9 Shocking Video Game Twists


First, let's get this out of the way: This post is full of spoilers. If you haven't played the games below, the endings and/or best parts will be spoiled. You've been warned. Here are some of the biggest reveals in video game history, in chronological order.

1. Metroid, 1986

At the end of Metroid for the Nintendo Entertainment System, we learn that the hero, Samus, is female. While this should not be a surprise—I'd seen plenty of women as sci-fi protagonists (Ripley from Alien, Sarah Connor from The Terminator, Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who and later The Sarah Jane Adventures, etc.)—it threw me for a loop as a kid. I just assumed that Samus was a dude under the armor. This assumption was reinforced by the game's manual (PDF) referring to Samus as "he."

This is a great example of a "twist" that's both dated and sexist. As an eight-year-old in the mid-'80s it surprised me. Today (ahem, Chell in Portal?), it wouldn't be a thing. To make things worse, if the player completed the game quickly, the reveal would include progressively less clothing. Yikes.

2. EarthBound, 1994

In EarthBound you play as Ness. When a meteorite crashes near your house, you enlist the help of Pokey, your annoying neighbor, to check out the meteorite. Along the way, it becomes clear that the evil alien Giygas is in the process of destroying the universe. Thus begins a many-hour role-playing game.

The big reveal is that your annoying neighbor Pokey is really a villain, in league with Giygas. When Ness finally defeats Giygas, Pokey taunts Ness with a letter reading, "Come and get me, loser! Spankety spankety spankety!" In the sequel (Mother 3), Pokey has become an immortal time-traveler. And you thought your neighbors were jerks.

3. Final Fantasy VII, 1997

The Final Fantasy series is huge and sprawling; it's too complex to explain briefly. But one of the biggest moments in the series comes in the middle of the hugely popular Final Fantasy VII, when Aeris, a major character whom you have played for many hours, is suddenly killed. This comes as an incredible shock for the player, as she seems to be set up as an ongoing character. For many gamers, it was a surprisingly emotional moment, and not just because they had spent forever trying to equip and train the character—she was awesome.

The death is so legendary that GameSpot called it "the most shocking moment in video games, the most spoilerific spoiler of all time."

Game designer Tetsuya Nomura created Aeris (also known as Aerith due to the tricky translation from Japanese), and commented on her death in Final Fantasy VII:

"Death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith's death seemed more natural and realistic. When I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn't an effective character."

4. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, 2003

Throughout KOTOR, you play a Jedi with amnesia, trying to recover his memory. Much of the plot involves making light side/dark side choices, working up to a big battle against the evil Darth Malek, a former apprentice of the super-duper evil Darth Revan.

The big reveal is, you are Darth Revan. You've been brainwashed. When the reveal happens, it's mind-blowing.

5. BioShock, 2007

Throughout BioShock, you're guided through a crumbling underwater utopia by a man named Atlas, speaking over a radio. Atlas seems very helpful, telling you what to do and how to get it done—he's a key part of the game, and you build trust with him over hours of play. But Atlas isn't who or what he seems.

Near the end of the game, it's revealed that the protagonist, Jack, has been brainwashed, and he's been responding to a trigger phrase all along. That phrase is: "Would you kindly?" When the phrase is uttered, Jack does whatever he's told—including kill.

The freaky thing about this moment is that it recontextualizes the whole game. While Jack did have some legitimate choices in the game (for instance, to harvest or save the Little Sisters), for the most part he was being controlled by Atlas, who used the trigger phrase throughout the game to make him do things he might not have chosen to do, had he known what the real situation was. This brings up lots of interesting questions about free will.

6. Portal, 2007

Portal includes another unreliable character communicating via voice; this time it's GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) guiding protagonist Chell through a series of tests with the promise of "cake" when they're complete.

It becomes obvious early on that GLaDOS is not a friendly machine, but a murderous one. Because of this, it would be reasonable to assume that the cake is yet another lie. After the final fight that leaves GLaDOS in charred pieces, there are two twists: First, the cake was real (despite seeing "the cake is a lie" scrawled on walls earlier), and GLaDOS is "Still Alive":

When Portal 2 was in the works, the ending was changed slightly, retconning in an abduction of Chell. (Arguably a third twist?) The unseen robotic abductor thanks her for "assuming the party escort submission position."

7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, 2007

In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a first-person shooter, you played from the perspective of two people: a Marine and an SAS commando. The game swaps perspectives routinely, so you get used to occupying these two guys' points of view. What's shocking is that, in the middle of a mission, one of them is killed off.

In the game, it's a shocking moment—we hear that a possible nuclear threat is nearby, then seconds later the city is nuked and the shockwave crashes the helicopter we're in. The player dies after seeing the mushroom cloud from the ground. His team is also dead. It's the kind of real-world logic that is often defied in video games. We expect that the protagonist of the game will find some way to survive this moment, but nope, that's it.

8. Braid, 2008

In Braid, you play Tim, trying to rescue the Princess from an evil knight. The game is brilliantly complex, and users employ game mechanics related to reversing time to get through puzzling levels. As a platformer, there are many nods to the Mario games, though Tim is no cartoon plumber.

In the stressful final level of the game, the Princess is rescued by the knight. In other words, Tim is the monster pursuing the Princess; he's not the hero—the knight is. It's a bit of a gut-punch. And there's a deeper level to the puzzle, if you go into the epilogue and read up on your nuclear history (I'll leave you to Google that).

