Everyone can get into kids' games, provided they're good. Decades of Pokémon, Mario, and many other franchises have been built on this premise, and players of all ages have enjoyed them. They're experiences that people can share without worrying about offending sensibilities, another reason it's great for gamers with kids who want to share their pastime with the next generation. The best games, no matter their rating, are known for creating moments that its players can't help but remember, moments that remind us how unique and powerful a medium video gaming is. Unfortunately, some of those moments require us to change our pants afterward.
One minute we can be going along, collecting rings or snatchin' up pokey-mans or whatever we do in video games nowadays, havin' a grand ol' time, and then BAM! Something completely out of left field happens and we're under the bed, flashlight in hand, Googling if video games can steal our souls and reading very troubling results. This was not what you signed up for when you bought a game about sunshine and/or rainbows!
Now keep in mind, this list is going for games that really never came across as being anything other than a fun time. Games that never advertised themselves as having these violent, creepy, and sometimes sadistic turns. It'd be easy to add scary moments from action games (a la Castlevania, Call of Duty, etc.) and just cheating to throw horror games in here, so we're going for games that while not explicitly targeted towards kids, are widely considered kids' games due to their usual lack of blood, gore, and or sexual themes.
There are some spoilers here. You've been warned.
20 Star Fox Assault: Pigma Becomes Legion
Star Fox is what happens when Star Wars meets a furry convention: sci-fi dogfighting (pun intended) space battles that end up being fun for all involved and mostly harmless to others. All of the pilots are some form of anthropomorphic animal, the main character being (surprise!) a Fox named Fox McCloud. All of Fox's nemeses are animals too, like this guy once was.
Pigma Dengar is an all-around antagonist in the series, not necessarily the big bad, but a lackey who is responsible for a very traumatic experience in Fox's life. In Star Fox Assault though, the face off between Fox's crew and Pigma reaches its climax when Pigma is infected by the hive-mind plague causing all the problems in the game, turning him from a of pig-looking guy into this. You then have to fight a flying, tentacled space station monstrosity which, when you win, dies a slow, horrifying death, exploding into nothingness.
19 Super Mario Sunshine: Mario Gleefully Dismembers Gooper Blooper
Super Mario Sunshine is the Mario version of "Beetlejuice goes Hawaiian," except SMS actually got made and is actually really good. The normal Mario 64 conventions are at work here: run around a world, collect star-like objects, and beat Bowser. However, one boss fight seems a bit more... sadistic than others. Gooper Blooper is the super-sized version of the squid-like baddie found in dozens of other levels. However, unlike it's smaller versions that swim towards you with reckless abandon, Gooper just seems to sit in place and spit poisonous ink at Mario while his tentacles flail around and try to smash him.
The way you beat him, however, is a bit less Mario and more Mortal Kombat. Mario needs to systematically yank every one of Goop's tentacles off of his body, who flops around manically once it's been pulled, then pull on his mouth, let go, and send him flying into the sky, where he probably gets impaled on a pike or something.
18 Ecco the Dolphin: The Vortex Queen is a Giger-esque Monstrosity
Ecco the Dolphin is an oddity of the '90s gaming scene. You're a dolphin living an idyllic undersea life with their fishy friends, when out of nowhere an unseen force sucks them all up into the sky. As you explore the levels and work through the game, you discover that the culprit behind the whole thing was aliens.
Of course! Giorgio Tsoukalos would be proud.
However, unlike Giorgio, your conclusion is supported by actual evidence as the pretty and scenic ocean vistas you've been playing in fade away, replaced by an alien hellscape led by a monstrosity: The Vortex Queen. Part Predator, part Xenomorph, all completely terrifying, this Queenie throws black crap and spectral alien jellyfish at you, and the only way to beat it is to shoot sonar waves at it until its jaw falls off and it dies in messy agony. You know, normal video game stuff.
Anyway, beating her ends the alien's reign of terror in the seas, as she spits out the members of Ecco's pod in her final death throes. Yay, pretty dolphins!
17 Super Mario Galaxy: The Hell Valley Trees
Super Mario Galaxy was a welcome change of pace to the 3D Super Mario series. It didn't switch much up, but its use of scenic vistas and switch of princesses made for a new flavor of an old favorite. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was a worthy successor to the original, but certain files in the game made for all kinds of speculation in countless forums as Nintendo fanboys debated on a minuscule piece of scenery in one level.
Apparently, if you enter first-person mode in the Shiverburn Galaxy level, you can see these little guys in the background. Of course, there's really no explanation for them in-game and they could be just an odd piece of art. However, when players hacked the game, they found the image in a folder called "Beyond Hell Valley," and the particular image with the creepy figures was described as "Hell Valley Sky Trees." Of course, these look nothing like trees, so the mystery surrounding them grew and grew, taking on a sinister reputation, no doubt fueled by their ominous appearance.
