People have this weird desire to take pleasant, happy memories, and twist them into some of the scariest moments of our lives. Nintendo has a close spot in many gamers' hearts. Maybe the NES was your first console, or you grew up with the Wii. Nintendo is an omnipresent presence in the lives of children around the world. Mario, Link, Pikachu- they're like old friends.
So many theories exist to make these games terrifying. These people are wasting their time. They don't need to make the games scarier than they already are.
We may overlook these moments, as we grew up with this... but some Nintendo games – games licensed by Nintendo, not merely published by them – are kind of terrifying. The series has towers full of graves, zombies that hump your face, and a level where shadow people gaze down at you from atop dark cliffs – and none of those even made this list! Here are the scariest moments in Nintendo games, a collection of fear and anxiety that you might have overlooked growing up...
That Piano - Mario 64
Mario isn't really the kind of game where you can be scared too easily. It's light-hearted, fun, and assessable to kids. There are a few unsettling glitches (like the hanging Luigi glitch in Luigi's Mansion) or odd design features that take a second to spot (those shadows watching you in Super Mario Galaxy 2), but the scariest moment remains that damn piano in Mario 64.
You enter this ordinary room. Nothing else going on. Seems simple enough. Take a few steps...
And the piano jumps at you with fangs trying to chomp you into pieces oh my God what in all that is holy – ?!
This is simply a jump scare. But it's an effective jump scare with perfect build-up in a Mario game. One of the scariest moments in Nintendo games ever conceived. It feels better fit in a horror movie, but whatever.
Still, once you know it's coming, it doesn't creep you our or make you as uncomfortable as some of the later stuff.
Dead Hand - Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Dead Hand is a mini-boss in the Ocarina of Time. He's not one of the harder enemies in the game, nor is he even the main enemy in his dungeon – the Shadow Temple. But he remains unforgettable and a central character in the scariest moments in Nintendo games for a few reasons.
For one, his design. He's a bulging mass of bloodstained flesh that oozes along the floor of his dungeon – which, by the way, is comprised of rotting bones and sinew.
The second thing is how he attacks you. You see, he has all these hands sticking out of the ground. They look like fleshy stalks of bamboo, almost. It almost appears as though you are supposed to cut them down to damage Dead Hand or something.
But when you go near, the hands bend down and grab you! Squeeze you! Suffocate you. Strangle your soft neck until purple bruises spread from collarbone to jawline. Strangle you until your lungs burst with dead, expended air.
Too graphic? Well, you're fighting an enemy in a tomb of skulls full of ReDeads – zombies that hump your face. What do you expect?
Zero Two - Kirby 64
Kirby is a surprisingly unsettling game series. The cute and fluffy game often culminates in an unsettling, disturbing final boss fight against a literal personification of fear. While reoccurring villains like King Deedede or Meta-Knight are over-the-top in their own rights, the final bosses tend to be genuinely creepy, landing them on a list highlighting the scariest moments in Nintendo games.
Nowhere is this more clear than in Kirby 64. While the game up until the end is fluffy and easy, the final boss level sends you to this strange other-dimension. Now, up until now you've fought goofy animals and cartoonish antagonists, so you figure you probably won't have to fight anything too creepy, right?
Your final enemy is the personification of nightmares. It is a giant bleeding eyeball with wings.
There is no escape. You can't pause the game. You can't run away. You need to tough it out against a nightmarish, bleeding eyeball monster that shoots lasers at you. While the fight is short (and fairly easy for experienced players) this is a game for beginner gamers. And this is what you throw at them? It's kinda horrific, honestly.
MissingNo and the other Glitches - Pokemon Red and Blue
MissingNo should not exist.
The original Pokemon Red and Blue games were notoriously buggy. Many coding errors resulted in some strange things happening. Perhaps the most infamous of these glitches is MissingNo, which would corrode your game and result in things getting... weird.
Now, MissingNo's results in-game were almost tame. The sixth item in your item box would multiple to the maximum quantity available, and your Hall of Fame entry would become weird. So you figured "Hey, if I got infinite items, why not go further?"
