Gotta Fear ‘Em All: Our Top 10 Creepiest Pokémon

Pokémon; those cute, cuddly super-pets that we all grew up with. I can’t even begin to count the number of nights I spent gazing into the flickering light of my Gameboy Colour, desperately trying to paralyse a wild Abra or frantically chucking Ultra Ball after Ultra Ball at a Graveler. It was a video game and television series that took up a large chunk of my childhood, and I hazard a guess that many readers will be able to relate.

So, in honour of Pokémon’s 20th anniversary this year, I thought it only fitting to dedicate an entire post to the Top 10 Creepiest Pokémon in the canon. And trust me, there are a lot of them. After four solid hours of sorting through the online Pokédex, I can proudly say that the list is finished and I’ve successfully staved off adult responsibility for yet another day. Thank you Pokémon, you saviour of 90s kids who simply can’t face the crippling thought of mortgages, career options, and a life outside of their parents’ house.

  1. The Original Child Catcher: #425 Drifloon, The Balloon Pokémon

250px-425drifloonAt first glance, Drifloon looks harmless enough. It’s basically just a purple balloon with a mop of whipped cream on its head and some tape on its face. Its vacant stare and cute, little heart-shaped hands don’t exactly inspire one with a sense of impending dread. But they totally should.

First of all, Drifloon is a Ghost-type Pokémon, which immediately raises it in status from “incredibly dangerous children’s pet” to “soul-sucking emissary of the damned”. Ghost-type Pokémon are invariably evil and filled with a deep-seated hatred for mankind, mainly because they’re the souls of dead Pokémon who kicked the bucket solely because a bunch of kids decided it would be a fun idea to engage them in a fight to the death.

Yet in the Pokédex it specifies that Drifloon is not just made from the spirits of dead Pokémon, but also from the souls of people who have passed away. In other words, that balloon that just floated past you could contain the soul of your recently deceased grandma. And that’s not the end of it. Supposedly it “tugs on the hands of children to steal them away” and “children holding them sometimes vanish”. So yeah, not only is this balloon possessed by the angry souls of those who failed to pass on, but its sole purpose on this earth is to kidnap children. Nice Pokémon, nice.

  1. Welcome to the Twilight Zone: #487 Giratina, The Renegade Pokémon

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Giratina is a legendary Ghost/Dragon-type Pokémon that wields almost inimitable power. With its ragged black wings, piercing red eyes, and copious array of decorative spikes, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that it resembled the harbinger of death himself. It’s known as the “Renegade Pokémon” because supposedly it was so violent that it was banished to a place known as The Distortion World, where common sense and knowledge have been warped beyond all recognition.

If that wasn’t weird enough, it silently gazes at our world through a portal and can only manifest itself in an ancient cemetery. There’s something oddly tragic and disturbing about the image of some huge, heaving creature, with power beyond the realm of comprehension, staring at us through the void and waiting soundlessly for the chance to be released.

  1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Insects: #292 Shedinja, The Shed Pokémon

250px-292shedinjaShedinja was one of those bizarre Pokémon that you sort of acquired, rather than actually caught. The only way to get one was to evolve a Nincada into a Ninjask while having a spare space in your party, and suddenly a Shedinja would just…appear.

It looks kind of like a sad, little ladybug with an adorable halo floating over its head, but don’t let its appearance fool you. It’s another Ghost-type Pokémon and, as such, its primary purpose is to straight up ruin your day.

Shedinja is essentially the hollowed out shell of an insect that has, for whatever reason, come to life. According to the Pokédex, it apparently “flies without moving its wings” and “does not breathe”, which I can imagine is pretty unnerving for those of us who are used to seeing things fly with wings and breathe. You know, like everything else on earth.

And it seems Shedinja is pretty sensitive about the fact that it’s…well…kind of dead. If anyone peers into the crack of its back, it is said to “steal one’s spirit”. So, in this case, curiosity isn’t going to just kill the cat; it’s going to have its soul sucked out through its eyes. Lovely.

  1. The Candle that Burns the Brightest: #607 Litwick, The Candle Pokémon; #608 Lampent, The Lamp Pokémon; and #609 Chandelure, The Luring Pokémon
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Litwick wants to reduce its carbon foot-print, by burning your soul

This trio of terror may simply look like a bunch of household furnishings to you, but they’re more than just a stylish way for wealthy people to keep their homes lit. They form an evolutionary trio and all have two things in common: they are Fire/Ghost-type Pokémon and they all subsist off of the life force of mankind. I’m not even kidding.

Litwick supposedly shines its light and pretends to be a guide to those who are lost, but this is a clever ruse. It leads its victim into a dark corner before absorbing their life energy and using it as fuel. Evidently the roasted souls of the damned are a more economic option than oil. Lampent takes this whole deathly charade a step further and hangs out around hospitals, waiting for the moment of death and then siphoning off the person’s spirit like a hillbilly sucking on a gas hose.

