The 25 Best & Most Memorable Game Over ScreensThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Back in the 1950s, you could find game over signs on most pinball machines – and the practice quickly migrated to arcades in the late 1970s.
Little by little, this gaming staple has evolved to fit the times.
What was once a simple notification that your time was up has become something more.
It’s a respected tradition and an interesting storytelling device.
I’ve developed a bit of a passion for game over screens ever since I started writing about old-school gaming consoles, and I’ve decided to rank some of my favorites.
25. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time sets itself apart from other adventure platformers with its exciting storyline, narrated entirely by the protagonist.
Having the main character address the player directly can make them feel like part of the game’s universe.
It can also be quite funny whenever you die and find yourself on the game over screen.
If you choose to continue, the Prince will correct himself and tell you that he didn’t fall or that another character didn’t die.
Alternatively, you can decide to quit the game – to which the Prince will protest, surprised that you’re throwing him out without finishing his story.
24. Disney’s Tarzan (1999)
This Disney classic is the kind of game that everyone remembers playing, but few actually finished.
The game over screens are horrifying, so everyone just dropped the game.
As adults, we know we’re staring at a bunch of pixels – but watching Tarzan’s lifeless body fall from a branch and crocs closing in on his corpse was chilling for my younger self.
Never mind that, at first, these game over screens feature young Tarzan.
Nothing like dead children to scare your audience away.
23. Etrian Odyssey (2007)
Ahh, Etrian Odyssey – the turn-based RPG version of Dark Souls.
This roguelike dungeon crawler has become famous for its insane difficulty.
In reality, it’s not that hard – it’s just that killing the player ruthlessly and without warning is a core game mechanic.
Upon your death at the hands of a FOE or an innocent-looking flower with enough poison to bring down your entire party, the game will ask whether you want to save your map and exploration data.
It’s great that you get to keep your map in a game about exploring a labyrinth, but it feels like a taunt after dying four times on the same floor.
22. Goemon’s Great Adventure (1998)
The Goemon franchise is well-known for their weird game over screens featuring hula-hooping demons – but Goemon’s Great Adventure on the N64 takes it to the next level.
The Oni in this game’s game over screen has left the hula hoops behind in favor of bodybuilder poses.
They’re even more ripped than the previous game over demons, and the N64’s powerful hardware gave them some incredible hi-poly muscles.
As if that wasn’t enough, a fast-paced, eclectic tune plays in the background.
It’s almost as if the game was mocking the player for having lost.
21. Kirby Super Star (1996)
There isn’t a single cuter or more wholesome game over screen than Kirby Super Star’s.
Kirby titles have always boasted some pretty nice game over screens – but this SNES classic takes it to the next level.
After selecting “Game End,” the pointer hand you use to navigate the menus will break out of its scripted cage.
In one of the cutest scenes in 16-bit gaming, it carries the pink blob to the moon and gently tucks them in for a well-earned rest.
If you were the kind of kid who stayed up late playing games, it was a lovely transition before you went to sleep yourself.
20. Donkey Kong Country 2 (1995)
The Donkey Kong Country series gave us some of the best action platformers ever made – and some iconic game over screens.
What makes DKC2’s game over screen so special is how hopeless Diddy and Dixie look.
After being defeated and captured by King K. Rool’s henchmen, the youngest members of the DK crew will probably spend their lives in captivity or worse – and they know this.
The game’s unique art style gives the scene an exceedingly gritty and dramatic tone that almost forced players to continue, lest their monkey friends are left to despair on their own.
19. Final Fight 3 (1996)
The Final Fight saga also features iconic game over screens designed to keep you hitting continue (and forking over your quarters at the arcade).
Upon running out of HP, your hero is captured and subjected to a slow, tortuous, and impractical death. These include being tied to a bundle of dynamite sticks or left to drown in a room that slowly fills up with water.
By far, the best and most macabre belongs to Final Fight III, where your fighter watches hopelessly as a panel full of spikes slowly descends to crush them.
Talk about occupational hazards.
18. Super House of Dead Ninjas (2013)
A much more recent example of the “Continue, or else…” family of game over screens belongs to Super House of Dead Ninjas, a game famous for being bloody, violent, and cruelly hard.
Its game over screen definitely captures the bloody and violent aspects. It’s also one of many references to Ninja Gaiden found in the game.
As the timer counts down to zero, sinister cultists approach your character, who’s been captured and tied to a table to be sacrificed.
