Nintendo has been one of the most prominent and successful video game companies in the history of the industry. They’ve remained a constant presence throughout the last three decades. This is largely the result of the family-friendly image they have cultivated in that time, being seen as a company that makes games that everyone can play regardless of their age.
Yet, while they may be most famous for their colorful and fun games, they have also released some quite dark and traumatic titles during their history. This includes some of their most iconic releases that probably didn’t even feel all that dark when you first played them in the 90s. A quick look back now, though, gives you an appreciation for the mature themes in some of these games, revealing just how dark some of Nintendo’s classics have been.
The Mother series, known as Earthbound outside of Japan, is for the most part just a normal JRPG. Yet, it can suddenly switch without warning to dealing with adult themes or deranged cults. The worst part, though, is the final nightmarish battle with Giygas at the end of the game. As well as the terrifying imagery you end up killing the villain by going back in time and destroying it while it is visually a fetus.
19 The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Of all of Nintendo’s properties, it is perhaps the Legend of Zelda series that most often flirts with dark themes in what is generally seen as a franchise that anyone can play. You just have to look at Majora’s Mask to understand that. In terms of 90s games, it is Ocarina of Time that is far darker. As well as featuring some terrifying enemies, such as the ReDead zombies, the entire well quest is just a creepy mess where you fight the horrifying boss Dead Hand.
18 Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is not a game that many would consider dark. However, there are a few things that are a bit mature if you think back on them. This includes throwing Bowser around to slowly kill him. The darkest moment comes when a seemingly ordinary piano suddenly sprouts teeth and attacks the player.
17 Star Fox 64
What makes Star Fox 64 so dark when you come back to it is the backstory of the main villain Dr. Andross. Not only was he responsible for killing Fox McCloud’s father, but he also destroyed part of a city in his twisted scientific experiments. If that wasn’t scary enough, the fact he appears as a giant floating head with a shrill laugh would definitely give a lot of people nightmares.
16 Pokémon Red & Blue
If you think about it, the Pokémon series certainly has its fair share of dark moments. You are effectively forcing animals to fight with each other until they faint from their injuries and exhaustion. While animal cruelty might not make you think twice about playing the original Pokémon Red & Blue, the fact that something clearly horrific has happened to wipe out adult males in the area is even more concerning.
15 Fire Emblem: Genealogy Of The Holy War
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War was the fourth game in the series. While it was never released outside of Japan in the 90s, it was a hit in its home country. The game had a complicated story with lots of different characters that included all kinds of mature content such as incest, genocide, and politically driven mass murder.
14 GoldenEye 007
Compared to the vast majority of Nintendo’s other games, GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 had much more violence and gore. Shooting enemies would make them flop over lifelessly and blood would flash on the screen as well as staining their clothing. This is something you probably didn’t appreciate at the time but is far starker if you look back now.
13 Super Metroid
Every Metroid and Super Metroid game has its fair share of gruesome and mature content. Although many will have played through them without really taking much notice of the darker moments, they are there if you pay enough attention. Just look at how you stand by and watch as Crocomire is engulfed in flames as his skin and flesh slowly melts away from his skeleton after you defeat the boss. Combine this with a story that involves genocide and shady genetic experiments, and the series is definitely one of the creepiest Nintendo has released.
12 Super Smash Bros.
The first game in this famous series released on the Nintendo 64 in 1999. The colorful visuals and the cast of Nintendo mascots made it seem like a very friendly game. The truth, though, is that it was actually quite violent, with the characters using powerful attacks and special abilities against each other. Seeing the likes of Mario and Link fighting with such ferocity is certainly a stranger look, especially considering the other spin-offs like Mario Kart and Mario Tennis.
11 Donkey Kong Country
The three Donkey Kong Country games by Rare were seen as revolutionary at the time for their brilliant graphics and excellent platforming gameplay. However, there are some dark moments in the titles despite the rather ludicrous plots and characters. This includes horrific-looking mutated characters, forced experiments, and somber levels that leave you feeling lonely and grim.
The Kirby games are actually pretty grim when you actually think about them. Kirby essentially traps enemies inside his own body after eating them alive so that he can steal their life and powers. That isn’t to mention the villain Zero that has appeared in several Kirby video games. This is a giant floating eye that bleeds as you hit it, giving it a terrifying appearance.
9 Super Mario Bros.
The original instruction manual for Super Mario Bros. actually revealed a very dark piece of backstory that most players would not have realized when originally playing the game. This is that the blocks you smash throughout the adventure are actually beings from the Mushroom Kingdom that have been magically cursed by Bowser, meaning you are slaying innocent people when breaking the blocks.
8 Monster Party
Monster Party was a platformer released for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Bandai. It quickly switches from being a fun parody of the horror genre to the stuff of nightmares, with frightening creatures and enemies. Due to the difficult nature, many kids wouldn't have beaten the game and seen the flesh melt from the main character's body at the conclusion of the plot.
7 Duke Nukem: Zero Hour
Anyone who has played a Duke Nukem game will be aware of the fact that they are not meant to be played by children, but they weren't too extreme. That said, the Nintendo 64 saw two releases from the franchise, including Duke Nukem: Zero Hour. This was a far darker game than its more PG predecessor and included strip clubs, substance use, and sexual references around every corner.
Doom is one of the most influential games of all times, however, its hellish setting and violence meant it was unusual to see the game released on a Nintendo console. It did see a port, though, and didn’t even have much content censored. Many will have been transfixed by the excellent gunplay, missing the dark and nightmarish story as well as the gruesome enemies you have to brutally take down.
5 Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
Most people think of Turok as a first-person shooter where you have to battle dinosaurs. However, if you actually pay attention to the story or go back and play the games now, you realize just how creepy the plot of these games were. This example involved evil alien forces, the creation of the universe, a land without time, and the enslavement of primitive species.
4 Resident Evil 2
Many people who played Resident Evil 2 on the Nintendo 64 when it released in the 90s will not have understood many of the story elements or the scary and broody atmosphere. Looking back, it is clear that Resident Evil 2 is a truly terrifying game that is far darker than you might have initially realized— taking the first game's conspiracy plot and giving it an almost overwhelmingly intimate layer.
3 Donkey Kong
The original Donkey Kong was an arcade game that released in the 1980s. It introduced us to both the ape and Mario, seeing re-releases throughout the next few years on every Nintendo platform. However, if you actually take note of the story rather than just playing the game, you will realize that Donkey Kong only stole the woman away from Mario because he was being mistreated and tortured. So this was the only way to get his own back, a pretty terrible tale considering the popularity of both characters since.
2 Ice Climber
Ice Climber is a vertical platformer where the player has to get up a mountain to recover stolen items. It all seems very fun, but also involves you smashing yeti-like creatures on the head as you try to reach the summit. Even worse, in the Japanese version, you were actually clubbing seals with huge hammers.
Pilotwings is a game that most people will remember was a sort of flight simulator where you’d pilot a variety of aircraft through rings and complete basic objectives. The reason for all this training is that the real point of the title was that you were gaining the necessary skills to rescue hostages from criminal organizations, a mature subject matter considering the colorful and seemingly jovial gameplay shown throughout much of the game.
Sources: nintendosoup.com, nintendolife.com, kotaku.com, ign.com, bloody-disgusting.com