250px-609chandelureYet, unsurprisingly, it is the big bad Chandelure that takes the cake for “most horrifying ceiling ornament”. It hypnotises anyone it comes across and sucks out their souls, leaving the discarded husk of a body behind like a crumpled soda can.

When they burn up a person’s essence for fuel, it is believed that their spirit will “lose their way and wander this world forever”. So, while the rest of us are basking in the comforting and totally not ominous flickering of those skull-shaped flames, some poor sap is wandering through purgatory wondering why it seemed like a good idea to have sentient chandeliers.

  1. I Wanna Be a Real Boy: #064 Kadabra, The Psi Pokémon

064kadabra_os_anime_2Now Kadabra is a Psychic-type Pokémon, meaning it wields telepathic powers that allow it to bend spoons, solve difficult puzzles, and induce unexpected, splitting headaches in passers-by. Why a creature that possesses the ability to move a car with its mind would want to serve a bunch of preteens as their pet-slave is beyond me, but Kadabra’s undeniably spooky qualities are not.

Supposedly, when a Kadabra is close by, clocks will start running backwards and shadows will begin appearing on television screens. Looking at either of these phenomena will cause the viewer to experience extreme bad luck. Yet perhaps the weirdest feature of this spoon-wielding sage is its origin story.

According to the Pokédex in FireRed, it says: “It happened one morning – a boy with extrasensory powers awoke in bed transformed into Kadabra”. Basically Kadabra is like some freaky reverse-Pinocchio. So if you find that your kid has taken a sudden liking to your cutlery drawer, I’d say keep an eye out.

  1. Let’s Lickety-Split: #93 Haunter, The Gas Pokémon; and #94 Gengar, The Shadow Pokémon

250px-093haunterGastly, Haunter, and Gengar are essentially legends in the Pokémon canon. They were the first and only Ghost-type Pokémon to be made available to us Gen 1 hipsters, so they hold a special place in many of our hearts. Yet, while Gastly is merely a ball of all-consuming noxious gas, his evolutionary forms are far more sinister.

Haunter is said to be from another dimension and has the capacity to pass through objects, but has a penchant for hiding in walls and jumping out at unsuspecting victims. It lurks in the darkest corners of rooms, waiting for children to pounce on and lick with its mighty tongue.

250px-094gengarIn fact, it’s considered such a threat that its Pokédex entry even comes with this warning: “Haunter is a dangerous Pokémon. If one beckons you while floating in darkness, you must never approach it. This Pokémon will try to lick you with its tongue and steal your life away”. Hey kids, have fun playing this children’s game, but just don’t approach this one Pokémon or it’ll straight up murder you.

Yet, not content with simply being another brick in the wall, Gengar opts for a different tact. It pretends to be your shadow and hides behind you, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. And, even if it doesn’t decide to kill you or if you manage to ward it off, it’s still capable of casting a curse on you. Because life just wouldn’t be worth living without the constant, impending threat of being hexed by a chubby demon.

  1. The Roofie Twins: #096 Drowzee; and #097 Hypno, The Hypnosis Pokémon

250px-096drowzeeLooking like a cuddly baby tapir and a piece of anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda, Drowzee and Hypno seem like an odd couple to have made it onto this list. Heck, they don’t even feast off the souls of the living. The only thing these cheeky chappies really like to eat are…our dreams.

Yep, these Pokémon use their hypnotic powers to lull people to sleep before gorging on their innermost fantasies. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, apparently Drowzee prefers to eat children’s dreams because they are “tastier” and, if you sleep next to a Drowzee for long enough, it will eventually show you some of the dreams that it has sampled. Kind of like wine-tasting, only with LSD.

250px-097hypnoAccording to the Pokédex, “if your nose becomes itchy while you are sleeping, it’s a sure sign that one of these Pokémon is standing above your pillow and trying to eat your dream through your nostrils”. I don’t know about you, but I’m really not okay with that.

And, while Drowzee’s just a fan of children’s dreams, there was supposedly an “incident” in which a Hypno actually hypnotised and kidnapped a child. Breaking-and-entering, stealing, and child abduction; all healthy ingredients for a successful children’s game.

  1. Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls: #355 Duskull, The Requiem Pokémon; #356 Dusclops, The Beckon Pokémon; and #477 Dusknoir, The Gripper Pokémon

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This is the second evolutionary trio to make it onto our list, and what a trinity of torment these guys are. With very little euphemism or sense of delicacy, it’s basically implied that these three Ghost-type Pokémon are essentially the Grim Reapers of the Poké-World. Duskull spends most of its time wandering around in darkness, using its one, beady red eye to strike fear into anyone who dares look at it. When it fixates on a target, it “will doggedly pursue the intended victim until the break of dawn” and it is rumoured that children who don’t listen to their parents will be spirited away by this skull-faced scamp. Oh, and let’s not forget that it “loves the crying of children”.

