Nerd Bacon’s List of 10 Scariest Video Game Moments From Games That Weren’t Supposed to be Scary
It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means: time for a whole bunch of scary video games to kick off the season. Think back on all those scary games you played when you were a kid. I’m talking games like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Doom. Those games sure were scary, designed to freak you out with carefully crafted atmospheres and lurking enemies ready to pounce on you from dark shadows. But, there’s something even scarier lurking out there in the gaming world, something that hides tucked away in the back of all our minds…
What’s scarier, you ask? When games have you jumping out of your pants over things that probably weren’t supposed to be scary. I’m talking about the horrific glitches, the terrifying feelings from game atmospheres, and the downright frightening one-off experiences we’ve all had as kids with games that were supposed to be all happiness and sunshine, made even scarier by their unscripted nature, causing us to wonder if we’re the only ones that ever actually experienced them. Join us this Halloween as our writers share their most intimate, scary stories from their days of childhood gaming. This is Nerd Bacon’s List of 10 Scariest Video Game Moments From Games That Weren’t Supposed to be Scary.
1. Doc Croc – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Dead Hand boss fight from the Bottom of the Well in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
So, for context: the Dead Hand is a mini-boss that you fight twice in Ocarina of Time; once at the end of the Bottom of the Well dungeon to obtain the Lens of Truth, and once in the Shadow Temple to obtain the Hover Boots. In retrospect, Dead Hand isn’t really a difficult boss; the battle just consists of Link being held by one of its four hands that are sticking up out of the ground to lure it out, then striking it a few times before it goes back to hiding in the ground. The bit that really creeped us out as children is that the thing has the same coloring as Cream Dried Beef, which my mom used to make pretty often.
So we called Dead Hand the Cream Dried Beef Monster up until we learned its actual name…I mean, clearly the Cream Dried Beef wasn’t going to attack us or anything, but when you’re like–what–a six year old, that shit is super scary.
2. Action Zero – 3D Body Adventure
To start, the disc was already pretty scary. It had pictures of a skull, a floating eyeball, and organs floating around in space, with each organ reflective against the opaque background so that you’d see them better in the light.
The game’s title was in a Dadaist block font that just seems unnerving to me now, the letters having absorbed a fraction of the trauma that I associate with this game. It’s like recognizing a stalker’s handwriting on the note that appeared on your front door this morning; it just sends the blood curdling with fear.
3D Body Adventure was made for an educational suite called Knowledge Adventure, a series that basically threw sprites and mazes at you in an effort to teach you stuff about the natural world. Dinosaurs, space, speed, and undersea creatures, all with their own strange approach to teaching, hurling trivia questions at you at a million miles an hour alongside sprites that you interacted with. They were all pretty strange, but mostly harmless.
The weirdest parts, however, were due to the graphical limitations of the time; the people who produced them wanted high-definition animated video in an era where that sort of thing was hard to come by, as well as sound files so that the game itself would teach you things and immerse you in what you were learning.
The thing is, this game’s application of the sounds and sprites are like the original Shenmue‘s application of human faces; they were always off-center, provoking human reactions that weren’t originally intended. The animation showing how someone could die from smoking over time personally terrified me, since as soon as the damage is done completely, the game throws in a BLOODCURDLING SCREAM to underline the point that somebody just died!
But personally, what spawned a lifetime of squeamishness in the face of body horror has got to be the interactive game where you operated on someone by shrinking down and running around a mock-up of their body, shooting gross-looking 256-color pathogens and viruses in order to save the patient. From the visuals to the disturbing body-based sound effects (and grievously unnecessary screaming), 3D Body Adventure remains one of the few games that I have a physical, fearful reaction to.
Funny how I can play a game as bloody as the Sega CD version of Eternal Champions, and yet this game has me too terrified to dissect a virtual earthworm. Life’s weird like that.
3. Nerdberry – Tomb Raider II
Saturday night, 1997. I’m no older than 11 years old. The parents are asleep and my friend and I are playing Tomb Raider II on the PlayStation in a dark, unfinished basement furnished with a beat up couch and a Zenith TV set. This place is spooky. The basement had a back room with no lights and no door to separate the play area from the creepy area. But every weeknight we had one of two choices to make: after 9pm we could either go to bed upstairs or play video games in the basement. Needless to say, we often chose to face the ominous and sinister darkness of the basement. My experiences in this basement continued into high school where we chose to fight the darkness with beer bongs and shots of Everclear–but that’s a different story.
On this particular evening, my neighbor and I started to get bored with Jet Moto and Crash Bandicoot, so we thought we would put in Tomb Raider II and mess with the butler in Lara Croft’s castle. We would always try to lock him in the walk-in freezer to no avail…or maybe we were successful? I can’t remember.
