There are certain moments we encounter in video games that illicit a very emotional reaction from us, and it tends to be those hot button moments that boast the best staying power and which tend to stick with us forever. Maybe one day you’ll be telling your grandchildren about that time you were playing that game and a moment side-swiped you unexpectedly and pulled an audible WTF through your lips.
These moments are rare in games, which is precisely why they become so memorable. They are the ones that you are left talking about with your mates after the game is finished and that drag you irresistibly back to replaying your favourite games over and over.
You can never truly predict what will turn into one of these moments, but then that unpredictability is part of their charm. Great WTF moments can occur in great games just as they can in poor ones and the qualifying characteristics and causes can be just as different as the context. Some gamers exclaim “WTF!” out of shock, while others shout it out of confusion or even anger, but the important thing in every case is that the game makes you feel invested so much that it elicits a genuine emotional response in even the most experienced and cynical of gamers.
To celebrate those moments we’re looking back at the best WTF moments in gaming history.
10. The Samus Reveal – Metroid
The Metroid series is truly one of the best to come from the NES era, and not only that, it managed to maintain its popularity through the decades and over multiple generations of video game consoles, which is not something easily achieved.
Right from the start, Metroid was similar in gameplay to other platformers of the day such as Mario and Zelda, but it found a way to distinguish itself through a very dark and creepy atmosphere enhanced by awesome music and a feeling of complete loneliness.
Your only comfort in this world was the knowledge that you were playing as a complete badass – Samus Aran, intergalactic bounty hunter. Decked out in a full cybernetic suit with a hand cannon strapped to one of the arms, Samus explored cave after cave and defeated all the baddies until he got to the main villain, the Mother Brain. Once it was dead, the game was finished and you were left with a complete feeling of satisfaction.
As a little bonus, the end credits see Samus take off that giant, cumbersome suit and then…WTF! Samus is a woman. Definitely a reveal that took everyone by surprise. It can also be considered to be a landmark in video game history. Up until that point, protagonists were typically males while women were relegated to playing the damsel in distress. Samus showed that you can be a woman and be a total badass at the same time.
9. Your First Fatality In Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat was definitely a landmark in video game history, wrapped in a ball of outrage and controversy, which eventually led to the creation of the first gaming rating system, the ESRB. Very few other games can claim to have had such an impact.
All of the controversy, of course, surrounded the sheer amount of violence and gore in the game. The huge, unquenchable capacity for blood outraged parents and delighted gamers everywhere, to those same parents’ utter dismay. What made it unique, though, was the finishing touch – after a few rounds of skilled one-on-one combat, the victor was given the opportunity to deal with his opponent… permanently. By executing a specific combo, the player would perform a Fatality, a move in which he would kill the other fighter in a wonderfully gruesome way.
Even today after over ten Mortal Kombat games there’s still a deep sense of satisfaction in performing a Fatality on our opponent, whether he is an AI, your best friend or just a random guy in an arcade. With that in mind, try to remember back to when you first performed a Fatality; the first time you showed that complete domination over your opponent. It might not be a feeling that you could ever duplicate, no matter how much fun you have trying.
8. Eternal Darkness Breaking The Fourth Wall
Eternal Darkness came out in 2002 for the Nintendo Gamecube. It was a survival horror game and it didn’t do too well in terms of sales so many might not be familiar with the methods it used to confuse and scare the player.
The in-game character had something called a “sanity meter” – a device which measured how strong his grip on reality was. Given all of the horrors he saw and endured, it would be completely understandable in the real world that such a character would become a little unhinged. Eternal Darkness not only tried to recreate this sensation for its protagonist, but it also brought the gamer along for the ride.
Breaking the fourth wall is not something that happens often in a game, but it is also not unheard of. Eternal Darkness made full use of this strategy in order to make the gamer question his own sanity at times and by far, the truly outstanding moment involved the game coming to a sudden black screen and then experiencing the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. Younger gamers might be unfortunate enough not to remember exactly how it felt to see that screen. The rest of us know that sensation well and the fact that Eternal Darkness exploited our own personal fear made it an instant WTF moment.
7. Your Encounter With Pyramid Head – Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill has been a series with a lot of ups and downs. Most people would agree that the franchise reached its peak with Silent Hill 2, a game which masterfully blends genuine fear with psychological horror and suspense, which was also boosted by the presence of one of the greatest (and most frightening) villains in any video game – Pyramid Head.
Very little information about Pyramid Head is available to the player, which naturally only serves to make him even more intimidating. What becomes clear very soon is that he is someone you should try to avoid as much as possible. Throughout the game, there were moments where you could unwittingly enter a room with Pyramid Head inside it and that alone was enough to completely frighten most gamers. This would all build until you actually had to face him inside a small, locked room in a moment where your fear and frustration culminated as you threw everything you had at him with absolutely no effect until you finally realized that all you had to do was avoid him.
That is not the most genuine WTF moment with Pyramid Head, though; that honour is reserved for your first real encounter with him. You initially get to see a glimpse of him on the other side of a locked gate, but he ignores you at this point. Moving past this, Pyramid Head makes one hell of an entrance when you first see him up-close while he is having his way with two Mannequins. All you can do at this point is look on in shock and then attempt to hide in a closet, praying that you are not next.
6. Shadow Of The Colossus Twist Ending
Several games have used a very clever twist, one which featured the protagonist actually ending up being the bad guy. Some of the more memorable include Castlevania: Lords of Shadow’s revelation that you were Dracula all along and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic where you play as a fearsome Sith Lord.