Dusclops, on the other hand, has a little less substance. Quite literally, since it’s effectively just a black hole with some bandages floating around it. As such, Dusclops is able to absorb anything into its body, but “nothing will ever come back out”. Its favourite pastime is to steal the soul of anyone who dares peer into its hollow body. Kind of a recurring pattern with these Ghost-types, don’t you think?

As the most powerful and most thinly-veiled euphemism of the three, Dusknoir has an “antenna on its head [that] captures radio waves from the world of spirits”, which it apparently uses to determine whose living soul it should harvest and drag back to the underworld. See what I meant about the whole “Grim Reaper” thing?

  1. All My Friends are Dead: #562 Yamask, The Spirit Pokémon; and #563 Cofagrigus, The Coffin Pokémon

250px-562yamaskIt would be almost pointless for me to try and explain why Yamask is so unbearably upsetting, since the Pokédex appears to have done the job perfectly already. This is the genuine, no word of a lie description of this “fun” friend and companion from a children’s game: “Each of them carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human. Sometimes they look at it and cry”.

These are the souls of dead people, who are doomed to wander the earth carrying a mask of their human face and serve any hapless child who happens to trap them inside of a Pokéball. Imagine spending the rest of eternity as a slave to some snot-nosed child, and you’ll understand why I find this particular Pokémon so horrifying.

250px-563cofagrigusAnd, when it comes to its evolutionary form, things only go from dark to darker. To be honest, I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate to have a coffin-themed anything in a children’s game, but I guess that’s why I’m not the one with the billion dollar game franchise.

Cofagrigus is an animated coffin that loves nothing more than to “swallow those who get too close and turn them into mummies”. That’s right kids. If you’re lucky enough to capture the wandering soul of someone doomed to weep at their lost humanity, be sure to train it up and you’ll be treated to a man-eating casket!

  1. It’s More Than Just Child’s Play: #353 Shuppet, The Puppet Pokémon; and #354 Banette, The Marionette Pokémon

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When it comes to the stuff of Poké-Nightmares, this dastardly duo has pulled the strings and scraped their way to the top of our list. They’re an unholy combination of perhaps the two most terrifying types in the Pokémon Universe, Ghost and Dark, so it comes as no surprise that they’d have a befittingly unsettling backstory. Shuppet is basically just an animated puppet who feeds off dark emotions, such as jealousy or vindictiveness. Like a murder of crows, gatherings of Shuppets can supposedly be seen under the eaves of houses where people harbour these ill-feelings. So if you thought that was just mould under your gutters, think again.

Banette, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of rotten fish. According to its origin story, it was supposedly a child’s doll that was abandoned and thrown in the trash. Its desire for vengeance was so strong that it eventually came to life and it is fuelled by an unquenchable hatred. It can be found roaming dark alleys and garbage dumps, searching for the child that threw it away so that it can finally exact its revenge. It generates powerful dark energy by sticking pins into its own body and it can never open its mouth, otherwise its soul would escape. In short, maybe next time you should consider putting your children’s old toys into the garage, and hope they don’t achieve sentience.

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I’m coming for your soul, kids

Honourable Mentions

When compiling this list, there were so many worthy Pokémon who just didn’t make the cut, so here are a few of our honourable mentions: Cubone, the Pokémon who wears the skull of its dead mother and perpetually cries over her loss; Cacturne, known as the Scarecrow Pokémon because it stays perfectly still during the day and only moves at night, chasing its victims down until they can no longer move; Phantump, a rotten tree stump that was possessed by the spirit of a child who got lost in the forest and died; Gourgeist, a gigantic pumpkin-like Pokémon that sings joyfully when it observes the suffering of its prey; and last but not least Yveltal, a legendary Pokémon that has the power to absorb the life force of all living creatures and essentially summon the apocalypse.

What did you think of our list? And which Pokémon do you think deserved a place on it? Please let us know in the comments!

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Gotta Fear ‘Em All: Our Top 10 Creepiest Pokémon

Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

Even without the stellar horror releases that littered the media landscape, 2015 was a pretty terrifying year in of itself. France suffered the Paris Attacks; the US was subject to nearly 300 mass shootings; and large parts of England appear to currently be underwater. The outlook for the planet isn’t great and, since North Korea apparently decided to ring in the New Year by setting off a nuclear bomb, the fate of the world is hanging by an ever thinner thread. So why, in light of all these real dangers, should you be excited about media that was designed to scare us? Because it gives us an outlet, a way to release all of that pent up fear in one hour-long frenzy of pillow-hugging, squealing, and violent popcorn throwing. So, as 2016 gets underway, take the time to indulge in a few of last year’s horror titles and feel the terror slip away. Let’s just call it Shock Therapy.

