8 Gruesome Ways to Die in Gaming (2019)
It’s true – game characters die all the time, and sometimes you just can’t do a gosh darn thing about it. Still, being shuffled off this mortal coil isn’t that much of a bummer for them. Almost unfairly, they’ll always simply start over from a checkpoint or save point. Or at worst, back at the level’s beginning. Unless it’s that crazy mech game Steel Batallion, then death might very well be death. But other than that…
No, death for a gaming character tends to be merely a slap on the wrist in this day and age, but you had to look after your limited lives a lot more in retro games, especially when your poor characters suffered some pretty grisly fates. Even in some of the cutesiest games around, the methods of death could be fairly macabre, even if the designers didn’t mean them to be so. In true Christmas spirit, then, here are what I consider to be eight of the gruesomest, most alarming game deaths, in no particular order.
1. GETTING CRUSHED
Crash Bandicoot, Sonic and many others know all about being crushed (and, notably, good old Wario resists it and actually unlocks new areas when he’s flat as a pancake) but we have to look at the Mario series, and with it one of the most notable enemies of the series – the Thwomp. His design is simplicity himself: just a big, beautifully sculpted rock with a sinister face, not unlike yours truly. He tends to live in any of Bowser’s many castles and waits to crush any wouldbe aggressors. Ba-dunk! That’s him slamming on the floor beneath him at breakneck speed, no matter what’s down there. Thwomps seem to take a savage glee in crashing into the floor below them. And if Mario’s frail fleshbag should be there when he lands? So much the better.
But aren’t they frightful? These things are an awful lot bigger than Mario (and some of the lads that showed up in the Super Mario Galaxy games are definite juicers). This guy is basically a Norman castle falling square on your neck. They wouldn’t even be able to recognise Mario after a successful Thwomp strike, let alone find his teeth. Look out for the flashing, God-like variant in Super Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road – possibly the Thwomps’ finest hour.
I needn’t send an awful feeling coursing through your body by explaining exactly what drowning is all about – we know it’s frightful. So when your otherwise heroic character croaks and gloops to a watery grave, it can look pretty grim. Surely the winner of the most frightful drowning in games belongs to the way SEGA handled it in the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. Unlike Mario and other platforming heroes of the time, Sonic cannot spend an indefinite amount of time underwater – in fact, to gamers, it feels like he can move a mile a fortnight then there, before perishing 20 seconds later.
As you find yourself plunged in an absolute ocean of the stuff, you’ll hear a few ominous chimes play before one of the most frightening themes in gaming plays. Sonic’s not gonna look so cool anymore, in fact he’s about to drown, you’d better get some air down him. If you’re a long way from resurfacing (and you always are), you’ve got to get yourself an air bubble, pronto.
And you’ll stand patiently beside the bubble generator, waiting for the one that will rescue you, while trying not to notice the doom countdown that’s materialised beside Sonic’s head. A life-saving bubble finally appears, and you clamber to get it – only to see the nigh-worthless Tails swim in and snag it on you, consigning you to a Game Over. This is what happens when you let your little brother join in. Drowning in the classic Sonic games is stressful as it is creepy. And if you should find yourself falling from the platforms of the Chemical Plant Zone as it fills to the brim with odd purple liquid… Good luck.
Once again, Crash Bandicoot comes to the fore. He’s had more death scenes than I’ve had hot dinners, the poor brute. You mightn’t think much of the many, funny ways in which Crash Bandicoot kicks the bucket. After all, it’s just cartoonish, right? All a bit of a laugh? But when you freeze to death in Crash Bandicoot, like when you fall into a Baltic lake, the death animation shows Crash floating back to the surface of the water, fully encased in a block of ice. Now falling into a lake like that isn’t going to kill you instantly, but it will eventually, and if nobody’s there to help you, you’re really in trouble.
Imagine yourself fully encased in ice, conscious but completely unable to move – a little like that dreadful Locked-In Syndrome, except you don’t even have the luxury of using your eyelids here. You’re just set there in agonising pain until your internal organs finally freeze over and your body gives up (I should point out now that this here list of funnies probably isn’t medically accurate, so don’t take my word for it).
Gosh. If you should ever get the luxury of picking the method of your own untimely demise… well, I imagine it’d be pretty difficult to choose between dying in a hellacious wave of lava or dying by freezing to death in an almightily cold body of water. Unluckily for us, gaming heroes in their infinite wisdom tend to visit places where both can happen easily.
If you want to cause serious pain and harm to a character in games, but don’t want to resort to the nitty gritty realism of guns and knives, then electrocution is a pro choice – old Pikachu and his buddies been masters of the electro-torture trade for years now. In games, it’s usually the same cartoony affair – your character gets struck by electricity in some form and stays stuck in one spot with their whole skeleton visible. Creepy or what? Where did this whole ‘electrocution makes the skeleton visible’ idea come from?
Apart from all that, have you ever gotten even a small shock from a plug socket, an electric-wired fence, or even just from touching metal? It’s a horrible sensation that hurts like hell, although not so much that you won’t try touching that fence again and again out of a strange and masochistic curiosity. Now simply getting hit with a bolt of lightning or some sort of electrical attack (from Raichu, Raiden, Blanka, even the Emperor in Star Wars) that’s got enough juice to kill you.
