Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Non-Horror Games That Scared Me

Confession time! I've never been very good with dealing with horror... In anything... I won't watch horror films, there are some specific things that freak me out enough to make me physically sick, and when I was younger, I was terrified of nearly everything. The thing is though, despite struggling to deal with it, a part of me also likes horror, and that's been true my entire life. Yes, there are times where I simply cannot watch/play/read something, but other times it has no effect on me what so ever. Courage was actually one of my favorite shows on Cartoon Network growing up, and I'm a huge fan of quite a few "horror" games (as this week will show). With that being said though, growing up there were also games that freaked me out that weren't even horror titles. These were "normal" everyday games that a kid like myself was able to adventure into, and never once think of the nightmares they may cause. Looking back now it's kinda funny, but back then I was flat out terrified. So for today's Halloween special, I want to tell you guys about some of those! These are four games from my childhood I feared, but maybe some of you did as well.

Mario 64:

Bet you saw this one coming! Like many kids in the 90s, Mario 64 was a big part of my life. Mario had made the jump to 3D, and massive worlds were awaiting me, and many others, as we got our first taste of the new generation. It was amazing, to say the least. It was a feeling that many today will never experience because 3D has become normal, and it was something I will never forget. I really can't stress enough how much I loved this game, and how much time I put into it -- which is also why the game is on this list. As much as I liked Mario 64, there were parts of it that haunted me for a very long time. In this bright cartoony world there were horrors hidden away, and when the younger me came across them, I had no idea how to react... Which is why I'd quit playing.

The first thing that scared me about Mario 64 was none other than our friend Mr. Eel. This red monster, with his razor sharp teeth, could be found deep under water in the first "water" stage of the game, and it was something completely unexpected. The stage itself was dark, and the moment you see this creature look at you, you felt terror. Things only got worse when it snapped at you, and left it's home... At this point the monster would swim around the map, allowing you to see just how massive it was, and eventually make the ship it's new home after it sank.

While I'm sure I've mentioned the eel before in the past (how many posts have I made by now?), it actually wasn't the only thing to scare me in Mario 64 -- it was only the start. When the ghost house appeared in front of me, and the creepy music started to play, I knew I was in for a fright.

Although the ghost house is one of my favorite areas in Mario 64, it did scare me. You never knew what was around each corner, and ghosts and floating eye balls made sure to keep you from turning your back. Then there's the whole carnival music area of the stage, and the creepy basement. It all helped set the mood of it being a ghost house, but what really got me in the end was the piano... The piano that would suddenly spring to life and try to eat you!

The first time I saw this I'm sure I jumped, but return visits to this area happened because the Mario 64 guide book lied to me. That book had me convinced I could fight it (spoilers: YOU CAN'T!!!!!!!!!), and because of that I constantly faced my fears and attacked it... Which resulted in Mario dying. I have no idea how many times I went up against it, but eventually it was enough to help kill my fear of the ghost house. By then I was used to it, and was sure I had seen everything it had to offer. So off I went to little big world!

After facing the threat of Mario being eaten by the piano, I realized that it would simply not happen. The eel didn't eat him and turn him into a bloody mess (thanks guide book, that bit about taking a bite out of Mario was a lie too), the piano just jumped around on top of his dead body, and nothing else in the game hinted that it would be any different. So imagine my surprise when I jumped into the water and swam over to a cute little fish...

Mario... Was... DEAD!!!!!!! That fish instantly opened his mouth, and that was that. The kid me ran from the TV in horror, and was unable to play that stage for a long time. In fact, it scared me so much that my dad had to play it for me, and he'd often make a game out of slapping the fish's tail and trying to run away from it. It freaked me out, but I also sat on the edge of my seat to see if he could get away. Maybe this is what helped me build up to finally playing the level myself, but I never did get over the fear of instant death. After all, who wants to lose all their progress?

