Blogtober 2019 – Zombies Ate My Neighbors

For today’s Blogtober post we are going to take a trip back to the year 1993. During this wondrous time arcades were still thriving in part to the popularity of fighting-games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Virtua Fighter(released in ’93), Nintendo and Sega were locked in a fierce competition for home console supremacy known as the “Console Wars”, and id Software released a little game called Doom. Also in 1993, Konami and LucasArts teamed up to create an odd game titled – Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors, or known simply as Zombie in Australia and throughout Europe, is the result of a fruitful partnership of developer LucasArts and publisher Konami. The game was released for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo and has since become a bit of a cult hit with retro gamers.

The game is a top down action/shooter in which players control characters Zeke or Julie as they journey through suburbia and beyond saving their neighbors that have managed to survive an invasion by zombies(of course…) and other outrageous creatures. The player must navigate 48 levels, along with 7 bonus levels consisting of backyards, shopping malls, creepy old cabins, and ancient pyramids; rescuing up to 10 survivors in each level with each level being completed when all survivors are rescued….or they are all killed by monsters. Survivors will be indicated by dots on a map/radar icon located to the side of the screen; I spent WAY too long(entire childhood) hunting for survivors before even noticing this! The core gameplay element is fairly similar to that of the ToeJam&Earl games on Sega Genesis – being tasked to find a set amount of survivors(or rocket ship parts in ToeJam&Earl) before an exit door pops up to allow you access to the next level. Another difference would be the word “funkalicious” is nowhere to be found in Zombies Ate My Neighbors(?).

Zeke and Julie are both brandishing Uzi squirt guns filled with holy water to combat the monster masses awaiting them( Zombies did it first, Robert Rodriguez!), they are also able to pick up various makeshift weapons such as fire extinguishers, soda can grenades, and silverware to battle any werewolves roaming the neighborhood. You will need to evade not only zombies, but also a vast roster of b-movie monsters including: mummies, werewolves, and toxic blobs. Other enemies with exemplary names are Vlad Belmont the Vampire, Tommy the Evil Doll, Dr. Tongue, and perhaps my favorite – Stanley Decker the Chainsaw Maniac.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is the LucasArts style and humor that seems to be sorely missed in today’s games. LucasArts at one time was known for more than simply making Star Wars games, but providing popular games on PC like Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle or the Monkey Island series which showcased a trademark humor and personality. Nearly all of Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a reference or callback to the many b-movie horror films of the past, the 1950’s through the 80’s in particular. Each level has a title referencing many of these films such as “Evening of the Undead”, “Dr. Tongue’s Castle of Terror”, or “The Day the Earth Ran Away”. Zeke wearing 3-D glasses also being a nod to the 3-D horror movies of the 80’s.

Yup…a giant baby

The game itself can prove quite challenging, I recently played through most of the game and it hasn’t gotten much easier over the years. This is made slightly easier by the fact the game incorporates a password system and provides a different password every few levels as to not discourage players by having to play the entire game from the beginning after getting a game over. One of the later levels finds you searching an area strewn with trees, also hindering your progress are the many giant spiders that begin to swarm the level and leave you very little space to maneuver. One of the final levels will require you to search for survivors in a hedge maze, the problem being the maze doesn’t seem to have many openings, essentially trapping you within a confined space forcing you to lure one of the many chainsaw maniacs wandering the level to cut through the greenery allowing you access to additional areas. Of course, there are a few boss monsters throughout the levels that will either take nearly all your ammo or a specific type to defeat. Early on in my playthrough I kept getting flattened by the level boss – A giant baby that can leave you seeing game over screen all to quickly. I played solo in refreshing my memory of the layout of the game, but the game is definitely best experienced with a buddy in co-op mode. Others undoubtedly have the best memories of the game playing couch co-op. My one biggest complaint would have to be the game is somewhat cryptic about what exactly the items you’re picking up actually do, I had no idea what the little clown face on my screen did until I would hit the item button to find Zeke or Julie leaving an inflatable clown dummy that distracts nearby enemies. The enemies themselves can be a bit difficult to defeat as some require a specific type of weapon to defeat, otherwise forcing you to simply run away as soon as they enter the screen.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a fun and unique experience that in many ways has only gotten better with age…as I’m older and generally more aware of the references and humor of the game. If anyone out there is looking for a fun Halloween-themed retro game that you can play with a friend, Zombies Ate My Neighbors definitely fits the bill. The game is still a favorite for my wife and I to play together.

That’s all for today! I had been wanting to play this again for a while and after playing this I would like to go back and track down some of the older LucasArts games to play and possibly cover in this blog. Have you ever played Zombies Ate My Neighbors? How about its unofficial sequel – Ghoul Patrol? Let me know in the comments, thanks for reading!

Blogtober 2019 – Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

For today’s Blogtober game entry, I’ve chosen Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, quite possibly my favorite DLC, along with cover art of any game(many consider The Witcher 3’s Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine to be the greatest, I regrettably have not gotten around to playing those…yet). Undead Nightmare was released in October 2010 as a stand-alone expansion to what was already regarded as a defining moment of the console generation in Red Dead Redemption(released just earlier that year) by combining two of our most beloved American institutions – the wild West and zombie b-movies. It was a rush of excitement and nostalgia playing Undead Nightmare again as Rockstar Studios masterfully blended Red Dead’s epic western motif with schlocky zombie horror.

