Growing up, Zombies Ate My Neighbors wasn't really all that big a deal to me. I remember playing it a couple of times, my cousin had it and we rented it a few times, but when it came to co-op in our household, Jackal and Contra was more popular. Even some other games like The Chaos Project: Soldiers of Fortune, a top-down shooter from the Bitmap Brothers, I found myself playing more often. By the time I started to give games a retrospective in the early 2000's, I learned it had quite a cult following and was more influential than I thought.
Developed by LucasArts and published by Konami in 1993, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is an arcade style overhead run-n-gun action game that's both a product of its time and something that lead to the production of some of my more enjoyable games years later. The gameplay and mechanic were later utilized in another LucasArts title, Herc's Adventures, which I reviewed a year and a half ago. One of the stages is dedicated to Day of the Tentacle, a point-and-click LucasArts game that was for MS-DOS and came out that same year. Resident Evil redefined survival horror for console gaming, which saw most of its success on the PC throughout the 90's, games like Zombies Ate My Neighbors served as a prelude to tongue-in-cheek comedy horror games like Dead Rising and Lollipop Chainsaw. Or for that matter, some of the humor you'd see in a lot of table-top board games such as Zombie High School, which is also very straightforward in nature and is pretty fleeting as far as replay value goes, but takes a lot of jabs at the popular horror movie trope
The game is very simple at its core. Select Zeke or Julie and blast your way through constantly respawning zombie hordes while rescuing as many neighbors as possible to reveal an exit. for a better high score. With 48 stages in total, there's almost a coin-op arcade nature to it. There's a plethora of comical weapons you can pick up and use, like dishes, tomatoes, and soda cans that function as grenades, even melee items like weed whackers. Healing items and accessories that come in handy like first aid kits, potions, even a vial that can temporarily make you invulnerable of turn you into a giant purple monster.
There's a lot of checks and balances with what you decide to place as an incentive. Standard zombies spring right back almost instantly, so I never felt a need to destroy them unless they got in my way with the uzi squirt guns. Some enemies are just downright annoying, like in the grocery store, these speedy axe-throwing monster babies pick away at my health. Made even worse, they'll spring out of nowhere and there's a lot of range on the axes they toss. Thankfully they don't respawn. A few stages later, the chainsaw wielding masked men in the garden maze are harder to take down than a bottle of Zima, but if I keep the rocket launcher I pick up a stage or two earlier, they're much easier to take care of. It gets annoying that I have to remind myself to not spawn them too early, or they'll kill the neighbors. There isn't a penalty not collecting everyone, but it does make it harder to earn extra lives. As a solo, it's fun to play, but I think this is at its best when played with a buddy.
Graphics-wise, Zombies Ate My Neighbors boasts some very colorful and lively visuals with great animation. LucasArts games always look astounding and seldom have slowdown or hiccups. Both the SNES and Mega Drive ports are very easy on the eyes. Poking and prodding around for items or searching to see what you can interact with is inviting. If there's anything I question is the placement of the map screen, at least in co-op. During single player, it's not as much of a nuisance, I would've preferred it be located in the HUD where player two would be. There's a lot of cool enemies and designs, and Zeke and Julie are very memorable character designs. Speaking of memorable, the OST is very catchy and stage tunes can get stuck in my head if I play long enough. It puts me in the mind of the original R.L. Stine Goosebumps show or AAAHHH!! Real Monsters!!. Very iconic for its time.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors has a password feature, and its mercifully short and sweet (4 characters max), so going back to it can be a snap. When it comes to replay value, the gameplay holds up well enough. It's not a very taxing game to pick up and dive in the same way Kid Chameleon is (mostly because no save function puts a damper on it). Zombies doesn't require the demanding pattern memorization of something like Metal Slug or Gunstar Heroes, and reminds me of the hack-n-slash hours I spent playing Gauntlet. Nowadays, I can see this being an amusing title to pick up and stream as a stress reliever. The difficulty is intermediate, not as tough as the aforementioned Chaos Project. The visual humor keeps many aspects of it alive. When it reaches the point of delving through tombs and fighting vampires, you just wonder how deep this rabbit hole goes.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors is very near and dear to a lot of gamers from the era, and doing a retrospective on it and researching its legacy, I can see why. I wouldn't say it's in the upper echelon of 16-bit titles Link To The Past or Super Metroid, but it's a game that weaves memories into the fabric that grows within a gamer. It's fast, has great music, charming graphics, and it's packed with a lot of stages. And it's a LucasArts release with a difficulty that doesn't eat my face off three levels in.
There's a part of me that's actually a little surprised this didn't receive the random Hollywood treatment in the mid 90's, or even a made-for-TV film that would air on Snick during Halloween. Apparently, there's been a ten year fight to try and secure the rights from LucasArts to work on a film, as well as finding a director and raising money. The screenplay penned to it is Insidious' John Darko. Time will tell. It took a Sonic movie almost 30 years to happen...