One of the final things to freak me out about Mario 64 was the dino swimming around in the underground lake. Once again the guide book told me that I shouldn't make it mad, so I was scared to see what it would do to me... As I pounded on it's back and used it's head to get to where I needed to be. Normally I wouldn't have cared and it harming me wouldn't have crossed my mind, but because the guide said so, it must have been true. (Despite it being wrong every other time... Yeah, kid logic...) Of course, the dino never hurt me, and it stopped creeping me out. Although other parts of the game, such as inside the pyramid, bugged me a bit as well, this was the last true "horror" I faced in Mario 64.

Star Fox Series:

And onto Star Fox 64 I went. Next to Mario 64, this was the other N64 game that really stood out to me in my childhood. I've explained before my experiences with the game, and how me and friends at school would role play Star Fox during lunch break, but this list wouldn't be complete without bringing it up.

Although SF64 wasn't a scary game (neither was Mario), there were things that disturbed me about it. Some of the bio weapons and alien monsters you fought gave me the creeps, Star Wolf coming back with android parts sorta bugged me, and the threat of characters dying got to me as well. Even so, SF64 was a game I loved, and one I spent a lot of time playing every time I rented it from the local movie store. I even eventually bought the thing when the store decided to sell it (which I've also mentioned before). But even though I really liked the game, it was one I couldn't finish for a LONG time.

To put it simply, the game's final boss Andross terrified me! The first time I heard his voice freaked me out, his threats to kill me freaked me out, and the moment I saw he was a giant floating head I rushed over and shut my game off and lost all progress. After that, every playthrough I'd make of the game had me turning the TV's volume down to 0, as I tried to face my fears and fight him without hearing his voice. As I got older I would eventually get myself to fight him without turning off the game's sound, but my fear of Star Fox would continue on into the future.

Star Fox Adventures -- another game I loved! Finally Fox was on foot, you could beat dinos with a staff, pull of special moves, and explore a pretty cool world Legend of Zelda style. Too bad this was when I realized giant dinos scared me (and so did spirits). Really it's hard to put a finger on what exactly bothered me about this game, but a lot of the giant monsters and other Rare developed characters just disturbed me. The main "big bad" scared me, the friendly warp stone guy scared me, the giant T-Rex like monsters scared me, the game's first boss scared me, the spirits fusing with Fox scared me, and... I guess just everything scared me? Didn't help any when I got the guide book free from Nintendo Power, and once again the upcoming game events put me off from continuing. Eventually I did beat the game, but there were moments where I had to force myself onward.

Assault wasn't much better. By this point I was much older, and was sure I could take on anything, but once again SF proved me wrong. Seeing one character being infected by the new enemies and splattered on a piece of metal in space was all it took to make me lose it. While the rest of the game was fine, that one moment of nightmare fuel kept me watching those series of scenes for many years. At least command didn't freak me out.

The Legend of Zelda OoT:

Another game I'm sure I'm not alone in fearing. When Zelda jumped into 3D, it was nothing I had experienced before. This was a "true" adventure game I thought, and I was instantly hooked. Now I didn't get to play the game until Master Quest on the GCN (which my cousin gave me), but by that point I still hadn't played a game like it. I was already blown away by it's story and world, and the way you solved puzzles had me completely shocked. Lighting a stick on fire and using it to burn webs? Wow! It was impressive, and once again, it scared the heck out of me!

The entire game has a darker tone about it, and it uses a lot of darker colors. Skeletons busting out of the ground and giant man eating plants bugged me also, but it wasn't until I started seeing things like giant spiders that I was really freaked out. The skulls on their backs gave me nightmares, and the look on some deformed character's faces (including the guy turned into a spider!) didn't help ease those fears! Then you had who knows what jumping out of the lake, a giant fish filled with worms and other disturbing creatures, and bloody boss battles that made me question the game's age rating. Of course there were also the like likes that tried to eat you... To make matters worse, I WAS playing Master Quest, and I had no idea what I was doing.

While other players of OoT went through the game normally when it came out, here I was playing through a harder version that also scared me. I struggled through dungeons for months, which my friends had seemingly beat easily in a day. I faced countless monsters, and killed myself many times without even realizing basic mechanics. (YOU COULD BREAK BOXES BY ROLLING!? I DIDN'T NEED BOMBS!?) I was constantly facing my fears, but eventually I made it to my goal. I became an adult.

