Children's video games that are way creepier when you're an adult

Oh, to be young! Childhood was such a glorious time, full of stickball, innocence, and playing creepy video games that seemed perfectly normal. Then, of course, comes adulthood, bringing with it responsibilities, experience, and the knowledge that some of those childhood games weren't quite as harmless as you remember. In fact, some children's games are just downright freaky, to say the least, and seem way creepier when you're an adult.

Ecco the Dolphin

Developed by Novotrade International for the Sega Genesis, 1992's Ecco the Dolphin looks, from the outside, like a harmless children's game. After all, what could possibly be creepy about playing as a bottlenose dolphin? Fourth-grade girls like dolphins. Heck, everyone likes dolphins.

To begin with, nothing looks particularly unsettling about the game's box art. Sure, there's a shark painted on the cover, but sharks are a part of nature. Nothing to get freaked out about. And sure, in the early levels, you have to fight some killer sharks and threatening octopuses — standard fare for a game about traversing the ocean. Again, nothing to get freaked out about. Later, however, you meet a wise blue whale who explains how aliens harvest the ocean's waters every 500 years, before you use a human-built time machine to travel back to the age of the dinosaurs. After fighting for your life against armored prehistoric creatures, you eventually get sucked up an ocean-harvesting tube into some kind of industrialized, alien hell, before finally confronting the Vortex Queen — a massive, terrifying, H. R. Giger-inspired extraterrestrial boss with razor sharp teeth, large black eyes and a gargantuan forehead, set against a jet-black backdrop.

Ecco the Dolphin undoubtedly creeped out many unsuspecting children in its day, but there's something even more creepy about it when viewed through the eyes of an adult. And it's not just the aliens that are unsettling. As Andy McDonald described in Vice, it's the "Pink Floydian soundscapes" and oppressive sense of loneliness throughout — the game hints that humans no longer live on the planet — that really make this game feel properly disturbing.

Revisiting this Sega classic as an adult capable of handling scary childhood video games is a must. Just make sure to keep all the lights on, because Ecco the Dolphin goes from zero to disturbing, real quick.

Lemmings

Many people are at least vaguely familiar with DMA Design's puzzle-platformer Lemmings, which originally appeared on the Amiga, Atari ST and PC in 1991. The iconic, blue-clad, green-haired lemmings are cute and cartoony, but don't let the title's outward appearance fool you. It's a dark, twisted game, in which your sole objective is to minimize these hapless creatures' suicidal death count.

You see, the lemmings will brainlessly walk off cliffs, into pools of lava, or fall victim to various booby traps — and you're the only one who can stop their senseless mass suicide. There's really only so much you can do, though, as loss of lemming life is virtually guaranteed. The player's only real responsibility is to make sure a certain percentage of lemmings make it out alive, and the game, therefore, rewards you (sort of) for making some poor saps take one for the team.

Furthermore, the game hides one hidden gem of a horrorshow in the form of Level 14 of the "Tricky" difficulty tier, appropriately named "MENACING !!" The level is indeed menacing, and definitely not the image anyone conjures up when thinking of the game. The level is basically Hell, with bloody entrails, skulls and limbs hanging from the ceiling, a long snake comprising the floor, and a bottomless pit of death. It looks like something straight out of a late-'80s satanic death-metal music video. Though the level is apparently designed after fellow DMA Design title Menace, that doesn't change that it's out of place, hellish, and certainly not very kid-friendly.

The only thing that could make Lemmings more brutal is if it was set to an 8-bit version of Slayer's "Raining Blood."

Taboo: The Sixth Sense

Perhaps one of developer Rare's least-known titles, the Nintendo Entertainment System's 1989 fortune-telling, tarot-card simulator Taboo: The Sixth Sense was the first game of its kind developed specifically for the American audience. Though many kids probably played the game during sleepovers with their friends, taking baby's first steps into the occult and giggling at the naughtiness of it all — it being one of the few licensed games to feature nudity, if you're lucky enough to draw one of the three cards showing breasts or behinds — the game was technically directed at adults. Not that anybody cared.

As a 21st century adult, the game takes on a whole new level of creepiness, with its spooky chiptune score, seizure-inducing card shuffling sequences, and cryptic broken-English fortunes ("PRESENTLY INFLUENCING YOU IS AVOIDS CHANGING OR DIFFICULT SITUATIONS"). Plus, the cartridge comes packaged in purple pouch, like a bottle of Crown Royal, so you know it's not to be messed with.

Pokémon Red & Blue

Pokémon Red and Blue feature one prominent location that never gave us the creeps as kids, but definitely gives us the creeps, now: Pokémon Tower. Located in Lavender Town, Pokémon Tower is a seven-story tall structure home to a multitude of Pokémon graves housing dead Pokémon and possessed Pokémon trainers. (Or, at least, Pokémon trainers who think they might be possessed.) Inside, the player is confronted by ghosts and whatnot, but that's not the scary part. The creepiest thing about Lavender Town's tower of death is the music.

Some legends claim Pokémon Tower's music was created by programmers specifically to drive children to suicide. Reinforcing these myths are the claims that there were a rash of child suicides following the release of Pokémon Red and Blue in Japan, and it was this music which drove the children to do it, thanks to specific binaural beats and tones, programmed to negatively affect young kids' brainwaves. Of course these myths aren't true, but it's hard to deny that there's something extra creepy about the ambiance of Pokémon Tower that went over your head as a kid.

