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Video games have long been criticized for their frequent portrayal of graphic content. Though conservative mothers the world over may now spend their days shaking their fists at Kratos and Nathan Drake, gaming first caught the attention of the easily repulsed in 1976 with the release of Death Race. While ridiculously tame by today’s standards, the crudely rendered atrocities committed in this early arcade title managed to show the public that video games were more than playthings intended solely for children.
In an effort to curtail the consumption of controversial media by America’s youth, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was conceived. Though it really only succeeded in making adult-oriented games more popular, this rating system helped to ensure that experiences intended for children were actually appropriate for their audience.
That said, things managed to slip through the cracks. Player instigated or otherwise, there are some really messed up things you can do in kids games, and it can be slightly unsettling to think of the hidden horrors lurking within some child-friendly media. As the piano from Super Mario 64 taught many 90’s kids, the innocent can quickly turn to the perverse.
While a very small number of games can claim to be truly clean, it can be surprising to see which beloved titles are harboring appalling secrets. From constructing your own prison camp in a beloved Nintendo title to purposely afflicting your pets with diseases, it’s safe to say that some E-rated games should best be left out of the hands of young kids.
Make Your Animal Crossing Friends Serve Hard Time
Players of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp will likely sympathize with my need to lock up the shallow, needy inhabitants of my campsite. Providing your campers with an endless supply of oranges and beetles can be beyond tiring, and it would be so much easier to simply stick them in a little pen where they can no longer complain about my lack of hospitality. Fortunately, thanks to a few craftable fences and stools, that very scenario is possible. While players can’t actually force their campers to do anything, if a player leaves and returns to their campsite often enough, eventually, all of the critters in their campsite will be seated in their own little cell, as it should be. Some may call this a bit tyrannical, but it may be a necessary precaution. I try to be nice to my guests, but if Jay asks me for another yellow perch, I’m probably going to go crazy.
Gamble Your Savings Away With Your Favorite Mario Characters
Mario may be one of the most innocent, well-meaning protagonists of any video game, ever. His only goals in life seem to be keeping the princess safe and ensuring the prosperity of the Mushroom Kingdom. So, it should come as no surprise that backlash and controversy ensues whenever the portly plumer is seen in any kind of adult context. During the release of Nintendo’s critically acclaimed Super Mario Odyssey, fans were stunned to find out that the Italian icon had nipples, but didn’t have a belly-button.
What may be worse, however, are the casino mingame’s available in several Mario titles, the most prominent of which being those accessible in Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros DS title. Players can literally gamble away their in-game savings in simplified versions of popular card games like blackjack and poker. The most traumatic element would be Luigi’s stoic, uncaring face which appears to be mocking the player as they descent into debt. Luigi does not care about your financial misfortunes, nor will he ever.
A Waking Nightmare
Tim Schafer is famous for his suite of wacky, bizarre video game experiences that often blur the line between cute and creepy. While his game’s aren’t necessarily for everyone, his 2005 classic Psychonauts is often heralded as one of the finest products of the sixth console generation. At a glance, the game is a comedic romp through the literal minds of some of the title’s zaney main characters. Yet, beneath the cartoony exterior, Schafer’s masterwork offers a sinister, twisted set of secrets for dedicated players to reveal.
The most gruesome of these mysteries can be found in Milla’s Dance Party. This section of the game seems upbeat, but a careful look through some of Milla’s mental baggage reveals that she was once the curator of an orphanage which was set on fire. Unable to save some of the children from the flames, the anguished screams of those departed continue to burden her. Grim stuff, indeed.
Cause A Global Health Crisis In Pokemon
In terms of cheery, feel-good games, the Pokemon franchise is right up there with Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Nintendogs. But, of course, even this beloved series has its fair share of weird stuff. Everyone knows about the Lavender Town conspiracy, and, while much more myth than fact, the whole thing puts something of a sour note on an otherwise adorable series of games.
Beyond that, Pokemon fans have to contend with the awful moral implications of purposely infecting their beloved companions with a highly contagious virus in Pokemon Sun and Moon. Yes, the Pokerus may grant double EV in battle, but the player is forcefully afflicting their creatures with a virus in the pursuit of fame and fortune. Only those blinded by the need to become the very best would fail to stop and consider the implications. In Pokemon, you either die with you your integrity, or live long enough to become the most brutal trainer ever.
