You usually know what to expect when it comes to kids’ games: harmless, brightly lit games that, fun though they may be, lack any real bite. There's a safety to them: you can rest assured that no matter what happens, it's not gonna go too off the rails. They're also a lucrative market, what with so many gamers being kids and parents wanting something safe for them, so there’s plenty of incentive to make games that mom won’t mind buying.
But often there's something quite sinister hiding just below the surface of these games. We all experienced it as kids, that moment when the sh*t really hit the fan. That moment when the silly game Aunt Martha got you (she heard you liked video games and the one with the cute animal-man on the front seemed safe) turned out to hold ample fuel for your nightmares. Maybe the game designers forgot their audience for some of theses games, for others pop culture has deemed them part of a childhood canon; no matter the case, these are games with dark, dark underbellies.
We're talking death and dismemberment, betrayal and possession, voodoo, and fates worse than death. All in the games that your parents bought you, content to believe that video games were ultimately harmless stuff and there was no way this stuff could traumatize you.
Turns out, it did.
20 Loose Animals In Zoo Tycoon Eat Guests
Zoo Tycoon is one of those stealthily educational games. Sure, you get to run a zoo, but you have to learn what sort of environments different animals need. The expansions add in dinosaurs and sea animals, giving you a crash course on paleontology and marine biology. It's an obvious pick for a parent looking for a game for their kid: it's educational and about animals! What could go wrong?
A lot, actually. In the event that you don't put a strong enough fence around an enclosure, animals can get out. If it's a gazelle, it's quite harmless and really just a lesson in how walls work. But lions and other large animals, on the other hand, are far more vicious and will eat the guests. And if you don't put that t-rex behind an electric fence? You get to recreate Jurassic Park and watch the dinosaurs devour little Timmy the tourist.
19 Your Advisor In Mega Man X4 Betrays You (And There Is So Much Blood)
Even though the Mega Man X games are the somewhat darker and edgier continuations of the Mega Man series, they're still pretty mild. It's X and Zero against the villainous Sigma and his Mavericks. There's plenty of melodrama to go along with it, but for the most part it's quite clear cut: good robots fighting bad robots.
In Mega Man X4, X gets a new operator assigned to him, Double. He mostly just serves as an exposition spout for X, letting him know about any plot developments. That is, until X leaves for Final Weapon to confront the villains of the game. That's when Double reveals himself to be a double agent (get it?) and proceeds to violently slaughter the others back at HQ. And there's blood. So much blood. No tidy explosions, it's a damn bloodbath. One committed by your bumbling sidekick. And this game is rated E!
18 LEGO Star Wars Still Kills All The Jedi
LEGO Star Wars is adorable. It's the familiar Star Wars mythos re-enacted with LEGO minifigs; seems harmless enough, right? It's all nice and light-hearted as you traipse through the Star Wars prequels. Anakin blows up the Trade Federation Droid Control ship! The clone troopers rescue the Jedi in the Petranaki arena!
And then comes Order 66.
For the three of you who don't know, Order 66 was the order given by Palpatine to eradicate the Jedi. Literally eradicate, as in kill all of them. And they died at the hands of their loyal soldiers. This plays out in LEGO Star Wars basically the same way, and you get to watch plastic building block versions of your heroes get turned on by their comrades.
17 Kingdom Hearts Kicks Off With Everyone You Love Dying
With Disney characters and bright Final Fantasy-esque characters, you’d be forgiven for taking Kingdom Hearts to be kids’ stuff—childish even. But there's plenty of melodrama to go around, what with its JRPG roots (and, y'know, being produced by Square Enix). There are evil bad guys and a kid trying to save the world; all that good stuff.
So there's a lot of dark stuff in this game, but what really takes the cake is the event that kicks off the game proper. After a day romping around with his friends, Sora wakes up to find his home islands being swallowed by darkness. Literal darkness, like, opposite of light, pure nothingness type darkness. Sora is powerless to stop them and barely escapes with his life. Meanwhile everyone, his parents, friends, and every inhabitant of Destiny Islands is gone. And that's how the game starts.
