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Disturbing moments in E-rated games

Since its foundation in 1994, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board has made it their mission to properly categorize games based on their content and propriety for different age groups. An E rating (which stands for "Everyone") is meant to be a signal for gamers and parents alike that the title they've purchased is suitable for all ages. 

Sometimes, though, a game can squeak by with an E that might as well stand for "Egad, how is this for 'Everyone?'" This doesn't always have to be due to violence, either. Sometimes, it's less about what is shown on the screen and more about the game's implications. Other times, a game can just be unsettling or weird enough to make you wonder how they managed to get such an all-inclusive rating.

In the list that follows, we have compiled some of the creepiest, oddest, and darkest moments that made it past the Ratings Board and into E-rated games.

Those creepy sounds after boss fights - Splatoon 1&2

Splatoon and its sequel are among two of the most popular new franchises within the last few years. Critics and fans alike immediately responded to its cute character designs and innovative combat system. It was a successful blend of third-person shooter aesthetics with a family-friendly tone, and the lead characters became playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

There's one truly eerie thing about Splatoon, though: when defeating a boss, the boss battle music drops out and players are left with the background sounds. After waiting for a bit, close listeners can hear what sounds to be wrenching metal and moaning or even screaming voices. Adding onto how bizarre this is in a kids' game, even the game's own director said he had no idea what the deal was with the mysterious sounds! While no proper explanation has been given as of this writing, the Splatoon team seized on players' curiosities and included the sounds in the sequel in 2017.

Click here for an isolated recording of the freaky sounds (and have fun trying to sleep tonight).

Welcome to the Machine - Ecco the Dolphin

Even in the screenshot, poor Ecco's all like, "Are you kidding me with this?"

While the later games in the series would go in for a more overtly science-fiction tone, most of the levels in the Sega Genesis classic Ecco the Dolphin game were fairly normal aquatic settings. Players guided Ecco through reefs and gorgeously-rendered undersea caves, mostly fighting against jellyfish and sharks and the like.

The final two stages, however, are a biomechanical nightmare right out of H.R. Geiger's sketchbooks. Deformed creatures come out from around every corner at top speed as Ecco tries to navigate through a sickly green structure referred to only as "The Machine." The real shocker is the final boss, the Vortex Queen, which somewhat resembles a Xenomorph from the Alien series. 

"Somewhat," because the only visible part of the Queen in the final chamber of the Machine is her head, giving the impression that she's an impossibly massive Lovecraftian nightmare. The queen spews out her larvae at Ecco and attempts to bite the heroic dolphin in half! After around 20 levels of undersea exploration and earthly enemies, the last act of the game is certainly an unnerving surprise.

Monster Ock - Spider-Man

Activision's Spider-Man game was released in 2000 and set a new benchmark for all future Spidey games. Some of the mechanics from this entry can still be seen in Insomniac's 2018 smash hit, Marvel's Spider-Man.

The game is mostly a light-hearted romp, with our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man's trademark wit taking the edge off some of the darker plot elements, like an invasion of symbiotes from space. The real corker comes in the last level of the game, however. Featuring the super-powered serial killer Carnage as a main enemy was already a dicey proposition for a game with an E rating, but his over-the-top personality and rivalry with Venom is mostly played for laughs. After defeating Doctor Octopus and Carnage and thwarting their plan to give the Earth's population over to the Symbiote army, it sure looks like all that's left for Spidey to do is deliver the baddies to jail.

All of the sudden, a blood-red, tentacled monstrosity comes bursting through the wall and roars at Spider-Man, bearing its razor-sharp fangs. The Carnage symbiote has taken control of Doctor Octopus' body, becoming a creature referred to by the game designers as "Monster Ock." In a game that has mostly valued combat over agility, the final level of the game wants you to run like heck, because one touch from Ock will kill you. Scary design aside, this moment is notable for being genuinely stressful, especially for the game's younger target audience.

The Land of the Livid Dead - Rayman Origins

Rayman Origins features some kooky villains and the dark animated look that has become a staple of the series, but the final level stands in stark contrast to the rest of the game's more playful platforming stages. Originally featured as a location in 2003's Rayman 3, "The Land of the Livid Dead" is the final level of Rayman Origins and has received a significant facelift in the years since. Gone are the green fields and partly cloudy skies, now replaced with gothic terrain that would make the Corpse Bride blush. Rayman must make his way through crypts and bridges made from giant coffins, battling zombies and occasionally riding on the back of a skeletal snake that resembles a disembodied spinal column.

That's not to mention that "The Land of the Livid Dead" is an optional stage only accessible by unlocking areas containing treasure chests, opening said chests to retrieve the Skull Teeth gem inside, and then delivering those to the actual Grim Reaper. It's almost like the game is trying to hide this creepiness from the more sensitive gaming souls among us.

The SA-X attacks - Metroid Fusion

Metroid Fusion already starts off on a darker note than the franchise's previous side-scrolling entries, with intrepid bounty hunter Samus Aran getting attacked by a space parasite and having emergency surgery that leaves parts of her armor permanently fused to her body.

