When I was a much younger man, living in a student house with three other hard-working scholars who never had time for drinking or shenanigans of any sort, the only form of entertainment we had was my Super Nintendo. Many fun times were had playing Mario Kart and the original Mortal Kombat into the wee small hours. However, one of my fondest memories of those times is off playing Zombies Ate My Neighbors, an (at the time) new approach to the top-down shooter genre. Now, as it happens, both this game and its follow-up, Ghoul Patrol, have been re-released for modern consoles. However the usual question remains – is the magic of the early days still there, or should this have stayed in its coffin? It’s time to grab your 3D glasses to find out.
For the sake of clarity, the reference to the 3D glasses is down to the hero, Zeke, wearing a pair of those old-fashioned red and green-lensed facial adornments, so before anyone thinks this is a 3D game, stop right there.
What Zombies Ate My Neighbors is though is a top-down run and gun shooting game. Zeke – and in the two player mode, Julie as well – are caught up in a zombie apocalypse, and find themselves up against all manner of monsters. The action here is very much on the B-movie side of the scales, with various enemies such as zombies, small Chucky-type dolls, folk in hockey masks wielding chainsaws and so on. Being a couple of heroes, Zeke and Julie need to rescue their neighbours before they get eaten, and so the scene is set for a showdown with the forces of evil. In the second game, Ghoul Patrol, Zeke and Julie must again fight the forces of evil, this time unleashed from a book as part of a museum exhibit. The twist in Ghoul Patrol is that they need to battle evil throughout time, visiting different time periods on their journey.
The weapons on display are pretty inventive too, with many different sorts to find and utilise. These range from a water pistol in the first game all the way up to full-on machine guns in the sequel. Using cans of “soda” as grenades, and ice lollies and fire extinguishers to freeze and slow down enemies, there was, and still is, a sense of tongue firmly in cheek humour running through both games. It’s also good to see that the difficulty hasn’t been watered down (those chainsaw guys are still a massive pain) and that it is very much three strikes and you’re out. There are none of your namby-pamby continues and easy difficulties here. Thankfully the password system that allows you to pick up where you left off is still here though, which is good to see; if only as it makes me feel 20 years old again!
The visuals on display are still very much in the style of the original games too; this is no slick remaster. Both Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol were always good-looking games with a real cartoony style to the graphics, and so it’s good to see that style kept. The sound again is the same as I remember it, with groaning zombies, and our heroes screaming “Ouch!” when they get tagged by an enemy. Whatever you think though, it’s the animation of the enemies and heroes which is the real star here, with chainsaw dudes spinning around in circles to catch you when they get near, or chopping through hedges. Oh yeah, and the evil laugh from the dolls still makes me shiver. In terms of presentation though, there’s a big tick for both games.
It’s in the gameplay where the bundle starts to show its age. We are used to being able to dodge and pull off all kinds of slick manoeuvres in our shooters these days, and Zeke and Julie can’t manage that. In fact, the thing that used to annoy me back in the day is that in order to shoot in a direction, your hero had to be moving in that direction, i.e. towards the thing that you needed to stay away from. This makes progress a little trickier than it perhaps needs to be, and while it is authentic to the source material, I can’t help thinking that a tweak to this mechanic would make for an easier time. Other than that, it’s all as good with the intense combat and amusing weaponry found in Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol nicely present.
In conclusion then, the double offering of Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol makes a lot of sense if you are looking for a retro-styled challenge. It’s able to deliver all the difficulty of old-skool gaming, and all the challenge that entails, but in a modern setting that even allows saves to be made; the best of both worlds. The controls are still a sticking point, but with a little recalibration of your brain, and especially with the addition of a second player, Zombies Ate my Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol are both well worth playing today.
Pick up the double whammy of Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One now!