“I have an idea for a movie called ‘The Walken Dead’ which is about a town where, instead of zombies, everyone becomes Chris Walken.”
The game is known simply as Zombies in Europe, where I guess eating one’s neighbors is frowned upon as a strictly “yankee” past time. Developed for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is an addicting top-down run and gun (a variation on the shoot ’em up genre). It boasts numerous stages, great graphics and music, and a huge assortment of weapons and enemies.
Players choose from one of two characters. Zeke is an undoubtedly smelly alpha nerd complete with Sid’s shirt from Toy Story and his trademark red and blue 3D glasses, which again reference the popcorn-movie theme of the game. Then there’s Julie, a sweet brunette with a quick trigger finger and ponytail, who looks like she’d never be interested in playing this game with you. Just why these two are fighting monsters with super-soakers is irrelevant.
If are unlike Zeke and have actual friends, your buddy can jump on a second controller and unleash simultaneous mulitplayer, dramatically increasing the funness level. It’s the definitive way to play the game, in my opinion. Teaming up with a friend makes it easier to traverse the many stages and confront Dr. Tongue, the mad scientist who unleashed his horrors on these poor American suburbs.
B-movie monsters are not only referenced but they in fact form the proverbial vertebrae of Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Face down enemies such as Frankenstein’s monster, bug-eyed Martians, Dracula, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Blob, creepy dolls, the Fly, the Wolf Man, the clones evocative of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre guy, and of course, stinking hordes of the Living Dead in this mid 20th century pop-tour. The whole game is one giant easter egg. The billion or so levels (ok, there are fifty-five) even have punny, parody names like “Where the Red Fern Growls”, “Nightmare on Terror Street”, “The Day the Earth Ran Away”, and “Dances with Werewolves”, referencing movies of yesteryear.
Armed at first only with squirt guns, Zeke and Julie procure additional weapons and items in each level. Dishes, soda cans, bazookas, tomatoes, crucifixes, weed-whackers, fire extinguishers, sneakers, potions, first aid kits… in short, everything you’d need to survive world war Z. It’s wacky, yes, but the designers didn’t neglect to throw in references even here: silverware will one-shot werewolves and the crucifix is of course bomb at taking out vampires. It’s the little things…
Zombies Ate My Neighbors isn’t merely survival horror. So if you thought that, stop. It’s a rescue mission. You’re tasked with finding and retrieving your neighbors in each stage. Once you find them all, a door opens that will take you to the next level. However, if you’re too inept, the Joneses and the Smiths innocently having their barbecues and arguing over who has the nicer sedan will get gobbled up by any number of the game’s hungry miscreants. If you do allow a neighbor to be killed, you’ll enter the next level with one less to save out of the usual ten. If you keep losing neighbors, you’ll eventually run out. Collecting enough points in each stage can lead to the “Extra Bonus Victim” award, bringing your total back up. But there are actually two ways to get a game over: the zombies and their colleagues eat all of your neighbors, or you get hit too many times and run out of extra lives.
How this game was ever unsuccessful upon its initial release, I’ll never understand. What’s not to like? This lighthearted “period piece” rightfully takes its place as one of the most beloved titles of the 16-bit era. I still meet people with an SNES and one of the things our conversation eventually boils down to is: “Dude! Remember Zombies Ate My Neighbors? LOL.”
The 8-Bit Review
While it certainly isn’t the most impressive title on the SNES and Genesis, its charming graphics and smooth animations go a long way. The backgrounds can occasionally be a little ugly with too many bright colors, particularly in the shopping mall stages, or they can seem too tiled and monotonous, like in the warehouses and hedge mazes. The best visual features are the character sprites. They’re humorous and lively, reminding you this is a title by LucasArts. Zombies exploding are especially eye-catching. The UFOs and giant babies also come to mind as some of the more exceptional and endearingly cartoonish sprites in the game.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors’ second best feature is its audio, both its soundtrack and sound effects. The sound effects especially are memorable. They’re even worked into the OST. Tracks like “Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem” are evocative of summer blockbuster tension, the da dum da dum of Jaws, while others proudly wear their 50’s and 60’s “beach party” influence on their sleeve. “Zombie Panic” comes to mind as one that’s cheesily creepy and upbeat in a rollerskate diner kind of way. Still others use that high pitch, black-and-white horror noise (it’s a Theremin). The song below combines these classic old school “scary movie” elements with a bass bumped melody and sound effects that evoke mumbling zombies and hundreds shuffling feet. Really, the whole soundtrack is so great I wish you’d stop reading my blog and go Youtube it. Right now.