Undead Nightmare begins in black and white, evoking a setting similar to sci-fi/horror films of the 50’s and 60’s as our narrator sets the scene of former outlaw turned bounty hunter turned farmer John Marston returning to the homestead just as a violent thunderstorm begins. John returns to his wife Abigail and son Jack and voices his feeling of something being amiss, though unable to quite determine what. Before retiring for the evening John asks whether anyone has seen Uncle, the elderly layabout tagging along with John since his days running with the Van der Linde Gang; Abigail simply assumes he’s “waiting out the storm in some house of ill-repute” as they head off to bed. Later that night Uncle, who has been turned into a zombie breaks into the Marston home and bites Abigail, who then in turn bites Jack, before John is able to put a bullet through Uncle’s undead skull. John then quickly proceeds to hogtie both Jack and Abigail and lock them inside a bedroom before heading into nearby Blackwater with the hope of figuring out what exactly is happening. He reaches Blackwater only to find the town all but abandoned as the undead roam the streets. After coming to the aid of several survivors in town, John attempts to question those left as to why this is happening. The Blackwater resident’s explanations for the recent occurrences range anywhere from being the fault of “that snake oil salesman”, “the man with the glass eye” or Mexican immigrants; others think it simply God’s judgement. John then travels westward to seek out the con-man Nigel West Dickens and the grave robbing ghoul Seth Briars, both of whom acquaintances he was obliged to lend a helping hand during the storyline of Red Dead Redemption; thus begins John Marston’s old-west journey of horrors through the zombie apocalypse.

Undead Nightmare’s core gameplay elements are the same as Red Dead Redemption: riding and shooting your way across the territories of West Elizabeth and New Austin, but rather than chasing bandits as a bounty hunter you are fighting hordes of the undead on both sides of the border – you eventually make your way down to Nuevo Paraiso to confront Abraham Reyes regarding an ancient mask taken from an underground Aztec tomb. You ride across the forest, desert, and plains stopping at different locations and undertaking(get it?) various tasks as indicated by icons on your map, like the majority of Rockstar games. In place of clearing out bandit hideouts, you will need to clear out each settlement as they have been overrun by zombies; you must assist the remaining townsfolk by eliminating the zombie population, which in turn provides you a safe place to rest, change outfits, or save your game. The town will inevitably be overtaken after the cycle of a few days, so you will find yourself returning to different areas several times as you roam the countryside. An early mission finds you “cleansing” several cemeteries around New Austin and in Blackwater by burning the wooden coffins lying about, before putting any of the walking dead back in the ground…hopefully for good.

After nearly a decade Undead Nightmare still plays remarkably well and the shooting still feels great and in my mind, just as good if not better than the weighty feel of Red Dead Redemption 2. The biggest complaints with the controls are the cumbersome feel that seems to be another Rockstar trademark, an at times, downright clumsy mix of the jittery movement of earlier Grand Theft Auto games and the lead-in-your-boots feeling of RDR2. The lack of precision in your movement is amplified greatly when trying to clear out a town as you need to move quickly to stay one step ahead of the swarm of zombies and in order to assist the surviving townspeople a moderate amount of platforming is required as they are generally perched upon a rooftop. Another issue is the number of bugs found encountered within the game, just in the short time replaying the game the last week I found myself teleporting through buildings while clearing out a town, or levitating along the ground instead of running. A few times while cleansing a cemetery zombies would emerge from underground without any heads which would usually signify a glitch that would prevent the final “boss zombie” from surfacing and I would have to restart the sometimes lengthy process.

The overall tone and mood of Undead Nightmare are more over-the-top and absurd in contrast to the sober timbre(mostly) of the main adventure. The story and characters within the game are closer to Shaun of the Dead, than it’s George Romero inspiration Dawn of the Dead. Undead Nightmare also offers no shortage of Rockstar Studio’s trademark darkly, humorous satirical take of the old-west ethos. In addition to roaming hordes of zombies, John also encounters other mythical creatures steeped in folklore like chupacabras; you can also unlock a unicorn as a mount to sparkle dash around the countryside. In addition to the other mythical creatures featured in the game, you are able to discover each of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse – War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Each one having its own unique appearance and attributes, along with having unlimited stamina. The “War” horse is covered in flames and will set fire to any zombies who come to close or the “Death” horse is a pale color(obviously) and will cause any nearby zombies to explode upon approach…awesome! One of the most memorable parts of the game is the side mission Birth of the Conservation Movement in the Tall Trees region where John happens upon an old man shooting into the forest and exclaiming that Sasquatches need to be hunted down, them being a danger to civilized humans who feed on babies. John is then tasked by the old man to hunt down the six Sasquatches in the Tall Trees region, with a circle on the map indicating the approximate location of each one. You…dispatch the first five upright ape-men before coming across the sixth and final Sasquatch sitting alone by a tree alongside the river. As you approach the final creature he speaks out to you and describes the horror of the last of his kind being hunted down by some sort of monster and asks politely asks John to shoot him, ending his misery in knowing he is the final one remaining. The narrative twist of “humans being the true monsters” isn’t anything unique in a sci-fi or horror setting, it did provide a memorable moment amid the ten hours or so of rampant zombie splattering.

Aside from a few technical issues to the game, I still feel Undead Nightmare is one of the best expansion offerings in the recent decade. The simplest way to describe Undead Nightmare is “Red Dead Redemption…with zombies”, though it provides a horror movie experience exceeding most games of the era. This was still in the earlier years of what would become an increasingly crowded expanse of media, not just video games, but movies and tv featuring zombies. It’s since become foregone conclusion that any AAA FPS title will include a “zombie mode”, but Rockstar did an impeccable job of inserting the eerie, yet campy sensibilities of zombie b-movies into an epic western setting. I know I’m not alone in hoping that Rockstar would release another expansion similar to this for their most recent masterpiece Red Dead Redemption 2.

That’s all for now, have you played Undead Nightmare? What do you think are the best zombie game offerings out there? I still have one more retro zombie game coming up next week for my Halloween Blogtober, with my next post featuring a horror-themed arcade title that has become a cult classic. Thanks for reading!