Zombies Ate My Neighbors
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Platforms:
    • SNES
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • LucasArts
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • US September 1993
    • UK 01/27/1994
Score: 80%

This review was published on 07/22/2017.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors, known in Europe as simply Zombies, is a video game developed by LucasArts and published by Konami for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. Both versions of the game were originally released in North America in September 1993 and Europe on January 27, 1994. During the early 1990s, LucasArts was primarily known for creating adventure games for computers, such as The Secret of Monkey Island. However, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is neither an adventure game, nor is it for computers. Rather, it's an overhead action game with an emphasis on shooting. As its name implies, this game is themed after various horror films, ranging from classics released in the 1950s, to more recent stuff like Friday the 13th and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This isn't the first time LucasArts made a horror themed game, as the company also made Maniac Mansion in 1987, but again, that was an adventure game. Despite garnering critical acclaim, Zombies Ate My Neighbors unfortunately wasn't a commercial success, though it did get a sequel named Ghoul Patrol in 1994. Today, Zombies Ate My Neighbors enjoys a stout cult following, which is good, because it deserves it.

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A mad scientist known as Dr. Thideous Tongue is engaging in some mad science. The hideously tongued scientist created a bunch of monsters in his laboratory and unleashed them on nearby suburban areas. Why would he do such a thing? Well, I did say he's mad, didn't I? I just answered a question with another question. Anyway, two teenage pals, a boy named Zeke and a girl named Julie, decide to team up to fight the monsters and hopefully defeat the mad doctor himself. As you can see from my synopsis, the game's story is very tongue-in-cheek, pun not intended. Despite its horror motif, the game doesn't take itself very seriously, instead choosing to parody just about every horror trope in the book. The plot obviously isn't important in a game like this, but its silliness gives everything a lighthearted feel that is certain to put a smile on your face.

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As mentioned earlier, all action in Zombies Ate Your Neighbors is viewed from an overhead perspective. You're able to effortlessly walk in eight directions via the d-pad on the controller. Jumping isn't possible under normal circumstances, but it can be done if you walk into a trampoline. Similarly, you can swim by simply walking into a body of water. As far as buttons go, one is for attacking, and most of the other ones are for using and switching between weapons and items. Speaking of, items include medical kits that restore health, regular keys that unlock regular doors, skeleton keys that unlock skeleton doors, and mysterious potions. Potions have different effects on your character, like increasing speed or temporarily transforming them into a powerful monster. In any case, the controls are relatively simple, but it may take you some time to get used to what all the buttons do.

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Like the game's North American title hints, your objective is to prevent zombies and other horror themed monsters from eating your neighbors. The game refers to your neighbors as "victims," because, well, they are. At any rate, your mission is to find and save as many victims as possible. Victims come in different types, like cheerleaders, tourists, babies, teachers, and even dogs. Thankfully, you don't have to escort victims out of the level manually, as they're collected just like items and even give varying amounts of points when rescued. Plus, you have a handy dandy radar system that shows the locations of nearby victims. This might all seem disgustingly simple at first, but it's actually far more complicated. It's so complicated, in fact, that I'm going to have to break this explanation down into two paragraphs.

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Saving all the victims in a level will cause an exit door to appear, which takes you to the next level when entered. The amount of victims you have to save depends on how many you successfully rescued in the previous level, though. You begin the game with ten victims to save, and while the number will never increase beyond that amount, it can decrease. Basically, victims instantly die if a monster touches them, robbing you of the chance of saving them. Some victims also transform into werewolves at nightfall, which counts as them dying. The game still continues on even if a victim dies, as you merely need to save the surviving ones to beat the level. However, every time a victim dies, there will be fewer victims to save in the next level. Once all victims are dead, the game is over and you get booted back to the title screen. Likewise, the game ends when you lose all your lives. It's possible to earn extra bonus victims by getting enough points, but as mentioned, you can't exceed ten victims. This whole system is needlessly convoluted and a little unforgiving.

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There are many weapons to find and you can freely switch between the acquired ones with the press of a button, no menu screens required. Most weapons are of the ranged variety, usually consisting of projectiles being thrown or shot from afar. Don't think this means that you'll be acquiring typical stuff like pistols and shotguns, however. The weapons are all rather unconventional, like water guns, weed-whackers, fire extinguishers, explosive soda cans, dishes, tomatoes, and even popsicles. There are a couple of more traditional weapons, too, like bazookas and flamethrowers. Every weapon has limited ammo, so proper resource management is a major element of the game. Better weapons tend to have less ammo available, making you save them for when something truly tough rears its ugly head. Additionally, every weapon has a different level of effectiveness against certain types of baddies, like how werewolves die faster to silverware. Like that example, enemy weaknesses are often based on horror movie tropes, so it's not all random. Due to the amount of depth they provide, the weapons are one of this game's main selling points.

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You've got a ton of levels to play through in Zombies Ate My Neighbors. These levels will take you through various environments, and not all of them are horror themed. Such environments consist of the aforementioned suburban neighborhoods, but also shopping malls, factories, beaches, the pyramids of Egypt, mysterious castles, and other neat places. While the levels are encountered in a linear order, their layouts are slightly nonlinear, requiring that you do a little exploration to locate all the victims. Exploration also rewards you with more weapons and items, which is both fun and helpful. You have unlimited time, so you can look for goodies even after rescuing all the victims. Of course, you'll be accosted by swarms of enemies at every turn, such as the titular zombies, but there are also werewolves, vampires, mummies, lumberjacks, aliens, and even giant babies. Baddies spawn endlessly in most levels, so additional exploration does put you at greater risk. The lightweight exploration is fun, but the sheer amount of levels means that environments and ideas start repeating themselves later on.

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One of the biggest things about this game is the fact that you can play it cooperatively with a friend. Before the game begins and when entering passwords to continue, you're able to pick whether you want to go it alone or with a pal. Each player takes control of a different character as they work together to save victims. There is a slight competitive slant to things, however, as the player that saves more victims gets extra points. Still, both players must be on the screen at all times, so things can't ever get too competitive. If a player dies, they can immediately rejoin the action at the cost of a single life. This is even the case when playing alone, too. In fact, aside from a second player helping out, there's not much of a difference between playing the game alone or with someone else. It is, however, far more fun with two players.

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Even though the SNES and Genesis versions of the game came out at the same time, development began on the SNES version first. Both versions are nearly the same, but there are some differences. Generally, the Genesis outputs games at a higher resolution than the SNES, which is reflected in the Genesis version of Zombies Ate My Neighbors. The added screen real estate is used in the Genesis release to always display your radar, whereas the radar must be repeatedly brought up in the SNES version by pressing a button. However, this comes at the cost of slightly worse graphics and an unsightly black border that forever remains on the screen. In addition to marginally improved visuals, the SNES version has an extra weapon in the form of a flamethrower. As a result of that, the SNES version is overall the better pick.

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This is a mighty swell game. Zombies Ate My Neighbors earns the distinction of being one of the best original creations to have come out of LucasArts that isn't an adventure game. Groovy graphics, groovy music, groovy stages, and groovy game play; everything about this game is groovy. The only issue it has is that there are too many levels, which eventually results in repetitive game play due to recycled elements. Also, while certainly good on its own, this game is best played with a friend.

Word Count: 1,582

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