The 5 Most Unintentionally Horrifying Children's Video Games
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
Metroid Fusion -- Facing Your Demons, Discovering They Live Inside You
The Metroid series was always a bit darker than the other Nintendo games, but they were still Nintendo games. The "disturbing enemies" had a few more spike-shaped pixels than you were used to, and that was pretty much the extent of the horror. You could play any of the early Metroid titles and be pretty confident of maintaining the sanctity of your underpants, no matter how big a wuss you were. At least until Metroid Fusion came out.
In Fusion, Samus is once again stuck in a decrepit space labyrinth where some poor architect accidentally replaced all the door keys with missiles. Everything proceeds normally until you complete your first mission on the main deck and step into the elevator.
You watch Samus descend into the next level, like usual, but then the camera stays in the upper deck instead of following her. What the hell? Just when you're wondering if the game froze, the wall blows up and out comes ... you?
"Come on; there's a door like right there. This shit's expensive."
Only now you're no longer in control. Your character walks to the edge of the elevator you just went down. Then, very slowly, she turns to look at you, the player, and ...
Yep; you're done playing this game.
If that seems a little tame by modern horror gaming standards, bear in mind three things: One, we were all much more innocent, purer human beings back then. Two, this was not a horror game. And three, Metroid games had never, ever broken the 2D side-scroller POV before, much less the fourth wall. And when they decided to do it for the first time, it was to show you this face:
"I know where you sleep."
If you kept playing, you'd find out that was actually a parasitic clone of Samus, and for the rest of the game you occasionally see your evil doppelganger wandering around the hallways. If that happens, your only options are: a) run like hell and try to hide from it or b) get completely torn asunder by an unkillable enemy.
"How am I going to get out of this? I might as well curl up into a ball and di- wait a minute."
Alternatively, you can do as the official Cracked Metroid Fusion walkthrough suggests: set the cartridge on fire, bury it in your backyard, and play something innocent like Pokemon instead. Ah, now that's a game you can trust. A game that would never betray your innocent play session with sudden and disconcerting bouts of existential terror ... right?
Pokemon Red, Blue & Yellow -- Wandering the Haunted Pokemon Graveyard
Pokemon players, this here is your trigger warning: We're going to talk about Lavender Town. It's the Vietnam of the '90s adolescent -- you went there a child and came back a man. A man with despair in his eyes where there used to be joy.
Lavender Town greeted you right off with an extremely creepy theme song, which sounded a bit like Jeffrey Dahmer's rap sheet run through an electric piano. It's no wonder the Internet made up an urban legend about kids killing themselves after hearing it. Anyway, here's the song on repeat for 10 straight hours, and we'll see you in hell:
In the top right-hand corner of Lavender Town, you'll find a foreboding building much larger than all the others called the Pokemon Tower. Oh, neat, so that's where all the Pokemon are -- we were getting a bit creeped out here all alone, so we'll just head over there, aaaand it's a massive indoor graveyard for murdered Pokemon.
"Gotta catch 'em all ... A positive, O negative ..."
Like every other area, the tower is full to the brim with plucky trainers ready for battle. The difference here is that they call themselves Channelers and are possessed by the ghosts of dead Pokemon. Which is ... a pretty significant difference to a child.
"I already bought a Wii U, isn't that enough?"
This isn't a fan theory or an urban legend -- the game is very clear that these Pokemon are dead, are pissed off, and think you're responsible for murdering them. Keep at it and you eventually come out of Lavender Town -- only to find an uncaring, unresponsive world that was turning just fine without you.
Where's your parade, huh?
Moycal is a 20-something Irish lad. He loves the way Daniel Stern exaggeratedly hollers "OW! RIGHT IN THE SCHNOZZ!!" when he pretends to get smacked in the nose by that swinging paint can trap in the movie Home Alone 2. This is his blog. This is his Twitter. This is for writing, this is for chatter.
Related Reading: While we're on the subject of unreasonably horrifying children's games, check out the crying statue in Zack and Wicki. But at least that isn't as horrifying as this glitch that raises the dead in Call of Duty. Not creeped out enough yet? We can help.