16 The Sims Creates Existential Doom
Whether or not The Sims is a kids’ game is not up for debate; we all played it as kids. It's a fun game too, you get to build houses and make people live out their lives. The game certainly provides a fertile ground for a child’s imagination. But for a life simulator, there's a lotta (creative!) death in The Sims.
Consider this: you are a Sim going about your normal life. Then one day, as you're walking around, walls appear around you. With no door. You cry for help but are unheard. The hours go by, you wet yourself repeatedly and pass out into your dirty puddle. Then as you starve to death, suddenly, a stove appears. Thankful, you cook a meal to assuage your hunger. And promptly burst into flames and burn to death.
15 Run From An Unstoppable, Hungry, Drooly Monster In Rayman 2
So you're getting into the groove of things in Rayman 2, saving the day, collecting lums and fighting robo-pirates. But then comes the Cave of Dreams. It's a creepy, unsettling level in and of itself, with Rayman climbing up walls of bones and traversing spines. But then comes Jano.
Jano is a one-syed spider-armed monster hellbent on eating you. You can't fight him, all you can do is run. For this sequence, the camera is behind you as you run forwards, desperately trying to escape Jano. Oh, you can see him, but just his mouth. While escaping from Jano the whole screen is framed by Jano’s drooling teeth. So there you are, running from a hungry monster, watching all the action from said monster’s gaping mouth. Run too slow? The mouth closes and you get eaten.
14 Lavender Town Reveals Your Pokémon Can Die
Look, pointing out how off-putting Lavender Town is in Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow may be old hat at this point but bear with me. The entire town is a graveyard. For dead Pokémon. As in those creatures you've been catching and pitting against each other can die. Sure, the Pokémon may faint when you're fighting, but guess what, some die! And it makes sense, because there's only so many times dear Bulbasaur can get flamethrower’d before it expires. As in dies, not faints.
This would be awful enough but then there's the theory of your Rival’s Raticate. The first few times you battle him, your Rival fields a Rattata and, later, a Raticate. Come Lavender Town’s Pokémon Tower, however, you meet him again, in the tower that is a Pokémon graveyard. When you fight him? No Raticate.
That's right. You killed his Raticate. You bastard.
13 Beating Link's Awakening Means Erasing The Existence Of Everyone You've Met
Link’s Awakening is, for the most part, a very typical The Legend of Zelda game. You go around the world collecting macguffins and then fighting a big evil boss. It's the setting that makes the game special: Link’s Awakening has you washing up on an unknown shore with the vague mission to awake the Windfish. It's only later that you (24-year-old spoiler alert) learn that all of Koholint Island is nothing more than the Windfish’s dream. And completing your quest, waking the Windfish, means destroying the island.
Turns out everyone you've met on your quest, from Marin to Tarin, are just characters in a dream. And completing your quest means they will cease to exist. As you wake the Windfish you get to watch them fade into nothingness, all because you did the right thing.
12 Watch Your Anthropomorphic Avatar Drown In Crash Bandicoot 2
Crash Bandicoot was the cool alternative to Mario and Sonic. Neither as clean-cut as Mario nor as tryingly hip as Sonic, Crash was a illy badboy with his slapstick games and hip-thrusting dance moves. The tongue-in-cheek attitude extended to his many deaths in the games, which are as fun as the rest of it. Get hit by an explosion? Crash comically blows up, leaving just his shoes and his eyes. Get attacked by a frog? It kisses you and turns into a prince.
But drown? Oh, there’s nothing funny here. Fall in the water in Crash Bandicoot 2 and watch the marsupial struggles to rise to the top, gasping for air. He can’t reach and, after a struggle, his unmoving corpse floats up. It’s a brutal, graphic rendition of asphyxiation. Those other deaths don’t seem so funny now, huh?