Princess Toadstool’s WHAT!?
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was something of a trendsetter: a major departure from other games ado bearing the Super Mario tag, this SNES classic was the impetus for such beloved Nintendo titles as Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga. It also helped to introduce a younger audience to the RPG genre, as most games under that umbrella at the time typically weren’t as blatantly child-friendly or easy to understand.
However, the youth-centric aspect of the game didn’t stop the game’s developers from sneaking in a couple of jokes tailored for an older audience. The most notorious of these gags may be found when searching through Princess Toadstool’s room. If the player inspects an obscure corner of the room, he or she will come across the “Toadstool’s ???” item. While we can only speculate as to what this item may actually be, Toadstool’s grandmother later bribes Mario for his silence on the matter. My guess: a copy of Super Mario RPG 2.
I’m Changing In Here!
One would think that Mega Man is too busy foiling Doctor Wiley’s crazy schemes to focus on anything else. Yet, the Blue Bomber appears to have something of an appetite for the opposite gender. While supposedly child friendly, Capcom’s platforming icon certainly has a knack for catching his friends at an inopportune time.
In Mega Man Legends, if the player can contend with the slightly wonky control scheme, he or she can sneak into Roll’s room and catch her apparently in the buff. Of course, we don’t actually get to take a peek ourselves, but, by the look we’re shown on ol’ Rock Man’s face, he’s getting quite the view.
A similar circumstance occurs in the game’s sequel, and the player can later find in Roll’s diary that she believes Mega Man to be walking in on her on purpose. While we can never really know Mega Man’s intentions, they probably aren’t rated E for everyone.
Living Up To The Name
Before the introduction of gaming icons like Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Nathan Drake, Naughty Dog tried to stand out in less wholesome ways. Their little known Sega Genesis title Rings of Power, the follow-up to their first ever effort Keef the Thief, probably would have caught the ire of parents everywhere had this little known secret been widely known earlier on.
While the intro screen usually greets the player with Naughty Dog’s terrifyingly hideous early 90’s logo, plugging the controller into the second port, inputting a secret code, and then resetting the console will cause the dog to be replaced with a woman wearing naught but her birthday suit. The only visible form the waste up, and for a very short amount of time, this certainly wasn’t something acceptable for the Sega-loving kiddies out there. Perhaps this wonky isometric RPG would have been given more attention had the public been made aware of this perverse surprise.
Hey, Put Some Clothes On!
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is perhaps one of the greatest achievements in human history. Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and a Japanese toy company conjured up an epic saga that will be cherished by generations to come. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t have at least a few shortcomings: the water temple is cumbersome and annoying, the menu layout is slow and convoluted, and the great fairies really need to put some clothes on.
This really hits home to me, because, when my dad plaid through the game back in the day, I was told to avert my eyes whenever he entered one of the Great Fairies fountains. While the fairies themselves may endow Link with some crucial abilities, their garb leaves something to be desired. That wasn’t very family-friendly of you, Nintendo. Not very family-friendly of you at all.
Michael Jackson To The Rescue!
The late 1980’s were a more innocent time. Back then, Bandai Namco’s Splatterhouse was about as visceral as it got, and, as mentioned in the introduction, anti-gaming crusaders often had to dig deep to find anything objectionable.
While it may have come across as innocent at the time, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker seems much more sinister by today’s standards. Though famous for his contributions to the world of music, Michael Jackson made a few controversial moves throughout his career, moves that go beyond the questionable act of dangling a baby out of a window.
The goal of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is to rescue little kids. Yes, little kids. All while Jackson thrusts and grabs at his pelvis as he moonwalks across the game’s levels. I honestly can’t think of anyone less qualified for a child rescuing mission than The King of Pop. We should all be thankful that Jackson’s life never took the form of another video game adaptation.
Mario And PETA Would Not Get Along
Though some of us dream of getting a chance to meet our favorite fictional heroes, based on some of their actions, we should probably be glad they aren’t actually real. Though the Mushroom Kingdom’s most reliable guardian may seem like a relatively easy-going kind of guy, he’s secretly the most nefarious individual to ever walk the Earth… and a bunch of other planets.
