Everybody knows the Game Over screen. The term “Game Over” itself is one of the few relic holdovers of a bygone era when all video games could be enjoyed in the maximum time span of three-ten minutes. Somehow though, Game Over screens have survived to this very day. Sometimes it’s a simple death screen showing your character biting it in a comical/gruesome manner, but other times there’s more at stake. Sometimes your failure to accomplish a mission can have dire consequences for thousands of people or more. Maybe the Game Over screen is just a little stab to motivate you, or maybe it’s just an excuse to laugh at how dumb the game’s plot is.
Game Over screens are a part of our culture. Here’s some classics for the ages…
Here’s the original end of the world scenario. When you think about it, Missile Command is a classic case of being doomed before you even begin. The nukes will never stop coming. Eventually, no matter how fast you are on the trackball, the enemy (whoever it is up there armed with an endless supply of nukes) will overpower you. When your final city is destroyed, you are given one last stab in the heart. The whole world blows up, complete with a sarcastic “The End!” sign.
Donkey Kong 64
Here’s one that’s worth a laugh just for pure stupidity. Donkey Kong 64 is a mess of a game, but by dingy it’s a funny mess. If you choose to actually end your game rather than simply shut off the power, you’re treated to a goofy ending sequence as many other Rare games of the day offered. Basically, King K. Rool powers up his island destroying “Blast-O-Matic” (yes, that’s the real name) to destroy DK Isle. It’s kind of a giant tease seeing as the game fades out and you never actually get to see the island explode. Understandable, as the N64 already buckles at the seams trying to simply display the island and its surrounding locales. Destroying it would probably make the N64’s CPU have a stroke.
Mortal Kombat 4
It’s clearly the bastard child of the original series, but it’s still a wonderfully entertaining game. Mortal Kombat 4’s death sequence as always leaves little to the imagination. You fall down a seemingly endless pit… endless, at least until the counter hits zero. Once that happens, you see the spikes coming towards your character’s body. Helpless to stop, you are impaled upon the jagged razors at the murky, bloody bottom. You can help but let out a sadistic little giggle at the absurdity of it all.
Streets of Rage 3
This one is a little bit of a cheat since it happens at the beginning of the game rather than the end, but it’s here nonetheless. In the original Japanese version of the game (Bare Knuckle III), the story opens with a character named Dr. Gilbert (the real identity of Dr. Zan) discovering a volatile substance known as “Laxine.” Basically, it explodes and takes half the city with it, killing tens of thousands in the process. Pretty gruesome for a game released in 1994. Obviously Sega nerfed the hell out of the US version, omitting much of the violence. The game is regularly omitted from Genesis compilations to this day, thus maintaining the value of the original cartridge.
Star Fox 2
This one is brutal, especially for a Nintendo game. Star Fox was a fairly mature game by Nintendo standards in 1993. For one, when your team mates died, they didn’t just “go back for repairs.” They were dead. As in, “blown up, frozen bloated body floating in the black vacuum of space” dead. Several of the ejected enemy pilots flying towards the camera in the Venom stage come to mind. Star Fox 2 was a little more brutal. If enough anti-planetary missiles or Planet Canon strikes hit Corneria, you’ll be “rewarded” with an elaborate end of the world sequence where nukes are dropped on Corneria City, followed by an abrupt end of communications, including screaming. Quite a detailed death for a game that never saw a life on the shelf.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Behold, the grand poo-bah of video game apocalypse endings. Majora’s Mask is to this day a Zelda game that comparably few have played since it was released on the already dead Nintendo 64, and it required the Expansion Pak thus limiting the audience even further. Majora is easily the most personal Zelda. Since so many assets were reused from Ocarina to produce the game in a year’s time on the notoriously difficult to work with N64, more time was spent focusing on story and character. From an emotional standpoint, Majora is a dark game by any standard. However by the end you become deeply attached to the world and the tormented people that inhabit it. How cruel is it then to see their world incinerated by the Moon if you fail to save it by the end of the third day? You never see the destruction first hand, but you do see the impact. Much like Anakin Skywalker killing the younglings in Revenge of the Sith, you don’t need to see the flaming, dying bodies to feel their pain.