Life can be pretty stressful. Mounting bills to pay, the crushing weight of responsibility, irreverent memes that don’t quite make sense to you (no, I do not know de way, dammit – so stop asking me!!) Video games are a great way of relieving that tension. There’s none of society’s ills in the Mushroom Kingdom, just a friendly mustachioed man with an unhealthy disdain for turtles, so you can simply put your mind at ease…
At least, until something takes you by surprise, terrifying the absolute bejesus out of you. If you’re playing a Resident Evil or Silent Hill, you’re prepared for a fright or two; conditioned to know it’s coming sooner or later, and even the best jump scares don’t completely catch you off guard. It’s when more kid friendly titles dabble in the dark arts of utter spookiness that you’re thrown for a loop. Now that we’re cynical, jaded adults, we can look back on the moments in gaming that stripped us of our innocence (unless you were already a cynical, jaded child, in which case we’ve got no answers for you).
The Eel (Super Mario 64)
Once we evoked the memory of unnerving Mario moments, we were well aware of where most people’s minds would go, and it’s time to put this to rest once and for all: the haunted piano is not the scariest thing in Super Mario 64. Unexpected, yes, and the first time you encounter it can definitely be startling, but it’s easy to avoid, and once you nab that red coin in the room, you need not ever bother with it again.
The same cannot be said for Unagi. Jolly Roger Bay’s most infamous resident lurks down in the depths of the water – already a disconcerting place to be with a dwindling air supply – and his dead-eyed stare will haunt your dreams for the remainder of your life. Most of the time, he isn’t outwardly aggressive, but even just lovingly brushing past him will cause you immense pain to the tune of three health units. For context, colliding with Bowser only causes two points of damage, and he is clearly out to do you harm. Unagi doesn’t need to try, he just obliterates.
Whether he’s leering at you from the sunken ship or swimming in endless laps, the eel is always an intimidating foe, but he’s at his most horrifying in the challenge titled ‘Can the Eel Come Out to Play?’ From his vantage point in the murky cavern, he watches and waits for his prey to approach. Once your curiosity gets the better of you and you swim too close, he comes shooting out, roaring as he snaps his jaws at you – clearly, he’s hungry for some Italian! Assuming you’ve survived this encounter, you’ll have to chase him down after he leaves to do his morning constitutional and snag the star attached to his rear end like it was the Gummi Venus de Milo. It was a harrowing experience that put hairs on your chest; or if you were unfortunate, your shoulders.