Film

Although a lot of critics would disagree with me, I personally thought that 2015 was a strong year for horror in film. On the one hand, you had the numerous tacky sequels, reboots, and remakes like Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (yes, I really hate Paranormal Activity, thanks for noticing), Poltergeist, and Sinister 2. But, on the other hand, we were treated to some top quality horror titles reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook and Oculus. Without further ado, here are my top film picks for 2015:

  1. It’s Behind You – It Follows

8385_poster_iphoneIt Follows was one of the most intelligent and impressive horror films that I’ve seen in decades. It combined an original story-line with a winning cast, stunning cinematography, and a soundtrack so provocative that I still get shivers down my spine when I listen to it. That being said, it tends to be one of those films that divides opinion. Some people, myself included, were willing to accept the film’s slow-pace and ambiguous ending because the journey was ultimately more important than the destination, while others were disappointed at the lack of closure and what they perceived as lazy “filler” scenes. For that reason alone, it’s definitely worth watching since, whether you like it or not, it’s sure to create a debate. For a broad perspective (and some spoilers!), we recommend reading Slash Film’s review, which you can find here, and Variety’s review, which you can find here. Alternatively you can read our review (with no spoilers) here.

  1. Who Needs the Summer of Love – Spring

9af64d532c3cdfe6304e627e2d210dfeSpring is a romantic sci-fi horror which, if anything, makes it reasonably unique in the horror community. Like It Follows, Spring tackles an unusual story-line and its success in doing so, or lack thereof, has similarly divided public opinion. The score is beautifully simplistic, the cinematography is undeniably opulent and visually nourishing, the acting is superb, but the strangeness of the story and the use of that age-old, hackneyed “scientific” explanation has disappointed many viewers. As such, it makes for another fantastic watch since it’s sure to stimulate your brain cells and leave you wanting more. We recommend reading The Missing Reel’s review here, or alternatively check out our review here.

  1. You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry – Krampus

krampus-2015-horror-movie-posterKrampus is one of those films that puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. And that’s a relative miracle, considering I despise comedy horrors. My major bone of contention with this subgenre is that they’re often just comedies. If you can just bung a few scary moments or horror tropes into an otherwise non-scary film and call it a “comedy horror” or a “fantasy horror” or (dare I say it) a “Disney horror”, then Scary Movie, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and Pan’s Labyrinth would all be considered horror movies. Where Krampus ultimately succeeds as an actual comedy horror is that the horror and comedy elements are perfectly balanced. The film is funny and scary in equal measure, leading to several moments where my brain became desperately confused as to whether I should laugh or cry (or wet my pants). Like Gremlins and Poltergeist, it’s the perfect gateway horror film for the younger generation and one that people of all ages are sure to enjoy. We recommend watching Red Letter Media’s video review here, or you can check out our written review here.

Honourable Mentions – Goodnight Mommy and Bone Tomahawk, both of which I have yet to watch but have been phenomenally well-reviewed.

Television

Unlike the horror film scene, which has gone from strength to strength, it seems that horror television has really let the side down. There were very few fresh or new series’, leaving us only with stale continuations of franchises that are doomed to (hopefully) burn out in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, I love American Horror Story and The Walking Dead as much as the next person, but sometimes it really does feel like they’re flogging an undead horse. I’ve caught myself yawning my way through whole episodes or, in one instance, falling asleep in an almost upright position. At this stage, if I fall and crack my head open while watching, I’m going to consider suing these guys for “risk of criminal boredom”.

  1. Let’s Get Groovy – Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 1

ash-vs-evil-dead-posterIn amongst horror television behemoths like TWD and AHS, Ash vs Evil Dead stood its ground as one of the most anticipated horror series to grace our television screens. The show sees the return of notorious horror hero Ash, played by the ever enigmatic Bruce Campbell, as he forgoes a much deserved retirement and returns to his one true passion: fighting off evil Deadites. As a comedy horror, the show mixes fun and fear in equal measure, with enough hilariously over-the-top gore to give any of the Evil Dead films a run for their money. What started off as an unexpectedly popular and incredibly low budget festival film has spawned into one of horror’s greatest legacies; and this latest edition proves to be one of the best yet. We strongly recommend you read The Missing Reel’s reviews, as they’ve been following the series episode by episode. You can find their summary review here.

