Retro Games That Deserve a Reboot: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

When Zombies Ate My Neighbors released back in 1993, it did so to mediocre success, garnering above average scores from reviewers.  In the years following, however, it became a cult classic.  It’s tongue-in-cheek humor, combined with two-player gameplay, various weapons, and generally great mechanics made it a hit with gamers of all kinds.

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Developed by LucasArts (but published by Konami) ZAMN isn’t your normal game, and was generally considered ahead of its time.  It feels almost like you’re stuck in a B-horror movie, with classic monsters of all kinds, not just zombies, having invaded your neighborhood.  The ultimate goal of each level is to try and rescue your neighbors before the monsters get to them.  Don’t expect any help from them, however, as the people you’re rescuing seem completely oblivious to the apocalypse happening around them.  I mean, they’re still hanging out in the pool, jumping on the trampoline, and even having a damn cookout!

Fortunately you’re smarter than they are and manage to arm yourself with a variety of weapons, which, is probably one of the best features in the game.  Long before Ratchet & Clank, or even Dead Rising, Zombies Ate My Neighbors gave gamers a plethora of unique and wacky weapons with which to combat the hordes of undead (including weed whackers,  soda can grenades, and bazookas).  While this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, especially considering the various weapons available for other side-scrollers like Contra, what made this game stand out, was how different weapons would affect different monsters.

Say you encounter a werewolf, while you can fight him off with any of the weapons at your disposal, it’s possible to one-hit kill the bastard if you use your silverware weapon.  Come across a locked door in the level and don’t have a key?  Don’t worry, you can use your bazooka to blow it open.  These kinds of mechanics made the game stand out and featured a greater level of depth than your average top down, or side-scrolling, shooter.  Couple that with the platforming elements as well, and ZAMN provides a truly unique experience that ensures you won’t ever play a level the same way twice.

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It’s one of my favorite games to pick up and play whenever I have a spare moment.  It’s one of those that you don’t need to invest a bunch of time into to have fun.  From the minute you hit start, it’s a blast and it’s impressive to see how well it’s aged.  The mechanics are still fun, the graphics have held up very well, being one of the best games to fully take advantage of it’s 16-bits, and has a soundtrack that even made it onto our list of best retro soundtracks.  All in all, it’s a classic game that’s just as fun to play today as it was back then…

So what happened?  Despite it’s engine being used for a couple of similar styled games, Zombies Ate My Neighbors never managed to get a sequel of it’s own.  There could be a few reasons for this.  For one, there was some controversy about the game when it released.  Despite it’s cartoonish-ness there was still some over-the-top violent aspects, and as such got a whole bunch of censorship when it released on Nintendo’s SNES.  They wouldn’t allow any depictions of blood and gore, and thus the developers had to change it up to some purple ooze.  The censorship woes got even worse when it released in other countries, so it’s possible a sequel never happened, simply because it would have been such a hassle.

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As I mentioned earlier, it’s success upon initial release was only okay.  Despite it’s leaps forward in gameplay, it wasn’t a huge commercial success.  However, these days it’s become a much beloved game and was one of the most oft-requested releases for the Wii’s Virtual Console.  When that finally happened in 2009 it was a mega success and garnered more rave reviews. 

With this in mind, and with so many other classic games seeing a revival, I think it’s high time to bring ZAMN back from the dead.  There’s no good reason for this franchise to have ended in the first place and considering the technology available today, I think a brand new entry would be amazing to see.  While an argument can be made that the Dead Rising franchise is essentially the same thing (rescuing people and crazy weapons/people) I think there’s still room for Zombies Ate My Neighbors to make a return.

After all ZAMN was never just about the zombies, but other monsters and the people populating your neighborhood as well.  At the very least, there’s a market for it by crafting a remake in the same vein as DuckTales Remastered.  Just throw in a few more levels or weapons, maybe craft a little more story into it, and fans will eat it up like crazy.  While I would undoubtedly buy that version, I still think it’s a game deserving of a sequel able to take advantage of all that the next generation can provide.

LucasArts is now shut down (a casualty of the Disney purchase), but that might actually be good news for this property.  Before the company wasn’t keen on giving out the rights or making another ZAMN game, but now that it’s in the hands of others it may get another shot at life.  I’m not exactly holding my breath for that to happen, but it’s more hope than gamers have had in a while.

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Zombies Ate My Neighbors managed to bring forth a blend of great gameplay, humor, and a ridiculous amount of replayability to be one of the most unique and engaging games from the 16-bit era.  Modern games have borrowed elements from this classic title, and fans’ reactions to it’s re-release on the Virtual Console shows the potential brand power it still wields.  I could see any ZAMN sequel doing incredibly well, and after 20 years, it’s definitely due for one.

What do you guys think?  Would you love to see another Zombies Ate My Neighbors game or should it be left alone?

-Jordan