Gamers, by nature, are nostalgic creatures. Talk to any gamer and in no time, you’ll discover that some of their favourite games are throwback classics. Some may even recall their first interaction with video games. There are some that still fondly play the godfathers of video games. The true pioneers of video games. The ones that shaped and transformed the video games we play today. Raise your hand if you’ve ever played the much beloved Super Metroid, or were lucky enough to play Pong on the original Atari. Nod your head if you’ve cleared all the levels Super Mario Bros. and if you’ve ever caught all 150 original Pokémon, but really you know it’s actually 151.
Gamers are, more often than not, defined by their childhood gaming experiences. Retro games will always have a special place in our hearts. After all, they connect our past to our future.
But kids' video games are tricky to define. Most are rated beyond our adolescent demographic, yet many of us still scared ourselves to sleep playing them at one point or another. Resident Evil, for example, was always rated M for mature, but who among us hasn’t spent countless nights running away from those lethargic monsters or peeked between fingers as our braver friends played for us (though none of us would openly admit it)?
So here’s our list of inappropriate moments in kids' games that will scare the living daylights out of you. Spoilers ahead, but you’ll probably wet your pants first.
20 Bell Tower Of Requiem – Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros' Treasure
In the same breadth as The Legend of Zelda series, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure marvelously blends challenging, yet approachable puzzles with traditional adventure, and since it was released for the Wii system, it also incorporates Wii’s motion-sensing technology.
And for the most part, Zack & Wiki is an enjoyable game–the motion-sensor moments are interactive and the graphics are bright and colourful, adding visual stimuli to the gameplay. That is, until you must traverse through the Bell Tower of Requiem. At one point through the puzzle, you ring the bell atop of the tower and are rewarded for your efforts. The sleeping fountain below awakes with bloodcurdling screams while the statue starts gushing ghoulish blood from her eyes into the fountain below. Which you’re then forced to reach into to retrieve the object of your desire. Way to keep us up past our bedtime, Zack & Wiki.
19 ReDeads – The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Maybe it's the guttural moaning that makes you immediately notice it, or maybe it's the helplessness you feel when they drop from out of seemingly nowhere to surprise you. Or just maybe, it's the paralyzing shriek that emits from these normally docile creatures as they strike you, jumping on your back to bite and strangle you until you have no hearts left to give. Either way, the ReDeads you encounter in The Legend of Zelda series are some of the most frightening things ever. The first time you hear their petrifying shrieks, you jump out of your skin, and as you feebly button mash to no avail, you’re soon filled with dread–petrified in the face of your inevitable death.
The ReDeads are hard to define. Are they mummies? Ghouls? Hyrule’s version of zombies? Either way, their creep factor makes you want to stay away from dungeons and tombs for as long as you can.
18 Gooper Blooper – Super Mario Sunshine
The Super Mario series is one of the most innocent franchises to ever come out of the gaming industry. But beneath the cheerful and family-friendly facade lies a dark and psychopathic protagonist who revels in the torture of all creatures living in the Mushroom Kingdom. His burgeoning psychopathic behaviour is best displayed when you encounter Gooper Blooper in Super Mario Sunshine.
As a giant squid writhes in agony under the hot summer sun, Mario “saves” this helpless creature by tormenting it one limb at a time. This interactive, atrocious act of dismemberment is masked by the playful soundtrack and cheerful disposition of the game. But as you gleefully tug and yank each limb off the visibly suffering Gooper Blooper, the act is reminiscent of another deranged sociopath, Toy Story’s Sid, Andy's mean spirited next-door neighbour.
To make matters worse, you encounter Gooper Blooper three times in Super Mario Sunshine, reminding you just how psychotic Mario really is.
17 Deep Blue Sea – Ecco The Dolphin
Most people have fond memories of playing Ecco the Dolphin. The digital response to fan favourites Flipper and Free Willy, Ecco the Dolphin had a simple yet enjoyable premise–swim around Sega’s lush graphics while solving challenging puzzles. But play long enough and you discover the terrifying horrors looming beneath its oceanic surface.
The game takes a horrific Lovecraftian turn when Ecco gets trapped time traveling, ending up in the monolithic Vortex machine. One particular level, The Tube, is a biomechanical hell, requiring speed and precision to navigate its dark waters. One false move spells instant death, compressing Ecco into a generic brand of canned tuna. A frustrating level that forces you to start from the beginning with each flash of scarlet red, its eerie sound effects and haunting, dissonant soundtrack is potent nightmare fuel, sticking with you like digital PTSD.
