Perhaps it may be difficult to remember, but there was once a time when LucasArts created more than just Star Wars cash-ins of varying quality. Of course, that's not to say there were no Star Wars games during that time, but this was when they were on the top of their game, creating iconic classics of the gaming world, such as Monkey Island, The Fate of Atlantis, and Maniac Mansion. It was during this period, 1993 to be exact, that Mike Ebert and LucasArts released a forgotten classic on the Genesis and SNES: Zombies Ate my Neighbors. Published by Konami, This was one of those games that I actually owned as a child, and the game that I still claim to have achieved my greatest gaming moment: making it to level 46 with no game overs.
The games story is a simple one. Monsters, such as zombies, werewolves, martians, and giant babies, are out to kill everyone. And, of course, it's up to Zeke and Julie to stop them. There's a crazy doctor named Dr. Tongue involved in this somehow, but really it doesn't matter. There are people to save, and monsters to destroy.
The story is minimalistic, but really, the actual plot of the game is so unimportant, that you'll never find yourself actually thinking about it or the final confrontation with Dr. Tongue. Instead, you'll find yourself solely focused on each level's story, if that, told to you exclusively by the level's title and the monsters present inside. The game is 54 levels of goofy monster movie spoofs just waiting to be survived.
But just because the game has a sense of humor doesn't mean it's not hard or that there are no tense moments. The game is a free roaming top-down shooter, and like any game set with that camera angle, you will be attacked from all sides. Luckily, you don't have to defeat all the enemies or even make it to a specific location to end the level. Unfortunately, to escape, you actually have to save all the people that you can before the door to the next level opens. And you have to be quick, because if an enemy reaches one of the neighbors, they will die, and there will be one less neighbor to save on the next level. If they all die, it's game over. Racing an ax wielding doll towards a panicking soldier, builds a certain kind of tension
Of course, you could, if you are able, simply off the doll with one of your many weapons. But this isn't a gritty game. There are no pistols or shotguns to be found. Starting off, the player will only have access to a water gun. but it shouldn't take long to build up an arsenal of creative weapons like soda can grenades, silverware, tomatoes, fire extinguishers, and bazookas. And that's not the only thing they have. There are also items like clown punching bags, med kits, and various potions that will give the player that much needed edge. With a little strategy, these weapons and items will help Zeke and Julie overcome the odds and save their neighbors.
Of course, all of this is moot if you don't have what it takes to play this game correctly. No, not an itchy trigger finger and a sure shot, though those will definitely help. No, Zombies Ate my Neighbors requires the player to have a brain and to prioritize. Not every enemy needs to be defeated. Nor must every drawer be searched as the player moves through the level. And for the love of all that's holy, save the victim first then get the bazooka.
There's even strategy involved in the combat. Most enemies are more susceptible to damage from specific types of weapons. The water pistol works wonderfully on the zombies, but you'll want to use a soda can grenade on the mummies and silverware on the werewolves. I'd also recommend you save those red potions (drinking one of them will turn either Zeke or Julie into an invincible monster) for level 20. You'll need them.
As I've mentioned, each level has its own story. This is set up by a title written in classic 50s B-movie blood font and the occasional goofy blurb. As you move through the levels you will hop from zombie infested suburbia, to haunted castles, mummy filled pyramids, hedge mazes with loving chainsaw maniacs, and football stadiums willed with undead tackles. And there is no clear distinction of where you are heading next. This makes the game feel more like a spoof than a solidified story, and that works very well for this game. The constant jumping from area to area randomizes the enemy types and never allows the player to lay down a consistent plan of attack. It also allows you to restock weapons you may be running low on as weapons that are more useful in the factory may not be needed in the shopping mall.
The game is playable cooperatively, which is a nice touch. Although, it does not really change the game all that much as both players must remain on the same screen. So, there is no diving the ten victims up into equal chunks as one heads east and the other west, which is a real shame. This can also be a hindrance if both players aren't on the same page or in constant communication. But as you would be sitting in the same room as the person, you are playing with, you should be able to discuss strategy.
The music and sound effects are pure B-movie melodrama, the posses that feeling of striving to add tension but going just a hair too far and ending up ridiculous. One shot from the water pistol causes a zombie to explode, loudly, into clouds of dust, and the piercing shriek of a dying victim sounds the same no matter what gender.
Zombies Ate my Neighbors is a blast to play. The goofy nature of the game will keep any little kid from becoming scared, while the satirizing of a genre of movies will keep those willing to think a bit deeply about things amused. The game is easy to pick up and play, and a convenient four digit password system will checkpoint your progress after every few levels. The game has its flaws. Switching weapons and items by holding A and pressing the respective button can become a bit cumbersome when hunting for something desperately needed, but if you can put up with that, you will find an enjoyable zombie romp that no horror buff should dare pass up.