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The Terror of the Game Over Screen

Originally posted at The Space Between Two Worlds

I had a lot of fears back when I was a kid.  Most of them were typical for my age like being scared of the dark, the dentist, or getting lost somewhere. However, I think game overs had to be one of the weirder fears. Or was it? As a kid who loved playing video games, it was only natural that I’d be seeing tons of game over screens. Back in the day, most were pretty simple; a black screen with the words “Game Over” with sad music playing. No biggie.

However, there were some that scared the shit out of me.

The first one that probably freaked me out was Ninja Gaiden for the NES/Famicom. It’s kind of funny because its game over is pretty identical to the description I gave above. Maybe it was the screen flashing that startled me. I really hated that screen.  And since it’s Ninja Gaiden, I saw that screen a lot when I was 6 years old.

It’s a good thing I didn’t see the arcade’s version of it though. There was a lone cabinet of Ninja Gaiden at the supermarket we used to go to every weekend. I always wanted to play it but my parents always wanted to hustle through their shopping so I never got a chance. Thank god because otherwise I would’ve been subjected to one of the more infamous continue/game over screens. If a flashing game over screen scared me, this would traumatize me:

The next memorable game over that scared me was Zelda 2: Link’s Awakening. I think a lot of people are familiar with this one: a blood red screen with Ganon in the background, laughing at you. Hell, even before you got that screen, you were welcomed with seizure-inducing lights that always caught me off guard. For some reason the words, “Return of Gannon” always creeped me out. It’s like the game was rubbing it in your face that your death will now bring destruction to the world. Congrats!

The Japanese version of it was creepier: you would hear a dragon’s screech followed with the words “The End.”

Laughter in game over screens definitely played a huge role in freaking the younger me out. One that really terrified me was Revenge of Shinobi’s. I actually like the melody, it’s somber and sad, yet somehow relaxing. Until of course Neo Zeed’s HORRIFIC LAUGH BLASTS THROUGH YOUR TINY TV’S SPEAKERS AT YOU. I remember not hearing it because I would always continue before the song finished. However, once I ran out of continues, I sat through the Game Over only to have nightmare fuel poured into my brain as this grotesque laugh boomed into my ears. It still catches me off guard if I play it.

The Adventure of Crocodile Dun — err, Bayou Billy’s game over screen was definitely one that was stuck in my mind for awhile. I think it’s because the younger version of me always wondered what was exactly going to happen to ol’ Bayou Billy was on his last limbs, struggling to get up. Oddly enough, the Japanese version didn’t feature this image and was a lot easier than its American counterpart. Let’s just say I saw this screen a lot when I was young:

Scary game overs weren’t just restricted to consoles though! As a frequent arcade goer, I saw plenty of them. I think the continue screens were just as creepy, if not more so, as the Game Overs themselves. The one that instantly comes to mind was Street Fighter II.

There was just something about watching a bloodied version of your character’s portrait moving as the announcer slowly counts from “10” to “0” that was intensely horrifying to me. And when it hits “0?” You scream out one last time as your portrait is greyed out. I once had a nightmare where I was at an arcade at night and all of them featured the countdown screen from Street Fighter II. I tried my best to throw in coins in every machine but it was too much and I fled in terror as the timer hit “0.” Man, did that game over scare the shit out of me back then.

Capcom is actually pretty creative when it came to their arcade continue screens. Another one that stuck to me was Cadillac and Dinosaurs’. A greatly underappreciated beat-em-up, if you ask me. Anyways, once you lose your final life, you are welcome to a thug pointing a gun at you while taunting you. You can’t imagine how much this scared me.

Better yet, once the timer reaches “0,” the guy actually shoots at the screen, revealing blood stains everywhere. My god, Capcom, haven’t you scarred me enough?

I guess Capcom had a rep for it though. Check out Final Fight’s:

Then there’s The Punisher’s. This one oddly enough didn’t scare me, I found it to be more interesting (even though that’s not the way one performs CPR).

Some RPGs’ game overs startled me. While not technically being a “game over” screen, Chrono Trigger’s bad ending still creeps me out. Awkward English + Lavos’ screech = a disturbed, young Diego.

I don’t know why but Final Fantasy VII’s game over really bothered me. I blame the font and the fact that the words “Game Over” are featured twice on the screen. Bizarre reasons, I know. At least the theme eventually comes back to the famous Prelude song which eased my fear. Even now I get goosebumps looking at the screen. Man, talk about being traumatized:

I think the game over that takes the cake in terrifying me the most was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s. I had gotten over my silly fear of the game over (for the most part) until I played this sucker. As soon as Alucard died for the first time, I shriveled back to that scared child. Everything about it scares the shit out of me: the screen melting into the Game Over screen, the haunting music that plays and most of all, that voice. “Game. Over. Mwhahahaha!” It didn’t help I usually played this at night. You can bet that changed fast.

Also, I will never understand the quote featured in it. There’s no way in hell I was going out tonight after seeing that.

Thankfully, not all game over’s scared me. I have Sega to thank for that! Daytona USA’s game over theme was so catchy, even if their V is pronounced as “voo.”

Finally, my favorite game over from Sega Rally 2:

Nowadays, I don’t really see any that catch my eye. I guess they don’t make them like they used to. That’s probably a good thing though. Do you have game overs that scared you as a kid?

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