  1. You Can Count on the Countess – American Horror Story: Hotel

8d2a54303c3a74432a9b91af4b1b142fAfter the crushing disappointment of Freak Show and the looming threat of Wes Bentley’s soul-suckingly dull return, my hopes for Hotel and for American Horror Story in general were all but dashed. In many ways, my misgivings were well-founded. Wes Bentley did in fact prove to be one of the worst leading men that the series has ever championed and, like Freak Show, it seemed that the season would largely depend on a sequence of unconnected, exploitative scenes that were designed to shock rather than create a coherent and interesting story-line. That being said, thanks to the superlative acting of Denis O’Hare, Evan Peters, and Kathy Bates, coupled with the intriguing character of the Countess (Lady Gaga) and the eventual development of a solid and stimulating storyline, the season seems to have turned its luck around. It’s certainly not one of their best, but it’s probably not their worst. Probably. We recommend you read Nouse’s episode by episode reviews here, but be forewarned that they are full of spoilers.

  1. A Netflix Unoriginal – Scream: Season 1

tumblr_ngjisf4r8v1u4whbwo1_500Let me be candid here, just because Scream has made it onto my top 3 list does by no means indicate that the series is good or that I liked it. It was simply the lesser of several evils. Scream is one of my all-time favourite movie franchises, and the thought of watching an abortive televised attempt to bleed it dry troubled me deeply. Particularly since beloved horror director Wes Craven tragically died last year, leaving behind an illustrious legacy that could be deeply marred by such an unnecessary reboot. Yet marred it was not. To me, this Netflix original series (which was actually and unsurprisingly produced by MTV) was kind of like a well-choreographed train wreck; it was awful, but I somehow felt compelled to keep watching. In fact, I watched the entire first season in less than two days. It essentially copies several major story elements from the original films, but the key to its success is that it never takes itself too seriously. It makes no claim to be as good as its predecessors; it’s just grade-A TV schlock for teenagers. And, as such, it’s ultimately entertaining, so long as you take it with a pinch of salt. We recommend you read Bloody Disgusting’s incredibly well-balanced episode reviews here, which are chock full of delicious spoilers.

Honourable Mentions – The Walking Dead: Season 6 and Penny Dreadful: Season 2

Video Gaming

2015 may not have been the most prolific year for horror gaming, but lack of quantity was definitely made up for by superb quality. Although the Top 3 games I’ve chosen for 2015 may have been some of the only ones to come out, they certainly made an impression on me and are worthy of any top list, regardless of their release dates.

  1. The Butterfly Effect – Until Dawn

ce3aa35b3dac605f3b543700356c89f8Although it only represented about 8 hours of solid gameplay, Until Dawn was one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. Within the first few weeks of owning it, I had already played it through three times, which goes to show just how little I value my free time. The key to the game’s brilliance is in its Butterfly Effect dynamic. The choices you make in-game will drastically affect the outcome of the story, so much so that certain characters will either live or die. What I loved about Until Dawn was that it inverts your expectations, toying with the behaviours that you will have learnt from other games. When a character dies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve “failed”; just because the game is telling you to do something, doesn’t mean you should automatically do it; and sometimes exploring the whole area for clues and opening that cellar door simply because “it’s there” isn’t always a good idea. For an ultimately negative but still well-rounded view, we recommend reading Polygon’s review here. If you want something a little more positive, check out our review here.

  1. Let’s Get Digital – Soma

150922094246490097From the makers of the outstanding horror titles Penumbra and Amnesia comes Soma, a sci-fi survival horror about the ramifications of developing AI (Artificial Intelligence). It’s been far too long since we’ve seen a good sci-fi horror game and, in 2015, it seems horror fans were in for a real treat. And what a treat Soma was. As character Stephen Garrett, you find yourself trapped in a submerged research station known as PATHOS-II. The game’s underwater vibe is reminiscent of Bioshock, a game that didn’t exploit its horrific elements nearly as much as it could have done, and its futuristic facility setting evokes scenes from Dead Space. However, like the Amnesia series, the point of Soma is not to fight, but to hide. What follows is a subtle yet disturbing exploration into humanity, providing deep and probing layers of fear that go far beyond what you experience at face-value. We recommend you read Game Rant’s review here.

  1. It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

eathan-carterFor all of you citizens of the PC master race, I realise that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter technically came out in 2014, but for console plebs like myself it wasn’t playable until 2015. The game follows paranormal investigator Paul Prospero, who receives a worrisome fan-letter from 12-year-old Ethan Carter and is prompted to visit Ethan’s home in Red Creek Valley. The game’s graphics are stunning and the world that surrounds you evokes imagery of the New England countryside, making you feel as though you’ve just been dropped into a Stephen King novel. And the similarities to King’s work don’t end there. Like the fictional town of Derry, Red Creek Valley is a beautiful place with a dark secret. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter might not be the scariest horror game in the canon, but the intrigue it produces in the player is undeniable. As you become more wrapped up in the fate of Ethan, you feel yourself slowly disappearing down a rabbit-hole that may have no end. Playstation Lifestyle’s review, which you can find here, describes these elements in far more detail.

