In early 1994, I was tired of renting the same old Super Nintendo games for the weekend. Unable to afford the popular titles at $50-60 each, I picked through a “sale” crate at Toys-R-Us. This was my introduction to the comedy horror game known as Zombies Ate My Neighbors. A sleeper success video game that paid homage to horror movies. Released before the Entertainment Software Rating Board existed, it stirred a bit of controversy and amassed a tight community of fans over the last 25 years. Resurrected on modern platforms in June of 2021, Zombies Ate My Neighbors remains a staple of up-all-night games to play over summer break.
It Came From LucasArts
George Lucas founded a video game development group in 1982, to run alongside his film company. In a 1990 reorganization, the division was rebranded as LucasArts. Becoming known for its point and click adventure games like the Monkey Island series and Sam & Max Hit The Road. In 1993 LucasArts developed a run and gun game with all the wholesome charm of an 80’s adventure and a tribute to scary movies. Zombies Ate My Neighbors was published by Konami for the Super NES with a Sega Genesis port following halfway through development. A relatively simple game to play, with 55 levels it was nearly impossible to master. While not initially a hit upon release, the game quickly gained a cult following for its dedication to drive-in B-films, a catchy soundtrack, and tongue in cheek humor.
One or two player game selection is between two Everytown USA teenagers, Zeke and Julie. Their sleepy suburbia descends into chaos as lab-experiments of the deranged Dr. Tongue invade the neighborhood. It’s up to our plucky protagonists to save terrorized residents from the abominations of mad science.
“There are monsters, werewolves, slimy blobs, and a bushel of other hideous creatures out to capture innocent people. They’re attacking your neighbors, your neighbors’ kids, their dog, and any other human they can find. It is up to you to use any means possible to save the victims before the bad guys get them.”Zombies Ate My Neighbors Game Manual
Initially armed with only a squirt gun, the player scavenges abandoned houses and empty malls for anything that can be used as a weapon. Ordinary household items like soda cans, kitchen plates, and weed whackers. Rarer objects like magic potions, inflatable clown punching bags, and holy relics will also aid the player to wage battle against the undead. The number of foes and bosses in Zombies Ate My Neighbors will not disappoint lovers of horror and sci-fi movies. While the namesake zombies are relatively simple to kill, their speed and larger numbers make them a danger to the player and victims you’re trying to rescue. The classic Universal monsters require more hits from specific weapons to take down. Werewolves, mummies, vampires, and Gill-men from that lagoon are just the beginning. The “Attack of The 50ft” genre of B-films are referenced with giant ants, spiders, and a titanic sized toddler boss, flattening everything in its path. Zombie Ate My Neighbors doesn’t shy away from deep space double features with a rendition of the blob, mushroom men, plant-like pod people. Even the design for the cheerleader-hungry Martians resembles the Mars Attacks Topps trading cards of 1962. Contemporary horror cinema is also referenced with Leatherface/Jason Voorhees looking “chainsaw maniacs” and anxiety inducing “snakeoids” straight out of Tremors. Xennial gamers will appreciate “Tommy The Evil Doll” having grown up with the first 3 entries of the Child’s Play franchise and the My Buddy doll. Wandering through a toy factory maze, the player is pursued by relentless dolls chopping at your feet with cleavers. Just when you think you’ve defeated a wave, their flaming plastic carcasses continue to chase you down.
With a staggering 55 levels, bonus stages, and a password system, few kids of the mid-90s made it through Zombies Ate My Neighbors. The few persistent players that did complete the game would discover a special credits level called “Monsters Among Us“. The player is transported to LucasArts headquarters to ransack and rescue while interacting with the game’s development team. Even George Lucas makes a cameo to greet and instruct you to get back to work.
Just When You Thought It Was Safe
Though Zombies Ate My Neighbors was originally created for SNES, the last-minute Sega conversion suffered. Lacking elements of what made the game so great with a smaller screen, duller graphics, and a toned-down soundtrack. Controls were extra frustrating to rotate through on Sega’s three buttons versus SNES’s four. However, Nintendo would staunchly reject any depictions of blood and censored the SNES version with a purple slime while Sega stayed bloody. The controversy continued in Europe and Australia with the game’s title being changed to just Zombies. The chainsaw maniacs would also be changed to axe-wielding lumberjacks and all appearances of blood were now a green ooze.
In 1994, JVC Musical Industries licensed the Zombies Ate My Neighbors gameplay engine for a similarly styled game. LucasArts outsourced most of the development work to Motion Pixel before deciding to publish it as a sequel called Ghoul Patrol for SNES. Zeke and Julie return as protagonists in the game. Checking out the latest morbid museum exhibit, they accidentally unleash demons and spirits from an ancient book. Ghoul Patrol only has five levels but the monsters require more hits to be defeated. The game also updates Zeke and Julie’s scavenged arsenal with crossbows, plasma and laser guns. While it doesn’t quite capture the humor of the first game, Ghoul Patrol is a worthy follow-up. Both games were released by Disney Interactive in summer of 2021 for Steam, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
Coming to Theaters?
John Darko, known for his work on the Insidious franchise, was announced to have written a script for a Zombies Ate My Neighbors movie in 2011. Describing it as “John Hughes meets Judd Apatow meets George A. Romero”. Set during a graduation block party, Darko regards the project as a coming-of-age Zom-Com. Giving subtle hints as a modern tribute to 80s classics such as The Monster Squad and Night of The Comet. As of 2013, Daily Dead reported that Darko’s project was alive and well. Though John Darko has reportedly been working on a television series called Nowheresville. The premise of which sounds similar to the narrative of Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
While it feels like the franchise never got the recognition it deserved, the ZAMN fan community is as dedicated as ever. With an impressive amount of fan art, cosplay, game mods, and short film tributes, you’ll feel right at home with the cult following. Whether or not you conquer all 55 levels of Zombies Ate My Neighbors, just remember at your next block party that no neighbor gets left behind.