Sometimes even the most family-friendly games can take us by surprise and introduce something incredibly creepy. As kids, there was some pretty spooky stuff in our games, and today we’re going to talk about all those terrifying moments we’ll never forget from games that absolutely aren’t horror.
Violent action games or horror-adjacent RPGs like Dark Souls don’t apply here, this list is all about games that slapped us with something super scary that we just weren’t prepared for. Here’s the 10 scariest moments in games that (normally) aren’t scary at all.
And there are endless moments we couldn’t fit on this list. From exploring the spooky house in Gone Home to get jump-scared by the Man-Bat in Batman: Arkham Knight. We tried to come up with entries that are from the least scary games possible — cute platformers, adventurous action games, and anything that’s pretty bright and colorful. If it looks like a game that’s all ages, you’re both right and wrong. Sometimes the scariest stuff doesn’t need gore, and these spine-tingling moments prove it.
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#1. The Piano in Big Boo’s Haunt [Mario 64]
Big Boo’s Haunt is a spooky level for a Mario game — with its still, foreboding atmosphere that screams ‘get out’ even with the N64’s crude graphics. As you enter the mansion, you’re greeted with ghosts and lots of rotting wood. Nothing too terrifying at the start. So far, this is your standard spooky Mario level that’s enhanced slightly by the 3D interiors.
Every kid, me included, had no idea what was coming. In the parlor, you’ll find an interesting detail — a full piano! We all got too close, and were scared out of our wits. The piano suddenly springs to life, the snapping lid lined with razor-sharp teeth. It’s one of the more terrifying things in childhood gaming, and a cruel trick for Nintendo to pull. And it isn’t the only game on our list from the N64 era! Nintendo was trying to traumatize us back then.
#2. Deepnest [Hollow Knight]
Hollow Knight is the ‘darkest’ game on our list — because it’s literally black and white. The art style is somber and monotone, but you’ll see lots of cute bugs on your travails. It isn’t exactly a horror game, and most of the critters you meet aren’t too threatening. All-in-all, the early hours of Hollow Knight are a little spooky, but nothing will give any trouble to even younger kids.
The problems all lie in Deepnest. Once you reach the lower levels of this Metroidvania, you’ll have to enter the poison-filled, terrifying caverns of Deepnest. Lined with strange new enemies and bathed in darkness, every inch of this place is a stressful maze. You’ll have to carefully squeeze through a seemingly endless series of narrow passages filled with gross new enemies. It’s a rattling experience even if you’re an adult, and one of the creepiest parts of any game that’s perfectly playable for an E10+ audience.
Discover more nightmare-inducing moments in gaming on the next page.