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Feature: Fun and Frights on Nintendo - Part 2

Posted by Nintendo Life Staff

Peter Willington

The emotional impact of horror within games is perhaps best exemplified on Nintendo consoles by Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, the 2002 release from Denis Dyack and his Silicon Knights. A cult classic amongst fans of the genre, its lasting impression once the power switch is flicked and the binary nightmare ceases, is one of an uncertainty that the game will remain powered off.

Dyack's psychological scare-em-up deals in the destruction of fourth walls and the challenging of preconceived game mechanics for its more frightening moments. Where Metal Gear Solid perhaps most famously pushed the term "breaking the fourth wall" in the games space with a smattering of controller port fiddling and codec finding, Eternal Darkness relies on them to shock at almost every turn. Breaking down the title so analytically makes the discovery of these rather dry, so let's keep this concise and representative. Two moments should suffice.

There are plenty of your "typical" fourth wall moments, though the television apparently powering down mid-game is the classic technique cited by critics of the title. Playing upon a panic experienced by many consumers of the art, it's a simple exercise in removing control from a medium whose distinguishing characteristic – as well as basis for crucial win/loss systems - is exactly that: control. When you can't control your protagonist, you can't react, when you can't react, you die, and death is scary.

It's when this title fools with the genre it resides within, however, that things get really interesting. For example, setting its camera at a 45 degree angle to the player's currently controlled character and restricting its movement invokes memories within seasoned horror fans of the games that had come before: Resident Evil,Silent Hill and Alone In The Dark. This continues for some time until the player has become familiar with the controls, the setting, the limitations. When the camera suddenly and dramatically zooms into a low, close up shot of a murder victim lying in a bath, the player is simply not expecting it, having been lulled into a false sense of security that the distance of a traditional third person survival horror brings.

This level of thoughtful but aggressive and constant manipulation culminates in but one thing: paranoia. Since Dyack has forced the player to question many of the things you come to rely on in horror games, you can never relax for a moment, always trying to out-think the designers and what they might do to you next, which is rarely achieved, leading to the scariest thought of all. What if, when you turn off the GameCube, the game is still running, waiting for the perfect time to unleash a blood curdling scream? Could the developer do that?

They couldn't... could they?

Zach Kaplan

I love a good scare, but my two most distinctly frightening game memories aren't exactly typical. The first game that notably creeped me out was Goldeneye 007 on N64, of all things. There's a stage called Depot where you have to run around to free-standing garages in an open space. I don't remember if it was only after you tripped the alarms or anytime you played a harder setting, but enemies would spawn rapidly and very close to your character whenever you went inside one of these storage facilities. They had big steel doors that raised up, and you could close them behind you to keep from getting shot, but this also caused three or four soldiers to pop up right outside. This particular game, as was common at the time, had an issue with clipping — enemies' guns would stick through walls, and here you could see them poking through the garage doors. So you'd close one, and immediately several rifle butts would stick through. Something about that just seemed unnatural. Whether it was the aspect of guys appearing from nowhere, the visual, the impending doom or the combination of the above, it felt absolutely dreadful on a visceral level. Even writing this now is giving me the creeps.

Because of the strong, hard to kill zombies, the lack of ammo, and the sparse save points and ink ribbons, everything had a higher stake to it ... if you perished, who knows how far you'd have to go back

But the most scared I've ever been playing a game was during Resident Evil for the GameCube. This was my first out-and-out intentionally frightening game, and I've been hooked on the series ever since. Because of the strong, hard to kill zombies, the lack of ammo, and the sparse save points and ink ribbons, everything had a higher stake to it — if you ran into an enemy you could very well die, or run out of bullets, and if you perished, who knows how far you'd have to go back. The scenery was also full of mirrors, so your own reflection would often give you a start. I was still a lad at the time, living at home with only a thin wall separating my room and my dad's and playing the game in the dark of the AM hours — if I woke him up, no more Resident Evil for the night.