Now excuse us while we go search for more cute creatures to enslave.

Uninvited

A relatively unknown point-and-click adventure game from 1986, ICOM Simulation's Uninvited is one of those titles that was good, creepy fun when you were a kid … probably because you played it on the squeaky-clean Nintendo Entertainment System. As an adult, however, the game is downright terrifying, especially if you play the Apple Macintosh version.

For starters, the game's music is fantastically chilling. The plot is also sufficiently creepy, tasking you with searching a haunted house for your lost sister. Where the game really makes one's skin crawl, however, is with the close-ups of the creatures responsible for the player's untimely deaths. Particularly gruesome is the image of the southern belle — a seemingly impassable skeletal woman who freezes you with horror and rips you apart. The game is significantly more scary on Macintosh, which features grittier, colorless graphics and uncensored monsters.

If you played Uninvited as a kid, it's definitely worth revisiting the Macintosh version as an adult — especially if you're only familiar with the NES version. Just don't blame us if you start experiencing 8-bit nightmares about getting dismembered by skeleton ladies who love yellow jonquils.

Space Station Silicon Valley

Take-Two Interactive's cutesy, 1998 3D-platformer Space Station Silicon Valley has players take control of a microchip named Evo who, after surviving a spaceship crash, must attack various animals, take control of their bodies, and solve puzzles in order to survive. Not that creepy, right?

Everything's all fun and games until you need to start collecting severed human heads. And not just any severed human heads, mind you — the severed human heads of the scientists who were aboard the crashed spaceship, along with a bunch of robot animals. You can't help but wonder, what really went down on that ship? If the robot animals rebelled against the scientists, why didn't they just kill them? Decapitation seems a bit extreme, especially in a kid's game on the Nintendo 64. Collect one severed head? Fair enough. Collect a whole slew of severed heads? That's a horse of a different color — or waking up to find a decapitated horse head, in your bed, of a different color.

There's something creepy going on in Space Station Silicon Valley. If there was ever a case for robot animal-free future, this game is it.

Maniac Mansion

Lucasfilm Games' first successful attempt at self-publishing, Maniac Mansion was first released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II, before a heavily-censored version appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Overall, Nintendo did a good job of removing anything family-unfriendly — except one strange thing.

In Maniac Mansion, you can befriend a character named Weird Ed. You can also steal his hamster. Not being a part of a puzzle, or useful in any way, what would be the only logical thing to do with Weird Ed's hamster? Microwave it, of course! No, seriously: you can actually put the hamster in the microwave, turn it on, watch it explode, and give the disgusting remains back to Weird Ed, who promptly murders you in a fit of rage. The game actually reads "TOTALLY AWESOME!" after the poor little pet explodes.

Maybe this game is creepier as an adult, because grown-ups are able to recognize all the telltale signs of a future serial killer.

Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Everything about Capcom's rated-E-for-everyone 2007 Wii-title Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure screams "kid-friendly." The game stars a young wannabe pirate named Zack and his sidekick monkey pal Wiki, who are on a quest for some buried treasure. It's colorful, cute, and fun for the whole family … except for this one part.

Imagine, if you will, being a parent, and walking into the living room while your third-grade son or daughter is playing the Nintendo Wii. "Sure sounds like he or she is having fun," you think, what with all the fun sounds and hijinks and monkeyin' around. But imagine walking in at just the right time to witness a fountain shaped like a young girl scream as her eyes roll back in their sockets and blood starts streaming down her face. Yep, sounds like some good, clean fun.

We can only hope this hypothetical situation happened at least once.

EarthBound

Originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994, EarthBound is one of those games that is definitely more famous now than it was when it originally released. This is because, in large part, the game has not only aged well, but because it becomes significantly trippier once the player really understands what it's about.

Known as Mother 2 in Japan, the Nintendo-published role-playing game is mostly cartoony, weird, kid-friendly fun. And by mostly, we mean, like, 95% of the game. The other 5% is a ghost-maiming, soul-stealing, alien-aborting nightmare. Literally. Near the end of the game, the children have their souls straight-up ripped from their bodies and put into robots, before fighting a monstrous alien which lives in a what looks remarkably like a woman's cervix called the Devil's Machine. (Sorry, ladies.) The alien itself, called Giygas, looks a whole lot like a fetus, and as you destroy it, it starts to look more and more like, well, a fetus being ripped apart.

Nothing about the experience is particularly creepy when played as a child with, presumably, no knowledge of cervixes or abortions. When played as an adult, however, with the knowledge of both female anatomy and the politically controversial topic, it's ultra weird and uncomfortable.

Theme Park

Theme Park is an Electronic Arts-published theme-park simulation game that appeared on a whole slew of platforms before getting re-released for the PlayStation in 1997. The original game, itself, is not creepy at all — but the version for Sony's flagship gaming console is nothing short of horrific.

The game's creepiness is entirely in its 3-D cutscenes. The character models are disturbing, the music makes you feel like you should be committed into the psychiatric ward, and the entire visual package is like being trapped in some Black Mirror-esque alternate reality. Plus, worst of all, if you fail to successfully run the park, you are forced to watch your character commit suicide. Pretty grim for a children's game, or, y'know, any game or thing, ever.

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