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Thursday, October 31, 2013

HAPPY HALLOWEEN - Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol (SNES)


I know I just said that I was going to leave my next blog up to the readers, but it's Halloween, and I decided that I would like to write a blog about Halloween games. Well rather than just doing a list of games that can be associated with Halloween, I have decided to write about 2 SNES games that really make me think of Halloween. They are "Zombies Ate My Neighbors" and it's sequel "Ghoul Patrol."

Zombies Ate My Neighbors was published on both the SNES and the Genesis in the US back in 1993. It was Developed by Lucas Arts, and Published by Konami, two fantastic companies when it comes to video games. Sadly I did not know this game existed back when it was first released. I didn't find out about it until years later as a recommended game from a colleague at work. I am delighted that he mentioned this game, because it's one that I feel is a classic.

Ghoul Patrol was released a year later (1994), but was published by JVC instead of Konami. Lucas Arts still developed this game, but it was only released on the SNES. The Sega Genesis version, being published by Virgin Interactive, was canceled shortly before it was scheduled to be released.

While both games provide a top-down, run-n-gun style of game play, there are subtle differences between the two that make each one unique and enjoyable. I will start with Zombies Ate My Neighbors, since it was the first game in the series.

ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBORS:

1993's Zombies Ate My Neighbors









As mentioned, Zombies Ate My Neighbors was the first game released. While it didn't see a lot of commercial success with its release, it has since developed a cult following. 

Rescue the neighbors.
















The premise of the game is to rescue your neighbors from a variety of blood-thirsty zombies, ghouls, and classic horror-movie monsters. The goal being to rescue them before they are killed by the villains. The neighbors are scattered at random throughout each level, and they don't move, they just stand there and wait for either death or rescue. What a boring life they lead. The neighbor characters include cheerleaders, a fat guy in a pool, a dog, army men, the crabby teacher, the tourist couple, and a dancing baby, just to name a few. Scattered throughout each level is a variety of weapons and health items. The weapons include a bazooka, cans of soda, squirt guns, and even Popsicles, witch are basically useless as near as I can tell. This game also offers the options of having two players, so you can run around killing monsters with a friend.

Each level requires you to rescue at least 1 neighbor before to the next level. The door to that next stage will not materialize however, until you have rescued each victim (yes they are called victims) that is still alive. Once you have rescued all living victims, the portal opens, and you move on. Victims that die during a level will not re-spawn for rescue in the next, so you really want to try and get all 10 of them. If you fail to rescue all the victims before they are killed, then the game ends. Sounds easy right? Wrong. The levels themselves
are large, and often have victims hiding in places that require you to navigate small mazes of various sorts. Some victims are also located in buildings with locked doors, that require a key. There are ample keys hidden all over each level, but you can also just use the bazooka and blast a hole in the wall to gain entry. The only drawback to this approach is that the bazooka is the strongest weapon, with the fewest ammo pick-ups, so you may run out of ammo. You can also pick up a potion that allows you to turn in to a werewolf, that can punch through walls and hedges and demolish enemies, but it's a temporary potion, and the effects will wear off, and you return to normal before too long. Beware that there is also a potion that turns you in to a zombie. You cannot control your player during this time, and it's time that could be better spent rescuing victims.

The game does provide a map overlay, that allows you to see where your remaining victims are at, and how many are still alive. It's a radar based map, and always centers itself on you, but provides nothing more than a simple grid with flashing yellow dots to indicate the victims. It doesn't show obstacles or the enemies, so you usually have to just run around until you see a victim appear on the radar, then try to find that victim on the main game screen.

The weapons in this game are numerous, and I must admit that I don't use all of them. I find myself sticking to the water pistol, and the bazooka the most, as they are the only thing that will kill the chainsaw maniacs. Throwing tomatoes are also effective on most of the other villains, as are the exploding cans of soda. Some of the other weapons you can pick up along the way are dishes, forks and spoons, as well as a weed whacker. Some weapons are necessary to defeat certain enemies, but the basic zombies can be killed using anything. You can also collect and dispatch an inflatable clown, that will act as a beacon to enemies, like
moths to a flame. These clowns don't kill the enemies, but it will distract them long enough for you to make an escape. This is handy, as the enemies seem to actually chase you more aggressively as the game progresses.

There are 55 levels (plus 7 bonus levels) in this game, and I have made it to somewhere in the 20's, but have never been all the way to the end. Sadly here is another game that I have yet to complete in full. There is a lot of variety from level to level, even though some of the themes repeat themselves. This game takes you to the backyards of suburbia, a shopping center, the high school football field, and even the tombs in Egypt. Level 8 even has a giant baby.
Beware of the GIANT BABY!!!

All in all this is a great game. The controls are responsive, and you are given a decent life bar, and a plethora of weapons to choose from. The level codes that you are given along the way even allow you to jump ahead to later levels using a simple 4 digit password system.