Either way, what I do remember is that the butler began to come apart and lose his shit–okay, it wasn’t quite like that. But the game glitched and the butler’s body began to deform and scatter about…but his disfigured body continued following us around as the pieces of the butler’s frame flew around. The disfigured butler maintained a slight semblance of a human shape, but was more alien and sinister than human being.
It was so damn creepy. The Butlerthing was walking through walls and bushes and such, relentlessly pursuing me. In hindsight, the experience is obviously not a very scary one. It was a game glitch and nothing about the butler was actually supposed to be scary. But maybe that’s exactly why it was so damn terrifying. A seemingly fun and enjoyable moment instantly switched to a nightmare and we had no time to prepare ourselves for the terror the way we normally would with a game like Resident Evil.
4. Steroid Gamer – Glover
When I was a kid, my sister and I played Glover for the Nintendo 64 a ton. There was a span of three different levels in the horror-themed world “Fortress of Fear.” Inside of this world there were two enemies that creeped the hell out of both my sister and myself.
One of the foes was a stick of dynamite that would hop, jump, and fizzle about, and if he spotted you, then this red-sticked dynamite would chase after and blow himself up! A KAMIKAZE DYNAMITE STICK!! The scariest part about this dude was you could always hear him bouncing around before you could see him, so I was constantly spinning the camera around, frantically checking every direction to ensure this maniac wasn’t coming after me!
Also, there was this ugly creepy old witch–not that creepy now that I’m older–but she would steal your ball and turn it into a crystal. After that she would throw it in the air and you were forced to watch it crash into the ground as if time was in slow motion. Technically, you could try to catch it, but with the N64 controller it wasn’t exactly easy. Same as with the dynamite stick, this witch had a cackling laugh and would taunt you before you could see her, so I was always afraid to progress through the game whenever I heard those two enemies, even though failing just took you back to the latest checkpoint.
Funny what scares you as a kid.
5. Rhutsczar – The 7th Guest
About the time when I was 13, I really grew an interest in retro video games. I decided to rifle through my mom’s old things from when she bought our first computer, and my love for strategy and puzzle games emerged. My mom had originally purchased a handful of games for herself, including Warcraft and The 7th Guest, but I managed to get my hands on them from time to time. After playing through Warcraft (still one of my favorite franchises to this date) my mom and I sat down to play The 7th Guest together.
The game was rather simple for the both of us, even though we would occasionally get stuck on a puzzle or two (like the cake puzzle). What actually bothered me about it was how the cut scenes were portrayed. The live action characters didn’t appear to be rendered well, so I thought of them as ghosts instead. It made The 7th Guest even more scary and creepy…which is almost juvenile to say now.
After playing, though, I began seeing things out of the corner of my peripheral vision. I was told I had an over-active imagination, but I didn’t believe it. In a particular spot in the hallway of my childhood home, I could see a woman, either hanging or just simply staring at me. I thought I was just seeing things, and everyone that I told said the same thing.
This actually continued to happen on multiple occasions, especially after I would play a horror game. This happened again after playing Fatal Frame for the first time in 2004. The visuals would appear bloodier than I had seen it before, but it wasn’t as scary. I eventually got to the point that if I would see the woman again, I would just wave super-casually like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. I don’t believe in spirits or anything, but my imagination under the right conditions can create some scary things. My family and I have long since moved, but I always wondered if something shady had happened before we moved in to my childhood home.
6. Sarus Vakarian – I Love Math
As a child, my parents overloaded me with educational PC games at first, because they thought games like Crash Bandicoot were too violent. However, as the internet is well aware, children’s games can be unintentionally creepy at times. It may not sound that scary, but some of the imagery and tones in those games could really petrify a child.
For example, the DK game, I Love Math, was a harmless point-and-click game with a basic “save the world using math!” premise. But the levels were just downright unsettling. Nothing was ever animated except for the inanimate objects that would talk to you, sometimes even insult you if you answered something incorrectly.
They look innocent enough, but those Greek statues could be real jerks. What was scary about them is that I could never tell when they were going to speak. And it was only their heads that were animated when they spoke; the rest of their bodies stayed still. They were just talking heads with stone bodies. Sometimes I imagined that they had moved and became so paranoid about it that my mom had to take the game away.
7. Nerdy Friend – The Binding of Isaac
After beating the boss in The Basement level of The Binding of Isaac, I got a new item that resembled a bundle of sticks. When I picked it up, I was informed that they were Toothpicks.
When applied to Isaac, it increases damage done to enemies. But when I saw what it did to Isaac’s appearance, my jaw hit my desk! Isaac stuck the toothpicks into his eyelids to prop them open and his tears changed to his own blood! I was so grossed out that I actually cringed and looked away for a few.
Even though the game didn’t show the process of Isaac inserting the toothpicks into his eyelids, my mind did that for me. Chills went up my spine and I shuddered at the thought of the pain involved. When I finally put myself back together, I continued the game. But out of the corner of my eye, I could still see it. And it still grosses me out.