While he usually just takes his anger out on Bowser’s minions, Mario showcases his hatred for the rest of the animal kingdom in the Gamecube exclusive Super Mario Sunshine. Though probably one of the most idyllic locations to which Mario has ever traveled, rather than simply spending some time soaking up the sun, Mario spends his days brutalizing the local sea life. His most egregious offense would be ripping the tentacles off of a giant squid. The poor creature’s freshly-severed appendages flailing about really adds to the drama of the situation, and it only goes to show that Mario should have stayed behind bars in the beginning of the game.
Wario Is In Desperate Need Of An Intervention
Of all of the crazy characters calling the Mushroom Kingdom home, Wario is one of the most likely to be up to no good. Not only is he something of an evil clone of everyone’s favorite mustachioed marauder, but his video game debut saw him pitting against Mario as the game’s final boss.
Yet, this yellow-and-purple clad menace doesn’t have a history of wildly inappropriate behavior; in North America, at least. In Japan, Wario has something of a sordid history. And, while he did ask players to do all sorts of ridiculous things in the Warioware series, things got really weird on the Game Boy Color’s Warioland II. Instead of picking up series staples like mushrooms and fire flowers, Wario often needs to be set aflame or crushed flat in order to progress. Most egregious, however, is that, outside of North America, penguin enemies would launch adult beverages at the squat little protagonist, causing him to stumble around uncontrollably.
Turn Your Adorable Little Chao Into A Monster
The Sonic games have often suffered from the addition of a third dimension. Rolling around at the speed of sounds might be elegant in 2D, but in full 3D, Sonic and pals become somewhat unwieldy and awkward to control. Yet, one of the best things to come out of Sonic’s polygonal era would probably be the Chaos present in the Sonic Adventure series of games.
If you were diligent enough, you could raise these adorable little critters to become powerful, virtuous beings. However, for the more malicious, you could use the game’s dark characters to help the chao grow into little devils. They could be placed in their own dark gardon, and some would even turn black and grow horns. The game never really chastises you for transforming these creatures into little terrors, but series fans should at least feel some remorse for leading their chaos down a path of evil. Evil, sure, but they were still pretty darn adorable.
Don’t Deal With The Devil
Fans of old school animation and tough-as-nails platformers were rewarded in 2017 when, after a long and confusing development cycle, Cuphead finally hit the shelves. The painstakingly hand-drawn art style is faithfully evocative of the classic animation styles of the 1920’s and 30’s. As such, you could be forgiven for thinking that the title was intended for younger audiences. For more than a few reasons, however, that isn’t really the case.
While that may be true to an extent, if young players aren’t deterred by the game’s gruesome difficulty, they’ll likely be disturbed by some of the elements of the game’s plot. The game begins with a duo of sentient kitchenware gambling away their souls to the devil, whom they eventually must decide to either fight or join during the game’s climax. Not exactly over-the -top, but little kids might have to sleep with the light on after the game’s final showdown.
Fans of the sixth-generation video game adaptation of the second film in Sam Raimi’s Spider Man trilogy will likely remember a lackluster side quest involving a little kid holding a balloon. Now, while many players would have liked to see that particular NPC removed from the game, the developers of 2005’s Ultimate Spider Man may have taken things a bit too far.
The game focuses on Venom, a villain who often serves as the ying to Spidey’s yang. The dude is pretty crazy, that’s for sure, but things get a bit out of control when the game introduces its health regeneration mechanic. In order to heal up, the player is supposed to eat unsuspecting bystanders. That alone is a bit extreme for a kid’s game, but the real kicker is that the first of Venom’s victims is a little kid holding a balloon. A grim callback to a not-so-beloved Spiderman moment.
Gotta Go Fast!
Unlike some of the modern titles in the Sonic franchise, the first couple of games featuring the blue hedgehog are heralded as sixteen-bit classics. Though Sega’s “blast-processing” thing was little more than a marketing gimmick, there’s no doubt that Sonic at least managed to convey a sense of speed that his red and green counterparts simply couldn’t.
