Who doesn’t love a good campy horror flick every now and then? With Lucas Art’s Zombies Ate My Neighbors, you may never have to watch another one!
Just look at the premise of the game: Monsters are running amok in the neighborhood and it is up to two kids armed with squirt guns to stop them! It may sound cliche’, but that feeling will soon be discarded once you begin playing and discovering what a triumph the game design is!
At the start of the game you can choose between two kids; a boy and a girl. Aside from the look of the character, there is no inherent advantage to picking either of them, so just go with want you want. From there you are dropped in the first neighborhood to begin your quest of saving as many neighbors as possible. The game controls marvelously, and you will never once have a problem doing what you want once you figure out how to sort items! They even give you a radar to help in locating the neighbors which you can toggle on and off by hitting your trigger buttons.
It’s a good thing too! Ten of your neighbors ranging from mean teachers to helpless babies are scattered throughout each level. Your goal is to get to them before the monsters do. This may sound simple until you realize that if a neighbor is killed then you lose that neighbor FOR THE REST OF THE GAME! That might be a problem since the game has over 50 levels to keep them alive through, and eventually you would be down to one. Except the game developers were way ahead of us on that one! The fix was to award an extra neighbor for every 40,000 points you score! And since you will be scoring a TON of points throughout the game most players will be fine as long as you don’t mess up TOO badly.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that the game is a cake walk, either. The monster horde is out for your blood (or the neighbors! They’re not picky)! There’s the titular zombies, the masked killer, the evil dolls, the vampires, the werewolves… put it this way: If its been in a horror film, it will be in this game! It is shocking how much content they managed to stuff in a game that is over 15 years old! Each monster acts differently than its brethren, with different patterns, aggressiveness, and weaknesses, and you’ll have to learn each one’s intricacies in order to survive!
But that’s why we have all these weapons! Zombie’s myriad of weapons and items is pure bliss, adding yet another layer of content into an already stuffed game. I love how the game uses things typical of suburbia and turns them into a viable arsenal. Squirt guns filled with holy water act as a pistol. Shaken-up Cola cans act as grenades that can be hurled over walls. Bazookas (Yes, bazookas!) dropped by military can be used to blow down obstacles such as hedges and walls. Every weapon and item has a purpose and add strategy to the game, but it is the various ways that the weapons interact with the monsters that steal the show. Silverware one-shot werewolves! Weed-Whackers one-shot plant monsters! POPSICLES ONE-SHOT BLOBS!! If you are a horror aficionado, you will have a distinct advantage here since it is obvious that this was a labor of love from a development team that loved horror movies!
It all comes together beautifully. Levels are incredibly detailed, and as with the monsters and weapons, it’s the small things that make the difference. Need to get in a house? You can use a key. Or you could blow the door open with a bazooka! Or you could smash it down as a monster using a special potion!
Do you want to explore, or just rescue your neighbors and move on? It is in these moments that the game ceases to be good and becomes extraordinary. My favorite example is the hedge maze in level 3. Viable options include turning into a monster and killing all seven chainsaw maniacs or using a bazooka and blowing holes in both walls AND maniacs in order to fast-track to your neighbors. Or you could let the maniacs cut a path for you, luring them into making shortcuts for you before breaking out the fire extinguishers and decoy clowns to slow them down! The possibilities are endless!
Did I mention that you can do all of this WITH TWO PLAYERS? Bringing along a buddy makes for two times the fun, and makes it more likely that you can finish the game in one sitting. Make no mistake: THAT IS THE WAY IT IS MEANT TO BE PLAYED! Zombies features a password system that punishes you for using it by stripping you of your items. If you have to use a password then you start from the later levels with just a squirt gun and a first-aid kit! You could normally chalk this up to bad game design it almost didnt seem to be deliberate as a way to challenge more advanced players. I think that they expected veterans to use the passwords to skip ahead and try their luck at some of the punishing later levels with a limited inventory.
As for graphics and sound… The game cannot stand toe-to toe with the SNES’ best, but I don’t think it’s supposed to. The graphics get the job done and do a great job of painting a varied landscape. Animation is great with unique animations for all neighbors and monsters, not to mention the kids which are very expressive. This may explain why the graphics are a little toned down, and I consider it a fair trade. Sound-wise the game is fantastic. The soundtrack may repeat too often, but the tracks that are there are all mood-setters with my personal favorites being Dr. Tongue’s Castle and the Baby Theme. Sound effects are also varied and used to great effect, from the roaring of a chainsaw to the screaming cries of the neighbors as they are spirited away to the next world.
Overall, I cannot praise this game enough! That is why I am always confused that more gamers have not heard of this game. It sold reasonably well but seems to be forgotten among modern gamers. It was only recently that it clicked into place! I was playing Dead Rising and bitching to a friend about how clunky it was when memories of this game came flooding back to me. Zombies was a game before its time, and nothing makes that clearer than the zombie-obsessed society of the modern age! Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead, The Zombie Survival Guide… Even Call of Duty has been invaded by the undead! This game combines EVERYTHING appealing about horror films, ties it to solid arcade action, and then throws in some trademark Lucas Arts humor. The final result is a fresh and addictive title that still holds up to this day! That is why I am officially using this platform to call for Konami to make the sequel that ZAMN deserves!!
They might as well do something while they are busy doing nothing…
5 out of 5 Stars
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