GameSpite Journal 10 | Zombies Ate My Neighbors

Zombies Ate My Neighbors | Dev.: LucasArts | Pub: Konami | Genre: Kitchen-Sink Shooter | Release: July 1993

Being the ďSilent Hill guyĒ at Konami, Iím well acquainted with fear. That said, the most scared Iíve ever been in my entire life was Stage 4 of Zombies Ate My Neighbors. There I was, sometime after midnight, attempting to navigate the kind of hedge maze only suburban planning can create. Thinking I heard one of my neighbors, I rushed around a corner to findÖ a horrifying chainsaw maniac. Naturally, he gave chase as I ran as fast as the tennis shoe powerup would allow. But every time I thought Iíd lost him, the maniac (or one of his friends) would slash right through the bushes next to me. Soon four clipped at my heels. I heard a fifth violently murdering the tourists down the street. I set up an inflatable decoy, but the clownís incessant cackling did nothing to calm my nerves. Seeing no other way out, I equipped the last of my bazooka rounds and took aimÖ and fired in the wrong direction, affording me neither a passage through the maze or dead maniacs. They closed in, and I died in a bloody mess. What an amazing game.

Zombies triumphs solely on the play experiences it creates, especially in two-player co-op. Its design is the model of elegance, with no extra fat: you fight classic B-movie monsters while attempting to save 10 neighbors. If monsters reach them first, the neighbors die. You need only find a single neighbor to ďsurviveĒ the level, but every one you save will return in the next stage, decreasing the odds of zombie apocalypse. Lucasarts carefully chose three key elements to build on this simple foundation, giving Zombies its unique flavor of fun:

1) Itís hilarious. Humor in games is hard to do. I donít mean cocky one-liners or references to modern pop-culture. I mean games that make you smile or laugh as you play. Zombies is legitimately funny. I donít care who you are, hopelessly tossing forks at a mummy because itís all you have left is hilarious. To say nothing of the giant baby, or happily trampoline jumping amidst certain death.

2) It takes place in ďreal life.Ē Very few games can make neighborhoods, malls, and backyard barbecues compelling. Or, perhaps they just donít try often enough. I can think of only a handful, and they all involve zombies -- but only two are on the SNES, and that made Zombieís cul-de-sacs, pools, and weed-wackers compelling in the early í90s.

3) It provides an illusion of improvisation. Intrepid teens Zeke and Julie donít fight with katanas, flamethrowers, or shotguns. They make do with shaken soda can grenades, inflatable clowns, plates, and more. The rare bazooka is a last resort to be hoarded for bossesÖ or perhaps blasting through a locked door, should the player run out of keys. All carefully orchestrated? Of course, but in the heat of the moment it feels impromptu, which makes all the difference.

Alas, even final boss Dr. Tongue canít capture lightning in a bottle twice, so itís unlikely Zombies will ever receive a worthy followup. Itís a shame, too, as no game since has nailed the frenetic hilarity of this SNES classic. I guess the closest Iíll come is an Ellis/Zoey run through Left 4 Dead 2. Or the Zombies film rumored to be in development! Nah, I think I was right the first time.

By Tomm Hulett? | Dec. 5, 2011 | Previous: Legend of the Mystical Ninja | Next: Street Fighter II