16 Splatoon: The Cries of the Damned
If you looked up "inoffensive kid's game" in the dictionary, you'd find a promo image for Splatoon. This Wii U title had you playing a squid-like kid attempting to paint the entire surface of a battle arena your team's color, while making sure the opposing team didn't do the same by "splatting" them back to their base. The entire experience is colorful, high-energy, and ridiculously non-threatening. So imagine everyone's surprise when just after beating the final boss of the single-player campaign, you end up hearing this.
Less "You're a kid now" and more "Oh my god, what horrors lie in store just below my feet," the borderline-demonic groans and screams coupled with the jangling of chains and the smashing of metallic objects made people wonder what exactly caused everyone to become squid kids and spray ink willy-nilly. And naturally, theorists are already out there making their own assumptions as to what awful calamity befell the Splatoon-iverse, to save your much needed brainpower for the dozens of panic attacks those theories will give you.
15 Pokémon X&Y: No, You're Not the One...
Pokémon has a reputation for being arguably Nintendo's most kid-friendly series. Pikachu is a global household name and is going to be the mascot for the 2020 Olympic Games, for Pete's sake. However, there have been moments in the series that border on the creepy for no specific reason. There's no better example here than in Pokémon X&Y, when going to a random building in Lumiose City and this happens.
The lights go out once. Then a second time. As they slowly come back on, standing directly behind you is a girl dressed all in black with purple hair. When she moves, she has no natural walking motion. Her legs remain stiff and outstretched as she moves to your side and whispers the words
"No... you're not the one..."
Then she fades offscreen and you get control of your character once more. When you try to run after her, she's nowhere to be found and none of the NPCs on the floor you're on, who just at least witnessed the lights go out twice, have nothing to say about it.
*Cue creepy music*
14 Kingdom Hearts: That Time You had to Fight Satan
If there's ever been an anime nerd's dream game outside of the Persona series, it's Kingdom Hearts. Final-Fantasy-style storytelling with (increasingly less and less) Disney characters. In the original game for PS2, there's a very cute level called End of the World, which ends in a boss battle with Chernabog from Disney's Fantasia, the demon from the film's "A Night on Bald Mountain" segment. While his character model and boss fight is very devilish and hell-like, it's the context of Chernabog that makes him even more menacing. He's meant to be the representation of pure, unadulterated evil in the Disney series. He has little fire minions that dance as he watches, then go and terrorize the populace when they're sleeping.
Yet in KH, Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy move around his face and beat the... hell out of him. It's kind of a disappointing end for the closest thing Disney has for a Satan allegory.
13 Banjo Kazooie: Questing in a Rotting, Rusting Shark Robot
Banjo is a bear. Kazooie is a bird that lives in Banjo's backpack for some reason. Together they'll travel the land searching for music notes and golden puzzle pieces because that's what you do in video games. Their travels are standard 3D platforming stuff: unexplainably mountainous green fields, ice levels, trash chutes with rotting biomechanical sharks...
Oh right, it's on this list. Nevermind.
Clanker's Cavern is a level where Banjo and Kazooie swim around Clanker, a gigantic robo-shark that seems to have seen better days, since his metallic skin is exposed in places, revealing red, exposed tissue. His teeth are loose and can be knocked out, and actually going inside of him looks like a Nine Inch Nails video. The objectives inside him end up easing his torment, since he tells you that he once had a good life, but now the bad guy has rendered him to a life of being her own personal garbage disposal. How the mighty have fallen?
12 Mario 64: That Damn Piano
For a lot of people, Super Mario 64 was the first 3D video game they ever played. It's a seminal game, a classic in the eyes of everyone who's played it and even more who haven't but say they have. A tradition in the Mario games starting in Super Mario World is the Ghost Houses, little haunted houses with creepy music and ghostly baddies for Mario to duck and dodge. SM64's Ghost House is a level called Big Boo's Haunt, a creepy mansion with multiple rooms that spell danger and challenges for everyone's favorite plumber. In one room, a big black grand piano sits, illumined by a solitary ray of sunlight. Thinking that you might be able to play it or something, you walk over, curious.
Yeah, sure, we don't have a problem replacing the joystick on that crappy N64 controller we just dropped. Thanks, ya jerk.
11 Lemmings: Tricky!
Lemmings is an old-school strategy game involving a group of well, lemmings who are not too keen on keeping themselves alive. That being said, it's your job to work them to the exit of increasingly perilous courses, giving them jobs to ensure that they keep themselves busy enough to not commit suicide so they can safely walk to the exit.
