If a game is categorized as "horror," fans know exactly what is ahead of them: ghoulish monsters and creatures, violent encounters, and ominous music following the player around every corner. But, being caught off guard by a feeling of terror and unease in a non-horror game has sent many players reaching for the power button, knowing that this isn't what they signed up for when playing a colorful platformer or open-world action game.
Developers love to slip in terrifying moments where players are not expecting it, and each one of these has sent chills down the spines of many generations, young and old.
10 Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island - Giant Bowser
This very cute Super Nintendo classic is all about a clan of Yoshi's transporting baby Mario back to his home safe and sound. Colorful pastel graphics and catchy music make your adventure a pleasant and whimsical journey.
So, why is it that the final boss against Bowser feels like players are fighting Godzilla or a similar Kaiju beast rising from the sea? His massive figure hulks in the distance, slowly walking towards the player, the ground crumbling beneath until he starts charging and engulfs the entire screen in a void of blackness. This battle was massively stress-inducing and felt hopeless and apocalyptic against the rest of the happy-go-lucky game.
9 Just Cause 2 - Hantu Island
In a game that essentially feels like a Michael Bay blockbuster film, a creepy isolated island on the corner of the map feels a little out of place. When players fly to this island with an aircraft, the weather suddenly gets worse and your plane will burst into flames, sending it careening down onto the shore.
The whole island ends up as an homage to the uber-popular television show Lost, but players unfamiliar with the series will be instantly wary of the situation. Plane wreckage is found in the forest, a large message on the beach says "SEARCH" and points to a mysterious hatch in the ground, and an unkillable enemy follows players around the island with dark smoke pouring off its body.
8 Control - The Refrigerator
Control feels very comfortable labeled as a sci-fi action-adventure with hints of eerieness and surrealism in its vast world that occurs entirely inside the Bureau building. But, some moments, such as the side mission where main character Jesse finds a poor man unable to take his eyes off an evil refrigerator, cemented themselves as pure horror done right.
When the man suddenly vanishes as Jesse is trying to help, she communicates with the fridge through her powers and is sucked into a large, dark area where she is suddenly face-to-face with a gigantic, headlight-for-an-eye creature with spindly legs named "The Former." The shock of seeing the thing crawl up and peer at you through its single glowing eye is a sight to behold, and Control relishes the moment in all its unexpected horror glory.
7 Gone Home - Crucifix
Nighttime, the pouring rain, and an empty home are what sets the mood in Gone Home, a character-driven slow burn of a story where the player character Katie explores each room, uncovering secrets and piecing together her family's past. While mostly a dramatic and sometimes heartfelt experience, the empty house at night during a storm feels extremely eerie, and players felt the terrifying sense of knowing what it's like to be home alone but feeling like someone is watching.
That feeling comes to a culmination when Katie finds out her younger sister was investigating potential ghosts in the home, and she stumbles upon a hidden passage in the wall. Inside has clippings and art on the walls, and a solitary crucifix, with words written in the wood. If picked up, the light immediately goes out in the passageway, and players all collectively needed to pause the game to change their pants.
6 Killer 7 - Andrei Ulmeyda
To describe Killer 7 easily is a struggle many fans have had since its release in 2005. Bizarre visuals, an outlandish plot, and demented characters made it a classic in neo-noir surrealism gaming, but it's underlying creep factor and disturbing moments made players uneasy, even though the game is not classified as horror.
In the 'Cloudman' chapter of the game, Andrei Ulmeyda is introduced as a tech tycoon who has started a cult-like city and urges followers to join him for salvation. He destroys a stadium filled with innocent people on live television and ultimately transforms into a naked being when his head detaches from his body, his afro attached by tentacles made of blood, and, when killed, he rains blood from the sky. It goes without saying that Killer 7 is a strange game, and it's utterly chockful of moments like this.
5 Grand Theft Auto V - The Ghost Of Mount Gordo
Rockstar Games are undoubtedly the best in the industry at including creepy easter eggs and references in their games; GTA: San Andreas spawned countless urban legends regarding strange occurrences and sightings. The developers warmly embraced their reputation with GTA V and featured this terrifying hidden moment when players went to a specific spot on Mount Gordo between 11 PM and midnight in-game.
If looked at from afar or through the scope of a sniper rifle, a crying ghost hovers over an area, staring at the player with a sad but frightening look. The name 'Jock' is written in blood on the rocks below where she hovers, and eagle-eyed players would find her name and subsequent murder in a newspaper, pushed by her husband Jock Cranley during a hike on the mountain.
4 Red Dead Redemption 2 - Night Folk
Rockstar took their love of creepy moments to their other massive franchise, Red Dead Redemption and outdid themselves in the massive-hit sequel that features too many scary moments to count. The experience with the Night Folk left legions of players terrified of the Bayou area of the map once encountered.
Either during the day or night, players can stumble upon a body hanging from a tree, or a dead horse and empty wagon on a road. Suddenly, shadows emerge from the swamps, and the Night Folk attack in numbers, with the ability to kill the player in a single hit from their machetes or bows. The feeling of panic when seeing these unsightly killers with their painted faces giving chase had players avoiding that area unless absolutely necessary.
3 Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire - Dianoga In The Sewers
In this Nintendo 64 LucasArts classic, the murkiness of the console's graphics is in full effect as players trudge through the green and brown waters of the dank sewers level. Upon entering rooms with a large body of water, a terrifying roar can be heard, and brownish tentacles are seen lashing beneath the surface of the water.
The enemies are all throughout the level and are warming up players for the massive one awaiting in the final area as the level's boss. The entire fight is underwater, and the nasty tentacles and chunky eyes of the monster attack the player as they struggle to hurry up and end this level and escape the dark and disgusting depths to get back to the surface.
2 Super Mario 64 - Eel In Jolly Roger Bay
Jolly Roger Bay is the level solely responsible for making players aware of thalassophobia, and it's easy to see why. Below the surface is a creepy sunken pirate ship, a hidden sea cave, and a creature waiting for players to join them in the depths.
A massive eel with large bulging eyes lives in the pirate ship and is coaxed out so Mario can explore the ship. It swims around the lake freely, it's long slithering body gliding around, its large mouth with sharp teeth all too ready to bite Mario at any moment. Any players afraid of water levels in games dread this level for all the right reasons.
1 The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask - The Moon
The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask has become infamous for its scary moments in an otherwise non-scary franchise, spawning countless fanfiction, creepypastas, and fanart depicting the eerie characters and setting of this beloved game. Much can be said about its tragic characters, otherworldly creatures and enemies, terrifying mask transformations, and just a general sense of unease, but it can all be brought back and connected directly to the moon.
The Skull Kid, wearing Majora's Mask, has caused the moon to begin falling to the Earth during a three-day cycle, and every moment that giant rock lurks above the player, it's amazingly designed face staring down at them with its massive eyes and smiling mouth. It has become synonymous with creepy gaming as a whole and encapsulates everything about creepiness in a non-horror environment.