And let’s not talk about the H.R. Giger-inspired Vortex Queen.
16 Princess Elise – Sonic The Hedgehog
For most, the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog release will forever live in infamy. Not because of its memorable gameplay or its captivating plot, but rather for its momentous failure as an entry to a much-beloved franchise. How terribly inappropriate is this game? Let me count the audacious ways.
Its lackluster adventure, broken controls, and embarrassing glitches are only offset by one of the most cringe-inducing moments in all of video game history: the creepy interspecies relationship between a blue-haired hedgehog and a human princess. It's appalling on all levels, but mostly due to the fact that you’re forced to develop this budding relationship between the princess and a hedgehog as it culminates in the deeply embarrassing lip-locked scene between Sonic and Princess Elise. To think that a developer thought and then brought to life this revolting idea proves the real monsters have been among us all along.
This is one tragedy even Sonic can’t run away from.
15 Giygas – Earthbound
For many, Earthbound is a cute, kid-friendly coming-of-age video game filled with Americana charm. But in reality, it's a survival horror game filled with innuendos that touches on adult themes like child abuse, cult worship, and police brutality. Giygas, the terrifying entity that is the game's big bad wolf is perhaps the penultimate example of this.
Despite all the leveling up and upgrades you’ve acquired throughout your journey, Ness and company are still powerless to defeat the game’s main antagonist. In order to defeat him, the heroic company must transfer their minds to android bodies, Ghost in the Shell quickly comes to mind. This culminates in them time traveling in the past to Giygas’ “fetus”-like lair–a disturbing mass of sinewy meat and uterus lining–alluding to the very adult theme of abortion. This is a disturbing concept made severely more terrifying by the unsettling sound effects and woefully depressing dialogue.
“It hurts... it hurts...”
14 Flirting With Death – The Sims 4
Perhaps one of the most wholesome video games franchises ever to hit our consoles, The Sims is the accessible, family-friendly Second Life reiteration that kids of all ages can enjoy. The whole concept of the game is to participate in the life-cycle of your digital creation, celebrating all the momentous occasions in between. On the surface, it’s far from inappropriate, but dig just beneath the surface, and you’ll find a life simulator treading the fine line of survival horror.
Take The Sims 4, for example. Did you know you could romance the Grim Reaper? Whenever he comes to harvest a soul, the option to flirt becomes available – digital necrophilia at its finest. But death only comes knocking when a soul requires reaping, so how do you get him to make a house call? That’s right... you have to kill Sims. Your invitation to the Red Wedding is in the mail.
13 Parenthood – My Little Baby 3D
There probably isn’t just a single moment in My Little Baby 3D that’s inappropriate–the whole game titters on the bizarre and uncomfortable. Caring for your little darling is simple: you first start with your own description as parents, which will determine the looks of the baby, and when it pops out, your life as a virtual caretaker begins. Innocent enough, right?
It’s bad enough that the game brings terrifying flashbacks of home economics classes, complete with bathing, feeding, and diaper changing. But the real horrors are the principal leads of the game. The game feels unfinished, as if the art department took a hiatus before its release, birthing an abomination of a game. The babies appear as grotesque humanoids, staring at your with their soulless eyes, begging to be cared for. These are faces only a mother could truly love.
12 Tricky 14: Menacing!! – Lemmings
Much like My Little Baby 3D, Lemmings puts you in control of up to 100 lemmings that seem to have a wanton disregard for their well being. It's up to you, the player to keep them alive through various challenging puzzles using the skill sets your lemmings have at their disposal. The premise of the levels are virtually the same; vibrant colours fill your screen with lush nature sequences. That is until you descend into the depths of the demonic hellhole that is Tricky 14: Menacing!!.
If the coiled, sinewy mass you must trundle across doesn’t fuel your nightmares for weeks to come, then the blood-soaked skulls and gore remains hanging above like ruby red stalactites will. And if your iron-clad constitution allows you the escape the disturbing imagery as you lead your lemmings to their impending doom, then the unsettling soundtrack will set the appropriate mood–namely, spine-chilling discomfort.