On one occasion my cat Poopie was sleeping on the bed, and my phone was nearby. Little did I know it was on full volume. So with me as tense as possible, dreading every tiny noise from the game, the ringing of the telephone scared the hell out of me. I instinctively jumped out of bed, and, remembering my sleeping father in the next room, madly dashed in the dark to silence the ringing. This woke my cat and spooked him as well, so he too began running around the room terrified. It's was quite a whirlwind, with my cat and I running circles around each other in the dark while the game played and the phone rang. I know it wasn't the game alone that did it, but that was the most terrifying moment I ever had playing one.

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User Comments (15)

daznsaz

#2

daznsaz said:

yea long live scary games.bring on RE revelations.i think capcom are talking nintendo to get a bigger file size to bring us another revelations demo.fingers crossed

The_Fox

#3

The_Fox said:

I'm still waiting for an Eternal Darkness sequel. Hands down one of the best things the Gamecube ever saw.

Yadoking

#4

Yadoking said:

I have a couple fun halloween memories. While earthbound as a whole isn't halloweeny, I like playing the Threed part in October especially. The ghost area in Super Mario 64 is pretty creepy too. For some reason, I always feel like I'm in way more danger down there than I am. Some of my favourite creep out awesome games are Silent Hill 2 and 3, mainly 2, but those are non-nintendo system games.

I had Scooby Doo game on SNES when I was a kid and it was hard back then and kinda scary too. I think I might try to conquer the dreaded Scooby Doo game this year!

Ravage

#7

Ravage said:

I kind of wish there were a little more mention of games on non-Nintendo systems as some of the scariest games have not even graced a specific console.

Ichabod

#9

Ichabod said:

Fabulous article. You really hit the nail on the head with your depiction of Maniac Mansion. If I had to chose one game, and only one game, that was my favorite on the NES, Maniac Mansion would win by a long shot. I'm still in a bit of distress over the fact that it has never been released onto the VC.

Tare

#10

Tare said:

@10
Hey, with the oddball choices for 3DS classics, it might make the list ;)

TheGreenSpiny

#11

TheGreenSpiny said:

That RE4 cover is sweet. Why did we get the crappy one in NA?

Eternal Darkness is one of the best horror games ever made. Man I wished they'd made a sequel for the Wii. Wii motion plus and IR controls would have been awesome in that game. Maybe for Wii U? Make it happen Nintendo!

RonF

#13

RonF said:

Many of the so called survival horror games don't strike me as real horror but rather as action games with horror themes. As such, I find difficult to regard a great game, such as Resident Evil 4 as true horror. The first chapter on the village is creepy but it soon becomes cheesy and I find difficult to take it seriously.

Still, there are some good horror games in Nintendo consoles. The panel already highlighted Gamecube's Eternal Darkness and I would add the excellent Wii's Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

GamerforGod

#14

GamerforGod said:

@Monteblanco: I completely understand where you're coming from man!!!! :) Once you give a character a gun (or some other powerful weapon) and they can start blowing away the enemies, you seem to lose a lot of the scare factor in my opinion. These games still have there scary moments of course. For example, in Dino Crisis on the Playstation One, it was quite scary when I went in to a room that was very quiet and eerily lit only to have a very loud and boisterous T-Rex break through the window to try and attack me!!! :) lol However, for a game to be REALLY scary, it seems to be best if your character has no weapon, is being chased by a really scary thing that they have no idea what is, and all they can do is scream and run!!!! Eternal Darkness is very scary, and Silent Hill Shattered Memories in particular excels at this no weapon while screaming and running gameplay, but my favorite game that has this type of gameplay still has to be Clock Tower on the Super NES and the first American Clock Tower on the Playstation One. :) Really scary games!!!! :)

LeasTwanteD

#15

LeasTwanteD said:

Another great feature, guys. I especially dig the deeper thoughts of Philip and Peter. Keep 'em coming. :)
Personally i think i'll never be relaxed when walking across the "arms come out of the windows" part in RE2. I know they'll come and i know exactly when but it always gives me the creeps. And there is a ghost place in Rayman 3 that despite how light hearted this games is otherwise always gave me an uneasy feeling.

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