While not a fan of Halloween, but I do share a strange fascination with creepy things that game producers of the world use to fuel nightmares with. In the spirit of this spooky time of year, I’ve decided to compile a “top ten list” of my own which includes the things that I found to be the most disturbing in my gaming career. Mind, I am a sissy. I’m not even kidding. Growing up I thought that the film The Mummy was terrifying beyond belief and surrounded my bed with every Beanie Baby cat I could find hoping that might trick the soul-sucking CG monster from getting to me. If my list seems a bit tame, sorry, but I actually don’t play a lot of scary games because I am that pitiful. The things on this list more than likely resulted in me tossing my remote away from myself, retreating into the other room, and demanding that my sister finish the level for me so I could finish my game.
A few disclaimers before we get down to it. Firstly, spoilers! (Duh.) A lot of these elements will either be spoilers themselves or contain spoilers in their explanation tidbits so if you’re looking to avoid any kind of spoilers, best find another read. Secondly, scary things, but that’s the point of this article, yes?
#10: Phaedra the Horse Colossus: Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus is a fantastic game with an already eerie, lonely feel to it. Through the course of the game you are alone in your adventure with the exception of your faithful mount, Argo. You ride through a foggy landscape with harrowing music echoing around you. Sometimes the music fades, leaving only the lonely hoof beats of Argo to fill in the silence. There’s not a single form of life to be seen around you. As you ride, a boulder shifts and rises up to its full height. The silence slowly fades into a looming, quiet, threatening violin while the towering form of Phaedra moves slowly your way. Wander, the main protagonist, must escape underground to avoid the horse-like colossi’s hooves. If he lingers in the entrance of his shelter, the colossi fills the entrance with its massive head and spews toxic gas into the chamber. Wander, the “protagonist,” must run for his life to the nearest opening or die.
The boss fight was perhaps the most unsettling to me. Most of the other Colossi were fast-paced and gave you very little time to consider the situation you were in and their music didn’t seem to be so unsettling. Phaedra is a looming beast, moving leisurely in your direction. It resembles a horse, a dangerous dark reflection of the only friend that Wander has in the game.
The design of Phaedra isn’t exactly scary—it was the presentation, the atmosphere, and the music that built up the confrontation. Phaedra isn’t even an aggressive Colossi compared to the others, but for some reason it stood out as the most unsettling confrontation in the game.
#9: The Mad Piano: Mario 64
This thing was the very first thing to ever get a jump scare out of me in playing a video game. For one, I never expected to actually be scared in a Mario game of all things. The haunted house is an unsettling stage, but the enemies never really had me in any kind of a panic. Boos are just floating pillows practicing their Miley Cyrus imitations when your back is turned. The music was a little spooky but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
However, when combined with the empty rooms, the deserted hallways, and the overall silence of the house you don’t really seem to think much of the harmless little piano sitting in the light being cast through a window. When I first played I thought it was kind of a cute touch and it added a creepy element to the level design. I thought that perhaps the boss would be a piano (or organ) playing skeleton koopa or boo. There was even a little chair set up. Cool right? NO. You approach the thing, curious, and the piano jumps, slamming its top up and down while razor-sharp teeth turn on poor, innocent Mario. The sound of keys slamming along with the weight of the piano thumping as it turned on me was enough to almost stop my heart. I distinctly remember tossing the remote, screaming, and nearly sending my poor cat into a panic when it happened. In hindsight, it was a haunted house and I should have expected something of that sort but in my defense, it’s Mario. Demon piano was not something I could have ever expected.
Well played, Nintendo.
#8: The Abomination: Suikoden 2
By the time I played Suikoden 2, I had already graduated from high school and was in my second year of college. We were well into the 3D era of video games, so one would think that older games would kind of lose their scare factor. I honestly didn’t expect anything unsettling beyond the actions of characters within the games. By this point I had witnessed the main villain chop innocent people down, nearly take the head off of an orphan, one character lobbing the head off of a decoy, and an undead army led by a vampire. The decapitation of the decoy did startle me but it wasn’t all that scary. What followed was the boss of the dungeon I had wandered into, and it had me frozen for a few minutes.
