Yup. We’re fraidy-cats.
Children scare easily, it’s true, and that might explain why we enjoy scaring our younger relatives with spooky tales, well-timed jump-scares, or placing the creepiest dolls we can find in their bed. The payoff is a satisfactory scream that would make the residents of Monstropolis blush.
Of course, we were young, and we scared easily. Jumping because of a mischievous sibling is one thing, but it’s a completely different story when it’s games that scare you, to say nothing of the fact that the moments that stand out to us aren’t even from scary games. Ridiculous.
Consider, if you will, the box art for Glover on the N64. Big, bright yellow letters and a happy looking mascot riding a vibrant red ball in the foreground. That’s what your eyes see immediately; no one looks and sees the foreboding castle in the background.
Glover’s introduction is unsettling. Done in a clay art style separate from the rest of the game, the plot involves a wizard inadvertently mixing the wrong ingredients while his magical gloves look on. The titular Glover is blasted out of the wizard’s castle while the other glove falls into the cauldron, emerging as a menacing villain with one of the creepiest laughs we’ve ever heard in a videogame.
Don’t believe us? Check out the first two minutes below.
The game’s overworld is cheery as can be after that. The introduction does much of the heavy lifting for the game’s plot–there isn’t much there–and it’s a relatively straightforward platformer thereafter. Still, that laugh.
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck
This series, particularly Castle of Illusion, shares many similarities with Glover. You have to retrieve seven MacGuffins (in this case, gems). A castle plays a central role in the story. And, this being a Mickey Mouse set of games, one might think they shouldn’t be scary, though the game’s Genesis box art is admittedly clear about the spooky nature of it all, and World of Illusion‘s Mega Drive art is only slightly more cheery.
But it’s the introduction to World of Illusion that once again gets us.
As children, the 1:26 mark would be enough to cause us to skip ahead, despite the relatively tame nature of it all. Presumably a mixture of the rather creepy music and the mysterious hooded figure at the end is what did it, but, who even knows anymore?
Ocarina of Time
Now this is understandable. Prior to encountering Wallmasters, Navi warns you about their presence, though by this point, who’s listening to Navi’s frequent interruptions? Whether your first exposure to these creatures and their erratic movement in 3D was on the N64 or the 3DS, they’re still unnerving, and not being prepared for an encounter is the stuff of nightmares.
Suddenly, this shadowy thing drops down on Link, causing him to scream in terror while the screen fades to black.
It’s enough to make your blood freeze. While these are nowhere near as terrifying today, subsequent appearances in A Link Between Worlds and Hyrule Warriors are enough to cause uncomfortable flashbacks.
Sonic the Hedgehog
One sixteen second sound-clip is enough to create all the tension and fear of drowning in a child’s imagination.
The comments are telling:
“This is how anxiety feels”
““Panic attack” the SOUNDTRACK”
“i don’t care what anyone says, this is way worse than Jaws”
When we first ran this article in 2011 the top rated comment was perhaps the most instructive of them all:
“Even today I still feel that chill over my spine when I hear this.”
When this started up, you knew you were in trouble, and poor Sonic was only moments away from death. The fact that the blue hedgehog is practically useless in water only heightens the sense of fear, panic and desperation you feel when you hear this.
Another environmental based dose of fear comes in the form of SkiFree. A popular inclusion in Microsoft’s “Entertainment Packs”, many home PCs included this game alongside digital card games, chess, and the ever famous Minesweeper. As children, some of those games went over our heads, but SkiFree had an immediate appeal in much the same way a game like Helicopter-based games do today: avoid obstacles and amass a high score.
Except, no one tells you that after passing the 2000m mark, an abominable snowman will run you down and eat you.
The animation is downright bloodcurdling. Down the hatch you go, completely whole, never to be seen again. While it’s possible to avoid the yeti–an accomplishment that should be considered equivalent to winning the Tour De France–its simple appearance is enough to cause your brain to go haywire and simply accept your fate.
Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
Religion is a topic Nintendo has roundly avoided in its games. Rarely has it been mentioned, and even less so in the Pokémon series, at least until the fourth gen rolled in, bringing Arceus with it. The inclusion of a full-on religious building (“The Foreign Building”), then, is something of a surprise.
Up until this point, the closest you would get is people honouring legendary Pokemon, and really the religious subtext is so scant you’d have to be actively searching for it. (Yeah, yeah, the plot of Gold and Silver may have it, but as a kid, it’s easy to interpret that as the set-up for an adventure and nothing more.)
Then, out of nowhere, a Cathedral is slapped into the middle of a happy and bustling city. It seems totally out of place; it is. Once inside, it gets worse, in every way.
Not only are the people strangely ethereal and religious in their speech but there is not one note of music played.
The music just stops when you enter. Bulbapedia says it is a mark of respect. We say it’s a mark of pure creepiness.
The place has no plot relevance, it is not mentioned by any character or NPC, and no similar building has appeared since. It’s just plain weird.
These six games are by no means horror games. They’re not meant to scare but they got us good. Are there any games from your childhood that are unexpectedly scary?
This updated article is adapted from the GoodGamesWriting archives. The original article was posted on April 1, 2011. This updated version includes edited notes that were cut from the original story.