 

Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

Float Like a Butterfly: A Review of Until Dawn

Release Date: August 25th 2015

Developer: Supermassive Games

Platform(s): PS4 exclusive

Playtime: Approximately 10 to 15 hours, but with great replay value

In the style of games like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls comes that slasher film you never wanted to be a part of (but secretly kind of did), Until Dawn. This interactive survival horror game follows eight hapless protagonists, who have made the trek to their friend’s mountain lodge for a weekend of sex, booze, and horrifying violence. The game utilises a Butterfly Effect dynamic, whereby all of the choices you make directly affect whether any given character lives or dies. These choices can be anything from slapping an angry wolf to backing a friend in an argument, so be wary. As the great, albeit completely fictional, Andrew Ryan of Bioshock once said: “We all make choices. But in the end, our choices make us”.

I have to say, I approached Until Dawn with not just a little trepidation. Although I absolutely loved Heavy Rain, it sometimes felt as though I was playing one long cut-scene rather than a fully formed video game. The experience was undoubtedly fulfilling, and the positive critical response the game garnered was well-deserved, but it inevitably felt like something was missing. I worried that Until Dawn would fall into the same trap, dooming the player to a series of QTEs (Quick Time Events) and a handful of choices that only marginally affected the outcome of the story. Having started my third playthrough of the game this week, I can happily say that I was horribly wrong.

In many ways, Until Dawn masterfully surpasses its predecessors. For one thing, the game involves you taking the helm far more often than you may like. It practically inundates you with choices, making it hard to tell which ones will affect the outcome and which ones won’t. What felt like major decisions in the game turned out to be inconsequential, while certain smaller choices led to pivotal events. Should I hide or should I run? What happens if I take that pair of scissors? Will anyone notice if I make out with this ice sculpture? In Until Dawn, the possibilities are as endless as they are endlessly horrifying.

Yet this alone isn’t enough to make the Butterfly Effect dynamic work. Sure it’s clever, and it made me think a lot about my actions, but I wouldn’t have cared quite so much about my choices if I’d been put in charge of, let’s say, the members of One Direction. While I’d happily watch Harry Styles be chased by a knife-wielding maniac, I came to care about several of the characters in Until Dawn that I was charged to protect. And this is where the game ultimately succeeds, not just as a survival horror game but as a video game in general. The eight main characters felt incredibly real and fleshed out, causing me to love some of them and abjectly hate others.

This meant that, regardless of how scary the game actually was, I felt terrified simply because I didn’t want my reckless decision-making to endanger the people I’d come to care about. It induced in me a sort of trembling paranoia that caused me to nearly snap my controller in half more than once. On top of this, the game is visually stunning and many of the scenes are incredibly well-realised, looking as though they’ve just been cropped from a big budget blockbuster. This, coupled with the effective use of music, combined to create an effectively oppressive atmosphere.

So, as with all survival horror video games, here’s the rub; is it scary? The game is like a bizarre amalgamation of every horror movie you’ve ever seen and ever horror game you’ve ever played. There’s a sprinkling of Saw, a dollop of Friday the 13th, some hints of Silent Hill, and a huge steaming helping of meta-commentary à la Scream. You’d think stuffing a game full of so many horror clichés would be a bad idea, but Until Dawn somehow manages to make it work.

My greatest criticism of The Evil Within, another survival horror game to have recently graced next-gen consoles, was that it relied far too heavily on clichés without having a substantial storyline to justify them. Until Dawn does just the opposite and uses these horror tropes to great effect while still maintaining a level of self-awareness. At certain points the game even directly confronts you, asking why you are doing this and what you think you might get out of it.

By making you complicit in the survival and/or death of the characters, it begs the question; why do we want to watch these people be terrorised? It is every horror movie you’ve ever seen, and in being so it forces you to ask yourself why you would ever watch a horror movie in the first place. What joy do we get out of a genre that necessitates and advocates the suffering of others? Well, that’s a debate for another day. But let’s just say the game is scary, in more ways than one.

Please don’t force me to make adult decisions. Please.