Pretty much every level is a little romp through a scenic locale, with caves and forests and icebergs to build around, bash through, or blow up. Until you get to level 14. Then things get a little... Cthulu-y. The music, which was like a cute little MIDI dance through flowers and rainbows, becomes super chuggy and speed-metal flavored, with distorted guitars and deep bass pounding throughout. As that assaults your ears, your eyes take in the horror of a ground composed of writhing venomous snakes and bloody tendril-filled ceiling, skulls and skeletal hands entangled within them. The gruesome centerpiece is a menacing horned skull with a snake coming out of its eyesockets.
Anyway, get all the lemmings to the end of the level and you win. Because nothing matters or makes sense.
10 Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Dead Hand/ReDead
The land of Hyrule has given us some of the most memorable creatures in gaming history. Some for good reasons, some not so much. This entry is about two really bad reasons.
Ocarina of Time first introduced us to ReDeads, zombie-like guys who stand still until aggroed, then leap onto Link's back, screeching and kind of humping away at his hearts until he shakes them off.
The Dead Hand, however, is a mini boss that keeps people up at night to this day. Found at the bottom of a well, it first manifests as long skinny hands protruding from the ground, and then when those are attacked, the full monster shows his face (or lack thereof). Its seemingly mummy-like appearance is covered in splotches of blood, while its own arms end in short stumps. It tries to gnash at you with its disgusting maw, but if you can introduce it to your sword, Link should survive. Your sanity might not.
9 Kirby's Dreamland 3: Extreme Lasik Surgery
Back in the day, Nintendo decided that silly plumbers and gorillas named Donkey that wear ties weren't cute enough, so they put button eyes and red shoes on a pink marshmallow, named him Kirby, and let him star in approximately 4,000 versions of the exact same game. One of these games, Kirby's Dreamland 3, featured a final boss fight with a giant flying eyeball. Like ya do.
Anyway, this thing's name is Zero, and you beat him by shooting it directly in... the eye. It attacks you by opening wounds in itself and bleeding on you. When you hit it enough, the pupil of the eye rips out of its ball, leaving a bloody crater of tissue and gore to fall to the ground, ruining some poor bastard's day. Continuing to blast the bloody pupil causes it to bleed more and more until it finally explodes in a shower of blood and effluence.
8 Super Paper Mario: True Mimi Snaps into Action
Super Paper Mario comes from a line of games that has always bordered on the weird in terms of Mario lore. Bowser takes a back seat in many cases, sometimes becoming a playable character along with Princess Peach, Luigi and a unique set of friends.
Sometimes this uniqueness can get really disturbing. Case in point: Mimi is a second-in-command to this game's big bad, Count Bleck. Throughout the majority of the game, she appears like this, a sort of cute green pixel with pigtails and a puffy little dress. However, once you actually get to fight her, she turns into the above stygian-looking spider with dead eyes and an agape, upside down mouth. It's her transformation into this horror that takes it from creepy to terrifying though. The audible crack of her neck as her head spins around followed by her dead eyes and blank expression as it spins more and more before it finally stops it just outright disturbing.
But after that, you just need to destroy her insides to win, so that's normal, right?
7 Zelda: Majora's Mask - Masks, The Moon, and Little Ghost Children
You could fill a wiki with all of the disturbing stuff that goes on in Majora's Mask, but we'll keep it brief. For starters, the entire game revolves around the world ending (by that handsome-looking moon crashing into the planet) and Link only having 72 hours to save it. Because Link can't do anything in three days except utter monosyllabic shouts while smashing pots, he uses time travel to keep resetting the clock so he can fit it in.
One of the big mechanics in the game revolves around wearing different masks to gain other abilities and progress through the game. However, the process of putting the masks on looks like this, with Link screaming in pain as it probably destroys his soul and replaces it.
And in the final area of the game, you speak to a small child wearing the titular Majora's Mask, which triggers the last boss fight, when the mask itself sprouts legs and tries to kill you. You know, normal everyday video game stuff.
6 Earthbound: Gigyas's Darkly Psychedelic Boss Fight
SPOILERS FOR THE END OF A 23-YEAR-OLD GAME FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Earthbound is a game that was marketed in North America as an RPG for kids, but honestly, you need to be a grown-up to appreciate most of its humor. This was one of the earliest examples of console games being self-aware and breaking the fourth wall. The result is a game treasured by thousands to this day, a hidden gem waiting to be discovered for old-school RPG fans.
With its quirky humor and childish tone, Earthbound toyed with the player's expectations, often to surprise and for comic effect. It's final boss fight though... that's another story.
Throughout the game, you're fighting agents of an all-powerful alien called Gigyas, an entity so indestructible that the only way to defeat it is to go back in time to a point when it wasn't all-powerful and destroy it. That could be presented in a number of different ways, but the people behind Earthbound decided it should look like this.
Yes, this last boss is just a dark wallpaper with skull-like imagery, which gets more frenetic and erratic the more damage you do to it. An even-more-bonkers end to an already bonkers game.