11 Lavender Town – Pokémon Red And Blue
One of the most definitive coming-of-age franchises, Pokémon had children glued to Game Boy screens as they spent countless hours trying to capture all 150 (really, 151) of the eponymous creatures. An epic adventure game that requires you to travel across the Kanto Region battling trainers, gym leaders, and capturing wild Pokémon in various locales. Its seemingly harmless demeanour takes a turn for the sinister when the player enters Lavender Town.
Lavender Town is infamous for two things: its eerie disposition, which is a far removal from the game’s traditional cheery atmosphere, and the internet tale that is Lavender Town Syndrome. What’s hauntingly terrifying about Lavender Town was what could be found within the confines of the Pokémon Tower. Home to the graves of deceased Pokémon, entering the tower carried a vague sense of dread, as if death was creeping around every corner. Oh, and has anyone ever told you how Cubone gets the skull on his head...?
10 Your First Night – Minecraft
When you first implant yourself into the world of Minecraft, you’re so awe-struck by the game’s 16-bit simplistic beauty that you fail to notice the villainous darkness lurking just beyond the horizon, when suddenly, it’s night time.
If you’ve spent your first day in this world-building game punching away at trees, your first night is a veritable tree house of horrors of who’s who in the monster kingdom, especially if you’ve failed to acquire the necessary resources to build yourself the protection of a basic mud hut or wooden sword. Zombies shuffle towards you, skeletons clamber out of the darkness with malice, and spiders. Oh, the spiders. If the speed at which their eight appendages scuttle towards you doesn’t make your skin crawl, then their menacing hissing are they maul you to death surely will.
9 Underwater Zones – Sonic The Hedgehog
Before the release of the much flawed 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog, the Sonic series was known of its challenging side-scrolling puzzles, demanding precision controls, and tight maneuvering to clear each zone. Failure to do so resulted in heavy in-game penalization: loss of rings, or loss of life. Few zones better encapsulated the required nimbleness of your fingers than the aquatic zones peppered through the Sonic franchise.
For fans of the series, the aquatic zones were some of the most distressing levels you could play in a Sonic game. Air pockets were scarce, and hedgehogs don’t naturally breathe underwater, so if too much time was spent between air pockets Sonic would drown gasping. That's a traumatizing experience for any child to witness! It didn’t help that Sonic traveled at a snail’s pace while the frantic soundtrack induced a mild panic state, making you feel like you’re drowning right there with him.
8 It’s Home From Work We Go – Pikmin
A game that encapsulates the magic of Nintendo, Pikmin was so pure you were left with a sense of euphoria. You control Captain Olimar, a space adventurer who has crash-landed on a strange planet. Luckily, the indigenous Pikmin come to your rescue, assisting you with collect the necessary parts you need to rebuild your ship. It's an unassuming, cute fairy tale and yet, deceptively dark.
Like Minecraft, the real danger lies in the twilight hours, when the chimes ring to indicate that it's time to go. If you’ve delegated your Pikmin out to complete various tasks, it becomes your responsibility to herd them all back to safety. If you’re unable to find all your little worker bees before the time runs out, they become fodder to the local predators scattered throughout the landscape. And few things weigh heavier on any conscience than the death of innocent lives.
7 Haunted Piano – Super Mario 64
The N64 was a magical key that transported you to worlds new and old. It was the door to video game Narnia, bringing us beloved classics like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, GoldenEye 007, and of course, Super Mario 64.
The Mushroom Kingdom's vast realm was a cinematic masterpiece, and the ever jovial protagonist was fun to control; that is, until you journey into Big Boo’s Haunt. The mansion’s setting was already spooky, and all was well and dandy until you encountered a seemingly harmless grand piano. Get close enough to it, though, and the Mad Piano comes alive, like an instrument possessed, gnashing its razor-sharp fangs at Mario, all the while jumping erratically to bridge the distance between it and its prey. The loud, frightening sound, like banging piano keys, terrified children past their bedtimes.
6 Everything – The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
For a series that centered seemingly marketed towards kids and adolescent youth, certain entries in the franchise’s ever expansive library touched on themes beyond the recommended age demographic, or maybe they just had a creepiness factor of 11. None more embodies this that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
Where to start...?
The Happy Mask Salesman is a good place. Or the creepy moon. Maybe even the Elegy of Emptiness. All have soulless, menacing stares that’s beyond unnerving, ready to scar children for life. But no, the real nightmare fuel in this Shakespearean tragedy is the titular objects themselves: Majora’s Mask. Viewing the transformation cutscenes will permanently scar you for life. You’re forced to witness Link endure inhumane torture as the mask transforms him. The jarring purple aura swirls and Link’s agonizing screams as his bones shatter to accommodate his new transformation will stay long with you after you’ve completed the game.