Continue, and she’ll throw a smoke bomb to get away.
Choose to quit the game, and… well, let’s just say the Aztecs would approve.
17. The Binding of Isaac (2011)
A good game over screen is a great way to remember an exceptional run after you inevitably meet your end in roguelike titles.
Indie hit The Binding of Isaac immortalizes our heroism (or utter incompetence) in Isaac’s Last Will, which takes note of how and where you ran out of hearts, as well as what items you were carrying.
In addition to being funny and even a little bit adorable, this game over screen is perfect for screenshotting and sharing with friends when you tell them about your remarkable run.
16. Friday the 13th (1989)
The truly old-school game over screens usually aren’t much.
Resources were limited back then, and devs put everything they had into the actual game.
Still, you don’t need flashy graphics or catchy music for an iconic game over screen.
Sometimes, you just need good writing – and Friday the 13th on the NES is a prime example.
If you fail at stopping Jason Voorhees’ murder spree, the game over screen won’t let you down easy.
Instead, it drops the total weight of your incompetence on your shoulders by reminding you that you and your friends are dead (because you weren’t good enough).
15. Catherine (2011)
Relationships are a lot like video games.
They require us to overcome challenges and grow from our experiences – and when we run out of chances, it can feel a lot like staring at a game over screen with no continues left.
Catherine’s unforgettable “Love is over…” screen perfectly captures the drama of failed romance thanks to its stylish interface and, more importantly, the intense game over jingle.
I loved it the first time I listened to it, but that’s not what makes it so memorable. Instead, it’s the sheer amount of times you’re likely to hear this throughout the game.
That jingle can go from cool and unique to utterly tormenting really fast.
14. Super Mario World (1991)
Super Mario World’s game over screen is simple in design – a bold, yellow “Game Over” sign over a black field.
While elegant and perfectly functional, that’s not what makes this one so iconic.
Instead it’s the remarkably catchy jingle that plays when the game over screen comes up.
Despite lasting a mere five seconds, this soothing tune stuck in player’s minds long after they left Dinosaur Land.
With time, it has become a symbol of a bygone era – and a great sound bite to sample for nostalgia-packed lo-fi tracks.
(Seriously there’s a ton based off this jingle, here’s another one).
13. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)
I’ll never forget the day I got The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the N64.
I remember it all:
The golden cartridge, the menacing mask on the cover – and that foreboding opening scene!
It was all unforgettable, including its game over screen.
But I don’t mean just any game over screen.
Majora’s Mask gives you a time limit of three in-game days to solve Termina’s problems and rescue your fairy friend from Skull Kid. Fail, and you’ll have to watch the moon crashing into Clock Town and vaporizing everyone you hold dear – including Link himself.
You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?
12. Mortal Kombat 4 (1997)
Mortal Kombat is famous for its gruesome finishing move – the Fatality – and all derivative forms of slaughter like Animalities, Brutalities, and so on.
But these are hardly the only gruesome and/or brutal things in Mortal Kombat. Its game over screens can be just as bad – or good, depending on who you’re asking.
MK4’s game over screen tortures the player with an image of their fighter flailing in desperation as they plummet to their death at the bottom of a well – unless, of course, you choose to continue.
11. Yoshi’s Story (1998)
Yoshi’s Story is a fantastic platformer with an adorable art style.
It’s also creepy as hell.
Something about the weird enemy design and slightly unsettling soundtrack gives it the atmosphere of a fever dream.
In addition, you’re thrown into an underground hell full of lava demons and reanimated dinosaur corpses as soon as the second level.
The title’s game over screen doesn’t stray far from the “nightmare fuel” aesthetic Nintendo seems to have gone for with this game.
Upon running out of lives, players are treated to a disturbing cutscene of Yoshi’s weeping figure being carried into a sinister castle by Kamek’s toadies. What awaits them inside remains a mystery.
10. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2004)
“The comfort of death will come, for men and demons alike…”
Dying in SMT III: Nocturne results in one of gaming’s most gorgeous game over screens, where a host of angelical creatures descend from the heavens to retrieve the protagonist’s body as a beautiful heavenly tune plays in the background.
You might be tempted to think your character will receive some sort of reward for his heroic deeds – but considering you’re the half-demon demi-fiend, that’s probably not what awaits you past St. Peter’s gates.
9. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008)
We’ve all heard some variation of Metal Gear Solid’s iconic Mission Failed dialogue.