5 Epic Mickey: This Adorable Clock Tower Bent on Killing You
Epic Mickey was created by Warren Spector. He made Deus Ex. However, before he made both of these games, his Master's Thesis was on the dark side of Mickey Mouse and other cartoon characters. This really explains a lot as to why and how Epic Mickey is what it is. The entire game is the dark side of Disney many of us thought we'd find in the Kingdom Hearts games, but instead found convoluted storytelling and Lance Bass voicing Sephiroth.
Anyway, the game's first real boss is the clock tower from the "It's a Small World" ride. It's been driven insane from hearing the song ad nauseam for eternity, so it takes the next logical step and decides to kill Mickey. Mickey in turn must spray ink and thinner to defeat it, returning its sanity and generally calm demeanor. Still, it's a twisted moment in an already odd game. Behold, the wonderful world of Disney!
4 Psychonauts: Milla's Dark, Dark, Incredibly Dark Secret
NON-MAIN-STORYLINE SPOILERS FOLLOW.
Quite possibly the funniest game to ever come out for PS2 and the game that singlehandedly got Tim Schafer almost 4 million dollars, Psychonauts is a 3D third-person action platformer about Raz, a nerdy kid with psychic abilities who wants to hone them to become a Psychonaut, a secret agent with psychic powers. To do so, he joins a summer camp dedicated to developing those abilities and finding new Psychonaut recruits. Throughout the game, Raz ends up entering the minds of his counselors, helping them work through their demons and discovering new powers.
However, tucked away in the mind of Milla, the cute Psychonaut counselor with a Zsa Zsa Gabor accent, is a secret not even Raz could see coming. It turns out, Milla once ran an orphanage. One day when she went out grocery shopping, she came back to find the orphanage in flames, with all of the children trapped inside. The screams haunt her to this day and she uses her party-girl persona to overcompensate for it.
3 Undertale: The True Lab
SPOILERS FOR THE PACIFIST ROUTE OF UNDERTALE FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
One of the biggest hits of 2015, Undertale is the story of a human child who falls down into a world of monsters and embarks on adventure to get back to the human world. While the game plays with your expectations and your familiarities with different game tropes, it's still mostly a light-hearted, funny experience.
Until you discover the True Lab, that is. This is the first time you are able to peer into the dark underbelly of the Underground and discover just what exactly is going on here. This area is filled with bizarre monsters known as Amalgamates, twisted failed experiments by Alphys, an otherwise-adorable lizardlike anime nerd.
Pretty much everything to find in the True Lab sheds light on the realities of how far King Asgore and his scientists had gone to replicate the power of human SOULs in monsters in a desperate bid to escape the Underground, but to no avail. Once you complete the lab's challenges, things only get crazier as you barrel towards the game's end. And God help you if you decide on a genocide run.
You're gonna have a bad time.
2 Hatoful Boyfriend: One of Your Boyfriends is a Twisted Serial Killer Pigeon
SPOILERS FOR ONE OF THE LIKE, FIFTY DIFFERENT ENDINGS FOR THIS GAME FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
This is a dating simulator where you're a human female dating pigeons at St. Pigeonation's Academy, who have somehow become the dominant species with a society similar to human society. Some part of me is absolutely appalled that the previous sentence exists, but it's actually a really fun game. There's really no gameplay except selecting dialogue options to advance the next wall of text for you to read, yet that does not stop one chapter of this game for being absolutely terrifying.
One of the (sigh) pigeons you can date is the school's doctor, a bird named Shuu Iwamine. He's pretty suspect right out of the gate, saying creepy things and generally being a waddling red flag. But if for some reason you decide to try and be romantic with him, he's just about as crappy as a love interest as he is a normal pigeon. But as the game progresses, he ends up murdering several other students at the academy, leading up to killing you, chopping your head off, cramming it in a jar, and then dying in a hail of gunfire as the authorities hunt him down and slay him in the name of justice.
1 Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow: Lavender. Town.
If you were a betting person, you probably guessed this was at the top of the list. This is a tiny town with a gigantic, five-story graveyard as its biggest attraction. Who's buried there, you might ask? Well, it's the cute little monsters you've been fighting for like ten hours at this point. It's a disturbing reminder that yes, if your Pokémon faint too many times, they're not going to get back up. And the soundtrack reminds you of it as well, with it's slow, plodding backbeat uneasily plucking in the background behind the long, slow harmony. Even on the Game Boy, it managed to be creepy.
Inside the Pokemon Tower, the official name for the giant graveyard, the random encounters are of GHOSTs, unknowable, uncatchable, undamageable souls of Pokémon that have died before you and are now restless. It's only with a Silph Scope that you can see the true form of the Ghost-type Pokemon. The trainers you fight in the tower have been possessed by the souls of angered Pokémon, and say the delightful things screenshotted above.
Now, if you'll excuse us, we need to go hug a Snorlax plushie in the fetal position for the rest of the night.