It looked like someone had cross-bred redeads from the Legend of Zelda with Smeagol from Lord of the Rings. This twisted nightmare spawn is a pain in the backside to kill and I had to face it several times before I managed to take it down. It honestly looks like something that crawled right out of the Internet’s Creepypasta pages. It’s just an unsettling thing to look at, and considering how long the boss fight was, you certainly got an eyeful. The more you looked, the worse it got.
#7: Lavender Town: Pokemon Red & Blue
It’s likely that nine out of ten people saw this one coming. Lavender Town is a well known nightmare shared by the majority of gamers of my generation. I just spent hours navigating the Rock Tunnel, without the HM for Flash (because it was a useless move and I didn’t want to waste it on one of my good Pokemon), and just bumped around until I found my way out. Now it’s something I can do in about fifteen minutes between zubat encounters but back then it was a pretty big deal. I was tired of the darkness and I finally emerged to daylight and the happy music of that short route.
Then the music changed. It wasn’t happy anymore. It was…unnerving. I remember stopping entirely and staring at my gameboy, hoping that it hadn’t broken or froze. The music alone is enough to put a young gamer ill at ease. Creepy pasta and rumors about the music aside, it’s downright haunting as a tune. There’s just this depressing undertone to it. On top of the music itself, the theme of Lavender town is death. There is no gym here; there’s really nothing to draw in any income for the town. It’s a sad, depressed place who’s only attraction is a tower where people come to bury their pokemon.
Bury. Their. Pokemon.
Up to this point in the game I didn’t think that it was possible that pokemon could die. They just fainted and a quick trip to the pokemon center got them right back in the game. Here, you speak to mourning ex-trainers.
Even that wasn’t enough. As you progress through the story of the town, you find out that Team Rocket—the antagonists of the game for those of you living under a rock—has murdered a pokemon and orphaned its only child, a cubone. The angry ghost of the murdered pokemon haunts the tower and appears as a ghostly figure in battle until you mage to obtain an item to see it. Your pokemon are literally too terrified to react to the ghost and stand still, frozen, until you flee. You have to confront this spirit and defeat it in battle before you can put its soul to rest and move on through the tower. You end up confronting the pokemon’s murderers and driving them out of town, but only after you find out that they’re there poaching cubone for profit.
It was pretty disturbing, especially for a game aimed at children. However, looking back I actually appreciated that a video game was bold enough to address some pretty mature things in the game. It felt like I was being taken seriously as a gamer; while the theme song did keep me up after playing through Lavender Town, I still actually enjoy the lore that cropped up from the experience. It was all my friends could talk about in middle school and it’s still a gamer favorite to this day.
#6: The Wither: Minecraft
Minecraft is yet another game that has an unsettling, lonely feel to it. Sure, it’s a world of squares but when you start to get into the game it does kind of have a lonely feel to it. You’re alone in the world with only your tamed animals to keep you company as you fight off creepers, skeletons, and zombies through the night to protect the structures that you’ve built. There’s really no story to Minecraft beyond the one that you invent for yourself through your gameplay. In my mind, it’s always about surviving on your own. As you progress you are able to build better tools and materials to explore further.
As you continue to explore you are able to unlock other dimensions, find lost temples, and if you’re bold enough you can even unlock the end. Through the game you’re harassed by a variety of frighting mobs to include the always creepy enderman. I was terrified of these things, and I still am, because they can just appear about anywhere and they stalk you around until you kill them. I thought nothing could get worse than the enderman. Then I watched my sister in-law play her minecraft game.
This gargling, hissing sound from the dark announced the reason I’ve not dared to adventure further than my tree house in Minecraft—the Wither. It looks strangely like the abomination from Suikoden 2 but it’s lost its legs and arms. For a game that’s already lonely and unsettling, this thing was just downright frighting. It’s extremely difficult to defeat and nearly impossible to contain. No thank you, Minecraft.
#5: Undead Animals: Red Dead Redemption (Undead Nightmare)
After Red Dead Redemption was out for a time, a new expansion was released called Undead Nightmare. In this expansion you play as John Marston during a zombie apocalypse in the old west. A virus is spreading and it’s turning everything into reanimated corpses- human and animal alike.
