When we talk about the most traumatizing moments in children's games, shows, or movies, there's always a section of the audience that says: "But those weren't meant for kids! Tiny Toon Adventures had mature themes such as ..." And then we stop listening, instead skipping away to play go-karts. We admit that they might be right, but it doesn't change the fact that the first time you experienced these things, you still slept in a race car bed and footie pajamas. It's a wonder you're not in an asylum right now after being exposed, far too young, to stuff like ...
5 Ecco the Dolphin -- Discovering That Darkness Always Hides Terror
Ecco the Dolphin is a Sega Genesis game where you play as, surprise, a dolphin. Not, like, a radical anthropomorphic dolphin carrying a bazooka and riding a skateboard, as the '90s would normally provide; you're just a regular ol' dolphin swimming around in the ocean, looking for his kidnapped friends. It's the sort of title you rented when Blockbuster was out of the new Sonic, and even a dumb game was better than having to spend "quality time" with your family.
Ecco the Dolphin, like many old-school video games, was balls-to-the-wall difficult, so we're guessing that only around 15 percent of the kids who played it ever got to see the last stages. Today, you can recognize them by the vacant look in their eyes and the uncontrollable shuddering whenever they accidentally flip by a Flipper rerun on TCM. The game lulled you into a false sense of cuteness ...
"The only thing you have to fear are six-pack rings, pussy. Trust me."
... then smacked you square in the face with the Lovecraft stick:
"So long, and thanks for all the FUUUUUUUUUCK!"
That's the final boss, the Vortex Queen, an enormous, screen-filling alien head with teeth bigger than you are. In order to beat her, you have to charge against her jaw until it snaps off -- which is exactly as disturbing in action as it sounds typed out like that. Stop for a second to collect your wits or pray to a God who clearly wasn't looking when this thing was created and you're grabbed by one of the other murky alien creatures that swim from her mouth.
"Squeal like a pigfish! Squeal!"
Beat her and you're rewarded with a sense of unease about the ocean that will linger well into adulthood, leaving you constantly wary of the cold, uncaring immensity of the sea. Plus a credits screen.