It’s there in every game!
After receiving fatal damage, Snake will get a call from their operator du jour, who’ll yell the soldier’s codename in increasing desperation as the realization dawns that all is lost.
My favorite belongs to MGS4, where it is accompanied by Snake’s life flashing before his eyes.
In a way, it reminds you not to give up.
This is your last great adventure as Solid Snake, and all you have in the end are your memories – so you better make it count.
8. Dark Souls (2011)
Game over screens have changed a lot throughout the years.
And it’s a bit hard to determine what “counts” and what doesn’t.
This may not spell out “Game Over” or ask you whether you want to continue, but Dark Souls’ “YOU DIED” screen couldn’t be missing from our list.
This matter-of-fact notice of defeat has become well-loved due to familiarity (and memes).
The frustration of seeing this for the eleventh time in a row after a specially challenging boss beats you down is universal – and it brings together challenge-loving gamers across the world.
7. Resident Evil 2 (1998)
Dark Souls was hardly the first game to brazenly tell you “YOU DIED”.
The Resident Evil franchise has been doing it since the 1996 original, though the finest example belongs to Resident Evil 2.
This game over screen improves on the original by showcasing your brutal murder at the hands of lickers, hunters, William Birkin, and all manner of bio-engineered ghouls right before displaying the “YOU DIED” sign.
Thanks for stating the obvious, Capcom.
6. Dead Space (2008)
Another influential survival horror title with fantastic death animations is Dead Space – also known as Resident Evil in space.
The game features a prodigious variety of horrifying death scenes where you’ll see the main character Isaac Clark get mutilated in every way you can think of, and then some you couldn’t have imagined.
There’s even a famous section in the game where Isaac has to perform eye surgery on himself, and… well, you know where this is going.
Back in 2008, this was by far the most realistic gore I’d ever seen.
Coupled with the psychological warfare waged by the game’s chilling environments, it made Dead Space a terribly scary game.
5. Chrono Trigger (1995)
Ask any old-school JRPG fan what their favorite game over screen is, and you’ll get Chrono Trigger 9/10 times.
Like all great JRPG stories, Chrono Trigger is all about facing fate head-on and taking your destiny into your own hands – in this case, by traveling across the timeline trying to prevent a dark future.
Whenever every character’s HP falls to zero, sad music plays as the camera lingers on your party’s corpses before fading to a black and white image of the planet.
The phrase “But the future refused to change…” comes up to remind us that changing the course of history is no easy task.
4. Chrono Cross (1999)
Just like Chrono Trigger, the sequel Chrono Cross tries to make an emotional impact with its game over screen by highlighting the dire consequences of your loss.
Rather than the future refusing to change, losing in this PlayStation classic means you won’t even be born.
Specifically, “the life force called Serge was not even allowed to be born into this world.”
As the game aptly tells us, “Fate has no forgiveness for those who dare stand against it…” so you better win next time.
3. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
We remember Banjo-Kazooie as an adorable game about anthropomorphic animals on an adventure.
But back in the day, the main antagonist Gruntilda was creepy enough to give me nightmares.
This N64 classic’s game over screen definitely played a role in my phobia of green witches.
Upon triggering a game over, players are treated to a lengthy scene where Gruntilda finally manages to transfer Tooty’s youthful beauty to herself. This turns Grunty into Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and leaves Tooty a hideous green beast.
Now what kind of brother lets their lil’ sister become a horrible beast?
Time to get back into the fight!
2. We Love Katamari (2005)
The second place on our ranking goes to what I consider to be the most emotionally abusive game over screen ever made.
We all know the King of All Cosmos isn’t the best dad to Katamari Damacy’s five-centimeter hero – but it takes a darker turn whenever you fail a mission.
Upon hearing that one of your fans has lost interest in your star-rolling adventures due to your mistakes, the King goes on a terrible rant about how much you suck until you have no self-esteem left.
Did I mention he shoots beams at you throughout the scene too?
This dude needs some anger management classes.
1. Sega Rally Championship (1994)
Game over screens are usually something negative.
After all, your aim is to clear the game – and your failure must be lamented.
Or should it?
Sega Rally Championship challenges the notion with a surprisingly bright game over screen accompanied by the announcer’s voice enthusiastically exclaiming “Game over, yeah!”
This title understands games are not about clearing the campaign or becoming the best player, but the fun you have in the process.
Even a game over is a vital part of the gaming experience!