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.
#4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask -- Facing the Satanic Children That Represent Those You've Murdered
Everything about The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask seems specifically designed to give children nightmares, from the traumatizing mask transformations to that awful mummy guy living inside a closet. Just the simple act of looking upward stains your Osh-Kosh, since you'll be greeted by this sight:
No one ever wishes this moon a "Goodnight".
When you finally reach the end, the point where you'd normally expect to be dropped into some hellish dungeon, the horror seemingly takes a break as you're instead transported to a quiet and serene grassy meadow. The only soundtrack is the relaxing rustle of the breeze and the birds chirping in the trees.
You can even see children frolicking in the distance. How sweet! Get closer and you notice that the children are all wearing the same matching pajamas. They're best friends! Get closer and you spot the demonic masks featuring the faces of the game's four main bosses. Uh-oh ...
"You know what? Fuck this. The game's not even named after me. Let her handle this shit."
But wait, the horror doesn't end there! Take the time to stop and have a nice chat with the freakish devil-children wearing the faces of those you've slain and they cordially offer you some unsettling inquiries of their own:
"Who cares? I'm going to be wearing your face soon enough."
There's a fifth child wearing the titular Majora's Mask who can be found sitting by himself in the shade of the tree, rocking his head back and forth. Oh, and he wants to play with you.
Where's the "slowly move away from him" option?
If you answer "Yes" to his question (why wouldn't you? What harm ever came from agreeing to play with mysterious children, aside from all those hauntings and pedophilia charges?), he makes you fight his mask, which sprouts long flesh-colored appendages and madly skitters about the room, occasionally breaking into a twisted, mocking dance.
Note what appears to be a lack of pants.
Jesus. We wonder why people bother making up fake urban legends about this game when just soberly observing the plot is enough to send you gibbering to the asylum, In the Mouth of Madness-style.
#3. Space Station Silicon Valley -- Collecting Severed Human Heads
Space Station Silicon Valley had you playing as a little microchip named EVO that jumped into the bodies of various robot animals on board a colorful space station. As you played the game, you gradually learned that the robot animals rebelled against their human creators and took over the station. That's fine. That's not what we're freaking out over. Hey, maybe they just sent the bad old humans away to make a furry paradise. We are not here to judge.
"Hey, we're out of peanut butter. Again."
Most of the gameplay was standard stuff: exploring different areas and collecting robot parts, souvenirs, power cells, and severed human heads.
W-what was that last one?
Freddie Mercury!?! NOOOOOOO!
Yep, as you went around frolicking with the different cute robot animals, you'd occasionally stumble across the bodies of the dead scientists they'd just murdered.
"Those bastards told our kids they sent us to a nice big farm where we get to science all day."
And eventually you were sent on a mission to collect their severed heads. See, that's where you realize the scientists didn't just "die off," leaving the animals to their utopia -- somebody had to decapitate these poor bastards:
"We should never have shown them that Terminator/Highlander double feature."
One decapitation? Sure, maybe it was an industrial accident. Two decapitations? Uh ... maybe they were just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when they start sending you out to collect some of the many, many severed heads strewn about the landscape, well ... don't turn your back on the cute li'l bunny with the ax. He ain't chopping firewood for the sing-along later.