Known as Zombies in PAL region due to the collective European governments being massive pussies and coming to the logical conclusion that “ate my neighbours” was too violent for a satirical videogame.
Looking at the date of the first draft I have been working on this since 2nd July 2017 meaning this review has been well over a year in the making. The reality is this review isn’t going to be my magnum opus and is rather mundane. I simply couldn’t complete the game because I am shit. Also with the recent reviews of Pilotwings and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy I really needed to write about something good for my own sanity.
Zombies is a humorous run and gun/Multi-directional shooter with, well zombies. The differences with this and other run and guns that use directional fire such as Super Smash TV are fairly numerous. You see, firstly there is never a bullet storm to contest with that can instakill you. You get a health bar which was pretty novel back in 1993 and instead of bullet storms, it is hordes and hordes of novelty enemies.
The aim of the game is to rescue your neighbours from various themed levels, be it middle-class suburbia, haunted castles, spoopy shapping centres, or ancient crypts. Once you rescue the last survivor a magic door will appear to let you move onto the next level like it does in Toejam and Earl. Along the way, you’ll find such classic weaponry as the soda can grenades, tableware, weed-whackers and fire extinguishers. All have a use, and all have pros or cons in their use, such as clearing a path or enemies having a weakness to them. The diversity of weaponary and multi-use nature of said weaponry makes the game situational, adding elements of puzzle solving to your exploring as well as meaning one weapon is not your “go to” for the entire game.
Zombies is very much a product of the 90s. Zeke, the male protagonist has an air of Zack Morris from Saved By The Bell with his “Coolness” crossed with generic wacky-edgyness that was prevalent in 90s cartoons such as Rocko’s Modern Life or Ren and Stimpy. You know, those cartoons that pretended to be for children but were anything but child friendly? While Julie appears to be the 90s girl next-door complete with stacked boobage, so fills the Kelly Kapowski remit in my early Saved By The Bell comparison. Or, Kimberly from Power Rangers if that is more your bag. Oh Kimberly you did funny things to my tummy when I was 8. But you can pick your early 90s girl next-door to be your inspiration.
It’s one of those games that could only be made in the early 90s, but that isn’t to say the inspirations and themes are exclusively 90s or as dated as poorly as Z, as the enemies take their inspiration from a myriad of sources such as the Hammer Horror of the 1950s. Don’t be surprised to see werewolves, Frankenstein(‘s monster), Vampires, Mummies, as well as shitty British horror such as Triffids (shit poison plants), Communist paranoia in Invasion of the Body Snatchers clones, 80s references such as Jason from Friday the 13th, or Leather Face (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) representing the 1970s. So if “horror” is your bag then pretty much all horror from the 1820s onwards is featured with no monster left out.
Now weirdly, this variety does become a problem. There are about 48 levels, and while I am admittedly shit, by the 16th level fatigue does start to set in. The occasional bosses is thrown in to mix things up but these are too few and far between. The bosses also suffer from Bullet Sponge Syndrome. Meaning that cool initial concept of a GIANT FUCKING BABY (everyone talks about the baby) gets boring 10 minutes later as you only have the water-gun to slowly chip away at colossal health bars of the boss form. And while the level design varies wildly the gameplay isn’t mixed up enough to keep the pacing right for 48 levels.
Oh, and there are bonus levels which reference other Lucas Arts games such as Day of the Tentacle.
Zombies features in our Top 10 Hardest Games list but for me the difficulty comes from having to spent so long playing it, chipping away. There is a password system to allow you to continue from where you got to, but this doesn’t save the weaponsvyou had obtained. The passwords also take you to every 5th level too. So using a password to pass beyond the 5th level makes the game borderline impossible. Since you don’t have 7 levels of saved powers to take on a boss or the right tool to attack a certain enemy, so you’re pretty fucked beyond impossible reflex reactions. This isn’t to say the game is impossible, but the game can drag especially if you are on your own playing in single player. Thankfully though their isn’t a one-shot fail state to frustrate you, as the only real way to fail is having all the neighbours die on a level. Or you run out of lives.
The next difficulty is the bosses. And again, they drag too much to be truly fun. I love giant bosses but I hate bullet sponges if they never evolve and Zombies bosses suffer from this. I will usually run out of all good ammo early in a fight and then spend 10 minutes slowly trying to kite the baby getting the odd shot off before retreating to safety. I get difficulty, but here it feels overly onerous.
The other times I got stuck were actually pretty simple puzzles. For example, I got stuck for 10-15 minutes on one level because I didn’t think to use the Fire Extinguisher on a fire place to pass through it, the enemies also kindly hung around not attacking the last remaining survivor meaning I was effectively stuck till I stopped being an idiot.
All in all, Zombies is still a great game. The humour while admittedly dated in some aspects manages to retain its charm. The 90s “wacky” isn’t as prevalent as one would think on first glance, and all the constant references to different horror tropes combine cleverly to keep the visuals interesting. The only flaws really are the games length and the bosses which for me do drag, yes you can beat the game in 90 minutes, so doing it in one sitting is entirely possible. But you need to spend months (in my case a year) of your life learning levels, failing constantly, and slowly perfecting your routes before beating the game in less than 5 hours becomes possible.
If it wasn’t for the amount of fatigue that sets in when learning the game I would be scoring Zombies in the low 90s.
Pros: 80s Batman inspired soundtrack, generally awesome soundtrack, variety of levels and enemies
Cons: severe fatigue while playing.
Back in the Day:
While not a commercial success Zombies quickly garnered cult-classic status helped by its unique take on things with graphics and music singled out for praise. Zombies would score 8/9s out of 10.
Also Available on: Sega Genesis, Virtual Consoles.