Gameplay: 8/10, for those of you who despise QTES, it may not be the one for you, but the game contains a lot more playable portions than its predecessors

Storyline: 9/10, the Butterfly Effect dynamic is mind-blowing, and becomes even more so on a second or third (or tenth) playthrough

Fear Factor: 8.5/10, the game uses just the right amount of gore, jump scares, and atmosphere to make it pretty damn scary, coupled with that most terrifying of things: a sense of responsibility

Overall: 8.5/10, in spite of having played “Alien: Isolation” and “The Evil Within”, this has to be my standout survival horror game of 2015

Float Like a Butterfly: A Review of Until Dawn

You Wanna Play A Game? My Top 5 Creepiest Sequences in Childhood Video Games

The other day, I was scrolling through a few of my more deeply repressed memories when I had a sudden flashback of one of my favourite childhood video games; Primal. Primal incorporated all of those elements that I wanted from a video game at the time; Goth culture, “heavy” metal, terrifying demons, shape-shifting, and creepy worlds dominated by eternal night, drowned in water, or overwhelmed with scorching sand. Primal was undoubtedly one of the first horror masterpieces, with heaps of untapped potential and a beautifully realised storyline.

Yet gushing about Primal is for another day. Thinking about this game, one of the first real horror games I ever played, reminded me of all of those childhood video games that I’d long forgotten. All of the games in this list were rated 15 or under, yet contain sequences that have been etched in my memory as some of the scariest in my childhood. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Creepiest Sequences in Childhood Video Games.

Note: This post contains spoilers for all of the listed games.

  1. Klonoa 2 Lunatea’s Veil: The Ghost House

So Klonoa 2  may not seem like a horror game, but bear in mind that the main storyline is about a villain hell-bent on plunging the world into eternal sorrow. That being said, messed-up though the story may be, it’s hardly a scary game, which is precisely why this sequence freaked me out so much. It comes out of nowhere, and nothing quite prepared me for the uncharacteristic creepiness of it. I recently replayed the game and, at the age of 25, the exact same sequence had me reeling. Perhaps even more bizarre is the fact that it takes place in a level called Joliant or the Kingdom of Joy. Joliant is just one huge theme park and, like every good theme park, it has a ghost house. The ghost house itself isn’t particularly marvellous, but it’s the cut-scene as you enter that gave me sleepless nights.

Swiggity-Swooty

Cut-scenes are littered almost at random throughout levels in Klonoa 2, so you never know when one’s going to flash up. This one begins with a character simply dubbed “The Butler”, who is definitely more “Lurch” than “Alfred”. He floats through the air and, even though he clearly has no body, he’s inexplicably able to wear a jacket and some adorable blue shorts. His dark face is forever transfixed in an eerie, yellow grin and, just to amp up the fear factor, instead of hands he simply has tiny replicas of his own face. As the language in Klonoa 2 is all expressed through random noises, his voice is a weird mixture of manic laughter and spooky ghost sounds. This guy is freaky enough on his own, but just when you think you’re safe, he suddenly portals directly in front of you. His face practically fills the screen. No matter how old I am, this jump scare gets me every time.

Peek-a-boo
  1. Pokémon Red and Blue: The Pokémon Tower

Although it’s always been traditionally viewed as a children’s franchise, Pokémon is not without its fair share of horrifying moments. The Pokémon Gothita can see dead people. Drowzee feeds off the nightmares of children. And Banette is a cursed doll that was driven into being by its hatred for the child who abandoned it. Amongst these psychopathic creatures, it’s hardly surprising that Pokémon made it onto this list.

Yes, yes they are.

Anyone who has ever played the original Pokémon games will be painfully aware of the Pokémon Tower. Unless they’ve repressed the memory, that is. Like the ghost house in Klonoa 2, the Pokémon Tower is a sudden diversion from the game’s otherwise upbeat, positive atmosphere. As you enter the tower, eerie, 8-bit music pervades and marks the change from “friendly adventure” to “harrowing ascent through a seven-storey Pokémon graveyard”. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but graveyards don’t strike me as an appropriate location for a children’s game. As you attempt to climb the tower, your character will frequently be assaulted by ghosts and elderly members of the occult. But there’s no need to panic, ghost-type Pokémon are apparently able to disguise themselves as the ghosts of human beings, which are far less terrifying, right?

Not to worry, the friendly folks at Pokémon Inc. have invented the Silph Scope, a device that allows you to see the ghosts for what they actually are! The chilling atmosphere builds as you ascend each storey of the tower, until you finally reach the top and the Silph Scope reveals the ghost of a Marowak. Specifically, a female Marowak. This leads to the darkest origin story of the Pokémon canon, the one where you find out that cute little Cubone, the dinosaur with the bone helmet, is in fact wearing the skull of his dead mother, the deceased Marowak. If you look closely, most depictions of Cubone will even feature a lone tear making its way out of his mother’s eye-socket. We’re not sure whether every Cubone tragically lost its mother, or whether one trendsetting Cubone simply popularised the “dead parent skull-hat” look. All we know is, this is really messed-up.