Cropes, I think I’d rather be one of those lads you always see in Indian LiveLeak videos who get electrocuted – it’s like somebody takes the batteries out of them, one second they’re mobile, the next gigavolts of electricity course through their body, and keeps them stuck to whatever’s conducting it. Then their new shoes go aflame. If you’re really unlucky, you may find yourself being electrocuted to a blackened crisp – which, Yahoo Answers reliably informs me, can indeed happen if you’re burned badly enough. Consider that fact the next time there’s an electric floor that you need Solid Snake to traverse. Who’d take the electric chair…?
Imagine, if you would, simply what a “fireball” is. We take them for granted, don’t we? How does somebody like Mario conjure these spheres of destruction from thin air? How does a flower give him this power? Whatever about all of these silly questions, the fact is that Mario gets some serious killing power whenever he finds a Fire Flower, and he knows how to use it.
Take a look at the process, the process that Mario fans have done a million times over: you idly, non-chalantly throw a fireball at a pottering little Goomba or Koopa Troopa, and they burst into ashes and disappear. How frightful is that? Not even a body to bring back to the family?
That’s the only way it goes when fire gets used in games, whether you’re throwing the flames or trying to put the enemy fire out – the unfortunate burn victims will either disappear in a puff of smoke or simply end up as ash piles with nothing left behind but a googly pair of eyes. And if it’s a flamethrower or a Charizard or Dhalsim issuing the flames, then forget it. Stunning to think a flower could be a more violent gaming weapon than guns and knives.
The old favourite, spikes. Worse than electrocution, and probably drowning and burning too if your death becomes a protracted affair. If you’re a game designer and you want to threaten your platforming hero, spikes is what you turn to. When you see some spikes, there’s never any confusion about their purpose – if touching them for even a split-second doesn’t kill your character, then it’ll at least damage them heavily. The unspoken message is clear: Do Not Touch Them. Not even with the tip of your great toe, because that’s all it takes, and your character won’t thank you for it.
Ever stopped to think about how violent these things are? It’s a lot more of a tearjerker than a mere paper-cut, believe me. Sonic, Mega Man, Mario, Croc and many a Mortal Kombat fighter agree with me. Imagine yourself cocking up a vital jump and falling twenty feet onto a metal knitting needle, and think of how it’ll be shoved through your middle by the forces of gravity. Blood, guts and pus everywhere.
It’s simply horrifying – a real Final Destination job, and I don’t mean the Smash Bros stage because that’s a spike-free zone. How about if this spike missed your vital organs? You’d be left alive for a (mercifully short) period of time, suspended there in excruciating pain as you bled out. Gosh. Doesn’t that make you consider your mortality? No wonder Mega Man used to take the easy way out – he simply exploded at the mere sight of spikes. Consider this the next time you line up a 50/50 jump for your character.
Cut off the head and the body will die. Yes, it’s a universal truth. Well, it doesn’t always apply seem to zombies, depending on what horror flick you’re watching. Still, the zombie paradise of Resident Evil is where I got decapitated for the first time. It was Resident Evil 4, Leon’s foray into a not-Spanish village, where I got overwhelmed by enemy pendejos and failed to expertly counter an incoming Goliath who’d been given a chainsaw in some kind of cruel joke.
Since I was all suave and sophisticated and American, I’d hoped my character’s swish and fancy knifeplay would prevail. Well, if I had been able to understand Spanish at the time, I’d have seen the graffiti emblazened on the barn wall that said “Never bring a knife to a chainsaw fight”.
I think we’re living in more censored times these days, but back down, you saw the chainsaw cut through Leon’s gullet like a knife through butter, after only a small bit of resistance. Splatters of blood everywhere, Leon’s head separated from its shoudlers as he slumped to a humiliating death, and you’re left sat there in shame. You didn’t just lose and get your character killed, you let him get absolutely destroyed. Dr. Salvador, the feral chainsaw expert that’s just put you down, is going to carve his name in your back and cut you up some more. And it’s not just chainsaws either, just about anything can decapitate you in this game. At least it’s always a relatively clean separation, eh? No chance of you becoming Nearly Headless Leon?
8. BRAIN EXPLOSION
Or if you wanted to try the more defensive option, and not go all-in on decapitation, you could drill into the enemy’s brain and explode that instead. This leaves the enemy’s head (mostly) screwed on, even as they crumple into a convulsing mess on the floor. There’ll be blood everywhere, but you’ll really be able to taste the rainbow since this is the Turok universe, and there’s all kinds of alien races and horrible spiders to go along with the dinosaur denizens of whatever awful rock you’re on.
The weapon that makes it possible is the Cerebral Bore, and you’d have to wonder if a gun this mad ever made it to mass production. Was there a gap in the market to explode enemy brains? An experiment gotten out of control, perhaps? Whatever about all that, it’s good to get the chance to brutalise the enemies far worse than anything they can do to you. In this game they can merely “kill” you. In return, you can “cranially eviscerate” them.
But what really sells the idea of the enemy’s skull being bored into by an exploding round that feasts on the fleshy goo inside, is the sound. When you’ve locked on to your target and the missile has made contact with your enemy, it begins to drill its way through with a high-pitched whine, not too far removed from the terrible apparatuses they use to drill into your gums in the dentist. Satisfying, sadistic, and most of all, sickening.
24 December 2019