Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Remembering Zombies Ate My Neighbors

Back in the early 1990's was the age of the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, an age before the ESRB and other such organizations, meaning that at the time, there were no clear cut delineations between games for kids and stuff that was geared towards an older audience.

It was into that environment that one of the great games of that console generation was release. I am of course talking about Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

It was a game designed by Lucasarts, who at the time was well-known for their sense of humor in their games (I certainly loved Maniac Mansion), and at the time, I hadn't realized it was one of the games that was pushing the envelope of what was allowable on consoles in those pre-ratings days.

The premise is simple. You play as either a male or female teenager who is tasked with saving the normal people in their town from not only the titular zombie horde, but from a whole host of other movie beasts and baddies.

Check out some of the gameplay.

Now I haven't played the game in quite some time, but let me rundown at least a few of the other kinds of enemies you will encounter throughout the game and you will get a sense of what the game represented. There were hockey-masked, chainsaw wielding maniacs, axe-wielding demonic dolls, giant ants, werewolves, mummies, Creatures from the Black Lagoon, Blobs, martians, Draculas, Frankenstein monsters and my personal favorite, Snakeoids. I know there are other monsters I am forgetting, but as you can tell, the people who made this game loved horror and B-movies, and the cover art work tells you this one is pure kitsch.

The fact that you battled those things in an environment that was cute and bright was also what made the whole experience so charming. The level titles were also rather cheeky and gave you a hint as to the kinds of enemies you would be facing. I remember some of the names in particular: The Day the Earth Ran Away, Seven Meals for Seven Zombies, I Was a Chainsaw Maniac, and my personal favorite, They Came to Earth for One Thing: Mars Needs Cheerleaders.

How could I not love a game that has that sense of comedic style?

The weapon choices were also interesting because for the most part, they are things that seem very improvised, and sort of kid friendly. Yes, there was a bazooka, but other things that you might find for your arsenal included a water gun, cans of soda (which were like grenades), a weed whacker, silverware, a fire extinguisher (because, you never know when you will need to fight a blob) and a few others.

It was just fun, and I didn't think too much about it at the time.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is one of those games from my youth that my older sister loved playing too, and since it was a co-op experience, well, I have very fond memories of the title. It is 55 levels long, and it did have a short password system, so it allowed us to have many hours of fun. I mean, she was a horror junkie, and I was a game junkie who had seen a lot of movies with her, so there was a lot for us to do with this title.

And I will be honest with you... this game probably gave me my first genuine scare in gaming.

You see, there is a certain level that you start and you can see the screen shaking, and as you move closer to the disturbance, you suddenly see just a giant pair of legs at the top of the screen.

And at that moment, I turned to my sister and exclaimed "What the Hell was that?!?"

As we inched closer, we discovered to our horror exactly what that thing was.


I mean, when you've been killing normal sized enemies for many levels, and then you suddenly encounter something that huge. The fact that it is a baby is both surreal and daunting, because you know it isn't evil, but you are going to have to try to destroy it anyway.

After that, well, survival horror couldn't scare me after that. I survived a giant baby... I can take anything else you throw at me.

That being said, at the time, I didn't realize that all the horror elements in the game were causing Nintendo to sweat (Sega was cool with the game as it was originally designed), so there were a few minor tweaks in North America (the blood became purple) and in Europe and Australia, well, the cuts were a lot more severe, with Australia not even allowing the words "Ate My Neighbors" to appear on the game.

But now there is a second chance for people around the world to experience this gem. It was released for the Wii's Virtual Console just before last Halloween, so a new generation of gamers can play this campy cult classic.


Lee Sargent said...

Okay, first of all reading the last paragraph almost made me leave work immediately to run home and download the game.

I loved this game when I was younger!!

Now the oddest thing is that I remember the full title of the game on the packaging so I'm wondering if there were a batch of these sold in Australia before the moral guardians got their pure hands onto it?

I really hope the game is available in Australia!!

William Keckler said...

I think my partner and his daughter would enjoy this, so I think I'll watch a few on EBAY, provided they're no so rare that "it's not gonna happen."

But I guess I better check if he ha or can get a compatible game system.

I'm still stuck on the Atari 2600 and sort of want to find all those weird obscure games that game out for that (the fast food limited releases and such). And the pornographic ones, which as you point out here, came out in a pre-rating environment.

I love watching people play vintage video games on YouTube.

I'm probably the only passive video game participant in the world.

I'm just not ready to take "the plunge."

My favorite to watch is that Japanese game something K---- Damacy?

You're like a giant sticky ball rolling around cities picking random objects up.

Maybe you blogged about this.

I'll go check your search bar.

I love watching people play that game.

Talk about surreal.

Maybe Godzilla inspired it.

sinisterdan said...

That giant baby is among the most unsettling things ever. This was a perfectly acceptable trip down memory lane (albeit a vicarious one) until you unleashed that monstrosity.

Nicely done.

MC said...

Lee: Yeah, the more I look at Australia and its moral guardians, the more I shake my head.

William: Yes, I have written quite a bit about Katamari Damacy. And no, you aren't the only passive gamer out there.

Sinister Dan: If you heard the music that accompanies that level, you would have gone quite insane.

The Smelly Lady said...

You have a very interesting blog. I enjoyed reading it.

John said...

Games like this place people in danger by miseducating the public about how to survive a zombie attack.

Every week, there's some news story about some schmuck who, when chased by zombies, picks up a chainsaw and gets himself killed. And all because he saw it in a movie or a video game.

Keep it simple and get an AR-15 and a machete. And if you can't run two miles in twenty minutes with your full pack, your pack is too heavy. Leave the bazooka at home.

MC said...

Hell, even a mallet might be effective.