The 7 Most Horrifying Moments from Children's Video Games
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: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
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!"
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
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?"
Monster Party was another horror parody game about a boy named Mark and his gargoyle-griffin friend, Bert (shut up -- it's a traditional gargoyle name). Bert's home world is overrun with evil monsters, and because children with baseball bats are far better at fighting demons than, say, an entire race of vicious gargoyle-griffins, Bert needs Mark's help to defeat them. The levels are your standard video game pick and mix, including a sky castle, a sewer, a tower and a crystal cavern. But if you beat those levels, you see ...
... the level-transition screens featuring skeletons bathing in blood.
"Mmmm ... taste the liquid remnants of the child heroes who fell before you."
Which is ... a little unexpected, considering Nintendo's aforementioned content policies. But what really puts this on the "hamster in a microwave" level of disturbing is the ending of Monster Party. The king of the evil monsters is beaten, and Bert thanks Mark by giving him a box containing a beautiful princess. So, uh ... you just keep this girl in a box, Bert? OK, you're a gargoyle and we don't want to disrespect your culture. We shall accept your strange gift with humility and graciousness. Let's just open this sucker up and get this girl some air -- hey, look! The princess pops right out of there, unharmed.
And then her face rots away, the room fills with horrible monsters and the player gets a gruesome screen of Mark screaming while the flesh melts off of his body, like he'd just opened the Ark of the Covenant.
Again, that would be Mark the child.
This ending marked a lot of significant firsts in video game history: the first time a child felt betrayed via digital means, the first recorded instance of pixelated night terrors and the very first Nintendo-sponsored psychiatric visits -- truly, it was a groundbreaking moment in gaming.
Lemmings did more to disparage the good name of Arctic rodent migration than Disney's White Wilderness, but video games didn't come much cuter. The original box art was a veritable Where's Waldo? page of adorable lemming antics.
"No Fraggle Rock copyright infringement anywhere!"
That wasn't incongruous cover art: In the game, they were all bright colors and shenanigans, too:
Don't you just want to pinch their cheeks until the police show up and make you stop?
And sure, we guess there's something kind of dark in that half of the game is watching the little buggers get maimed, but they just pop into a spray of pixels when they die. You don't watch them get dragged into R'lyeh to have their souls flayed by Cthulhu or anyth-
This demonic hellhole is Tricky 14: MENACING!!, and is the only one of the game's 120 levels that look anything like this. The rest are fluffy clouds and waterfalls and forests, but for just one stage, your squeaky-voiced, bathrobe-clad man-rats trundle to their doom along a twisted mass of snake tentacles while blood drips down from above and gore-soaked skulls ooze from the ceiling.
On the plus side, you can only cry so much before you pass out from dehydration.
So what the jumping crap was that all about? Did somebody get so sick of programming cute deaths that they snapped and damned the Lemmings to rodent hell for the sin of mass suicide? It was actually recycled graphics from an earlier Amiga game, Menace, that the developers threw in there as kind of an inside joke for the fans. But unless you were intimately familiar with the entire Amiga catalog before firing up your cuddly rodent migration simulator, the casual player was just left to assume that they'd tripped over a root in Candyland and stumbled right into the Pain Dimension.
EarthBound was a quirky SNES RPG based on the childhood of Shigesato Itoi, who apparently wrote the entire game as an incredibly roundabout way to report psychological child abuse. But let's disregard the greater implications, and just go with the game as it's presented: EarthBound is a very colorful adventure that stars a group of young friends battling trash-can monsters with baseball bats. What more could a child ask for?
Ness knows some bitches who are about to pay for their insolence.
Now, we've talked about the game's nightmare of a final boss before, but we really should have seen that stuff coming earlier. In a previous section, Ness, Paula and Jeff find themselves in the resort town of Summers, where a New Age woman gives Ness some "magic cake." Like all magical pastries, eating it causes Ness to envision a far-off land where the young, unfortunately named Prince Poo is completing his training in the mystic art of Mu. His last trial is to climb a mountain, meditate for a bit, ignore all distractions and temptations, then get his spiritual anus ripped apart by the ghosts of his ancestors:
Piece by piece, the ancient ghosts dismantle Poo's body. All throughout the systemic maiming, the spirits ask Poo if he accepts the loss of his appendages and senses -- bluntly stating things like "I am going to break your legs. You will lose the use of them." But here's the twisted part: This is not just a cut scene. If players want to finish the game, they have to keep agreeing to let ghosts mutilate them virtually. They have to select each answer to the spirit's questions manually, and every answer has to be "Yes, please continue mauling me, ghost."
"Also, I may or may not fart into your open mouth."
For how primitive the technology was at the time, the game handled the maiming scenes with terrifying efficiency. When the ghost cuts your ears off, all sound in the game abruptly cuts out. When it gouges out your eyes, the screen goes black. It was a simple trick, but not one that we as young gamers were ever prepared for: It really drove home what amputation and mutilation felt like ... to a bunch of children way too young to even spell either of those words.
For more from Codie, including a hell of a lot more Lemmings, visit her site at Codiekitty.com.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Horrifying Truth About Facial Remapping Software.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn the proper way to make children poop their pants.
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