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When developers are trying to make a game scary, a little atmosphere goes a long way. Some spooky shadows, a creepy sound or two, or a tricycle appearing that wasn't there before can make many gamers regret having turned off the lights before they started playing.
While ambience gets a game most of the way to Scaryville, there still needs to be something lurking in those shadows, making those noises, or rolling that goddam tricycle out into the hall. (Why are tricycles so scary, anyway?) In short, atmosphere is not enough; something should actually be out there, and that's where monsters come in.
Sure, ghosts are scary. Demons, too. And zombies will do in a pinch, whether the developer is making a horror game or not. But if you really want to scare people, you want a monster on the job.
Unfortunately, mixed in among all the usual freaky beasties are some strange outliers, monsters that would love to scare you but end up far closer to "Aww…" than "AHH!" Creatures like….
Metroids (Metroid series)
The idea behind Metroids is scary enough: They're hearty, they're fast, and they will latch onto your head and drain you of your precious bodily fluids…er, I mean "life energy." They are the only creatures in the Metroid series that frighten both the Galactic Federation and the Space Pirates — although not so much that they don't both try to weaponize them.
But look at them. They like giant jellyfish. And not those box jellyfish that make you shiver and vomit for hours before you die, but the big plush toy-looking ones that hang out with anime cute-a-thon Ponyo.
It's not draining her life energy so much as infusing her with whimsy.
Still, I guess they have that whole "they could destroy the universe and every living thing in it" bit going for them, which would be really terrifying if they didn't do that cute little wiggle right before they attack.
Headcrabs (Half-Life series)
Half-Life's headcrabs also latch onto your head, but instead of sucking your life energy, they just eat your goddamn brain. Don't get me wrong here: The idea of a being from another dimension with a your-head-sized mouth that turns you into a zombie and forces you to kill, all the while allowing you to remain conscious of what's going on and somehow turning your torso into a massive fanged vagina, is scary. Nobody's saying it isn't. Add to this the fact that headcrabs are so small that they can fit comfortably into an air vent, which means that holy shit there could be one in your ceiling right now, and hey, good luck sleeping.
It would be easy to point out that headcrabs look like Thanksgiving turkeys, but I'd like to play a game instead. It's called "How Do We Make It a Plushy?"
Let's look at a headcrab. How do you make a headcrab plushy? You don't have to change a damn thing but the material. And what the hell, let's make it a hat.
The dog's not helping its case at all.
Note that this only applies to normal headcrabs. Poison headcrabs are, of course, pants-shitting terror given flesh, and all the felt in the Muppet Workshop wouldn't make them any cuddlier.
Bouncer Big Daddies (BioShock series)
Big Daddies are…well, they're big. And they're mysterious. And they'll jam a drill up your ass and then turn it on, and after that they'll forget about you because they have a lot of shit to do. Ominous? Yes. Dangerous? Absolutely. Inhuman killing machines whose survival depends on liquefying anyone who comes within ten feet of their insane wards? Yuh-huh.
Okay, now forget all of that and look at this.
That is how Disney and MGM animator Preston Blair defined "the cute character" in 1947. In particular, note "head large in relation to the body," "no neck," and "fat legs." Also implicit in Blair's design is the idea that cute means soft, round, and clumsy. Now look at Mr. Bubbles: giant, round head; soft and squishy diving suit; and giant, awkward-looking boots.
You can't argue with it — it's Disney Science.
Well, you can argue with it if you want, sure, but Bouncers are certainly awkwardly proportioned and somewhat round and squishy. And let's not forget that they make a noise like a sleepy walrus.
I have only seen one other creature that had all of these qualities. His name was Gizmo, and he was easily the sweetest dog I've ever known.
Then again, if we'd attached a drill to Gizmo, it might have been a different story altogether.