One of the benefits of growing up to see the 8-bit era turn into the 1080p gaming we know and love today was getting to see some of the most horrifying moments in video games as they were happening. In this article we’ll look back at some of the most unnerving moments in old-school gaming, sure to send shivers down your spine like a back massage from Frosty the Snowman. Get your favorite blankie ready, it only gets worse from here:
5) Nintendo Entertainment System – Television Commercial (originally aired in Australia)
Is this for real? Orwellian in nature, this commercial is likely the most unsettling TV spot I have ever seen that involves gaming. Big Brother has taken over in the form of that jackass dog who does nothing but laugh at me in Duck Hunt, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. If you can get through this entire video without feeling at all uneasy, more power to you. I don’t think Nintendo knew what was in store with their competitive future in the gaming market, because they may have changed the tagline to: You CAN beat us if your innovations don’t alienate gamers; we’ll handle that!
4) Mortal Kombat – Sub Zero’s Spine Rip Fatality (Arcade)
While probably the least “scary” out of all on this list by today’s standards (though more so in the early 1990s when I was just a young lad), the Spine Rip fatality holds arguably the most honorable distinction of all on this list. Due to graphic violence not yet introduced by video games before Mortal Kombat came to arcades in August 1991, a man’s head being removed from his body in vivid detail raised quite a few parental eyebrows. A few thousand (and then some) complaints and a Congressional hearing later, the ESRB rating system is born in 1994.
3) Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Shadow Temple (Nintendo 64)
Screw this level, really. I’d rather play the Water Temple twice in a row than have to deal with this nightmare. Not only is this level filled with simplistic-yet-evil ReDeads (which greet you with a shriek once you get in their line of sight, and then proceed to give you a massive “hug”), you get to try to avoid something you can’t even see until it’s too late: the Wallmaster. For those who have been living under a rock since 1998 and haven’t enjoyed the best damn video game of all time, that’s a giant hand which lurks in the shadows in hopes of grabbing you. Your only warning? A creepy noise before you’re sent back to the beginning of the dungeon.
2) LSD: Dream Emulator – The Entire Freakin’ Game (PSX, Japan)
This game is not commonly known, as it was released only in Japan for the original PlayStation and didn’t get a lot of press. It remains a cult favorite, but I don’t think I need to elaborate further on why it’s on the list. For not being truly scary, it’s a constant eerie vibe that allows it’s inclusion. The gameplay starts at 1:46 of this video, and proceeds to make you think deeply. Most often, it’s a resounding “WTF?”, almost like somebody has been taking…
1) Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow – Lavender Town (Game Boy, Game Boy Color)
You want scary? How about a song that literally caused a few Japanese kids to, I kid you not, kill themselves. Then again, I guess there’s something soothing about this song if you enjoy clubbing baby seals and skinning house cats. Very quickly I find myself going “Well, do I really need a ghost Pokémon?” It wouldn’t even be that bad if they left out the hypnotic four notes that dominate the entire song, but unfortunately due to the sheer reality of a song that makes you lose your mind (and possibly your life), this is the Creepiest Moment in Retro Gaming History.
“Red Screen of Death” (PlayStation 2)
Is the PlayStation 2 officially retro as we gear up for the next generation of consoles? As if the actual “RSoD” isn’t terrifying enough when you’re not expecting it, I was trying to find a quality video of it and stumbled across a tortured soul who thought it’d be funny to attach a screamer to the end. I had full volume blasting and no lights on, so thanks a lot, jerk. (Editor’s note: The above video does not have a screamer attached, but it’s out there if you truly want to find it.)
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If you've never met a person who can talk about why Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the greatest video game of all time while simultaneously picking apart defenses in Madden, that's where Dave comes in. Follow him on Twitter (@RedZoneD25) for incessant rambling on the Philadelphia Eagles, video games and more.