Blam! Machine Head was inexplicably rated K-Anote (Kids to Adults, the mid-90's equivalent to the Everyone rating) despite its cutscenes featuring a beavy of violent and sexual content (the first 20 seconds of the opening feature a man being turned into chunky salsa while the ending has the villain's head being blown off by a pistol, with bits of his head flying toward the screen). The actual gameplay is more tame, largely owing to the early PS 1/Saturn-era primitive 3D, but still features enough graphic violence against organic beings that T rating would've probably been more fitting. In comparison, the same developer's far more tame Tomb Raider, which was released a month later, was rated T.
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 then.
There's the whole issue with Vivi the vampiress and her titillating appearance, figures and Male Gaze, and one suggestive magazine in the Freeze-Frame Bonus that can be too suggestive for children, yet we may never understand why all of these are totally safe for kids with a K-A rating. 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 averts this by ramping up the rating to a 12+, which is an equivalent of either a "Teen" or an "Everyone 10+" rating.
Cuphead: With constant references to tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and rather disturbing imagery, as well as the Devil himself along with a few mentions of Hell, would you believe that this game is rated E by the ESRB? It's almost as if they're applying the Values Dissonance of the time period this game is paying homage to.
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.
The first game has a rather dark plot, and some references to the Bible. It also has some rather imposing bosses such as the Angler King. And when the boss Frostwind literally turns red, it looks like he's spitting blood when he opens his mouth. And it still got away with an E rating!
The DS sequel has the infamous ending, a woman nearly committing suicide so her son could be Mayor, and the main villain's reasons behind his scheme to seemingly end the world.
The Kingdom Hearts series features several Disney characters and allows the opportunity to explore worlds based on Disney films. However, several characters die in the series, not to mention a depiction of murder in "birth by sleep". There are also themes of depression and some depictions of blood. Word of God via Tetsuya Nomura has stated that Kingdom Hearts was not originally created with kids in mind but the decision to include Disney characters has inevitably got the attention of children. The first game was rated E but the rest were rated E10.
Kirby's Dream Land 3 has the infamous boss fight against the True Final Boss, Zero, a giant eye with a red iris who freaking shoots blood at you as an attack, and later rips its own iris out of its body in a gory manner to keep fighting and then explodes, shooting blood everywhere! That boss fight is whyKirby is reputed as Surprise Creepy.
It's practically a Running Gag for the Kirby series that it will feature pretty dark elements and Surprise Creepy moments. Kirby: Planet Robobot is probably one of the darkest games in the entire franchise, only to still be rated E for Everyone!
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, a creepy miniboss, and guillotines and torture devices spattered in blood. 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 its 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 seriousFandom Berserk Button.
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 nearly 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 X4 was when the Mega Man X series started to get dark. In Zero's opening cutscene, Zero is having a Nightmare in which there is blood on his hands. And don't get us started on Double. Mega Man X4 has an E rating.
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. From the bloody intro of Mega Man Zero to Elpizo'sear-grating scream, it's baffling on why it's rated E. And then there's Omega and Dr. Weil.
Super Metroid is a creepy, dark and atmospheric game that features one boss being stripped to the bone, and it got a K-A rating. Then when it came to Virtual Console in 2007, it still kept its Everyone rating. When it came to New 3DS Virtual Console in 2016, it was re-rated to a more appropriate Everyone 10+.
Metroid: Fusion. 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. 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 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. And it does catch up with you. Then 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.
MOTHER 3 may have very cutesy cartoony-looking graphics like its predecessors, and with a prequel as lighthearted as Earthbound, and how kid-oriented it looks on the surface, most people don't expect a game like this to have things such as multiple incidents of Family-Unfriendly Death, characters going through realistic emotional issues and very deep rooted psychological trauma as a result, a scene where a 12-year-old boy and his friends go on a terrifying hallucinogenic drug trip, a villain who represents the sins of humanity and also runs what is basically a dictatorship over the protagonists' home, animal abuse with an electric collar, a child committing suicide by electrocuting himself due to the psychological trauma he's experienced, etc.