While a major aspect of the game, it wasn’t the only interesting mechanic. Fans will undoubtedly remember the first game’s notorious Labyrinth Zone. This section de-emphasized speed somewhat in favor of lengthy portions of underwater platforming. The real kicker, however, was the constant threat of drowning. With a devilishly quick countdown and and a torturously anxiety-inducing soundtrack, avoiding a watery grave in Sonic The Hedgehog was nothing short of mentally scarring, and it likely put many kids in the early 90’s off of swimming lessons. Bottom line, Labyrinth Zone is definitely not for the faint of heart.
I Just Wanted To Use The Bathroom
There is so much wrong with The Legend of Zelda, Majora’s Mask, that it could probably fill this list on its own. While the ludicrously creepy, omnipresent moon with a face likely takes the cake, there are lot of subtle elements in the game that may disturb the player.
Located in the Stock Pot Inn in Eastern Clock Town, there appears to be an unfortunate fellow stuck in the toilet beneath the stairs. If you talk to him, he’ll ask for a piece of paper. A bizarre request for a being apparently trapped in a toilet. If you grant the hand’s request, it will reward your kindness with a heart piece. A nifty trinket to be sure, but it doesn’t quite help assuage the terror of encountering a giant hand reaching out of the potty. Younger players doubtlessly looked before they sat down in the bathroom after dealing with that.
A Date With Don Corneo
Final Fantasy VII is a massive game. So massive, in fact, that I simply didn’t have the attention span for it back in the PS1 era. Partially because i was very new to RPGs at the time, and partially because it was beyond bizarre at times. I am not contesting the idea that its a great game, as I have come to appreciate it much more as time has gone on. It was just quite the dusey back in the day.
One insanely awkward moment, however, really put me off when I was a kid. In order to gain access to Don Corneo’s mansion, Cloud, the game’s protagonist, is made to dress up as a girl and win his favor. The player must collect items like a blond wig, women’s perfume, and a tiara, dress up as a woman, and win a beauty pageant of sorts. Don’s behavior toward Cloud after that is nothing short of creepy, and it was an awkward moment to sit through, for sure.
The World’s Most Terrifying Shark
Banjo Kazooie is a great game for kids. Bright, cartoony, and simple to understand mechanics make for a blissfully elegant playing experience for young and old alike. However, the game does offer a few questionable moments, the most apparent of which can be found in Clanker’s Cavern.
In this section of the game, players will come across Clanker, a hybrid shark/robot/garbage disposal which serves as the level’s focal point. Not only is this monstrosity physically disturbing with a rusted, gorey biomechanical exterior, but it also manages to cause an ethical conundrum, as the game’s antagonist is essentially forcing it to eat garbage.
Beyond that, the player actually has to venture inside of this poor beast. Perhaps those with stronger stomach than I marched through this section without any issues. Banjo Kazooie is a cute game, to be sure, but it would take a special kind of person to appreciate the beauty of this gross robot shark thing.
As Close As It Gets To A Video Game Adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds
This is something of an obvious inclusion, but the cucoos in the the Legend of Zelda series are terrifying, bloodthirsty monsters. Sure, they look cute, and most Ocarina of Time players will remember rounding them all up in Kakariko Village to get an empty bottle (which is much more useful than it sounds). Mistreat them, however, and you’ll pay the price.
In just about every Zelda title in which they appear, attacking one of these creatures too many times in a row will result in a horde of its relatives coming for revenge. Though they are relatively easy to avoid and can be escaped without too much of a hassle, it’s usually best to just ignore these things and allow the villager to continue their lives without questioning their hero’s moral compass. What’s more, there’s almost never a good reason to do this, so the ability to attack these poor fowl seems like an odd inclusion in this child-centric title.
Return Of The Toilet Ghost
Though I’ve already mentioned it, this mysterious, bathroom-inhabiting spectre appears in multiple entrie in the Legend of Zelda series. In the Wii’s exclusive Zelda title The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the player must once again look before they sit, as, in a restroom in the floating in-game town of Skyloft, a disembodied hand can be found in search of paper.
The quest surrounding this odd occurance quickly takes a turn for the uncomfortable, however, as Link suddenly finds himself in the center of a quirky, ridiculous love triangle. While player agency ultimately dictates the outcome of this escapade, Link is given the opportunity to grant the ghost’s wishes by giving it a love letter from Cawlin, one of the game’s many NPCs. Should the player pursue this route, they may come across the ghost silently caressing poor Cawlin in the night, believing the letter to have been addressed to it.