GHOUL PATROL:

The 1994 sequel: Ghoul Patrol
Ghoul Patrol is the lesser known sequel to Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Released in 1994, this sequel once again pitted our hero(es) against an army of ghosts, ghouls, and monsters. Much like the first game, the objective is to rescue a handful of stationary victims before they are killed by enemies.



Follow the call outs to rescue the victims.
















The first, and most notable difference, besides the fact that the blond hero kid is now wearing a ball cap, is the missing radar overlay map feature present in the first game. Instead of using a radar map with yellow blips, Ghoul Patrol utilizes a moving cartoon speech bubble with the words "This Way!" "Help!" or "Over Here!" in it, originating from the direction on the screen in witch the victim is positioned. You will see multiple calls for help flying across the screen from multiple victims in different directions. You then have to figure out how to get to these victims and rescue them before they become a column of goo. Once you have rescued all the victims you can, the exit door will appear in all it's glowing splendor somewhere in the level. The "Help!" bubbles, then become a single "EXIT!" bubble originating in the direction you need to travel in order to reach it.

Other notable differences are the ability to slide and jump. The sliding feature is a handy maneuver you can use to avoid enemies. In this game the L and R shoulder buttons are used to cycle through your usable items (potions, health kits, etc.).

Even though the basic premise is the same as Zombies Ate My Neighbors, this game manages to feel a lot different than the first. The levels are larger. The mazes are more prevalent, and more difficult to navigate through. There are more enemies, and their are ones that re-spawn, flooding your area with hoards of blood-thirsty zombies, flying skulls and eyeballs.

The victims are different in this one as well. Gone are the cheerleaders and the babies. You now have doctors, old geezers in a rocking chair, one with a busted up umbrella, and some lazy artist hippy guy. They still all sit in one spot, and just wait for death to happen, kinda like old people and hippies in real-life.

The enemies. Where do I start with this one? There are still zombies present yes, but they look different. There are also new enemies, ones that seem to be more in the realm of Poltergeist than they do in the classic horror movie monster genre. I am talking about the books that attack you from the very shelves the rest upon. Rogue coffee machines, and rampant fax/copy machines, shooting pieces of paper at you....AHHHH death by papercut!! There are also trees that come to life and attack you at random. Slimer from Ghostbusters even makes a cameo of sorts, chasing you around, or stalking you from inside a trash can hurling objects, I assume trash, at you. Then there is the giant snail from Neverending Story, you know, the
Slimer from Ghostbusters cameo in Ghoul Patrol
racing snail? Yeah he and his buddies apparently found a wormhole or a portal from Fantasia, and warp at will in to our world. Circling strings of dismembered eyeballs, floating skulls that seem to re-spawn as quickly as you can kill them. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. I recall reaching a level where you are in Japan, and you are getting attacked by little Japanese girls carrying pink umbrellas and a few samurai warrior ghosts. Since I have never beaten this game, I cannot comment on the enemies found in the later stages of the
game, but if they are on par with what I have played through, then I am in for some fun when I do finally get around to playing those levels.

I will now discuss the weapons and usable items, starting with the weaponry. Gone are the whimsical items such as the tomatoes, Popsicles, canned soda, and the water pistol. Ghoul Patrol provides a more standard, albeit more sci-fi and gun-based, arsenal. Your starting weapon is a crossbow with unlimited ammo. The water pistol from the original game if you remember, had limited ammunition available. The additional guns are more sci-fi based, firing what looks like lasers or photons as opposed to actual bullets. The one exception is the bazooka gun. While it looks like a futuristic mega tube, it hurls what I like to call exploding bowling balls at enemies. Regardless of what weapon you choose, you will have fun blasting enemies as you race around to try and rescue the victims.


Finally, the last piece of information. The usable items. You still have potions, keys, and health packs scattered randomly throughout each level. Some of them are hidden in desk drawers, or in random wooden crates. But be careful if you open the wrong drawer or crate, you may find a ghost that hurts you. This game has a lot more keys in it by comparison, mostly due to the fact that some levels have rooms with 6 doors in them. The potions are all the same as the original game, one is poison, a blue one that....well, I don't really know what it does, and the mutant potion. Only this time the mutant potion turns you in to the grim reaper instead of a werewolf. The only drawback is that death cannot jump over obstacles, so be careful where you use it. I like to use it to cross the traffic-filled street in level 2.

CONCLUSION:

Well there it is. A fairly detailed description of my experience with two very Halloween themed games from the era of Super Nintendo. Overall both games can deliver hours of challenging fun, and both will provide a high amount of replay value. The music and sound effects in both games are superb, as you would expect from a Lucas Arts game. I don't want to oversell the music and sound effects, since these games also have great graphics, and game play elements, but they are definitely two of the best SNES games out there as far as music is concerned. But, if you enjoy classic horror movies, and retro video games, I suggest dusting off one of these old classics and giving it a go. Have fun and don't forget to check under the bed before you go to sleep.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!!!