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 Crapsaccharine 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. And Drippy dropsG-rated equivalents ofCluster F-Bomb all over the place.
The Pokémon games fall under this, as the plot of every game in the series runs surprisingly deep and dark, the villains are often terrifying and vile, and many Pokemon have dark backstories. Some games, however, fall under this trope more than others:
Pokémon Black and White feature many moral questions, a grieving, disillusioned champion, and a little girl literally killed in her sleep by nightmares, as well as the implied mental abuse and brainwashing of a young man, manipulated all his life and kept in an emotionally immature state (with a creepy theme and childlike "playroom" to show it, itself accompanied by creepy music) by the Big Bad Ghetsis, with said Big Bad being quite possibly the most vile villain the main series has ever seen.
The Orregames were one of the first instances where the games truly started exploring darker territory, albeit Colosseum more so than XD featuring, among other things, a gritty, bleak Crapsack World of a region and a deadly practical, vile, ruthless evil team that would give Ghetsis a run for his money. It shows that Colosseum's protagonist, Wes, being 17, is practically ancient by Pokemon protagonist standards back then, and even now is still quite old.
In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team, 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. In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time and Darkness, the plot 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 re-release of Time and Darkness, Explorers of Sky, 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. 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.
Pokémon Sun and Moon have new Pokédex entries that tend towards the darker and more realistic, for example, many of them elaborate on the predator-prey relationship between Pokémon, whereas previous games and iterations of the franchise barely touched upon such things. Some of them even explicitly mention death, which is something the series had generally avoided previously. Adding to that, the Big Bad of the game is surprisingly dark and twisted, guilty of several types of parental abuse, including emotional abuse, manipulation, and neglect to outright abandonment. Furthermore, Team Skull is a surprisingly cerebral deconstruction of the typical Pokémon evil team with goofy grunts, as it's revealed that they merely ended up that way due to their inability to find better lives and are only doing what they need to to survive and their leader is a jaded man who is heavily implied to have been physically abused by his parents.
R-Type Delta is rated E. The final stage features depictions of fetuses as enemies to shoot. The ending for the R-13 features it becoming captured by the Bydo, with the final shot after the credits being of the ship enveloped by Bydo matter.
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 leading to the assumption that 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.
Sonic Adventure 2 features mass government killings, including a terminally ill 12 year old girl, Eggman using "Weapons of mass destruction", blowing up the moon, and putting a gun against Amy's head, and Sonic nearly dying in the equivalent of being chained to a bomb.
Sonic Lost World features very dark dialogue such as "I long for death's cold embrace", "First you're contemplating genocide" and talk of skinning alive, and Amy and Knuckles get the life sucked out of them. (They get better.)
The two Tales of Xillia games are this trope in Australia, where they somehow managed to get PG ratings despite the first game having violent deaths and occasional blood in cutscenes and pretty explicit sexual references (there's jokes about bondage kinks) and the second game being Bloodier and Gorier, featuring huge amounts of blood in death cutscenes, terrorist attacks complete with masses of bloody civilian bodies (in one of the first areas of the game, at that), sexual references as normal and incredibly dark themes towards the end of the game. (The main character has to murder his brother to save the world.)
Practically too many bootleg (and sometimes original) Browser Games to count; featuring super inappropriate themes such as pregnancy, surgery, and sometimes even violence or sex (the last one can't help, but make you think "fet...ish...ga...me")
Undertale has a Nightmare Fuel page large enough to rival some countries, and not without reason. It also touches on some fairly heavy themes, including morality, death and the death of children in particular, depression, and even suicide. Take Video Game Cruelty Potential to its logical extension, and the comedic trappings of the game completely disappear, replaced by a grim, disturbing slog as the player murders their way from one lovable character to the next. All said, it's a game that's able to scare and/or move many adults, let alone kids! Despite this, the game is rated E10+ and Toby Fox has implied or directly stated on multiple occasions that he considers it to be a family game and has no quarrel with children playing it.