An earlier version of this article appeared on this website in October 2012.
Game over, man!
Death sucks. Loose ends don't get tied up, your family fights over your last possessions, not to mention the whole 'oblivion' thing. But somehow, a video game death seems worse - because at least with real death, you won't be around to see people openly mocking your failures.
It's one thing to use a game over screen as a way to persuade you to give a level another go. It's another entirely when a game goes out of its way to berate you for your inability to press buttons with the right timing. Sure, our family and friends might be doomed, but we don't need to see their desecrated corpses lying in a heap to know that we should give it another shot. These are game over screens that hit just a little too hard.
This one is absolutely amazing. Not only are you dead and gone, but your corpse has been left to rot in the wasteland. Literally. Like, no one even cared to bury your bloated carcass--they just left it in the sun to bake. Talk about disrespect.
At first, you might think that this NES game is surprised at your death, when it had such high hopes based on your skillful play. But then it hits you--Bokosuka Wars knew you were going to lose all along. It's feigning amazement at your failure, knowing full well that you weren't even close to winning. That's some seriously subversive jeering.
Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix
If you find yourself constantly fantasizing about the intimate moments that femme fatales Hana and Rain share offscreen, Fear Effect 2 will bring you back into harsh virtual reality. What better way to drive despair deep into the player's soul than forcing them to watch their object of lust get devoured by a swarm of rats?
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Not "Mission Incomplete." Not "Try Again." Failure. It's what you are, it's what you accomplished, it's all you're good for.
Some arcade games, like Final Fight and Ninja Gaiden, like to encourage that you continue to save your dangerously near-death hero. There's always a chance that Ryu can escape a whirring sawblade, or Guy can put out the fuse on a nearby stick of dynamite. But when Geese kicks you off a tower during the last fight of Fatal Fury, it feels like all the quarters in the world won't save your character from their fatal plunge off a skyscraper.
Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt
What does it say about the life you lived when your burial takes place in the middle of a trash heap? Not only is it highly unlikely that your relatives will visit the dump to pay their respects--it looks like that rat is paying his respects in the form of a dump on your tombstone. Classy.
Uh. H-hey, you can't talk to us like--no. You're right. We are fools. Why do we even bother? We might as well go end our lives in the dark corner of this bowling alley arcade, so that all may know of the foolishness that held back Strider from victory.
HA HA HA YOU GOT EATEN BY A DINOSAUR HA HA HA. Also, it seems our character only has six teeth total, as opposed to the T-Rex's approximate count of one billion.
Saturday Night Slam Masters
So much disappointment, wrapped up into one succinct image of inadequacy. Haggar, brutish bad-ass extraordinaire, is nothing more than a mere loser. One who lost to a dude with long, pink hair, blurting out borderline-extremely-racist banter. Good luck ever enjoying a Final Fight game again in your life.
Friday the 13th
Your last dying thoughts as Jason plunged his machete into you was likely, "Well, hopefully my friends will survive. Maybe they will succeed where I have failed."
And then the Game Over screen pops up, and lets you know that... nope. That didn't happen. After Jason finished you off he went to each of your friends and killed them, too--none of them survived. Oh well, at least you'll have friends in hell, you freaking failure.
Riff-raff, street rat--we don't, buy that. But Jafar begs to differ, constantly equating us with petty vermin unfit to die in the streets. It doesn't help that his ugly mug pops up out of nowhere, making this a 16-bit version of those nasty internet "Screamers" but with a Disney villain instead of a ghostly face.
By the time you finish Shadowgate, you and the Grim Reaper will be the best of friends. Just look at him: He's so happy to see you, grinning with glee at the prospect of ferrying you to the underworld. Lord knows you'll hang out enough to be true homies, after you die again and again and again and again to trial-and-error pitfalls.
Space Quest V: Roger Wilco - The Next Mutation
The Space Quest series is legendary for the way it belittles the player. Not a single death goes by without an insult towards your intelligence, be it a lengthy expose on the details of your pathetic end, or a quick quip on your stupidity such as the one above.
