Children’s video games

  • Ecco the Dolphin

Developed by Novotrade International for the Sega Genesis, 1992’s Ecco the Dolphin looks, from the outside, like a harmless children’s game. After all, what could possibly be creepy about playing as a bottlenose dolphin? Fourth-grade girls like dolphins. Heck, everyone likes dolphins. Ecco the Dolphin undoubtedly creeped out many unsuspecting children in its day, but there’s something even more creepy about it when viewed through the eyes of an adult. And it’s not just the aliens that are unsettling. As Andy McDonald described in Vice, it’s the “Pink Floydian soundscapes” and oppressive sense of loneliness throughout — the game hints that humans no longer live on the planet — that really make this game feel properly disturbing.

  • Lemmings

Many people are at least vaguely familiar with DMA Design’s puzzle-platformer Lemmings, which originally appeared on the Amiga, Atari ST and PC in 1991. The iconic, blue-clad, green-haired lemmings are cute and cartoony, but don’t let the title’s outward appearance fool you. It’s a dark, twisted game, in which your sole objective is to minimize these hapless creatures’ suicidal death count.  Furthermore, the game hides one hidden gem of a horrorshow in the form of Level 14 of the “Tricky” difficulty tier, appropriately named “MENACING !!” The level is indeed menacing, and definitely not the image anyone conjures up when thinking of the game. The level is basically Hell, with bloody entrails, skulls and limbs hanging from the ceiling, a long snake comprising the floor, and a bottomless pit of death. It looks like something straight out of a late-’80s satanic death-metal music video. Though the level is apparently designed after fellow DMA Design title Menace, that doesn’t change that it’s out of place, hellish, and certainly not very kid-friendly.

  • Taboo: The Sixth Sense

Perhaps one of developer Rare’s least-known titles, the Nintendo Entertainment System’s 1989 fortune-telling, tarot-card simulator Taboo: The Sixth Sense was the first game of its kind developed specifically for the American audience. Though many kids probably played the game during sleepovers with their friends, taking baby’s first steps into the occult and giggling at the naughtiness of it all — it being one of the few licensed games to feature nudity, if you’re lucky enough to draw one of the three cards showing breasts or behinds — the game was technically directed at adults. Not that anybody cared.