ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBORS
Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo
Genre: Horror ‘Run and Gun’
Great games come along every so often. Games that may not stand out in the mainstream or change the face of video games forever, but certainly achieve a standard of excellence that most other games could only hope to. When the stars align and shadow of Mars lands on the face of-
Okay, maybe that’s a bit too much fanfare. However, when introducing a game like Zombies Ate My Neighbors, you have to give credit where credit is due. This tongue-in-cheek satire of all things horror movies is and incredibly made piece of work from Konami and LucasArts really is my fondest memory of 16 bit gaming. Some may not agree with the tone or subject as this could be considered a niche game, but if you’re looking at this title asking ‘What the hell is Zombies Ate My Neighbors’, then I have to preach that you are missing an incredible retro gaming experience.
‘Zombies’ has a very straight-forward premise. You play as Zeke or Julie- who you choose really is just a matter of preference. As either teenager (or both, if you have a friend to help), you travel through towns, shopping malls, deserts, and more saving your neighbors. Cheerleaders, babies, and soldiers alike are in danger from the zombies of the title, as well as numerous other creatures that go bump in the night. Chainsaw wielding maniacs, giant ants, and Martians are just some of the creatures you’ll encounter as you travel the games 50+ levels to stop the evil Dr. Tongue, the mastermind behind the hordes of monsters invading. Utilizing a variety of weapons, you must rescue your ten neighbors before they become victims of the monsters. If you lose your ten neighbors or all of your lives, it’s game over. Easy enough, right?
While the game has a decent learning curve involved, the game slowly becomes a war of attrition. Throughout the levels, you will collect items, weapons, and victims, doing your best to keep stocked and make sure that you don’t lose those precious neighbors. Some of these items are straightforward- keys will help open doors while first aid kits heal your life bar- but some are a bit more nefarious. One potion in particular places a random effect on your character. It can heal you, hurt you, or even turn you into a zombie for some time. The variety of power-ups (and downs) is matched if not exceeded by the variety of weapons. You begin with a squirt gun, but throughout the levels, you’ll unearth everything from crucifixes and bazookas to weed-whackers and fire extinguishers. Some of these weapons can prove a bit unwieldy, though. The soda cans are hard to judge and the plates feel like they’re just a bit slower than the rest of the weaponry. There is a weapon for all occasions, however, and switching between them is a breeze. Admittedly, it’s a bit easier with the SNES version than the Sega. There are only a few small differences between the two versions. Another difference that has been mentioned is that there is a flamethrower in the Super Nintendo version. I have yet to find this, but since I grew up playing the Sega version, my knowledge on the where and hows of that particular piece is limited.
Unwieldy weapons and an abnormal length aside, Zombies is just about perfect. The campy tone of the game has cemented it as a cult classic and the music and graphics lend the entire piece that exact feeling. The music is incredibly fitting for the gameplay. My personal favorites are the title and the background music that pops up in ‘Mars Needs Cheerleaders’ (yes, that’s one of the actual levels in the game). Hearing a zombie explode from your squirt gun or the howl of a werewolf at the mercy of your silverware is exhilarating. Hearing the loss of a victim, though, is possibly one of the more unnerving sounds to come out of this generation of games. The scream can really catch you and give you a bit of a jump scare. It adds to the atmosphere as much as any of the other sound effects.
If you’re looking for cartoons with a terrifying slant, the graphics on this game are for you. Some games pull comical graphics into the unbelievable, but there’s just enough realism to show that while the game is a satire, it’s still a little creepy. Even with the largest sprites (re: ‘Titanic Toddler’), the same feel is recognized. The settings are awesome, especially when you get to the beach/water levels like ‘Boardwalk of Horrors’ or dungeon levels like ‘Seven Meals for Seven Zombies’. It’s incredibly atmospheric, whatever the atmosphere is that the game strives for.
My favorite minor part of the game, now that I’ve rattled off a few, is the titles of the levels. Almost every level is some nod to a pop culture reference, making this game even more relevant to those who played it at the time. Even now, the references are very easy to get so long as you were born before 1995. The game never results in laugh out loud moments, but you’ll find yourself smirking at some of the poking and prodding it does to other works, in and out of the horror genre.
If I had to choose a part that I didn’t like, it would have to be the length of the game. Now, I’m going to recount that with plenty of pros, but this game is really long. Like, ‘I’ve only finished it once or twice in my fifteen years of playing it’ long. Of course, this does mean that you get plenty of content from your hard-earned dollars, and the game does find ways to break up the monotony, but by the end, you’ll be asking yourself how much time you’ve spent blasting the creatures of the night. Thankfully, there is a password function every four levels, so if you need to sit away from the game for a bit, you can.
If the game’s tone and length don’t steer you away from it off of what you’ve read so far, you’ll find it hard to peel yourself away from Zeke and Julie’s ordeals. This game more than makes its stand against games of today, even spawning games such as Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia from the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, which takes a lot of cues from Zombies Ate My Neighbors. I highly endorse this game to anyone with a quirky sense of humor, a love for horror or comedy, or just someone looking to pass some time with a fun little piece of video game history.
P.S. The game has one of the most original credits/ending sequences I’ve witnessed in a game. See if you don’t agree.