9. The Silent Age, 2012-2014

The Silent Age is a point-and-click adventure featuring Joe, a janitor living in 1972. The game begins when Joe discovers a dying man with a time travel device. Joe uses the device to visit 2012, only to find that the future world is a wasteland, devastated by some plague. Throughout the game, you use the time travel device to solve puzzles—jumping between time periods, you can access areas that are blocked in one or the other era.

There are two episodes of The Silent Age, and the biggest twist comes near the end of the second one (released in 2014—the first episode arrived in 2012). The plague is a strain of the flu. What makes it interesting is that Joe was Patient Zero in a global flu pandemic, caught in the future and brought back in time. As he feels the flu beginning to affect him (back in the 1970s), he uses a primitive cryogenic chamber to both freeze and isolate himself, to prevent the pandemic. He wakes up in 2012 to find that although his flu is easily cured (and has not destroyed the world), the world of 2012 is no better than the world of 1972; he still works a boring job, and little has changed for him, despite saving the world. It's a moody game, and the twist makes it that much more delicious. (Note: there are even more twists if you factor in Frank, another janitor who visits the far future, and some details about Dr. Lambert, working on the flu treatment, but it gets very confusing very fast. There's also a suggestion that Joe has been through this whole time-travel trip multiple times.)

Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

5 Ways to Define a Sandwich, According to the Law

It’s easy to say what a sandwich is. Grilled cheese? Definitely a sandwich. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato? There’s no question. Things start to get messy when you specify what a sandwich isn’t. Is a hot dog a sandwich? What about a burrito, or an open-faced turkey melt?

The question of sandwich-hood sounds like something a monk might ponder on a mountaintop. But the answer has real-world implications. On several occasions, governments have ruled on the food industry’s right to use the delectable label. Now, Ruth Bader Ginsburg—pop culture icon, scrunchie connoisseur, and Supreme Court Justice—has weighed in on the matter.

When pressed on the hot-button issue as to whether a hot dog is a sandwich while appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Ginsburg proved her extreme judiciousness by throwing the question back at Colbert and asking for his definition of sandwich before making a ruling. Her summation? A hot dog fits Colbert's definition of a sandwich, and therefore can be considered one.

While RBG's ruling may not be an official one, it matches Merriam-Webster's bold declaration that a hot dog is a sandwich (even if the Hot Dog Council disagrees). Officially, here’s where the law stands on the great sandwich debate.


Hot dogs are often snagged in the center of the sandwich semantics drama. Despite fitting the description of a food product served on a bread-like product, many sandwich purists insist that hot dogs deserve their own category. California joins Merriam-Webster in declaring that a hot dog is a sandwich nonetheless. The bold word choice appears in the state’s tax law, which mentions “hot dog and hamburger sandwiches” served from “sandwich stands or booths.” Applying the sandwich label to burgers is less controversial, but it’s still worth debating.


When Qdoba threatened to encroach on the territory of a Panera Bread in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the owners of the bakery franchise fought back. They claimed the Mexican chain’s arrival would violate their lease agreement with the White City Shopping Center—specifically the clause that prohibits the strip mall from renting to other sandwich restaurants. “We were surprised at the suit because we think it’s common sense that a burrito is not a sandwich,” Jeff Ackerman, owner of the Qdoba franchise group, told The Boston Globe.

The Worcester County Superior Court agreed. When the issue went before the court in 2006, Cambridge chef and food writer Christopher Schlesinger testified against Panera [PDF], saying, “I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian.”

Justice Jeffrey A. Locke ruled that Qdoba would be allowed to move into the shopping center citing an entry in Merriam-Webster as the most damning evidence against Panera’s case. “The New Webster Third International Dictionary describes a ‘sandwich’ as ‘two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them,’” he said. “Under this definition and as dictated by common sense, this court finds that the term ‘sandwich’ is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.”


If you want to know the definition of a certain dish, the officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are good people to ask. It’s their job to make sure that the nation’s supply of meat is correctly labeled. When it comes to sandwiches, the agency follows strict criteria. “A sandwich is a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit,” Mark Wheeler, who works in food and safety at the USDA, told NPR. His definition comes from the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book used by the department (the USDA only covers the “labeling of meat, poultry, and egg products,” while the FDA handles everything else, which is why the USDA's definition excludes things like grilled cheese). Not included under their umbrella of foodstuff served between bread are burritos, wraps, and hot dogs.


The USDA’s definition may not be as simple and elegant as it seems. A sandwich is one thing, but a “sandwich-like product” is different territory. The same labeling policy book Mark Wheeler referred to when describing a sandwich lumps burritos into this vague category. Fajitas “may also be” a sandwich-like product, as long as the strips of meat in question come bundled in a tortilla. Another section of the book lists hot dogs and hamburgers as examples of sandwich-type products when laying out inspection policies for pre-packaged dinners. So is there an example of a meat-wrapped-in-carb dish that doesn’t belong to the sandwich family? Apparently strombolis are where the USDA draws the line. The Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book clearly states the product “is not considered a traditional sandwich” [PDF].


When it comes to sandwiches, New York doesn’t discriminate. In a bulletin outlining the state’s tax policy, a description of what constitutes a sandwich warrants its own subhead. The article reads:

“Sandwiches include cold and hot sandwiches of every kind that are prepared and ready to be eaten, whether made on bread, on bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise, and regardless of the filling or number of layers. A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll, or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

It then moves on to examples of taxable sandwiches. The list includes items widely-believed to bear the label, like Reubens, paninis, club sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Other entries, like burritos, gyros, open-faced sandwiches, and hot dogs, may cause confusion among diners.


More from mental floss studios