Name three games that scare the living daylights out of you. Did they happen to include Super Mario 64 or Ecco the Dolphin? You're likely thinking more along the lines of Silent Hill or Resident Evil, titles designed to ensure you have bad dreams for weeks to come. But what of the games out there that seem completely innocent at first, but devolve into something more sinister? From the grinning Moon of Majora's Mask to the final showdown of Earthbound, these seemingly benign titles are positively riddled with nightmare fuel and at times, scarier than their intentionally spine-tingling counterparts. These are eight unintentionally terrifying games that are absolutely worth your time.
Super Mario 64
Ah, Mario. It's all fun and games with the quintessential plumber platformer…unless you're playing Super Mario 64. I've got one word for you: Unagi. Yes, the monstrous eel of Jolly Roger Bay, where you were deep under the sea (alone), and you needed to provoke this thing to attack in order to get past. Its blank stare, razor-sharp teeth, and lightning-fast attacks combine to make it the absolute Unholy Terror of Super Mario 64, and launched a million hydrophobics from that day forward.
From the opening notes of the 64-bit iteration of Nintendo's prized franchise, things are fairly sinister: the transforming portrait of Peach to Bowser, a piano with teeth, and even Bowser's castle in general. A lone, empty castle, beckoning you to enter one of the several doors within. No one but Toads around, and scarce Toads at that. The endless staircase, the flaming portrait of Lethal Lava Land, and heck, jumping into portraits, period…for some reason it's all downright creepy. And to this day even as a veritable nightmare-monger I'm still as repelled by Super Mario 64 as I am by Rene Laloux's Fantastic Planet. Yeesh.
Everything about Gone Home conjures images of a late-night horror movie marathon. You're tasked with exploring an empty house in the middle of a torrential downpour, forced to stumble around in the dark while trying to figure out where your parents and little sister have gone. While there's nothing objectively scary about this excellent narrative-heavy adventure, you aren't thinking about that when you venture into yet another dimly-lit room thinking you could find your little sister's head on a platter at any moment. It's not meant to force you into panic mode, but it does an admirable job of keeping you on the edge of your seat regardless. Honestly, it would have been a much better game if it were a horror title.
The Mother games have always been slightly off-kilter, but usually in a pleasant, offbeat way, where you laugh rather than cower in fear. Sure, names like Poo can be hilarious. And Pokey has some pretty giggle-inducing lines. But all the fun and games soon end with the hellish endboss/fetal nightmare Giygas, as well as the general lighthearted tone of the adventure. Some fragmented speech and a horrific vision of the tortured soul take a swift turn into something decidedly more evil, making this an encounter that's stuck with me over the years – a scary one, no less.
And think back on the final turn of events in the game. What about Happy Happy Town and the crazy cult people? If you've been cruising through Earthbound all this time thinking it's purely a child's game, then you clearly haven't been stopping to smell the roses. Next time you have a spare moment, have a listen to just Giygas' battle theme, and tell me you're still happily traipsing along in a kid's game.
Ecco the Dolphin
Finally, a game about a cute little dolphin! There can't be anything wrong with Flipper, right? Allt he beautiful sea life and tranquil exploration under the sea…oh, wait. Actually, pretty much everything is wrong with Ecco The Dolphin. The extreme isolation of navigating the waters, avoiding fairly frequent potential one-hit kills, fighting off aliens, the fact that Ecco is actually a time-traveler…yeah, you might have only noticed the Nintendo-hard difficulty when you were a kid, but as an adult it's hard to miss the more disturbing overtones. Remember "Welcome to the Machine?" You're welcome.