The atmosphere of Red Dead Redemption itself is kind of haunting. The west wasn’t an exactly tame place and there are a multitude of scenarios through the course of the normal game that were disturbing. You had a relationship between a man and his…horse, you had a man who couldn’t accept the fact that his wife was not only dead but decaying in his home, and you had a traveling Californian who very likely should have just stayed at home. It was never a comfortable game to play alone. Nights were bad enough when you had to ride around avoiding bears and cougars, but in the expansion it just doubled the atmosphere.
Ammo is extremely limited so if you’re a horrible shot or, like myself, you shoot out of an automatic panic at anything that moves, you quickly find yourself in a tight situation. In Undead Nightmare even the animals aren’t safe from the virus. What’s worse than a cougar one-shotting your precious horse? A ZOMBIE cougar one-shotting your horse. It wasn’t just limited to hostile wildlife either. Cattle would become zombies and come charging at you with bits of their bodies missing, tissue exposed, and unnatural gargling cries splitting the silence. The worst undead critter for me was my horse. Until I managed to find one of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse I was forced to ride around on this ghastly zombie horse. I don’t know what it is, but of all animals undead horses strike me as the most terrifying.
#4: Inner Dracula: Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2
Castlevania is not exactly a weenie-safe game. Why I love them, and can play them, is a complete mystery. Something about the fast-paced platforming of the old games and the amazing acting in the new ones just has me hooked. I love the lore, I love the characters, and I ADORE the music. Castlevania is just a classic game. I admit, I had to resist serious impulses to hum “Vampire Killer” when my mother popped Twilight in. One day there will be fan art of this crossover and I am not sorry.
So Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a re-vamping of the classic series with more focus on the origin of the Belmont house and their nemesis: Dracula. In the first game you play as a champion of light, a vampire slayer by the name of Gabriel Belmont. In a special DLC that takes place between the first game and Mirror of Fate, a game released for the 3DS, Gabriel must become a vampire to save humanity from a powerful evil being that’s about to surface. Long story short, Gabriel is forced to go into hiding because the hunter has become the hunted. He suffers personal loss, betrayal, and eventually turns his back on the world and God himself.
In Lords of Shadow 2, Gabriel is forced to face this darkness that has dominated him for centuries and put an end to it before he is ready and able to challenge the greatest evil known to man: The devil himself. Now Satan should hold this slot all things considered, but his design included butt wings and I couldn’t stop laughing. Instead, a monster you fight prior to Satan gets the honor of being the source of remote-throwing terrors: Inner Dracula. This monster is a mess of gore and blood capped off with a twisted version of Gabriel’s face. It speaks to you in Gabriel’s voice, mocking you, reminding you of all the sins committed by your own hand, etc. It takes on two forms during the course of the conflict but the more vulnerable of the two is the most horrific. Sin is a disgusting, disturbing thing and Castlevania‘s design for Gabriel’s sins rising out of a pool of blood to confront him was both powerful and nightmarish.
#3: Dead Hand: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
To be fair, I could just list out the bottom of the well and the shadow temple from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and call it quits. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, about either of those two levels that was okay. The Shadow Temple is inside of a graveyard, it’s filled with torture devices that were clearly used, it’s infested with the undead, and the final boss looks like a decapitated hanging corpse that’s beating on a drum. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t able to even play the shadow temple on my own until after high school. The bottom of the well was just as bad.
I drained the well at the center of Kakariko Village, the same village in which the shadow temple resides, and descended into the depths of the dry well. I fought my way through a nightmarish labyrinth of redeads, poes, bubbles (which are not as cute as actual bubbles), and perhaps the creepiest dungeon music in a zelda game until I got to the final room. This room was covered with skulls. There were several pale hands with red claws and what looked like bloody wounds rising out of the ground. I wasn’t sure what to do at this point so I went to try to slash the arms, thinking maybe if I cut them all down I’d get whatever I was supposed to get and go on with my life. THEN THE HAND GRABBED ME. Okay jump scare number one. Then the ground rose up and this pale, bloody thing with stumps for limbs, a stretched out neck, and a horrible face started to waddle my way. I struggled, mashing every button until the thing leaned down, opened its mouth, and bit me.
I was done. Done with the game. Done with that day. Done with my life.