  1. Monkey Island: My Friend the Severed Head
I’m Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate!

The comedy franchise Monkey Island has churned out some of the most memorable and beloved games of my childhood. At the tender age of twelve, Guybrush Threepwood was one of my first crushes and the numerous, long-running jokes throughout the series had me roaring with laughter every time. Any game with a character named Ignatius Cheese is bound to tickle my funny bone. Yet I recently replayed the excellent remake (remaster?) The Secret of Monkey Island and found myself…a little taken aback.

Towards the end of the game, you acquire an object known as “the Head of the Navigator”. Throughout the game, you’re led to believe that this is some short of fancy compass or perhaps a monkey-themed Satnav. Well it’s not. It’s a severed head. With a necklace made of eyeballs. As a distant, pixelated image in your inventory this is creepy enough, but at one point in the game you have to have a conversation with it. The camera zooms in on the withered face, with its boss eyes, wispy hair, and coy hint of a spine. The original and redrawn versions are both equally terrifying, giving you absolutely no respite from this shrivelled, chattering skull. If that wasn’t bad enough, you need it to navigate your way through a cave made of deformed body parts. You won’t find that in Shameless Disney Rip-off…I mean Pirates of the Caribbean.

Kill it with fire
  1. Jade Empire: Mother and the Cannibals
Just another creepy ghost

Okay, so Mother and the Cannibals may sound like a hip 80s rock band. But rest assured, it’s far from. Lest I gush too much, Jade Empire is my favourite video game of all time. I love it. Like, really love it. I’d marry it if I could. So during my many play-throughs of the game, I came across this sequence many times. Throughout the game, you’re constantly exposed to ghosts, spirits, and demons, usually bearing down on you with the intention of corrupting you, killing you or…most terrifying of all…telling you scary ghost stories. Your character is no stranger to terror, as you suffer disturbing visions of the Water Dragon and navigate your way through a world plagued by those who cannot crossover.

So when you reach the second stage, Tien’s Landing, and are met with still more ghosts and ghouls, you’re feeling pretty prepared. That is, until you head into the Great Southern Forest and make a pit-stop at Pilgrim’s Rest Inn. You’re initially met by the Keeper, a man who simply oozes charisma. And by charisma I mean used-car-salesman charisma. This guy is clearly hiding something. As the story progresses, you discover that all of the men in the inn except Hen-Pecked Hou are actually followers of a powerful demon called “The Mother” and have gained supernatural powers by eating human flesh. When you finally confront the innkeepers, they start to…change. Their skin turns ash-grey and hangs, sallow and gaunt, on their thin frames. Their bodies contort into twisted shapes. And their teeth become sharp and ragged. Perhaps worst of all, amidst the Rat Demons and skinned corpses in the tunnels below the Inn, you’ll finally confront the Mother. There are no words that aptly portray how repulsive this abomination is. No words.

The Mother
  1. Shadow Hearts: More Cannibals!

Shadow Hearts was one of those JRPGs that largely went under the radar, but was popular enough to spawn two sequels. Although the game explored dark themes, such as vampirism, loss, and attempted kidnapping, it was never explicitly a horror game. Most of the horror tropes littered throughout the game are kitschy and stereotypical, making them more laughable than terrifying. Yet, within the first hour of playing the game, you swiftly come upon a place called Zhaoyang Village. Just like Pilgrim’s Rest Inn in Jade Empire, there is immediately something not quite right about Zhaoyang. From the two creepy kids that doggedly follow you through the village to the maniacal laughter of the “Granny Mayor”, the inhabitants of this small village immediately unsettle you.

It is not until you reach the village shrine, shrouded in human bones, that you uncover the horrible truth; the villagers are cannibals. As you tentatively return to confront good ol’ Granny Mayor, she openly exposes her overwhelming desire to gnaw on your juicy, juicy shinbones. That being said, with an army of just one OAP and two children, they can hardly overpower you. But, since the village is sealed by dark magic, it’s not like you can just leave either. All the hungry villagers need to do is wait for exhaustion to overcome you and, as you gently drift off to sleep, they’ll set to preparing some tasty human stew.

With the formalities out of the way, the village uncovers its “true form”. The children become Hell Cats, their skin riddled with scar tissue. Granny Mayor transforms into a fearsome boss named Felinus, its claws daubed in blood. And, worst of all, the town itself appears to be covered in a fleshy substance that squelches under your feet as you walk. That awful, squishy sound still makes me shiver. Ew.

So how do you think the list stacks up in your experience? And what were your creepiest video game moments? Comment below and let us know what childhood trauma led to your chronic, adulthood insomnia.

You Wanna Play A Game? My Top 5 Creepiest Sequences in Childhood Video Games