Space Quest: The Lost Chapter
And here's an example of said exposition on your departure from the mortal coil. Just because you can't actually see those spikes puncturing your fleshy insides, doesn't make it any less pitiful that you met your end falling off a horse.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
What could be more shaming to a jaded gamer than a beautiful blonde strutting up to the camera and calling them a "Loser!" thrice over? All of the Arkham franchises' Game Overs are great, with each villain from B-man's Rogues Gallery taunting his inferiority. But having Harley Quinn call us such a hurtful thing so casually--well, that's a special kind of pain.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
So...did Alucard teleport outside of Dracula's castle, then transform into a horned beast before dying in the sand? Also, thanks for rubbing in the fact that we could be having a night out on the town, enjoying an evening of pleasure to the fullest. Instead of striving to achieve 202% completion of a decade-old game.
Look, kids! It's Disney's Tarzan, getting his corpse dragged into the black abyss by an alligator (crocodile?) whose jaw is clamped down on his dreadlocks! Remember when that happened in the movie?
All we did was try to talk to you, lady! How we were supposed to know you were actually a skeletal ghost?! Ohgodddd why are you beating us to death aieeeee the pain what did we ever do to deserve this arrrrggghhh oh now you're laughing at us why did this have to be the last thing we ever seeeeeeeeeeegrkklk.
Secret of Mana
It's not enough that your three heroes were unsuccessful in their quest. They simply vanished off the face of the earth, never to be remembered for their attempts at valor. You might as well have not ever existed, or bothered to boot up the game. Then maybe you'd be doing something people would actually care to mention.
We're actually not 100% sure what's going on in this image. Why is that guy holding cornerless paper like he's an extra from Battlestar Galactica? Why is he crying? Who is he? This Game Over screen raises more questions than it answers--well, besides answering the "Did I win" question fairly succinctly.
The answer is no, by the way. You didn't win. You lost, you loser.
This gothic horror adventure isn't content to simply tell you how you met your grisly end. No--it shows you in graphic detail exactly how your main character died, often depicting them in extreme pain and with plenty of gore. The above "choking to death" demise is one of the least gruesome; if you have any attachment to the main character whatsoever, seeing his faced impaled with spikes or getting his eye slashed out by an alien is probably going to ruin your day.
Brain Dead 13
Horrific mutilations aren't just for grown-ups, though! Check out cartoon protagonist Lance getting his face literally sliced off--which then slips to the floor revealing his meaty insides. Being forced to watch your hero's body be utterly defiled by every enemy in the game is, to put it simply, dismaying.
Dungeons of Dredmor
Death is something you'll face often when traversing the Dungeons of Dredmor. So why not make the player feel like a worthless chump whose demise was all but assured right from the start? That's sure to hook them.
Limbo of the Lost
You'd think that dying in one of the worst games of all time would spare you further suffering. Nope--the results of your useless actions will be felt for generations, plunging our entire species into misery until the end of time itself. Good job.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Nothing like a big middle-finger-made-out-of-words to really hammer home your own insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. Oh, and since FTL is incredibly difficult even on its easiest setting, you'll be seeing this a lot.
Ninja Gaiden (arcade)
Imagine the scene: you're a kid, hanging out at Chuck E. Cheese, playing a round of the hot new Ninja Gaiden arcade game. You die (an inevitability in an arcade game), and you're greeted by this: a screen begging you to insert another quarter in order to prevent Ryu's death by a thousand (buzzsaw) cuts, with a menagerie of monsters and demons cackling in the wings. To those of you who have locked this memory away in a dark corner of your minds: we're so sorry.
Quest for Glory
Leave it to Sierra to come up with some oddly specific game over screens. Like this one, where you accidentally (or not) decide to pick your nose with your lockpick kit. Sometimes it works. Other times, well you get the idea. Hope you saved your game before you decided to have a little fun.
Wing Commander 4: The Price of Freedom
It's one thing to splash a simple game over screen when you've failed, or even provide a little more context to the consequences of your actions. But Wing Commander 4 details your inadequacies in a freakin' short film, starting with Malcolm McDowell giving you the cold shoulder and ending with Mark Hamill drowning his sorrows in a Mos Eisley cantina rip-off. Hey, at least Matthew Lillard doesn't show up.
You know what? @#$% you, Rick. You took it too far.
Which Game Over screens really ruffled your feathers? Do some require more than just an image, like the condescending "You Are Dead" song from Total Distortion? Let us know which games made you feel like a real loser--or the ones that pushed you to victory via tough love.
For more ways games can play with your fragile emotions, check out the 19 most rage-inducing games that fill us with hate and the Top 7 Saddest video games that will make you cry.