The glitches... got weirder after that.
From multiple versions of yourself walking around to your Pokemon going through Cronenberg-esque mutations. In some cases, you may get stuck in what is called Glitch City, where random blocks of data surround you, with people stuck between walls or numbers replacing the floor you walk upon.
This is assuming, of course, your game just doesn't... crash.
Majora's Mask and that Moon - Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
One of the most downright creepy things Nintendo has ever created, the titular mask from Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask feels like it came straight out of The Exorcist, making it one of the scariest moments in Nintendo games. It is a mask of personified evil that pulls the moon out of its orbit so it can crash down on the planet, thus killing everyone and everything.
What's disturbing about the game on the whole is how this sense of dread permeates through everything. Everyone transitions from denial to terror to acceptance over their fate. The fear here isn't a scary face jumping out at you or a monster hiding in the dark. It remains entirely existential dread.
But what really drives home the terror is whenever you're playing, and you look up. The closer you come to the end times, the closer the Moon appears in the sky. On Day One, the moon is almost a background detail far away. Second day, you can make out the Moon's face.
Third day? The moon IS the sky. And you can see its nightmarish, evil face. Never has the Moon looked this terrifying in the history of gaming – or, hell, anything else!
Even if you can turn back the clocks and go back to Day One, you just know that the Moon is there, and is not going away anytime soon. And that is terrifying.
Gyroid Face - Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing is such a sweet game that it's hard to imagine anything really creepy happening in it. While there are fan-made villages that are dreary and unsettling to wander through, the scariest thing in the series probably has to be when you don't save while visiting a friend's village.
It's a careless mistake, but you pay the price for it. Oh, you pay it.
You load your game like normal, expecting Mr. Reseti to come and complain about how you turned off the game without saving, as usual, but wait. What's wrong with your character's face... ?
Dear lord, what happened to everyone's faces?!
Allow me to introduce you to Gyroid Face. Your face is now identical to the Gyroid lawn pieces you collected in game.
You may think your empty eye sockets and gaping mouth is a little terrifying. The soulless gaze of your character gazing into eternity is a little more than terrifying. It's a random, disturbing, and prolonged punishment to keep you saving your game properly, so it makes sense from a gameplay mechanic, but what is actually happening to your character?
My best bet? You're dead. Your character is a soulless husk. And now you must meander the world, forever more with the appearance of a ghoul.
All because you didn't save properly.
Pokedex - Pokemon
Over twenty-one years, the Pokemon series has had tons of chances to scare people. Lavender Town. The various ghosts that pop up throughout everything. The ruins of Pokemon Mansion. Deoxys. The Distorted Dimension.
But nothing offers more horror to the player than reading the Pokedex.
Most players don't bother looking through it. They may be more concerned with getting badges to progress through the game. Who cares about the flavor text? You may glance over at it from time to time, and chuckle... then you find it. One of the various texts that make you realize that you are carrying something of untold horror in your pocket.
Take for example this gem from Pokemon Silver:
Drowsee. It remembers every dream it eats. It rarely eats the dreams of adults because children's are much tastier.
Kinda disturbing knowing that your Pokemon that you trained for may be eating your dreams while you sleep. And why are kids in possession of tastier dreams, anyway?
How about this one from Pokemon Black?
Yamask. Each of them carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human. Sometimes they look at it and cry.
So yeah, that Pokemon you're forcing to fight? It once was human, and remembers being human.
Haunter is one of my favorite Pokemon, btw... in part because all its Pokedex entries are Grade-A Nightmare Fuel. Take this one from Crystal.
Haunter. It hides in the dark, planning to take the life of the next living thing that wanders close by.
But by far one of the most disturbing...
Cubone. Wears the skull of its deceased mother. Its cries echo inside the skull and come out as a sad melody.
Opening Level - Super Metroid
The Metroid series has never hidden the fact that it's influenced by Ridley Scott's Alien. From its visual aesthetic to its bad-ass lead heroine. One of the reoccurring villains is even named Ridley. And Ridley is arguably one of Nintendo's scariest villains.
