Brain Dead 13 is a game where the protagonist gets to die in all sorts of graphically violent ways, which has made it extremely hard to understand why this was given a K-A rating note (Kids to Adults, the mid-90's equivalent to the Everyone rating) then. (Some could argue that "it's because it looks so silly" but many of the deaths were not exactly all that light nevertheless so in other words the fact that this game was given a K-A rating might be considered to be really... baffling to put it mildly.)
What's even stranger is that Japan's game rating organization (pre-CERO) slapped each box of the game (exported from America) with an "all ages" (全年齢, zen nenrei) rating on a green sticker, hoping that its audience of children would be less sensitive to mind-numbing bloodless violence and sexuality than America's children (due to cultural differences). The proof is in the pudding here◊.
The iOS port thankfully averts this by ramping up the rating to a 12+, which could be an equivalent of either a "Teen" or an "Everyone 10+" rating.
Dawn Of The Dragons is a Flash browser game that's marketed to children on kid-friendly sites like Kongregate with the promise of high fantasy and relatively simplistic gameplay. The premise is simple enough - a farmhand rises to become a champion. How that champion gets there, though, is brutal and unapologetic:
Text and images show enemies being dispatched in a number of gruesome ways (having their throats slit, being impaled by multiple swords, being decapitated, main characters being covered in gore and viscera). Several of these deaths are described with paragraphs going into detail about the minutiae involved, and how the main characters stand back to watch someone they've just sliced open bleed to death.
In "Peril of the Pumpkin Patch", two children are spied on and chased by creature with a flaming jack-o'-lantern for a head. His victim, the girl, has her head mounted on a pike (that is also seen in one of the chapter images), which is subsequently used to terrorize the residents of a local town.
Devil Children, a Lighter and SofterShin Megami Tensei spinoff series. Most of the games never released outside Japan because they are so far from what is viewed as "appropriate for children" in the West, and even the ones that did had to be chopped up a fair bit — though, surprisingly, Lucifer kept his name and his status as one of the good guys.
There's a game called Dog's Life for PlayStation 2. It's premise seems nothing bad. A cute game where you play as a dog trying to rescue his damsel-in-distress from a dog catcher, with some Toilet Humor and anatomically correct dogs (only in the CG, though) added in. By the end of the game you learn the whole thing was a plan by the creepy cat food maker Ms. Peaches, who wants to make dogs into her cat food. You have to save Daisy from being killed by a long line of increasingly violent implements. And in the end Ms. Peaches holds both of you at gunpoint, spouts a bit of profanity, and eventually ends up falling into the now-defunct machine and getting caught in a comically large can as she curses you. And then her machine detects an error in the canning process, draws her back, and brutally dismembers her to fit her into more standardized cans while speaking in edgy salesperson-like voice, even using her name as if it knows for a fact it's killing it's creator. This game was rated 3+ in Europe, but T in North America.
EarthBound is, for the most part, a fairly innocent, cartoonish romp through childhood wonder and quirkiness. Once in a while you encounter something a little off, like a distinctly cult-like religious group that partakes in human sacrifice. Once in a while you encounter something extremely off, like willingly allowing yourself to have your arms, eyes, ears, and legs slowly taken off. Very few of these things have any build up, nor are they dwelled upon. They just sort of... happen, leaving the player wondering exactly how they should feel about it. Then it's final boss time. C'mon, you all know it.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a dungeon and a sub-dungeon that include zombies, mummies, hands sticking up out of acid, walls made of skulls, really long arms that grab you, frightening music, and a creepy miniboss. In addition, Castle Town while Link is an adult is a ghost town infested with zombies.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker definitely looks like it's for kids, and had an E for Everyone rating to match. Then you start playing and the first thing you see is an intro screen describing that Hyrule and it's inhabitants were destroyed biblical style, then you get to see the Re-Deads, then there's the climax where Link impales Ganondorf through the head and he turns to stone. Given these elements, saying this game is "kiddie" is a serious Berserk Button for its fanbase.
The trope began to be averted with later The Legend of Zelda games, which got higher ESRB ratings so they would be aimed at older audiences. Twilight Princess was rated T, and every game from Spirit Tracks onwards, including remakes of previously E-rated entries, were given E10+.
Magical Starsign starts as a cute, fluffy game but once the second act starts things swiftly go downhill. There's too much horrible stuff going on here to list it all without taking up pages, but to sum it up: The main plot is about bringing mages to a planet where just being there turns them into into gummy-like inanimate blobs to be used as fuel for a space worm.
Mega Man Zero looks like an average kid's game, but is the darkest series in the franchise, with the main plot being hinged upon genocide. And somehow the ESRB saw fit to give this game an E rating.
Ni No Kuni is in a similar boat to Wind Waker in that it uses colourful anime-style graphics (specifically, it was animated by Studio Ghibli) despite it dealing with some surprisingly dark themes. The main character (who's only 13 by the way) watches his mother die of a heart attack only a few minutes into the game, and the eponymous 'other world' is very clearly a Crap Saccharine World with everyone living in fear of an Evil Sorceror who can effortlessly Mind Rape anyone who even thinks about standing up to him. Then there's Myrtle's story in the real world, which gives a surprisingly realistic view of how domestic troubles can traumatize kids psychologically. Oh, and Drippy pretty much dropsG-rated equivalents ofCluster F-Bomb all over the place.