The real horror begins when when players first lay eyes on the SA-X, a parasitic organism that is mimicking Samus' original form. The SA-X first appears as it blows a hole in the walls of the space station Samus is investigating. The game then cuts to a chilling close-up of the SA-X's blank white eyes.

When Samus finally encounters the SA-X in person, her weakened state means that the player's only choice is to run or die. The SA-X has copied Samus at her most powerful, meaning it's armored up and equipped with all of Samus' old abilities and weapons.

Oh, also, the SA-X eventually transforms into a snarling, drooling monstrosity that resembles something out of a David Cronenberg film. It's altogether the most frightening enemy of Samus' 16-bit career.

War and prison flashbacks - Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is a farming simulator similar to the beloved Harvest Moon series, complete with bright settings and adorable fantasy character sprites. Over time, you are tasked with turning your simple plot of land into a fruitful farm, making friends and participating in fun recreational activities along the way. Sounds harmless, right?

Players were surprised to find a much darker lore lurking around the edges of this seemingly benign farming game. NPC dialogue contains occasional references to a war happening outside the town. In fact, one of your fellow villagers, a man named Kent, is a veteran from that war. He will occasionally reference how difficult it is for him to be back home and not on the front lines, while certain player actions may trigger him to reference his time spent in a prison camp. A frank discussion of PTSD isn't exactly what players expect while they're just trying to plant cauliflower in their cute little farm.

Pokémon Tower - Pokémon Red, Blue, & Yellow

From the tinny, high-pitched music to the locals who all seem to be in some stage or another of grief, Lavender Town is infamous among Pokémon fans as the eeriest location in the first generation of the game franchise. No part of Lavender Town is creepier than the gigantic mausoleum known as Pokémon Tower.

Inside the tower, players are greeted by rows upon rows of headstones and mourning Pokémon trainers who have lost one or more of their beloved Pokémon. The higher you climb, the worse it gets. Without the aid of the game's Silph Scope, ghostly apparitions will appear and tell you to get out. Your own Pokémon will be too frightened to battle and Poké Balls bounce right off of the spectres, meaning retreat is your only option.

The most upsetting encounters in Pokémon Tower, however, are with trainers known as Channelers. These poor folks have been possessed by the ghosts of the tower and will challenge you when they spot you. Their introductory dialogue is sometimes not much more than gurgling or screeching sounds, but some of them will demand your very blood. That's quite a lot for a Nintendo game.

Um, can we get back to catching 'em all in a well-lit field, please?

Everyone dies? - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

The Super Smash Bros. franchise isn't exactly known for its strong story elements (and it arguably still isn't). However, with 2018's entry to the series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, players were treated to the addition of the Adventure Mode, which gave the game a bit more of a narrative than the usual "beat up everyone" mission of the previous games.

Nobody expected the opening cinematic of Ultimate to be such a jaw-dropping downer, though. Seemingly taking its cues from that year's apocalyptic Avengers: Infinity War, this mode of play opens with an impressively animated cutscene of all of our heroes working together to stand up to a coming invasion. The sky tears open and thousands of Master Hands descend like a horde of grabby demons. The heroes prepare for battle, but then the Hands transform into stream after stream of energy, coming straight at the heroes and … they are completely disintegrated. One after another, each hero is utterly destroyed, with only Kirby escaping the carnage.

This is later followed by a sequence showing Mario and the rest being cloned by the villains, leaving players with a chilling shot of dozens of red-eyed copies of our favorite Smash characters glaring into the camera. There's no way anyone saw the normally good-natured Smash Bros. series taking such a dramatic turn.

Lost at sea - Rime

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS.

2017's Rime is a beautiful cel-shaded puzzle game in which players control a young boy who has washed up on the shore of a deserted island with no memory of how he arrived. Working his way through a series of puzzles and logic problems, the boy progresses through the island and its giant tower, unlocking bits of his missing memories in the process.

As the game progresses, we learn that the boy was separated from his father during a terrible storm and the older man is likely dead. Sad, right? Oh, just wait.

The final stages of the game give way to a flashback sequence revealing the entire game to be a construct of the father's imagination, since it was actually he who lost his son, the boy you've been playing as all along. The whole game's events have actually been a coping mechanism for the father as he imagines his son surviving and fighting his way back to him, before finally learning to accept the loss of his little boy.

You know, FOR KIDS!

EVERYTHING - The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Take your pick as to what disturbs you in this one. Majora's Mask opens with Link being transformed into an eerie-looking creature known as a Deku Scrub by the mysterious Skull Kid, and the plot follows Link's attempts to keep the moon (which has a terrifying scowl on its face) from crashing into the earth and killing everyone.

Majora's Mask features the most Gothic design elements and oppressive feel of the entire Legend of Zelda franchise. Even the music is more solemn and minimalist in some areas than usual. The whole game is built upon the concept of time running out for Link and the land of Terminus, so that adds a sense of hopelessness which runs throughout the game. If Link runs over his three-day time limit, you're treated to a cinematic of the end of all life.

Add onto that sequences dealing with alien abductions and a groaning, zombified father who bursts from a closet and lurches toward his own child, and you have a recipe for maybe the most oddly upsetting game to ever bear an E rating.