In 1993, nothing captured the feel of B-list horror movies as well as a little game from LucasArts called Zombies Ate My Neighbors. While the top-down, zany action shooter has had a rocky history over the years, it still stands as a game that was incredibly ahead of its time, wildly self-aware, and a strong contender for a modern remake after all these years.
The premise of Zombies Ate My Neighbors was incredibly simple: you and a friend play as two teenage kids named Zeke and Julie, who have to save their dimwitted neighbors from a wacky zombie apocalypse. But to leave the description at that would do the game a grave injustice, as the charm of Zombies Ate My Neighbors is so much more than that. You can see it in the unmistakably cartoony graphics and in Zeke’s red and blue movie theater glasses. You can hear it in the quirky and toe-tapping soundtrack, and in the wailing screams when you accidentally let a zombie eat one of your neighbors.
But one of the many things that made Zombies Ate My Neighbors such a blast to play was that it didn’t even focus exclusively on zombies. A few levels in and players had to face off against everything from werewolves and chainsaw-wielding murderers, to giant babies and dastardly clones of Zeke and Julie. The list goes on and on, as does the list of incredibly tongue-in-cheek level titles, such as “Nightmare on Terror Street,” “Where the Red Fern Growls,” and “Dances with Werewolves.” No horror movie cliché was left un-satirized, and the quick reaction-based gameplay was the perfect match to this quick-witted onslaught of humor.
The titular neighbors themselves were a hysterical and stereotypical grouping of the unsuspecting victims we all know so well from our favorite B-list horror movies. You’ve got cheerleaders jumping on trampolines, unwitting tourist couples, dudes having barbeques or lounging in the pool, and even little babies crawling around the yard while there are zombies and all sorts of other creatures afoot. And how would you save them all? By using a homemade arsenal of water guns, soda cans, and fire extinguishers, of course! You could even take a special potion and turn into a giant purple wildebeest for several precious seconds and unleash an indestructible reign of terror in your path.
Although Zombies Ate My Neighbors wasn’t considered a commercial success at the time of its release, the growing cult following it amassed was still enough to warrant a spiritual sequel in 1994. The oddly titled Ghoul Patrol was released exclusively on Super Nintendo (a Sega Genesis version was canceled during production), and featured Zeke and Julie returning to the frontlines to take down more hordes of monsters and creatures. But despite the good intentions, Ghoul Patrol just seemed to lack a lot of the soul and the spirit that made Zombies Ate My Neighbors such a cult classic. The game was also noticeably more unforgiving than its predecessor, and I can’t even remember making it past the second or third level as a kid.
It has been heavily rumored that the development of Ghoul Patrol was outsourced to a third party by LucasArts, perhaps accounting for the dip in gameplay quality, and I can only imagine that the stark name change didn’t help things for the budding series where brand recognition is concerned. Why not just call it Zombies Ate My Neighbors 2, or even something like _________ Ate My Neighbors, with Werewolves or other creatures taking center stage in the title for future installments?
Sadly, the series died with Ghoul Patrol in 1994. However, the influence of Zombies Ate My Neighbors has continued to live on over the years, and long after the remains of that old cat lady down the street had settled in the stomachs of the undead. Both Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol were ported to Nintendo’s Wii Virtual Console in 2009 and 2010, respectively, where you can still enjoy the games in their original form if you’ve never done so (and come on, you should really do so).
The closest we’ve ever come to getting another pure Zombies Ate My Neighbors experience was in 2007, with a little-known game called Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia. Though poorly received by critics and gamers alike for clunky controls and monotonous gameplay, Monster Madness was a direct homage to the humorous formula of Zombies Ate My Neighbors on PC and Xbox 360 (and later PS3), with exciting new additions like 4-player online co-op and unlockable character costumes. Hell, even two of the characters were named Zach and Jennifer, a nod to Zeke and Julie from the good old Zombies days. Monster Madness was an insightful look at what Zombies Ate My Neighbors could have been like in the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation, but does its failure indicate that a game of this nature is well past its prime?
I don’t think so, especially not in today’s gaming environment. Video games have changed a lot since the days when Zombies Ate My Neighbors was first released, and they’ve changed even more still since Monster Madness tried to pick up the torch in 2007. One of the biggest changes working in favor of a Zombies Ate My Neighbors revival is the rise of independent game developers, and their fascination with retro game experiences. After all, look how well Yacht Club Games did by spicing up the old-school platformer formula with Shovel Knight, a game that was both decidedly retro and wonderfully modern at the same time. And there have been so many more horror film tropes to poke fun at over the years that I can only imagine the amusement an indie dev would have in building a new Zombies Ate My Neighbors game.
We live in an age of remastered games and franchise revivals. Castlevania, Mega Man, and Diablo have all enjoyed revivals or remastered re-releases recently. I would love to see a studio like Double Fine Productions take the lead on developing a new Zombies Ate My Neighbors game similar to what Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions has done with Grim Fandango Remastered and Day of the Tentacle in recent years.
And then, of course, there is the conversation of zombies in general, even though Zombies Ate My Neighbors extends its reach into many different horror movie sub-plots. To say that the entertainment world at large has become oversaturated with zombies would be a huge understatement in 2018. But whether we’re talking about TV, movies, or video games, zombies are clearly what people want, and so it would be interesting to see how one of the quirky grandfathers of zombie games would fare in a modern environment where most gamers like their zombies both terrifying and realistic.
Whether we ever end up getting a true follow-up to Zombies Ate My Neighbors or not, I’ll always be basking in the former glory of this eccentric zombie game. And the good news is I’m not the only one. Every few months, or even years, I’ll see another outpouring of love for Zombies Ate My Neighbors crop up somewhere on the internet like the concept images dreamed up by artist Rustam Hasanov in 2010. In the whimsical images, Hasanov imagines what a modern remake of Zombies Ate My Neighbors might look like, complete with sketches of an adult Zeke and Julie wielding powerful buzz-saw weapons and assault rifles. And so I guess we’ll all just keep dreaming like that until our brains get eaten.
Would you like to see the cult classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors get rebooted for the modern video game industry? What would a dream project like that be like, and would today’s gamers even want to play it? Be sure to hit the comments and share your undying and decidedly undead love for Zombies Ate My Neighbors below!
Joe Jasko is a staff writer. Read more of his work here.