(Zombies Ate My Neighbors, September 1994, LucasArts)
Halloween used to be my favorite holiday, then it got too mainstream. Now my favorite holiday is July 7th’s obscure nWo B-Team Appreciation Day. Sorry... hipster moment there...anyhoodles, WELCOME BACK! It's been awhile, I know. The world is a funny, glorious, fucked up place and I was much more content with burying my brain into some pixel art there for a bit. My now award winning art was a distraction from many trials and tribulations of fire that need to be overcome. Call it real life questing, if you will. What can I say? When the bug bites, it bites fuckin' hard. On top of that, my ever curious great grandchildren approached me whilst whittling on my rocking chair and eating horehound the other morning and innocently inquired:
"Paw-Paw Ques-Tuh, we heard you were some sort of pseudo-legendary reviewer of old grey carts and we never got to see you do your thing! So, if you could show us what you used to do, there is a tiny chance we will trot you out in front of our class like a science project on Family Job Day!".
With that type of task of raw pride laid out in front of me, there can be no other option but to dust off the pencil box, roll up the sleeves of my off-white long john thermals and grab my corncob pipe, and do the motherfucking thing right! Right? Right. The Quester is back, baby...
Wait for it...let me earn it...
In the spirit of the dead, as a campy glorification of gore imbibes all of our souls come October, it seemed apropos to look into a game that is tailor made for the holiday. A title that is both Halloween themed as well as one yours truly isn't very versed in, with a name that alone is epic in every possible way: Zombie Ate My Neighbors. (Also referred to for the sake of any futurecarpal tunnel I may incur as ZAMN)
A game that makes you feel stoned even when you're not!
ZAMN was bestowed unto us by LucasArts in 1993 while they were in the midst of the company blessing us unworthy gamers with some of the more memorable adventure titles of the time, some of note being Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, and Maniac Mansion. Both are critically acclaimed and magnificent titles that no respectable game library should be without.
If this screen twists your face into a smile, your 90's were awesome.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors was released for both the SNES and Genesis around the same time Secret of Mana dropped, totally explaining how it flew by my radar. Around this point in the teenage Quester's timestream, there existed only oxygen, water, food, and Secret of Mana. No regrets, there. Curiously, this little ditty sometimes gets referred to as a Konami game when all Konami really did was produce the carts and slap the pretty sticker on. So, did I make a boo-boo in not giving this cult favorite run and gun a go? Read on o' curious one!
It takes no time at all for the wacky to kick in.
Oh, come on, you know you missed my extended and overwinded history sections!
Tough shit, you're getting it anyway. >:(
Zombies Ate My Neighbors was primarily conceptualized by the talented and twisted Mike Ebert. Ebert was also the mind behind the NES Star Wars titles and Simpsons Wrestling, before founding Big Ape Studios. Citing Smash TV and Robotron: 2084 as his favorite arcade games of all-time, Mr. Ebert set out to pay homage to these beloved hand crampers as well as a tip of the hat to all his favorite horror movie cliches. Along with a fellow SCUMM engine expert, Kalani Streicher, and future children's music star Joe McDermott, a unique team was formed. They all set out to make something both brand new and comfortably familiar. I won't outright say they succeeded but somewhere in the distance my ears clearly detect a soccer announcer belting out GOALLLLLLLLLLLL at the top of his lungs.
In case my insurance dropped me while I was gone, make sure he doesn't pass out on us.
The plot is about as straight forward as it can get, as in, the Commodore VIC-20 had a few games with deeper lore. That being said, its primary vision is that of a campy horror game, so how much backstory could us players possibly need? If the majority of B-movies never contain much of a sensible plot, I can see why they didn't go all Xenogears here.
Like Tecmo Bowl from your nightmares.
In a nutshell, a madman who was cursed with the porno-riffic name of Dr. Tongue did his madman type experiments (as madmen are almost certain to do) and unleashed his mutated creations all over, well, creation. Two plutonic teenage pals by the name of Zeke and Julie round up as much weird shit as they can to save their hapless neighbors from the horrors inhabiting every level. Why these two are fighting for the survival of the hood while the other surrounding humans are barbequing, displaying their pom pom skills, and vacationing on a trampoline, who knows? They obviously share more passion for their homestead turf than I do because if the zombie shit ever truly hits the fan, my immediate neighbors are so beyond the realm of fucked that it isn't even funny. All of this leads to the ultimate showdown between the two teens and one Dr. Tongue. Umm...
Then again...creepy enough!