8. ZB – ClayFighter 63⅓
A couple years after prematurely selling my Nintendo 64, I began renting the console to play some of its newer games. One title I played was ClayFighter 63⅓ (I rented it for the sole purpose of fighting as Earthworm Jim). The first time I beat it, this image came up…
I recall this ending screen having an unsettling silence. Up to this point, the game was goofy, wacky fun. But after I saw this eerie image alluding to the death of a fictional character that was somehow a part of the game, everything changed. As a child, I was deeply disturbed by this backstory, with a visual of what was perhaps this fighter’s final moment gruesomely depicted against a black backdrop. I’ll admit, even looking at it now as an adult, those old feelings are once again stirred up inside of me.
Ever since I saw the ending image, I would always pop in ClayFighter 63⅓ with an ounce of discomfort, knowing that somewhere inside that cartridge’s data lurked the creepy, hidden truth of what went on behind the scenes. Of course, I knew that it was a story, though I still couldn’t help but imagine that it was real. And imagine was all I needed.
9. Nips – Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX
Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX is perhaps the most feel-good game I’ve ever played. Imagine jamming out to the sweet, sick melodies of Sublime’s What I Got while shredding your way through a suburban neighborhood–on a freaking bike! For a young kid at the turn of the century, this game embodied everything that was cool: punk rock, suburban slackerdom, and people in their early twenties doing whatever the fuck they wanted.
While I’ve never been too hip on sports games, I always had a soft spot for those Tony Hawk-eque games where you could string together collections of combos for high scores. They were fun and goofy, with some pretty good gameplay that hadn’t already begun falling into the rut represented by football and basketball titles of the time. Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX was essentially that, except for bicycles.
Taking control of a range of semi-famous BMX athletes, the player was allowed to explore a nice collection of levels that provided an ever-increasing amount space to pull off some radical tricks and go for the high score. And the game had a sardonic sense of humor, too; embracing the slacker roots from which such extreme sports have grown, there were plenty of fun challenges and Easter eggs that involved destroying trash cans and beer bottles, as well as grinding on…power lines? Awesome!
But one day, everything changed. Like many games of its era, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX had a tidy amount of fun cheats that the player could activate to change the way the game looked and played. Most of them were pretty benign and fun…except for that one, of course. That one was an abomination, a wretched curse upon humankind, known in our language by only one name…
Exorcist. When I first entered the code for the Exorcist cheat, I thought it would be funny. I thought it would be worth a chuckle or two. But what I got when I started my next run was an absolute nightmare; my character’s head was no longer staring steadily forward, but was now spinning around at unbelievable levels. Not only would the head spin really fast, but it would change speeds at irregular intervals, as if responding my inertia, gravity, or some sort of otherworldly, malignant evil.
My child’s mind screamed as my world exploded and then rearranged as a horrid caricature of its former self. Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX was no longer the fun-happy-sunshine game I had known; it was forever changed after witnessing such horror. I could no longer imagine it in the same way, as my perception of its world gave way, causing me to realize how empty and downright creepy it actually was.
Somewhere in the image of that spinning head, I had discovered my own frailty and utter isolation. There were no in-game characters around to witness this horrifying image with me, and, as my character’s head spun round and round in a never-ending cycle, I began fantasizing that the Grim Reaper, himself, was just around every corner, and if I was too careless, I would spin the camera around and there he would be, the only other companion that could exist in such a desolate, god-forsaken world where heads spin in tandem with Hell’s unheard rhythms…
10. ChronoSloth – Game Over Screens
I’ve seen this on a few lists like this, actually, so it looks like I’m not alone in being terrified by the haunting theme and image of the Donkey Kong Country Game Over screen. The truly depressing score is what bothered me, I think. That, and seeing my favorite monkey pals beaten and bruised, never to see their banana hoard again. Donkey Kong holds his head in agony while Diddy Kong stares forward with his one eye that isn’t swollen shut; he knows you’re responsible for their condition. I’d jump off of my bed and run to the Super Nintendo to reset if I’d lost my last life. I had to turn the system off before that dirge played and Diddy Kong stared into my soul again. I’M SORRY I FAILED YOU, KONGS!
The other screen that bothered me the most is pretty specific. It’s the Game Over screen from the Gourmet Race part of Kirby Super Star. After racing King Dedede to grab the most food and cross the finish line first, if it’s determined you’ve lost, a screen is shown with Kirby’s face crying and distorted by King Dedede pinching his cheek forcefully. The shading on Kirby’s face here is plain weird compared to his normal, cute, 2D face. It’s like they’ve attempted to make it look almost 3D because of King Dedede’s painful pulling.
These really freaked me out as a kid. Maybe I can attribute my skill at games now to how badly I didn’t want to see or hear these Game Over screens.
And it’s Game Over for Nerd Bacon’s List of 10 Scariest Video Game Moments From Games That Weren’t Supposed to be Scary. Do you have any scary game stories? Share yours below!
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