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20 Game Over Screens Worth Dying For

Motherboard's definitive, indisputable list of top Game Over screens.

by Zack Kotzer
Mar 4 2017, 2:00pm

What do you think it's like to die? Is it painful? Do things just cut to black like The Sopranos suggested? Is there something awaiting us on the other end? In video games, death is often followed by a GAME OVER screen. In most cases, even in some of the biggest games of all time, this constitutes of those simple words GAME OVER dropping on to the screen. Others have gone beyond that to create decadent and memorable GAME OVER screens, some of which really rub in your failure. Here are twenty that are worth dying for:

Image: Atari

20. Missile Command (Arcade, 1980)

Gone. They're all gone. Your three missile silos are rubble and your cities won't be far behind. In a game that visualized Cold War tensions as explosions in the sky, Missile Command walks you out with the biggest bang of all. Not some classy heart stopping irradiated panic like Threads, but a growing, mad flash of colour, some kind of hyper bomb. It's not just a shape for Porky Pig to lean out of. A shattered mesa that was once your home peeks through. This is what failure and destruction looks like baby, and it is a terrifying sight to behold. Heck, if you're susceptible to seizures, this could be the last thing you ever see.

19. House of the Dead (Arcade, 1996)

This should be in the trash, but I just can't dump it. It's probably the last thing added to the game. Like the interface team forgot to make one and had only seven minutes till deadline. Foregoing anything grim or spooky for their zombie game, Sega's House of the Dead team opened MS Paint and scrawled an abstract lasso around the point. It is art though, make no mistake, and it was hung in every arcade, movie theater, and bowling alley in America.  

18. Paperboy (Arcade, 1980)

Not every game needs to end in nuclear annihilation. Heck, not every game even needs to end with death. Sometimes if you suck at a game, you walk away, and if that game is your job, you quit. Paperboy, a classic about delivering the news, ended each level with your headline-making performance, even if you blew it. It must be a pretty small town with perpetual slow news days, despite the fact that miniature tornado systems and death itself casually appear on the sidewalk, for the community to be so absorbed by the story of the kid who delivers the very thing they're reading. Actually the more I think about it the more that does sound like the news media.

17. Friday the 13th (NES, 1989)

Oh, you goofed up alright. And you died. Jason killed you. And your friends? Dead. Jason killed them. You died and your friends died. And you know what? Jason's just getting started. Next he's going to kill your parents and your dog, your favourite teacher, then he's going to give your Facebook account over to those people who post sunglasses sale flyers and then he's going to literally piss all over your comic book collection. It fucking sucks.

16. Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire (Arcade, 1994)

Jackie Chan, the original ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

15. Daytona USA (Arcade, 1993) 

Daytona USA with the volume turned down is an okay racing game. Daytona USA with the volume cranked up is a classic. Takenobu Mitsuyoshi's half-translated anthems breathlessly hollered out like megachurch sermons made Daytona USA wholly underappreciated in any arcade too noisy to hear them. It's good to start races on 'Let's Go Away,' and even better to get sent out with the baffling ending screen, "GAME OVER" spelled out, dancing in a musical chairs pattern, and repeated in a language that isn't here nor there. 

14. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (Arcade, 1993)

No, that's not Eddie Izzard, silly, that's Vice Terhune, a member of the Terhune family of poachers who plagued the heroes of a short-lived and extremely corny Saturday morning cartoon about convertible-driving future people trying to live in harmony with dinosaurs. Vice Terhune is mad as hell. He's going to shoot you in the face a whole bunch. Should have thought about that before losing this video game.

13. Earthbound (SNES, 1994) 

There is no such thing as losing in Earthbound, just different conversations you can have with the people who translated it into English.

12. Gon (SNES, 1994)

Based on a manga without words, Gon follows a nigh-invincible dinosaur that behaved like Casper the Friendly Ghost in a world inhabited by wild animals. Because Gon couldn't be destroyed, the real threat was Gon destroying everything else. If you can't overcome your enemies, Gon just gets frustrated, and when Gon gets too frustrated that two-foot tall reptile goes on a tantrum, slicing the entire planet like an apple. It's similar to that weird dream I had after seeing Boris on acid. You could say you've really Gon too far. You could say you've really Gon over the edge. You could say this joke has really Gon past its prime.

deathduel.jpg

11. Fallout (PC, 1997) / Death Duel (Genesis, 1992)  

I'm going to say there's a kind of sub-category in these game over screens that are all about rubbing it in. Fallout, rather famously, rambles on with a variety of screeds about your corpse. Your corpse lay in the wasteland and not even the carrion would touch it. Your short life is meaningless in this sad excuse of a world. And so on. But I also have to give it up to an obscure Genesis action game called Death Duel for pulling absolutely no punches and parading out a massive wall of your personal shortcomings like the opening march to Star Wars.

