Feature: Spooky Levels For Surprising Frights
Posted by Nintendo Life Staff
Sneaking up behind you
The night is finally here, when legend tells of witches, ghosts and ghouls terrorising the people of the world for, well, some reason. It seems a little pointless to learn about the origins of Halloween as it's basically a cheap costume candy-fest, and that's just fine. Grown ups often spend the night watching grisly horror movies or, if they're gamers, playing grisly horror games. We've already outlined some options for you, including downloadable horrors terrifying because of their awfulness, and some more conventional scares on Wii.
This feature on the darkest night of the year isn't focused on gaming moments that will make you jump out of your skin, but perhaps those that will make your skin crawl, or possibly creep you out and get you on the edge of your seat. They're also unexpected moments of spookiness; the best Halloween tricks, after all, are those you don't see coming.
Three of your fearless — well, not quite — Nintendo Life writers have decided to share a few of these moments with you.
In a game that is so otherwise full of life, Pokemon Red and Blue's Pokémon Tower is a spooky shock to the system. The tone as you enter Lavender Town is distinctly creepier, its sombre music filling it with a sense of sadness. While everybody else is out trying to become a better trainer, the inhabitants of Lavender Town lament the deaths of their beloved companions – it's home to Pokémon Tower, a graveyard for the monsters that have fallen.
Pokémon Tower is filled with ghosts, shrouded entities with wicked faces that are only revealed to be Ghost-type Pokémon once a certain item has been recovered – without it, your loyal team freezes with fear whenever a spirit appears. There are also remnants of a tragic event to be resolved: when Team Rocket try to steal the Cubones that dwell in the Tower to sell their skulls, one mother Marowak guards her child to the death. Her vengeful spirit then takes up residence in the building, only able to move on once you release her from her anguish through battle.
It jars with the light-hearted approach found elsewhere: Pokémon faint after fighting, they eat innocent Pokémon food. It's not really explicitly highlighted until this point that, like other sentient beings, Pokémon are prisoners to a mortal lifespan, even if the player never experiences it directly with their own creatures. It's a side to the world that is often hinted at in subsequent generations, but it's most affecting in Red / Blue.
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is exactly what you'd expect from a Treasure-developed on-rails shooter. It's insane, high-octane action at 60fps, with literally thousands of strange creatures out to kill you: your response, naturally, is to blast them until they explode.
Its settings include a floating sky fortress, a destroyed city and an enemy base surrounded by lava, all epic and exciting in their way. Yet roughly half way through the game you take on the Ethereal Forest stage, an illusionary environment that represents lead character Isa's fears and memories of the past. As this is a Treasure game this dream world naturally includes unspeakable killer-horrors, all within an overbearing forest area, with swamps and a stunning lake shrine thrown in.
Rather standard monsters, by Treasure standards, include poison-spewing giant frogs, Medusa heads that scream in fury as they swoop towards you, a giant killer flying jelly fish, and a skeleton that bounces clumps of the aforementioned Medusa heads like a basketball before hurling them at you. There are also haunted wooden shrines that fire spirits at you, as well as man-sized grasshoppers that hide in long grass, forcing you to do some landscaping with your gun. Who knows if these creatures are actually supposed to represent these animals, all that matters is that they're dangerous and need to be shot.
So, what's spooky about that? It's all about the setting and presentation. This is one level shrouded in a worrying shade, with your pointer acting as a torch to light up the enemies intent on your downfall in various areas dominated by tall, menacing trees or deep canyons filled with flying creatures. The music also plays its part, maintaining an up-tempo beat while portraying the fact that this is not a normal place, even by Sin and Punishment standards. Then there's the final scene and boss fight: a peculiar creature provides a particularly tough challenge, with a backdrop of a perfect mini-lake, ancient shrine and a full moon filling the sky.
If you want a bit of intense action with a creepy atmosphere, this may be the stage for you.
There are numerous dark moments sprinkled throughout Cave Story, but they're usually small enough that they're easy to overlook, especially in light of the upbeat soundtrack and colourful visuals. However there's one particular moment — which we won't spoil for the few of you out there who haven't played this yet — that hits both the main character and the gamer so hard that you know you've reached an atmospheric turning point. It comes right after your fight with the Core, in a room full of the corpses of your robotic peers, and I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about.
But it doesn't end there. Once you escape the Labyrinth and work your way back to Mimiga Village, something hits you immediately: things have changed. The bright, bouncy Village theme has been replaced with an ominous, echoing soundscape, and the community of frightened but friendly Mimigas are all gone. You go from building to building, but you're alone. While you were off fighting, civilization crumbled beneath you, and ironically the area most teeming with life is the graveyard.
By this point in the game, you've paid witness to several of these gentle Mimigas losing their lives, but the scope and scale of this unseen disaster catches you instantly off guard, and only enhances the sadness of that recent, tragic boss fight. All of your friends are gone.
Afterwards you must revisit another early area of the game, The Egg Corridor, and you'll find the destruction there far more clear, with creatures hatched too early, either staggering around confused and half-blind or already dead. It's a tonal sleight-of-hand that maintains the narrative flow of the game, and yet makes you realize that the stakes have been raised substantially. And what's more, you're all alone from this point on. What could be scarier than that?
We'd love to hear about your unexpected spooky moments in gaming. Tell all in the comments below.