Sometimes you’ll reach a neighbor and the game should give you the points for picking them up, but there’s enough of a delay that the monster chasing you jumps in and kills them first. Extremely frustrating. It doesn’t happen too often, thankfully. There are a few minor glitches like doors that refuse to unlock even if you have the key. Other than those rare instances, there isn’t too much to complain about, gameplay wise. Zombies is a pretty solid run and gun. There’s plenty of items to pick up and play around with. Though some of them will inevitably seem downright useless, there’s still the red potion that turns you into a giant purple hulk. Also, the amount of stages may wear you down, eventually. Thank the Lord there’s a password system! They thought ahead.
Definitely, this is the game’s best feature. It isn’t nearly half as fun without a second player. Also, the screen is sufficiently spaced out so that you won’t often run into the typical co-op issue of “I want to go this way and you want to go that way and now we’re stuck!” You’ll have to share weapons and items, but what is that compared to another human presence during the next zombie-apocalypse-slash-alien-invasion-slash-monster-mash?
Like I said: thank God there are passwords. Beating Zombies Ate My Neighbors straight through from “Day of the Tentacle” to “Curse of the Tongue” is no cakewalk. The levels do get significantly harder and unless you’re familiar with their layout, Zombies punishes you by putting neighbors right on the other side of impassable walls right in the line of sight of the zombies, and they will pick them off right under your nose. Later stages will especially require you to know the lay of the land and plan out your pathway through their mazes. Further, if you’re not disciplined enough with your weapons and accessories, you’ll run out of ammunition as the stages drag on and on. Bazooka ammo is particularly prone to running out. The last thing you want is to encounter a giant spider with naught but a few dribbles left in your squirt gun. But this is yet another element that makes Zombies Ate My Neighbors shine. Victory is all the more rewarding for how grueling some of its stages can be.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors has fairly large stages with plenty of secret rooms, hidden areas and items in them. Plus, there’s the bonus levels. But you’ll mainly come back because it’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re hanging out with a friend. Zombies is one of the best 2-player games on the SNES. Better than Super Mario, since you have to wait your turn. Who likes that? Nobody.
This game proved to be the perfect blend of pop-culture references (without being nauseating), terrific music, spot on sound effects and enjoyable multiplayer. It’s basis on the B-movie monsters of Hollywood’s past isn’t so special when you consider all of the games with werewolves and vampires and zombies in them. But Zombies Ate My Neighbors has it all, all of the classic monsters. It’s an homage to the silver screen spooks. And there might be other games with monsters, sure, but Zombies Ate My Neighbors just happens to get it right. Instead of being foreboding, ominous or actually scary, Zombies feels more like (and sounds more like) a Scooby-Doo cartoon: harmless and hilarious. Who cares if its just as predictable? Cue the canned laughter.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I played the heck out of Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Whenever I pop that cartridge in, my SNES is probably all “What the-? Again?!” I game genie’d this game into the ground. Together with my brother, I explored nearly every inch of its levels. This is one of the most memorable titles of the 16-bit era. If you haven’t played it, make plans this weekend. Find it on the Wii virtual console (if anyone still has one), call up a friend and make a date out of it. Someone has to save those poor cheerleaders! Just, whatever you do, don’t bother with the sequel/spin off, Ghoul Patrol. The scariest thing in that game is the fact that nobody has ever wanted to play it.
Aggregated Score: 8.3