gang of pirate bunnies looking for treasure. That synopsis is one kitten with a Scottish accent short of structurally unsound levels of adorableness. The Bunny Friends Posse journeys to your standard video game locales: jungle temples, ice castles, volcanic ruins. But one stop on their adventure is the Bell Tower of Requiem. Where they find this fountain in the shape of a sleeping girl:
As the player, you journey to the top of the tower above her, eventually finding a bell with the same relief. You snuggle up to your bunny friends for some comfort, and maybe high-five a flying monkey for some spunky inspiration, then you pull the chain and ...
Oh God, my sphincter's loosening!
GAH! AAAAH! I'M SHITTING DIRECTLY IN MY PANTS!
She starts shooting blood from her eyes, and then she screams like a goddamned banshee. For the entire game up to this point, you're lulled into thinking that this is some sort of Tiny Toon/Goonies crossover adventure, and then somebody splices five seconds of Hellraiser right smack dab into the middle of the big singing chipmunk number.
Once you've successfully made the statue cry blood, you just reach your little hands on in there and remove the moon from the pool, and you've completed the puzzle!
The strange dichotomy between how cartoonish and cute these characters are and how horrifying this moment is is best illustrated in this scene:
We so hope that's what Armageddon looks like.
The second you fetch that moon, the default victory screen pops up, where you watch your bunny friends repress all the imminent PTSD long enough to bounce around adorably and set off some sparkly celebratory fireworks ... right in front of the screaming ghost face, still bleeding from the eyes in the background.
"Don't make us play it again!"
Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 was arguably one of the greatest games in history. Both kids and adults could enjoy the tale of a precocious young boy and his fairy friend adventuring through the iconic, cartoony world of Hyrule. There were a few horrifying moments in Ocarina of Time, like the first time you leave the Temple of Time to find that the whole town has turned into those ungodly screaming bastards that still haunt our dreams. But nothing is anywhere near as dark as the Bottom of the Well level.
So you've managed to stave off pulling your own teeth out long enough to swap your boots the thousand or so times it takes to complete the Water Temple. Now it's time to explore what's buried under Kakariko Village, a town full of cutesy chickens and wacky, memorable characters. Surely this will be a fun-time romp for all ...
Oh, hey, the ever-haunted nightmares of a serial killer. Quick, use your boomerang!
Nope. Fun is dead. That pasty grinning bastard up there ate its corpse.
Bottom of the Well ramps up the horror quickly, dropping you through several fake floors until you tumble into a poisonous river with withered hands sticking out like cattails and skeletons lying in the corners, their spirits still lingering around, waiting to talk to you. At the end of the level, that albino hunchback asshole up there reaches its pale, creepily elongated arms right into your childhood and starts feeling up your innocence. But the horror actually starts earlier: Have you ever stopped and taken a long, hard look at the rest of the dungeon? There's a room in the middle of the upper floor hidden within four trick walls that contains two prison cells and a big wooden X with a particularly large pool of blood at its feet.
"OK, don't freak out. Maybe it's not murder blood. Maybe it's just torture blood. Harmless torture blood."
That wooden X actually has a name: It's called a saltire, or St. Andrew's cross, named for the martyr who was crucified on one. Wait ... prison cells? A bloody torture device? A mass grave in the basement? This place isn't just a moldy old dungeon; it's an ancient torture chamber.
An ancient torture chamber located right underneath this adorable village:
Later, in the Shadow Temple, Navi tells you this:
So Hyrule is like Disneyland -- it's all adorably rotund Gorons and coquettishly giggling Zora, but the second you walk off the brightly lit path, the guy playing Mickey takes off his head and everything turns to blood and horror. Or, if nothing else, it's just a fucking disgusting place to be getting your town's water from, Kakarikans.
In Maniac Mansion, the first of LucasArts' point-and-click adventure games, a bunch of kids sneak into the mansion of a mad scientist to rescue their friend. The original game was loosely horror-themed, but it was all fairly cartoony and lighthearted so as to be in compliance with Nintendo's censorship policies of the day. The people working on the NES conversion even went into the original game and removed the edgier content, like the poster of a mummy in a Playboy pose and a David-esque nude statue. And yet, they left in ...
... the sociopathic murder of small animals.
One of the residents of the mansion is the mad doctor's teenage commando son, Weird Ed. You can befriend him and, with the right character, get his help in overthrowing the evil meteorite controlling his father. Or, when he's not in his room, you can steal his hamster. It's not part of any puzzle, and there's only two things to do with it: Give it back and apologize for being a dick, or (if you're playing as Syd or Razor) go down to the kitchen and put it in the microwave.
You can't see it from that angle, but his dick is totally out.
Holy shit: We're pretty sure that's one of the questions on the Serial Killer Test. In fact, it might be the only question. Why does the game even let you do this?
It almost doesn't: Some characters will get creeped out if you try this and refuse to do it, which is probably how it sneaked by the censors. But two of them will totally go through with it. And they're not unaware of what will happen or aghast at the results, either -- they casually explode a hamster while the words "TOTALLY AWESOME!" flash at the top of the screen.
"That really was cool! You should try that in real life right now, children!"
So ... now you've burned a small animal to death from the inside out. What do you do with your new pile of nuked hamster giblets? Why, isn't that obvious? You give the corpse of his beloved pet right back to Weird Ed so that he knows his loved one suffered before it died. That's some Se7en-worthy psychological torment right there, and all of it was executed via tiny childfingers tapping away on a sweaty little sharp-edged D-pad.
Taste his tears. TASTE THEM!
Sonic CD had a sound test mode, accessed by pressing "Down," "Down," "Down," "Left," "Right," "A" on the title screen. This was pretty standard fare for games back in the day, and the sound test usually contained a few little secrets for the diligent explorer. Sonic CD was no exception: It had Easter eggs ranging from artwork of Robotnik wearing a Jamaican hat to an entire secret level, and oh yeah ...
Wait, Sonic is a Juggalo? It would explain how he achieves his meth-like speed.
A Dali-esque piece of horror pop art starring the disfigured face of everybody's favorite spunky hedgehog. Putting in these numbers ...
... will yield this nightmare:
The broken music with the deep laughter was actually the game's main boss theme, which wasn't so bad in its original context -- the roly-poly Robotnik attacking you with some ridiculous weapon -- but when it was accompanied by a still image of a small army of eyeless clown Sonics, forever staring into your soul and laughing at what they found there, it permanently stole the ability to feel warmth away from any unlucky child whose only sins were being curious about game soundtracks and accidentally staring too long into the empty holes where their favorite hedgehog's eyes used to be.
"Psst ... hey, man, come over here. Wanna see me shoot heroin directly into my testicles?"