10. Virtual Bart (SNES/Genesis, 1994) 

Running their licensing agreement into the ground, Acclaim created a set of Simpsons games putting Bart in every scenario recovered from a writing room's rubbish bin. In Bart's Nightmare, Bart became a giant dinosaur and swam around in subatomic particles. In Virtual Bart, Bart straps into a Lawnmower Man-style VR rig and becomes a post-apocalyptic biker, a baby, and a pig trying to escape from the slaughterhouse. That latter one, on top of being oddly precognitive, at least gave us a solid game over screen in which pork-Bart had ended up as a corndog and Homer, momentarily horrified, eats him. For the first and last time in Acclaim's 11-game legacy with The Simpsons, they finally made a joke.

9. Kirby Super Star (SNES, 1995)

It's maddening. Kirby is incapable of being anything but cute. I don't know if even the likes of Michael Haneke could do anything to subtract from the kitten-like allure of Kirby's rosey, swollen marshmallow shape. Even in death, Kirby just can't quit it. In Kirby Super Star, after the pink Nintendo icon has had enough, Kirby just tuckers out on a menu screen, sleepy time cap and all. If you continue you're back in it, if you don't the menu's curser picks up Kirby and takes him to the moon and tucks him into bed.

8. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (N64, 1997)   / Goemon's Great Adventure (N64, 1998) 

Konami's Mystical Ninja series, for whatever reason, always reserved its game over screens for ripped demons dancing in a hula hoop. In Goemon's Great Adventure, the second Mystical Ninja game on the N64, they must have decided the hula hoops were just getting too distracting, letting an even bigger demon in an even tinier banana hammock soak up the spotlight while you decide if this is the game you want to keep playing.

7. Resident Evil Series

No matter how intense, dreadful, or comical the scenario, no matter if you're being chased by classic gothic ghouls or a giant mutant shark, Resident Evil never minced words whenever the axe came down. "YOU DIED," wrote the game in nu-metal raspberry jam font. Eventually bumping up the funeral slogan to the present tense with "YOU ARE DEAD," just in case there's any confusion. Can't knock a classic.

6. X-Com: UFO Defense (PC, 1994)

With the resistance slaughtered, the greys of X-Com take their final trophy: the UN. What Earth's last representative hoped for by meeting the alien invader's around a regular wooden table, no donuts, no pizza, no nothin, is a mystery, but he doesn't exactly seem surprised to end with a laser blaster pointed at his temple.

5. Rare's Nintendo 64-Era

If you fail in your adventure to stop the villain, said villain will accomplish their elaborate evil scheme. Rare always made it crystal with feature-length cutscenes that these worst-case scenarios are exactly what happened in your absence. If King K. Rool threatened to blow up Donkey Kong's head-shaped island with a tesla tower, then that's what happens. If Gruntilda threatened to siphon a little girl's youth to make herself look like Sporty Spice, then that's what happens. The Panther King just needed Conquer to fill in for a chair leg. I'm sure you get the picture.

4. Final Fight Series 

Throughout Capcom's Final Fight series, failing to defeat the Mad Gear gang seemed to end in capture. Explosions, drowning, or being crushed by a lowering wall of spikes, the Adam West-esque pitfalls of being Mayor Mike Haggar are clear, but unlike Batman '66 hyper-specific bat gadgetry wouldn't be required as much as a shiny quarter. These game over screens got more brutal as the games went along, but none of them hold a candle to...

3. Ninja Gaiden (Arcade, 1988)

Holy mother of god what the hell happened here. The grotesque saw blade, hovering inches away from tearing off Ryu's chest like gift paper, is one thing, but what in the world is this room? Everything in sight is some kind of horrible flesh beast. Just teeth, eyes and muscle as wallpaper. What's the door made out of? What do you have to touch to open the door to this room? Did Ryu fail to protect the Dragon Clan or succeed in opening Lemarchand's puzzle box?

2. Theme Park (PC, 1994)

Listen, I'm probably more upset than anyone that Universal Studios closed the Back to the Future ride, but I don't want anyone to die over it. Failing to keep business afloat in Peter Molyneux's Theme Park gets grim. Out of the reflection of their family portrait, as if the wife and kid were watching, your broken CEO leaves them and the world behind as he takes his own life, hopping out the window, falling towards the earth like so many of his once-happy patrons had on a roller coaster.

Psyche! Just kidding! He's okay! He isn't dead! He's just running away! Sure the funeral march keeps playing! It's fine! People! People! It's fine! There wasn't a suicide in this otherwise kid friendly PC game! Just a pretend one! Please, please stop crying!

1. Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation, 1998)

Unique and loud in every way, there's just nothing quite like dying in Metal Gear Solid. It's video game's iconic scream. It's video game's "STELLAAAA." I'd go so far as to say it's video game's "Rosebud…" A single corny word, "Snake," hardened and yelped, over and over, ringing in your brain for the rest of your life. The call of horror for not only failing to stop a nuclear scenario, but hearing that kind of guttural passion from the other end of the comms link that seems to even care about their top agent. Metal Gear Solid never calms itself down. Hideo Kojima is an action movie addict, and his work in games are flexes of bombastic things he's picked up from cinema. But that also means, deep down, he knows what sticks. It's not the pangs and ricochets of bullets, it's not even the cowboy talk, it's the silence before one important shot. And so, with every death comes a quick cascade, prickly sound tumbling to the floor, an overture, the scream of your friend and then, as quickly as it began, a silence.