Horror is most effective when you least expect it. A zombie, monster, or were-hillbilly-martian is common fodder in video games, a medium that's key feature is empowerment and agency. But when you don't expect them coming, the blasé becomes much more effective. The Super Mario series is practically a staple of bright, engaging, and welcoming game design. Quirky koopa-troopas and little awkward mushroom enemies fill out their games, not anything scary or ... what was that? Did you see that? Here are five dreadful moments in Mario games, when they had no right to be there.
Luigi's Suicidal Shadow – Luigi's Mansion
This kicks off our list because it's debatable what is happening here. In Luigi's Mansion, several frightening visuals grace the player as they make their way through the decrepit house to save Mario. If this is an intentional one of those visuals, it might be taking things a bit too far Nintendo. Around midway through the game, Luigi (thereby the players) comes across a room lit only by lighting outside. As the lighting strikes, Luigi's shadow is cast. Only this shadow paints a picture darker than any room in the mansion.
Is that Luigi being hung by the neck? This is some glitch right? Well maybe. The game showed us with the Bogmire fight that it can handle shadows emerging from characters, so it isn't a limitation of the game to accurately portray Luigi's shadow. However, when the game was first shown off, there were some more horrific elements in the footage that seemed to have been cut from the final version, so possibly this is one such event. Another is that this is just a simple glitch because the camera zooms in and up, thus Luigi moves up at an angle, creating an accidentally horrifying image.
Mimi's Monstrous Final Form – Super Paper Mario
Mimi is a shape shifting invincible villain, and often tries to trick Mario and company with this talent. As a minion of Count Bleck, Mimi stands in the way, such as in Chapter 2, when the player gets to see her "true" form.
Now this is some horrifying stuff. The cracks you hear in her neck as it gives, the way her head spins like a merry-go-round, the black, thousand-yard stare her empty bulging eyes give. All this crescendos to the image of her upside-down head pierced with giant spider legs. The whole scene is like some slightly more cheery version of The Thing.
World -1's Weird Visuals – Super Mario Bros.
Glitches can be fun or frustrating depending on your mood. They can also be baffling and even vaguely spooky.
Such is the case with the infamous World -1 in the original Super Mario Bros. game. Flying Bowsers, random Princess Peachs (Peaches?) and all manner of drug induced chaos can be found here. There's even an underwater green castle with a missing flag on it's flagpole. If they made a Mario game where Mario gets trapped in a negative world, I'd be first in line to try it.
Hell Valley's Horror Shadows – Super Mario Galaxy
The most haunting thing about these guys is not that they are there, watching you silently, almost mournfully looking over you. It's that unless you know to look for them you wouldn't even know they were there!
The awful, Slenderman like people of Shiverburn Galaxy create that eerie 2am feeling where you swear something is standing behind you, sitting in the corner, just watching. By hacking the game, it was revealed these figures are part of the skybox environment, and the map surrounding them was filed Beyond Hell Valley, while the shadows themselves are called the Hell Valley Sky Trees. Nintendo has never commented on these figures or why they are there.
Jesus, Just Everything – Super Mario 64
Of all the eras that deserve an HD remake, the N64/Ps1 era commands the top of the list. The graphics don't have the charm of it's earlier counter parts, and frankly aged like milk/ This aging effect has left to a number of retroactively frighting images straight out of uncanney valley, and Super Mario 64 has them in abundance.
Unagi The Eel found in Jolly Roger Bay looks freaking scary with its bulging eyes, sharp fangs, and almost sad looking face. It's like it doesn't want to, but it must kill you, if only to make the voices go away.
Mario straight up drowning in water, grasping his throat as the light fades before (actually pretty realistically) going limp and floating in the water. Just, why?
Of course we have to mention the stuff in the actual horror themed level, the first of which being the giant eyeball that follows the player around the room. "Keep an eye on him" just became a whole lot creepier to say.
And of course the biggie, the inspiration for this article, the haunted piano. It's reputation proceeds itself. The haunted piano is the moment a lot of players realized this isn't a "spooky" or "Halloween" level, it's a scary level. It's a level that's meant to unsettle you, and to question everything. The projectile books, basement merry-go-round, and ghosts? Those are to establish atmosphere. But this? This is what the atmosphere is prepping you for. In a snow or fire level, or castle level, this is just an enemy. In a scary level, this is terrifying.
What horror moments in non-horror games can you think of? Let us know in the comments below!