Don't forget about Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team where you have to save the world from an impending comet while fighting against a Gengar that accuses you of being a cruel traitor that was cursed for selling out his own Pokemon. That's upped about 500% in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Time and Darkness. The plot of the game is that you have to change the future because, as it is, it is a world of complete and utter darkness, where the sun never rises and the wind never blows. Besides that, innocent Pokemon get kidnapped, you have extremely freaky visions and, above all else, this whole game is a suicide mission. That's right. You die at the end and you know you're going to die. Chew on that. Finally, in the rerelease of Time and Darkness, they have mini-stories. And each one of those has a bad part, but the worst is probably in the last one, when one of the antagonists plans to suck your soul out of your body (think dementors), possess you, and go to the past in your body to convince people he is you.
Let's not forget that in the post-credits story, the Big Bad disguises himself as a good guy, visits you in your dreams, and tells you that the world is going to end, that it's all your fault, and that you and your partner should kill yourselves.
The game "Learning with the Poo Yoo Part: 1" is supposed to be rated Early Childhood (in other words no violence) but has a moment where if you guess a question wrong an innocent animal falls from the cloud it's trying to jump to and dies.
The first four Ratchet & Clank games are rated T.note Although it would later be rerated E10+ when it was remade in HD After the E10+ rating was invented, subsequent games were labeled as such despite increasing rates of violence and innuendo.
Hell, even Insomniac states that the games aren't meant for kids. They say their audience is 18-34 year olds.
Hello, the main focus of the game is guns, which bullets, and destruction (The seventh game is even named "Tools of Destruction". Really kid-friendly there, Insomniac). The titles of some games are very sexual (Going Commando, Size Matters, Quest for Booty, Up Your Arsenalnote arse is the British equivalent of ass, Full Frontal Assault), and there are references to blowjobs, sex, boobs are shown.
"A Crack in Time" was originally supposed to be called "Clockblockers".
"All 4 One" was supposed to be called "4-Play".
The trailer for the upcoming movie has acknowledged (more or less) that the franchise is in fact, meant for families.
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc has all sorts of sexual innuendos, Globox getting drunk, and the swamp hag using the word "pervert".
Rayman Origins is also well known for making the fairy girls (all of them) absolutely blatant sex-objects, complete with Hartman Hips, Jiggle Physics, Suave voices (albeit in pig-latin), porno-like music when you save them and the trailer shows Rayman using his hair to blow Betilla's skirt up...also, Betilla created him, so that technically makes him his MOM. Just to top it off, the manual describes Betilla as a badASS.
Some attribute the commercial failure of Shantae to this, among other factors. Shantae's cutesy, colorful graphics, goofy humor, being on the kid-friendly Game Boy Color, and a definitely present twinge of Girls Need Role Models certainly suggest it's a kid's game. The problem is, it's also strangely... sexy for something aimed at kids, and also more difficult than your average kid's game.
There was a minor Internet Backdraft over the fact that one of the guys working on the Sonic games in the run-up to Sonic the Hedgehog 4 stated that their main demographic was children. This was because the fandom was already accustomed to the darker plots of Sonic Adventure 2 and Shadow the Hedgehog, and having the game creators acknowledge Sonic as mainly a children's franchise was shocking to some of the online fanbase (which tend to skew older). After the release, it's kind of died down.
Shadow the Hedgehog was purposefully intended for older fans. It was originally going to have a T rating, but backlash for giving Shadow his own game and intentionally making a Darker and Edgier installment (despite fans requesting that Shadow get his own game since Sonic Adventure 2/Sonic Heroes and requesting for a Darker and Edgier installment for a while) led to SEGA/Sonic Team censoring it to fit for the E10 rating. This shift led to the final product being torn between which group of fans it was trying to appeal to, succeeding at neither.
The inclusion of E102 Gamma in Sonic Adventure, Tails' and Eggmans' mech sections in Sonic Adventure 2, and Shadow's weapon of choice in Shadow the Hedgehog were intended to appeal to a segment of Sonic fans who had apparently been demanding gunplay in Sonic titles. While Gamma and the Sonic Adventure 2 mech sections were average at best, the inclusion of guns in Shadow's game lead to the single biggest complaint people have about the title. Make of that what you will.
Similar to the Brain Dead 13 example, Super Metroid had Crocomire's horrific death, and it got a K-A rating. Then when it came to Virtual Console in 2007, it still kept its Everyone rating.
On the subject of Metroid, Metroid: Fusion is full of this trope. You begin with the story being that Samus was nearly killed by a parasite called the X, and you're dropped right into the BSL Research Station, which is, as far as you know, completely devoid of human life thanks to the X. But we're just getting started here. Early on you have to navigate a series of eerie unlit corridors because there's been an explosion in the quarantine room. Turns out it's just a Hornoad-X, but if you explore a bit you find a room completely frozen. If you decide to continue further inside, despite the damage you take from the cold (you've been injected with Metroid DNA) you see Ridley (Who was supposed to be dead) frozen in a block of ice. Play farther into the game, go down the Main Elevator, and what appears to be Samus bursts into the shaft. Then it startlingly zooms right in on 'her' face, revealing that it's some kind of mimic. You later find out that this mysterious entity is called the SA-X, and that it's tracking you. You also can't even hope to kill it yet. You are told to run if you encounter it.Have fun! Oh, and it DOES catch up with you. As if all that wasn't enough, there's a boss called the Nightmare. It's been flying through the background of the damaged area of the ARC Sector, startling you the first few times it happens. Then you fight it. It has a creepy mask, and when you damage it enough the mask breaks, revealing its disgusting alien face that, as you damage it further, begins DRIPPING.Rated E, for everyone!
Both the original Vietcong and Fist Alpha are rated T. Yet, they're full of Cluster F-Bombs, not to mention having weapons that can dismember enemies. Averted with Purple Haze and the second game, which are rated M.