"As has been so aptly put, genius comes only rarely and unexpectedly, like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. It's rare that a game comes along which is so original, so creative, and so bizarre, that only the word "genius" can be sufficiently applied. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is one of those rare, unexpected works of genius. "
As has been so aptly put, genius comes only rarely and unexpectedly, like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. It's rare that a game comes along which is so original, so creative, and so bizarre, that only the word "genius" can be sufficiently applied. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is one of those rare, unexpected works of genius.
Made by LucasArts at the height of their success (you know, before they started producing dozens of substandard Star Wars games), Zombies Ate My Neighbors is an uproaring parody/tribute to that most venerated, most reviled brand of movies: B-Horror. Dozens of these films, stretching from the 50s to the 90s, are represented in the game in some form or other.
Most of the levels feature mass numbers of the titular Zombies. They are joined in mayhem by Killer Dolls, Chainsaw Maniacs, Evil Clones, Werewolves, Mummies, Creatures from the Black Lagoon, Two-Story Toddlers, Invaders From Mars, Giant Ants, Giant Worms, Vampires, Frankenstein's Monster, Killer Plants, Killer Blobs, and other B-Movie mainstays of a killer nature. In an obvious nod to their now-legendary Day of the Tentacle title, LucasArts even included a level featuring giant, killer tentacles.
As if the baddies weren't homage enough, the levels themselves are introduced (in giant, bloody lettering) as though they were trailers for some 50s nickel matinee. One level proudly proclaims "More terrifying then level 5!" Even the levels names themselves are parodies, or even ripoffs of actual movies. The first level to feature the Invaders from Mars takes place on a football field, has nothing but Martian enemies, and is populated by Cheerleader victims. The level is appropriately enough referred to as, "Mars Needs Cheerleaders."
Made in a time when it was still acceptable to charge fifty bucks for an arcade-style game, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is one of the finest examples of the top-down Arcade Shooter ever produced (though its got nothing on that definitive top-down shooter, Smash TV). Players take control of one of two archetypal B-Movie heroes: a teenage boy with ridiculous hair, 3-D glasses, and a skull shirt, or a tomboy girl dressed in her 80s best.
The pair is armed with a bizarre arsenal of weapons. Everything from Holy Water Squirt Guns, to Silverware, to Tomatoes, to the infamous Bazooka. Other, more rare items to be found include potions that can turn the player into a Monster (the good kind), a Monster (the bad kind), invisible, kill them instantly, or restore all their health. You can also find Pandora's Box (which destroys everything on the screen), and magical Ankhs that protect you from damage, and blow-up clowns that distract the enemy. Plus many, many, many more.
Using these tools, one or two players must battle through over fifty B-Movie inspired levels. These levels range from a Shopping Mall (or, as the game calls it, the Chopping Mall), hedge mazes, suburban neighborhoods, suburban high schools, ancient tombs, haunted castles, haunted mansions, mysterious islands, and any other B-Horror locale you can imagine.
These levels are populated by the hapless neighbors, where the game draws half its title. Players must rescue all of the neighbors (or Victims), whereupon a magical Exit Door will appear, taking them to the next level. Players, whether one, or two working cooperatively, begin with ten neighbors. If one of them is killed by a baddie, then the total number of neighbors in the next level is reduced. Players can earn "Special Bonus Victims" by performing especially well for several levels. The game continues until players run out of lives, all of the Victims are killed, or they complete all of the available levels.
As great as Zombies Ate My Neighbor's manic arcade gameplay is, it hits a few snags in its execution. The first, and my biggest complaint, is the lack of battery-backed memory. This is an Arcade Game; it is all about the High Scores. But, once the console is switched off, even your most amazing scores go to hell in a handbasket. Since your high scores are never saved in any kind of verifiable certainty (unless you're using a certain, illegal method of of playing the game) this highly trivializes gaining high scores. What's the point if they just vanish?
Another problem with the lack of battery-backed memory is the password system. It has no capacity to keep track of your weapons. Using a password to resume from where you left off not only resets your score back to zero, it leaves you with only the Squirt Gun. This gun is useless against most enemies you encounter late in the game, and obtaining replacements before you begin to run into large numbers of powerful enemies is nigh-impossible. Lastly, since the password system is worthless, the early levels are played a LOT more then later levels, which gets tedious.
Another issue, less serious but more annoying, is the inventory system. There's a huge number of items to be found in the game. Unfortunately, only one button is assigned to each category of item (status-altering items and weapons). You can only go forward through these item menus, not backwards. So, say you've got a Chainsaw Maniac after you, and you want your Decoy Clowns. You cycle through your items, but accidentally go one item too far. So, with no way to scroll backwards, you now have to go all the way back through all your items AGAIN. All the while, running for your life, probably straight into new dangers. Unfortunately, since your inventory is constantly changing, it's pretty much impossible to just memorize the item order. Of all the game's flaws, this is probably the greatest.
There's another annoying aspect to the items, which is the sheer quantity of them. Most of the items in the game which you find aren't good "all-around" items. They specialize in killing one thing. The Squirt Gun, for example, mows through Zombies like nobody's business. The Silverware kills Werewolves no problem. Tomatoes take out Clones, Popsicles destroy Blobs. Figuring out all this stuff is great, experimental fun. Unfortunately, it also means you're switching through items a lot, and I've already explained the drawbacks to that. But another annoying aspect to the sheer number of items is that it's hard to stay well-stocked in all of them. Fighting your way through the Chopping Mall is no joke when you suddenly run out of Decoy Clowns.
Interestingly, especially for an arcade game, Zombies Ate My Neighbors has something that resembles a story. But, being an arcade game, there aren't really any cutscenes or dialogue sequences to explain what it is. It's not until you beat the game and see the epilogue that you realize, "Oh, those Dr. Tongue levels were there for a reason." This is just a really awful way to tell a story (nothing on Devil May Cry 2, though), and it frankly would've been better if the story wasn't there at all.
Although it's a great action game, there isn't a whole lot to Zombies Ate My Neighbors besides what you're given. A handful of trivial bonus levels are the only things really "hidden" in the game. That said, setting new High Scores is ravenous fun (provided, of course, you don't mind them vanishing from the cartridge the next time you switch the console off), and a "perfect" run through Zombies is probably one of the hardest challenges in gaming. Despite the lack of extras, this game has huge replay value. Not to mention that it's quite difficult, even with only one difficulty setting. To top it off, its ridiculous antics make it a great crowd pleaser. This game is rare among games: it's a definite spectator sport.
Gameplay: 8 out of 10
Story: 3 out of 5
Controls: 7 out of 10
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Sound and Music: 3 out of 5
Extras: 3 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 9 out of 10
Overall Score: 7.4 out of 10
Zombies Ate My Neighbors easily ranks as one of the greatest cult classics of all time, which is ironically appropriate: it satirizes, scandalizes and idolizes some of the great cult films of all time. My math gives it a 7, but my heart gives it a 10.
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)
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