However, the one that made the best use of this technique is Shadow of the Colossus. All the while you think that you are playing as a courageous, innocent young man willing to fight off the biggest, scariest monsters in the land in order to save your maiden. In the end, though, it turns out that you have been a pawn for the villain all along. With each new victory you have helped evil and hindered good, exactly the opposite of what the hero is supposed to do.
This revelation is expertly presented in Shadow of the Colossus, leaving the player genuinely confused, shocked and outraged with the brilliant, jaw-dropping revelation enjoying a kicker when you got to play as Dormin. Not many games are capable of performing such a feat.
5. Lollipop Chainsaw’s Perverted Achievement
Lollipop Chainsaw is an insane game featuring a ridiculous story, bizarre characters and over-the-top gameplay. The name itself is pretty suggestive of what you can expect to encounter within the game. You play as chainsaw-wielding high school cheerleader Juliet Starling doing her very best to survive a zombie apocalypse, obviously.
Everything in this game is meant to separate it from the standard zombie games that we are accustomed to. At the same time, though, the producers of the game clearly show that they know their audience very well. Like all cheerleaders, Juliet is wearing a teeny, tiny skirt, and through a few cunning manipulations of the camera, you can catch a glimpse of her underwear.
This is something that many gamers will probably attempt, although few of them would admit it in public, but then Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t really give them a choice. If you take a good, long look at Juliet’s underwear, you get an achievement/trophy called “I Swear I Did It By Mistake” naming and shaming/celebrating your perversion depending on how you see it.
After the initial moment of confusion passes, you are left to realize in horror that now all of your friends on Xbox Live and PSN can see exactly the kind of pervert you are…
4. Blowing Up Megaton
Nowadays, the concept of moral choices in video games is relatively common, especially in RPGs. The idea is that there are moments when the game forces you to make a decision, which will come with consequences and, depending on your actions, they will be either good or bad. The problem is that usually all of these choices only end up mattering when you finish the game by giving you different endings. However, since the game is already over by that point, all of your actions ultimately mean little.
Not the case with Fallout 3, though. Very early on, you have the option of disabling the giant nuke located in the middle of Megaton or detonating it along with the entire city and everyone in it. Obviously, one of those choices is clearly evil, but it is made even more devilish by the puerile reason for doing it: Alistair Tenpenny, the man who gives you this task, doesn’t like the view from his lavish penthouse.
If you do decide to blow it up, you are treated to quite a scene from the top of Tenpenny Tower, complete with impressive visuals that sell completely the gravity of what you’ve done. Here is (arguably) the main city in the game, you’ve only been playing a few hours and you destroyed it. It’s gone, and now there are some real consequences that you’ll be forced to deal with.
3. The Princess In Another Castle
Super Mario Bros does not seem like a very difficult game now - there’s a reason you can watch speed-runs online of people breezing through it with no trouble at all in a matter of minutes – but when it came out, it was a different matter. It offered new and innovative challenges at a time when gamers were still getting used to the idea of playing a game with more than just one screen.
And most diehard Mario fans will probably remember how they felt when they first saw that message at the end of their first victorious endeavours. Confusion would have been the initial reaction, most likely followed by anger. There you are, doing your best in order to save your princess, you finally manage to beat the end boss and… there’s no princess. Just a “helpful” Toad offering one of the most frustrating messages in video game history. You go through all of that effort just to find out she’s in another castle.
And you have to do this over and over again: every time you think that maybe this will be the one and you are left disappointed after (almost) every one. Nintendo expertly dangles the prize in front of you like a carrot on a stick and then takes it away at the last moment.
2. Psycho Mantis Battle
It can be pretty difficult to create a memorable boss battle, they are after all an industry standard and they’re the kind of game element that immediately attracts extreme praise or criticism. The market is a difficult one: each game can include multiple boss battles, and multiple games can be released in a week, so the question is how the developers make theirs stand out.
Even though this fight took place more than ten years ago, it still remains one of the greatest (and most unique) boss battles of all time, chiefly because the techniques used by Psycho Mantis in order to mess with the player are brilliant. First it starts off with Mantis commenting on the things the player had done up until that point in the game, which was pretty cool, but Mantis steps up his game when he actually looks at the player’s memory card and makes comments regarding other games. This is the moment that left most gamers looking on in disbelief and turned Mantis into an instant classic villain.
Mantis also moves your controller using the power of his mind (actually the vibrate function) and the best part is that all of these actions don’t actually feel out of place despite breaking the fourth wall. Mantis is psychic, after all, so these powers make sense. In the end, the player experiences an interaction with a virtual villain that is unmatched even to this day.
1. Call Of Duty 4 Nuke
Today we consider Call Of Duty 4 to be quite revolutionary but, at the time, it was also a pretty big gamble as very few game series decide to change the premise of their games to such an extreme degree. Taking a franchise that was always set during WWII and bringing it into the present was a risk, but it also paved the way for the huge popularity of modern shooters experienced today.
In order to ensure its success, the developers felt like CoD needed to have that one big moment – one which will get people talking - and the game delivered that in a big way. The setup is pretty straightforward – the American soldiers are the heroes who come to save the day by securing a dangerous nuke. You go in, you shoot a few people, you win. Job well done! Except that it’s not, as just when you think that things are going smoothly, the nuke goes off and you and your entire squad are dead in a single, devastating moment.
It’s a jaw-dropping moment, one which enthusiastically flips the bird to the stereotypical view of how a scene like this is supposed to go down. As if it wasn’t enough, the mission ends with your character surviving the blast for a few more minutes and giving you a last chance to crawl on the ground a little. It provides the player with a brief moment of hope where he hopes that somehow, someway his character makes it out of this alive. But no, that hope is soon extinguished.