I made my siblings pick up for me and finish it while I sat in my room and contemplated my fate. Somehow this atrocity made it into a kid’s game. I had serious nightmares about this thing and I know that I’m not alone. There’s nothing okay about the dead hand. It’s a brilliant monster but I am so glad I’ve not seen its like in any games to follow. With the upgrade in graphics, I don’t think I could handle it on the 3DS OOT remaster. There would be a chorus of “nope nope nope” as I retreated to the safety of my room to watch some My Little Pony for the rest of the week.
#2: Springtrap: Five Nights at Freddy’s 3
I’m sure everyone knew that FNAF would be on this list, but I’m sure I’ll catch some flack for not putting it in the number one slot. I promise number one is way worse but this thing is literally the reason I lost four nights straight of good sleep. My parents asked me to house sit for them and my sister thought it would be a fantastic idea to watch play throughs of FNAF 3 before leaving me alone for the night. The first three games are horrible and did deprive me of sleep. I still jump if I hear something in the hall because I swear Bonnie is out there waiting to eat my frontal lobe.
Springtrap is the absolute worst, even the nightmare characters don’t keep me up at night the way Springtrap does. The lore of the game eventually reveals that the killer responsible for the deaths of multiple children attempted to hide from the vengeful spirits of said children by retreating into a spring lock costume once known as Spring Bonnie. The suit malfunctioned for any number of reasons and crushed the victim inside. He was discovered and rather than removed from the suit and given a proper burial (or cremation, that would have been safer) his dead body was left to rot and the room was boarded up, never to be mentioned again. Springtrap was discovered years later and put into a new establishment as an attraction. The night guard of the new business is forced to defend himself against this malicious killer.
Firstly, the way Springtrap moves is so different from the stiffer, clunky movements of the other characters. There’s a human fluidity to his movements that even the nightmare characters don’t have in the later games. There’s a horrible hissing sound that’s distinctly less electronic when he comes in for the kill screen. His eyes have a more sentient look about them. This isn’t a haunted electronic mascot, this is a sociopath reanimated and back to doing what he does best. Secondly, you can still see the remains of the killer inside of the suit in certain screens at certain angles. The mouth is visible and in rare occasions, most of the skull is visible. Fans may not be huge fans of FNAF 3 but collectively we have to agree that Springtrap is a masterpiece of horror.
#1: Giant flying lightning babies: Drakengard
Drakengard is an extremely dark game with very unnerving themes and a twisted story line. It’s rather violent and the cultist themes alone set a very uncomfortable tone. Thankfully, the cult was clearly the evil element and it had to be brought down by the protagonist, Caim, and his faithful pact-partner, Angelus the red dragon. The entire game is dark and gritty, there’s really very little through the course of the game to be happy about. It’s stressful, intense, and the heavy themes are just heart-wrenching. It’s a fantastic story but once or twice the game really pushes the line.
One such line occupies the number one slot. I really have no idea what else to call these things. Towards the end of the game, in one of the many endings, the sky opens up and out drops an army of massive flying babies that can shoot lightning and make a serious attempt to eat the protagonist. Not only was I checking the expiration date on everything I had eaten that day, I was seriously trying to understand the design choices behind this entire scenario. Cavia as a company is known for being very out there, different, but unique in their story telling. This whole thing felt so out of place but it was so disturbing that I couldn’t get the imagery out of my head.
You end up fighting this screaming nightmare army in both the sky and again on the ground. From that point they are zombie giant flying lightning babies and they desperately just want to eat you and your entire party. There was just nothing okay about fighting babies, least of all babies that were larger than my dragon mount. I don’t hear many people talking about this…incident but if you’re a glutton for being disturbed and confused give Drakengard a stab or pull up a youtube video of the cut scene.Maybe it’s more silly than scary, but unlike everything else on this list, I felt conflicted in this fight. It was just a disturbing thing to have to do and a disturbing thing to see.
I hope I’ve not unsettled too many of you. As I said, I’m not too into Halloween as a holiday but I wanted to do something semi-festive and entertaining to keep with the theme of the month. Whatever you do, or don’t do, for Halloween I hope you all have a great time! Maybe I’ve given you some costume designs. Just don’t go too crazy.
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