11 Random Giant Fish Will Eat You In Balloon Fight
On its surface, Balloon Fight seems like just about every other NES game. It’s a cutesy simple concept (flap around and pop your enemies’ balloons before they can pop yours) that’s mapped to a handful of stages that you repeat until you run out of lives. Its unique appeal lies in its flapping mechanic: you tap A to stay aloft, kinda like a competitive proto-Flappy Bird. So far, so clear; but then comes the big fish.
Stray too close to the water at the bottom of the screen and a giant fish will leap out and swallow you whole. It comes out of frickin’ nowhere and snatches you from the safety of your balloons. It’s a sudden shift—one marked by a musical sting, no less!—that reveals danger just below the waves.
10 Undead Turtles Are Trying To Kill You In Super Mario World
Let’s talk about the Dry Bones in Mario for a second, just refresh in our minds what exactly they are: They are undead Koopa Troopers. They move like those turtles you’ve been stomping on all this time, except these ones shuffle back to life and try to kill you again. They’re zombies, and your usual means of dispatching enemies don’t work here. In a world populated by quite cute villains (even Boo is adorable!) these zombie turtles seem more than a little out of place. Or they seem right at home, given that you usually encounter them in castles with a distinctly fire-and-brimstoney sense of interior decorating. But wait, they throw bones at you! I’m not saying they don’t belong in Mario, just that they’re pretty intense for our dear plumber.
9 Advance Wars Has Child Generals Nonchalantly Sending Soldiers To Their Doom
Advance Wars is a tactics game, and like every other tactics game, you pit units against each other in attempts to outmaneuver and defeat your opponent. This game features a relatively realistic setting, with tanks, planes, and submarines doing combat, albeit in a brightly colored world.
Now, part of Advance Wars’ schtick is the COs. In each battle you pick a Commanding Officer to lead your forces, their abilities affecting how your units fight. Thing is, some of these COs are children. Not, like, young: I mean actual children. COs like Andy and Colin definitely don’t look old enough to serve in a real world army and here they are ordering soldiers about, oftentimes to their deaths. For all its cutesy charm, Advance Wars sure has some pretty dark implications.
8 Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Turns Its Hero Into A Defeated, Empty Shell
Given that it’s the prequel to Kingdom Hearts you’d expect Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep to have some less-than-cheery plot points to it. And boy howdy it does! The game culminates in one of the playable characters, Terra, facing off against the evil Xehanort. And beating him doesn’t really mean you win. Instead Xehanort uses Terra’s darkness as a means to posses him and extend his own lifespan. Terra, meanwhile, is bereft of his body and now just a vague, shapeless Lingering Will possessing a hollow suit of armor. He’s just a shell, barely able to watch the villain traipse around in his old body. Keep in mind, this is the same game where you get to play a rhythm game with Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
7 Have Fun Escaping From A Carnage-Controlled Doc Ock in Spider-Man
The 2000 Spider-Man game for the PS1 is a bunch of fun: you get to be Spider-Man and swing across New York while fighting bad guys. At the end, you’ve cornered Doc Ock and Carnage, the two big villains who’ve been creating Symbiotes as part of their evil plan. But just when the day seems won, the Carnage Symbiote takes over Doc Ock, creating Monster-Ock. A writhing mess of angry, Symbiote goo with Doc Ock’s signature tentacles sticking out, Monster-Ock is hardly east on the eyes. But then he starts to chase you thorugh the tunnels of Ock’s underwater base, causing mayhem as you desperately try to swing to safety. It’s not an easy escape and you will find yourself killed by Monster-Ock many times before finishing the game. Good luck, Spidey!
6 Get Ahead With An Undead Head In Monkey Island
The Secret of Monkey Island has plenty of goofy inventory items. For example, there’s a Chicken With A Pulley In The Middle that’s vital to advancing. But there is perhaps none more unsettling than the Head of The Navigator. It’s a literal talking, severed head you get to carry around and use to find LeChuck’s ship. It’s spooky in and of itself (who carries a head around?) but its picture doesn’t help keep lunch down: decaying flesh and a severed spine are in full view, and the head has a necklace of eyeballs draped around it. Actual, human eyeballs. The Secret of Monkey Island may be a game about pirates and pirates did some pretty awful stuff, but in Monkey Island people duel with insults! The Head of The Navigator is a marked tonal shift for the game.