Becoming adult Link was so exciting. I had worked so hard to reach that point, and I couldn't wait to see what was waiting for me. Yeah, a black sky and town filled with zombies, that's what was waiting for me! Like with SF64, I shut this game off and didn't come back for awhile. Even when I did come back I avoided the town as much as possible, and continued on my way with the main story -- which also didn't get any less scary for me. Ghosts, more spiders, horrifying bosses, the spirit temple, hands that pulled you into the great beyond, the deep dark well, the grave yard, etc. Why did I even keep going?

Now days I'm fine with OoT, but I'll admit some things still get to me (like likes). Majora's Mask is actually much darker in tone (and also my favorite game in the series), but OoT will always be the one that truly scared me.

Rayman 2:

Another favorite game of mine growing up was Rayman 2, or more specifically the PS1 version of Rayman 2. I liked the original game before it as well, but the 3D world and special power ups found in 2 is what really drew me to it. I got the game as a Christmas present from my aunt (we opened presents on Christmas eve), and I can still remember rushing home to my house to play it. I was extremely excited, but as soon as I saw the opening cutscene I became scared.

You see, while Rayman 1 was a bright colorful adventure, Rayman 2 was dark and set in a world of despair. The intro alone shows Rayman's friend being thrown in a jail cell as dying prisoners around him weakly called out for help, and things do not get better from there. Of course Rayman was in the same prison, and the two manage to escape, but the outside world is a cruel hard place with Rayman being their last hope. So off Rayman goes to fight against robot pirates and monsters, and hopefully save the day.

As a kid, I was scared to advance in this game. The threat of monsters scared me (the opening informs us of these horrors before we even get to play), the pirate robots looked creepy, man eating fish jumped out of the water, and the stages themselves often had low lighting and unsettling looking areas to go through. It didn't really get bad though until Rayman had to go to the land of the dead...

This part of the game was a nightmare for me. In order to save a friend, Rayman must adventure into the "Cave of Bad Dreams" and find a special elixir. Of course, this cave has it's name for a reason. Here we face a hellish landscape filled with ghosts, monsters, piles of bones that make up platforms, and a creepy hand that reaches through the wall to grab Rayman and take him away. Then, by the end of it all, you must face off against a man eating boss that includes a horror game style chase scene. If you get caught, you're eaten. Honestly I'm still a bit shocked this made it into a kid's game, but ever since Rayman 2 the series has been somewhat crude and disturbing with it's designs...

The rest of Rayman 2 also had me venturing into areas I would've rather avoided, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the cave. There was a section with a spider as well, and the game's ending scene really freaked me out back then. In fact, it freaked me out so much that I shut off my PS1, and went on believing Rayman had died. That is until I saw Rayman 2 Revolution in Walmart. Although I never did play that game, seeing it did make me want to go back and see the full ending of Rayman 2, which is when I finally learned the truth of Rayman's fate. Spoilers: He doesn't die. (Although all the sequels since should've tipped you off on that.)

Even though Rayman 2 became a favorite of mine, I never did fully get over the strange feeling it gave me as I played it. Even after nearly memorizing the entire game, there were still moments that scared me. This strange feeling of dread would continue when playing follow up games as well, such as Rayman Arena, but none of those games ever got to me quite as much as 2. Maybe it was because I was older?


The above games weren't the only ones to get to me, but they were the major ones that stood out. Honestly I could keep this list going for awhile longer, but I'm going to stop it there. Although I would like to give a shout out to games such as Pokemon Red, Jet Force Gemini, Banjo Kazooie, Oddworld, Spyro, Diddy Kong Racing (yes... the big bad scared me), and many MANY more. Maybe one day I'll come back to share these stories as well (although I'm sure you can guess some of the reasons), but for today let's just leave it at the four above. They were the ones that stood out to me the most, and I'll continue to laugh at myself because of them. Although, Mega Man X5 got to be pretty bad as well... Ah well, that's also a story for another time.