October means Halloween time and to celebrate our annual night of frights, I thought I would share some of the elements in gaming that successfully freak me out. Gaming is the one medium that includes a horror genre that can actually scare me. Every time I watch a scary movie it does nothing for me. I visit haunted houses and trails during Halloween season and I just laugh and wave at the chainsaw maniacs that attempt to chase me. Even though I love Halloween and the atmosphere of it all, nothing really freaks me out (unless you threaten to fire me, break my smartphone or murder my family). However, horror games have succeeded in making me feel uneasy and creeped out, but the thing I find the scariest in video game isn’t even related to horror titles at all.
If a video game developer wants to scare me, the process is rather simple: include an underwater level with a massive, creepy creature stalking me below. For some odd reason I have a phobia of large creatures in massive open spaces underwater. Maybe the fact that I am submerged in water, moving slowly and completely vulnerable to anything that emerges from below the open murky waters is the reasoning behind my fear. The unknown in such a vulnerable, open space is what rattles my cage. When I was a kid, many games scared the crap out of me that included large creatures in open underwater stages; most of them were residing on the Nintendo 64. Even as an adult, I’m still bothered by underwater creatures to an extent. Let’s take a look at some of the stuff that scar’d me for life.
Anyone remember this frightening thing from Rare’s Banjo Kazooie? That is Clanker, the sewer-dwelling garbage shark that stares at you once you swim through the end of a pipe in Clanker’s Cavern. As soon as I saw this massive, toothy monstrosity peering through my TV screen, I almost pooped myself as a kid. I hated this stage because I kept having to dive back into the water and swim around this thing in order to collect notes and Jiggy pieces. Even looking at Clanker today still gives me the heeby-jeebies.
Super Mario 64 is one of my all-time favorite games, but man do I hate the eel in Jolly Roger Bay! I remember jumping in and swimming around, only to find this thing popping out of a large hole while watching my every movement. Next time I visited the stage, the eel comes out of his hiding place and swims all around the stage. It doesn’t help that I have to chase him in order to obtain a star located at the end of his tail. The Nintendo DS remaster bumped up the polygons and textures on the eel too, making him even freakier.
Another Nintendo 64 classic that included horrific underwater creatures was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. I was enjoying the sewer stage up until I jumped into a pool of green, murky water and slowly sank to the bottom, only to find a massive tentacle creature with huge teeth resting at the bottom. My friend was watching me play at the time and we both shrieked in terror as this thing attacked us. Luckily after this stage was over, I could go back to shooting wompas. I have always struggled to find a good image of this boss battle (probably because many are too scared take it) so the image below was the best I could find.
Valve’s original Half-Life includes a creature that did a good job at forcing me to stay out of the water. The Ichthyosaur is a mutated, shark-like alien that swims about and attacks Gordon when he jumps in the water. The worst part about the encounters with the Ichthyosaur is that you’re limited to your weapon choices while underwater, making it even more difficult to dispatch. The Ichthyosaur was not included in Half-Life 2, but there is a flashback sequence that includes one rushing into the screen that also freaked me out. Thanks for that one, Valve!
Sega’s Echo the Dolphin games did a number on me too. Who would have thought that such a sweet, innocent game about dolphins could include such terrifying creatures?! The final boss in the original Echo the Dolphin did a great job at freaking me out, as well as the giant octopus creature in Echo the Dolphin: Defender of the Future for the Dreamcast. Usually underwater creatures in 2D spaces do not bother me, but the final boss in the original Echo can be thankful to say that they succeeded at that one!
Now let’s jump to more modern times with Sega’s NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams. I am a huge fan of the original NiGHTS title and I was thrilled when I learned Sega was working on a Wii sequel. Unfortunately for fans, the sequel didn’t really do justice to the series but it did include one memorable moment. Among the colorful graphics, the corny children’s tunes and voices, and happy-go-lucky nature of the whole game, something creepy lurked about. A boss fight in an underwater colosseum against this creature below certainly had me hovering my finger on the power switch to my Wii console. Eek!
Today I am a 31 year old adult, but when I revisit some of these games, they still make me extremely uneasy and hesitant to proceed to these portions of these games. Luckily there are not too many modern underwater levels that have included horrific beasts in the water, but with today’s technology developers could really do a number on me if they created something freaky enough. After doing some research on the subject of underwater levels in gaming, I found that I am not alone in having this digital phobia. Anyone else out there freaked out by water creatures in gaming? Hit me up on Twitter @FaintDeftone or jump on our Facebook group and let me know what sea-barring monsters kept you up at night.