Ignorance Is Bliss
Undertale is one of the most adorable games I have ever played. Sure, the game has more than a few utterly insane moments, but, for the most part, it’s a delightful romp through the kind of world which could only be constructed by a loving indie dev. Just about everyone loves Toby Fox’s 2015 hit, and it deserves a spot in the annals of video game history.
Make no mistake, though, the game will definitely have observant players sleeping with the lights on. Very dedicated fans of the game have likely come across The True Lab. This area of the game was apparently used by Alphys, a quirky, socially awkward reptilian scientist. While cute on the outside, Alphy’s secrets are made known by players pacifist players: she is responsible for mutating creatures into awful, monstrous fusions referred to in-game as Amalgamates. Not only is the whole scenario disturbing, but it could definitely serve as nightmare fuel for the game’s younger players.
Negligence Can Be Deadly
The second Naughty Dog title to appear on this list, the Crash Bandicoot series of games recently enjoyed a revitalization in the form of Activision and Sony’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. It’s nice to see some love for these older titles, and it’s even nicer to see a major game release that isn’t afraid to frustrate its audience.
As series veterans can attest, these games can be difficult, and many will grind their teeth at the mention of the game’s “The High Road” level. Yet, the game can be off-putting in more ways than one. As just about anyone who stuck with the game for more than five minutes will know, at the end of each level, all of the crates missed by the player come raining down on our poor bandicoot friend on the end screen. Only a truly hard-hearted person could abstain from feeling a twinge of guilt upon seeing that. Sure, grabbing all of the collectables in a level is often no small task, but berating Crash for player negligence seems a bit harsh.
Is That an Onix In Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?
Nintendo tends to take a hard stance against vulgarity in their games, and coming across anything decidedly adult in one of their games can be a rare occurrence. That said, the Pokemon series has more than a few odd quirks and quips. Players who started their adventures on the Game Boy Advance will likely remember a certain trainer who asks the player where she could be keeping her pokeballs if she is wearing a bikini.
While younger fans likely pay no mind to these instances, older fans of the beloved Japanese multimedia franchise probably raised their eyebrows more than a few times over the series twenty year lifespan. One of the strangest instances takes place in Pokemon X and Y in which the player can come across a young trainer interested in Onix. She remarks that “Onix is sooooo big,” and that “riding on Onix would be so much fun.” Sure, hitching a ride on a giant rock/worm hybrid may be a good time, but I’m not sure that’s exactly what she had in mind.
Skeleton Cottage of Doom
Fable II is something of a divisive game. While lots of players are able to look past the series faults, some will simply never get over the franchise’s missing potential. And, though the series’ second installment can certainly be enjoyable, the ending puts a lot of people off, myself included.
Billed as taking place in a world where anything can happen, the game’s creatively titled Demon Doors help to deliver on that promise. While some are obviously marked, there are a of these doors which provide no indication of the horrors that lay beyond. A great moment in game is when the player comes across a set of picturesque winter cottages that would fit right in on a Hallmark card. Crossing the threshold, however, reveals a sinister secret: something awful has apparently happened to the inhabitants, as a group of skeletons are the only occupants of these quaint homes. Unnerving, to be sure—particularly if you’ve yet to add a second digit to your age.
A Helping Hand
Every Zelda fan knew this was going to make the list. Link has definitely had a few brushes with the underside of the Kingdom of Hyrule during his adventures, and I’m not only referring to the bottom of the well in Ocarina of Time. His most infamous run-in with the less-than-innocent came on his second ever outing. In the NES classic The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link, once the player has come to terms with the unique overworld, they’ll likely come across a town in which they can replenish their supplies and talk with the notoriously unhelpful townsfolk.
Everyone knows about the NPC who can utter nothing but the phrase “I am Error.” Yes, it is hilarious, but perhaps that’s simply his name. The read oddity, however, is when Link comes across a woman who offers to restore his life. Our green hero follows her inside, and we aren’t shown what comes next. Yes, this could be interpreted as a situation much more scandalous than Nintendo would allow, but I chose to believe this to be nothing more than a poor English translation… or perhaps a fascination with the red light district.