The graphics are a high point for me as the game can be as colorful and vibrant as a Randy Savage ring outfit, or as dark and foreboding as anything named 'Vania. The sprites are all at once wonderfully large, demented, memorable, and fit like a glove. One of my personal favorite features is the presentation of the levels, complete with D-movie style titles such as Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem and Pyramid of Fear. Great care was taken to make each level have a unique atmosphere, and as a result ZAMN never suffers a case of the same old sharkshit when entering a new challenge. Pyramids, football fields, supermarkets, medieval castles, and graveyards are just a few of the offerings here and those are just in the first fifth of this rowdy run n' gunnin' romp. Add in a sprinkle and a dash of some awesome co-op and this becomes an explosion of color and sound that not many games on the SNES matched. Seriously and without my normal exaggeration, the fun factor of ZAMN runs as high as the scale allows. The weapon variety for the era is head-shakingly ahead of others of its time, as if the game was made yesterday in the vein of a SNES title. Let's delve deeper into that shall we?
I'd watch this in a New York minute.
Who says 16-bit games can't have a veritable shitpile of weapons? Imagine Krusty The Clown and The Punisher meeting on a summer vacation in Brazil, falling deeply into egomaniacal love and having a readymade-for-therapy baby… Who also gets off on killing shit. That's your fucking armory, my zombie hunting friends. I legitly lost count of how many things I could fire off or use in this gem of a game. No crapola, ZAMN is just a step below a Super Nintendo Ratchet & Clank with how deep the weapon system can get. More often than not, an RPG-like knowledge pulls your fat out of the fire as the natural progession of making it through the baddies of an RPG are as follows:
First things first, as it pertains to earlier...
1. Ahoy! A new, unseen enemy! Hack wildly at that ass with my default weapon!
2. That worked about as well as trying to stab someone to death with Jello. Now to cycle through all my enemy slaying stuff and find which offensive thingamajig works best for said monster, having my ass handed to me all the while.
3. Found one that works! Die forever monster demon creature! DIE!!!
4. Well...shit, I barely made it out of that one before I found the right weapon. Certainly, the next hit will kill me as dead as killed people get. Now I know better and shall use the EXP in my noggin's hard drive next time, whomp ass, and move on with life.
Rinse, wash, repeat.
Example: Dart a little silverware at the werewolves and they go down faster than Kanye West's IQ anytime he speaks. I appreciate that level of detail in an older acton game tremendously.
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Eat the waiter, tip the veal!
Onto Mr. McDermott's soundtrack. In my opinion, the audio in ZAMN is right up there with the frantic action and mind bending levels. The sound effects are relentlessly loud and in your face. One of my normal issues with shooters is the lack of decent sounding explosions or the soundtrack drowning it out. No, my friends, when something goes KABOOM here in ZAMN Land, it treats your ears to the auditory satisfaction of shit of mass chaos around you. Kooky concept I know, but a lot of games in the era had trouble getting it right. In closing, this soundtrack is some of the most high end, delicious cream of the SNES crop without a doubt. The artist obviously had an inner affinity for the ambience of Universal horror films then translated that into a labor of love that became this OST.
Speaking of, if you haven't dug into these yet, I cannot recommend these Legacy sets highly enough.
Now, before we start naming our soon to be born children "Zamn Lucas”, It isn't all overflowing with awesome. Understand that Zombies Ate My Neighbors has issues that should be addressed, but rest assured that they aren’t game breaking! The main issue is the weapons switch. Switching weapons can be well within the difficulty range of eating a pound of block cheese and trying to shit the next day. Often will you curse the screen simply because you had the know how, the will, and the way, but the damned weapon switch left you open to every attack under the sun, bringing your furious visage face to face with the game over screen. Aiming can also be tricky as some enemies require you to be precisely lined up with the middle of the target. This can be absolute hell in later levels when these brain-starved monstrosities swarm you from every corner of the screen.
Or when you meet this insufferable pain in the ass.
Another minor gripe is the neighbor system. Play starts with ten neighbors that you are destined to protect per level. If one is killed by the monsters, then when you begin the the next level, you have nine to protect and so on. This makes the game unbeatable later on if you haven't regained bonus neighbors, attainable by turning in a spectacular performance. If the player finds him or herself down to one neighbor on a new level, grab a soda and hit that reset button as you'd have an easier time getting 2014 gamers to all get along. Practice truly makes perfect to get around these little hiccups, though, and after a few sessions, they become necessary evils required to endure these 16-bits of badassery.
Not spoiling anything, but that ending was some surreal shit.
THE VERDICT: (WIP)
9/10 Zombies Ate My Neighbors, without a doubt, kicks ass and has a line around the corner waiting to have it's ass kicked. A sequel named Ghoul Patrol was released in 1994 but wasn't nealy as warmly received. A movie is always rumored to be in the works so who knows if we have ever truly seen the last of this memorable franchise?
Even with this budget, it'd have to be better than that damned Chun Li movie. (pic:jacfalcon)
To read a captivating interview with ZAMN Creator Mike Ebert over at Gamasutra