And it’s pretty friggin’ creepy.
5 The Bad Endings (And Even The Good Ones!) In Mega Man X5 Feature Death And Dismemberment
Mega Man X5 culminates, like every other Mega Man X game, with a fight against Sigma. What sets X5 apart though, is how dismal the results are no matter what you do. Sure, you beat Sigma, but then you're treated to a cutscene featuring X and Zero heavily damaged. Not family-friendly roughed up damaged mind you, we’re talking no bottom halves of bodies, missing limbs, and gaping holes through their chests. Sure, they're androids, but dude! These are the heroes of the game!
X gets better in the epilogue, but it turns out Zero can't be helped and it's heavily implied he dies (until the next game anyway). If Zero didn’t get infected by the virus, X carries his dead friend’s beam sword as a memento; if Zero did, however, then X gets his entire memory of Zero erased. That's one way to deal with trauma.
4 Crazy Hand In Super Smash Bros. Melee Is Terrifyingly Uncanny
For all the violence of the Super Smash Bros. series (let's watch Mario and Luigi beat each other to death with baseball bats!), the games never really get that disturbing. After all, it's Nintendo characters, the most benign of console mascots.
Enter Crazy Hand. Crazy Hand and its counterpart, Master Hand, are the final bosses of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Large, disembodied, white-gloved hands, they make for great bosses that are unlike your other opponents. But while Master Hand’s movements are fluid and natural, Crazy Hand’s are erratic and unnatural. A disembodied hand is unnerving enough, but it's Crazy Hand’s inhuman decent into the uncanny valley that earns it a spot on this list. That Crazy Hand’s attacks do more damage is just the icing on the cake.
3 Microwave A Neighbor's Pet In Maniac Mansion
One of the many fun things about old-school adventure games is the ability to try a variety of inventory items on objects in the world. Part trial and error, part seeing what the programmers thought to include, it's a vital part of problem solving in these games. So when Maniac Mansion gives you a hamster and has a room with a microwave, you know morbid curiosity will get the better of you. There's no way the programmers would have included that.
Turns out, they did. Maniac Mansion lets you microwave a hamster. But it's not just some random hamster, mind you, this hamster is a neighbor’s pet. Your egregious act of animal cruelty done, there's only one thing left to do: let the owner find the mushy hamster remains. Yep. That happens.
2 Jak 2 Has Your Innocent Hero Become A Rage Monster
The first Jak and Daxter is very much your typical, cutesy 3D platformer. It checks all the boxes: cute-but-cool silent protagonist, buncha stuff to collect, funny sidekick. You'd be forgiven for expecting the sequel to be more of the same.
The second game flings Jak and Daxter into the future where, in the opening, Jak is captured and experimented on by a mad scientist. For two years. When he’s rescued, Jak shouts his first words: "I’m going to kill Praxis." And if that wasn’t hardcore enough, he proceeds to turn into a rage monster and just about attacks Daxter until his friend barely talks him down. If there’s a quicker way to show that your sequel is far darker than the original, I’ve yet to see it.
1 Golden Sun Forces You To Die
Given that its plot is best described as “a band of youths in a fantasy land save the world,” Golden Sun fits very neatly into the JRPG genre. And like any JRPG, there comes a moment when our heroes realize the world is much bigger and much more dangerous than they expect.
In Golden Sun, this comes in the form of a battle. While exploring Vale, Isaac and company come across a Mysterious Man and Mysterious Woman, who engage them in combat. These two are unlike anything you've fought before and wield spells of immense power. And there's no way to beat them. No matter how many times you restart your GBA, you can't beat them. The only way forward is to lose and see your party be left near dead. Welcome to the world of Golden Sun, kids!