Ridley is a space pirate who murdered heroine Samus's entire family for little reason at all. He's a draconian alien with human intelligence. And he delights in causing pain. This isn't Bowser wanting to capture Princess Peach or Ganondorf's plans for world domination. Ridley is just evil.
Which is completely established in Samus's third outing, Super Metroid. The opening level weaves a sense of intrigue and discomfort. You wander through dark, mechanical corridors that are conspicuously unoccupied. Flashing lights. Noise.
And then you find him. Ridley. In the darkness, he emerges in a truly nightmarish fashion, stealing a baby Metroid! Oh, and you fight him. The whole time, Ridley barely acknowledges your attacks. You feel helpless and puny, unable to stop him, until Ridley, on his own, gets bored of you, and flies off...
And then the countdown begins.
Turns out Ridley set the whole facility to blow, and now you have to rush out of that room as fast as possible... before it explodes.
The opening level leaves you simultaneously disturbed and breathless, culminating in a planetary explosion and a mission on hand.
Those Weird Faces - GameBoy Camera
The Gameboy Camera is an often forgotten ad-on to the successful Gameboy console. Imagine an era before cell phone cameras. This served as the only mobile camera kids could carry around in their pockets without their parents getting angry.
On top of being a camera, a few minigames could be played with the cartridge. Totally innocent, right? Just want to click this button and – oh dear God what the hell is this thing?!
The game would unexpectedly bring up nightmarish, altered faces of the developers. While these faces on their own are unsettling, you have to remember that kids playing this game had no idea that this would pop up on screen, leaving them bombarded by a series of bizarre images that had no explanation, and thus creating one of the scariest moments in Nintendo games.
GFS Valhalla - Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Metroid was already a creepy game series, but leave it to Metroid Prime, the FPS 3D mini-saga within the Metroid series, to up the ante. With the three-dimensional environments and tons of realistic biology, Metroid Prime 1, 2, and 3 all exhibit an aesthetic very similar to that of HR Giger, the man who designed the original Xenomorph from Alien. There is sometimes a sense of existential dread, wandering around the developed environments, full of things that want to kill you.
But in the third game, you find something a little too disturbing for most viewers. Samus uncovers a Federation starship floating around in space. Its occupants have been slaughtered by space pirates (Ridley and his cohorts), and you have to navigate the labyrinth of death to figure out what's going on.
This one is straight up out of a horror film. You have viciously slaughtered bodies left and right, sometimes floating around you. The fear here comes first from that sense of dread, knowing these people fought and died in terror. It's heart wrenching and terrifying.
But then you realize that whoever did this is still in the ship. And then things get terrifying.
Giygas Boss Fight - Earthbound (Mother 2)
Earthbound has such a charming feeling. It captures the essence of Americana in its beautiful, easy visuals and charming music. Hot dogs. Adorable kids calling their moms when they're homesick. A cult that worships the color blue. Child abuse. Police brutality.
Okay, so Earthbound isn't just a charming little children's game, but it certainly never indicated it would go as dark and nightmarish as it did toward the end. Nintendo may have a lot of scary scenes, but few compare to the nightmare fuel of Giygas
Giygas serves as Earthbound's Big Bad, often unseen but always discussed. This villain remains so gargantuan and powerful that it is impossible for pudgy psychic boy Ness and friends to defeat him. They need to go back to the past to defeat Giygas when he was young (perhaps even a fetus?).
To do this, they transfer their minds to androids – already a disturbing concept – and travel to Giygas's lair... which is both shaped like a uterus and lined with sinewy meat. There, they meet Giygas: an unknowable idiot God so nightmarish that you cannot even grasp its true form, let alone its various attacks.
What you see is a barrage of unsettling sound and distorted faces dancing around the screen. It looks like someone took a face, and twisted its snarl into the likeness of an unborn fetus. And its dialogue... came straight from a movie sex scene the creator of the game saw as a kid. "It hurts... It hurts... " Truly one of the scariest moments in Nintendo games.
The only way to stop him? Pray.