5 The Flood – Halo: Combat Evolved
While the Xbox’s early flagship title was never geared towards children, children of all ages stayed up into the wee hours of the evening playing Halo: Combat Evolved. Sure it had mature themes: guns, bullets, alien species, you name it, but we still delighted in the seemingly innocuous gameplay. That is, until you encountered the Flood.
If the ominous cut-scene doesn’t set the tone for the danger awaiting you and your Marine friends, then your first encounter with the Flood will scare the beejesus out of you. The Flood are literal swarms of death, parasitic lifeforms that infect any organic it encounters. This poses terrifying challenges as the game quickly evolves into a survival horror in which you’re the last remnant of a rescue party. From the oozing infected pustules that were relentless in pursuing you to guttural moans and screams of Marines being infected, the Flood are the reason you’ve slept with your lights on all these years.
4 Mad Jack – Donkey Kong 64
There’s just something about clowns that make them inherently sinister. Perhaps it's their perpetual smiling faces, the way their contorted grins deceptively masks a nightmarish darkness within, naturally leading us to distrust them. So why are clowns so prevalent in children’s games?
Mad Jack embodies this trope more than most. The third boss you battle in Donkey Kong 64, Mad Jack is a giant Jack-in-the-Box that drops down from the reject chute of an evil toy factory and immediately begins to torment you, laughing snidely. While this is happening, it's employing a traditional jump scare in a bizarre, demented Donald Duck voice. The creepy monster clown doll aside, the boss room is dimly lit and accompanied by a disturbing soundtrack complete with ominous laughter. Its every child’s phobia encased in a single claustrophobic room. Remember, this is a game in which you’re a bunch of apes simply trying to reacquire your bananas...
3 SA-X – Metroid Fusion
Super Metroid may have introduced kids to the original female protagonist, but it's the series repertoire of rich and varied entries that keeps them flocking back for more, despite some of the more adult themes that surround the franchise.
While Metroid Fusion seems like just another entry to an already impressive series that garners the attention of children, its the SA-X boss battle that really catches our attention. A parasite mimicking Samus’ likeness, the SA-X is one of the most terrifying creatures you face in the Metroid universe. Perhaps it's the pale, lifeless eyes that stare into the depths of your soul. Or the hideous beast that awaits just beneath its false exterior. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the realization that the monsters we’ve always feared are the ones staring back at us in the mirror. It's this type of existential dread that keeps us up at night.
2 The Marshes Of Awakening – Rayman 2: The Great Escape
While much praise is given about Rayman, its follow-up success Rayman 2: The Great Escape is where the series really hit its stride. A traditional platformer, Rayman 2 understood the formula necessary to execute a near flawless game, making it beloved by kids everywhere. It's a fun adventurous romp with harmless gameplay and astonishing levels inviting you to explore. Until you encounter the Marshes of Awakening.
One of the gloomier settings in the game, the marsh surprises and terrifies with the appearance of zombie chickens: bony monstrosities with rumpled feathers, deformed chicken beaks, razor-sharp nails, who are cloaked in ragged, tattered garments. But what’s really appalling about these ghoulish creatures is their backstory. The disturbance by the space Robo-Pirates terrified all the creatures of the land, especially the hens, resulting in them laying dead eggs, birthing these abominations. The “E” rating must stand for extremely terrifying.
1 The Dark Reality Of Animal Crossing: New Leaf
While Animal Crossing: New Leaf appears to be another unassuming community-building game aimed at youngsters, something sinister lurks just behind the curtain. What is with the Stepford Smiler syndrome possessing everyone in this town? Why are you indentured to serve the masked demonic creature that is Tom Nook? And most importantly, why are you the only human in a town inhabited purely by forest creatures?
But what’s really scary about New Leaf is that it shows children the sad and terrifying reality of adulthood while cleverly hiding it beneath a sunny, happy-go-lucky disposition. All this game does is teach kids this sad truth, if you pay close attention. Children quickly learn that debt cripples you to servitude (thanks, Tom Nook). You learn your dreams die eventually. Just look at Kapp’n. He used to be a proud sailor–now he drives a bus. And we won’t even mention the nightmare fuel that is Aika Village.