Well, this has been a long time coming. Lucasarts’ beloved top-down ghoul-‘em-up Zombies Ate My Neighbors has finally come to Switch, missing in action since its release on the Wii Virtual Console back in 2009. And this time it’s brought its follow-up, the somewhat-maligned Ghoul Patrol, in a reasonably-priced little double pack from Dotemu. Would it be too fussy to wish they’d included spiritual successor Herc’s Adventures, too? Probably, but we’ve brought it up anyway.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors is somewhat akin to the Midway classic Gauntlet, offering lots of levels of blasting action as hordes of creatures from almost any given B-movie archetype (Zombies! Mummies! Evil dolls! Pod people! Werewolves!) are out for both your blood and that of the titular neighbo(u)rs, whom you must rescue before one of the many enemies reaches them.
It's not entirely unlike Eugene Jarvis’ Robotron 2084, in terms of inspiration, but the gameplay and control are distinctive. For one thing, this isn’t a twin-stick shooter – you fire in the direction you’re facing and with no way to fire one way while moving in another. This feels limiting played in 2021, but there’s nothing wrong with it; the game is designed around this and there are plenty of opportunities to dodge, aim and generally manoeuvre. It helps that control is so simple: 'Y' to fire, 'B' to change weapon, 'A' to use item and 'X' to select item. Bafflingly, though, this is a reshuffle of the original SNES version’s controls and there’s no way to remap them in-game. Eh?
That isn’t the only oddity about this port – from what we could tell, you essentially launch straight into the game from its new menu, meaning you won’t be seeing the original title screen and character select, nor is there seemingly a way to enter passwords without starting the game and taking a Game Over. There’s also a perpetual border on the screen, and it's — how to put this gracefully? — ugly, pointless and stupid.
Still, these porting gripes don't detract from what's still a rich, varied experience. While the two playable characters don't differ mechanically, it's still a great opportunity to grab a pal and go rescue some neighbour-folks. You'll use keys to open up pathways through the short, sweet and challenging stages, raid cupboards and trash cans to find useful items (or, less pleasantly, nasty purple monsters), accrue wild weaponry to replace your default water pistol such as silverware, freeze pops, bazookas, soda can grenades, a lawn strimmer and — most zany of all — a martian bubble gun akin to something out of Duck Dodgers.
That's just scratching the surface of your arsenal, as there are many, many different weapons here. The useable items don't disappoint either, with the usual medkits restoring full health as well as sneakers that give you temporary super speed and potions that transform you into an invincible, monstrous powerful... erm... monster. It's all great, brilliantly diverse and never seems to stop with 48 stages to play through — and they get difficult around level 4, for goodness' sake. There are hidden bonus levels too, which aren't at all easy to stumble across.
If anything in Zombies Ate My Neighbors can be criticised, it really is that high difficulty. It's rough, and it never lets up. The random elements can be a little frustrating; while all the level designs are preset, getting punished with damage for the heinous crime of opening a cabinet feels a little unfair. Thankfully, this port lets you save your game when you quit, meaning you don't have to rely on the original game's useless password system, which respawned you on the level with absolutely none of your weapons or items. Good luck finishing the game from stage 45 with the default water pistol!
Of course, Ghoul Patrol — the follow-up to Neighbors — is included in the package too, but to be totally honest it's more of a curio than anything else. Compared to the original it pretty much flat-out sucks, but the original is a fantastic game so anything will seem less impressive by comparison. The graphics are good, but the new jump and slide moves don't add depth or complexity to the levels (of which there are now fewer), just annoyance when they begin to introduce finicky, unenjoyable platforming. It's a weak follow-up that was never originally intended to be one, but its inclusion here is welcome even if we're not going to put much time into it. The visuals are decent enough and the music is fun and cartoony, the boss variety is better than ZAMN but... there's really nothing else we can say in its favour.
Pivoting back to the package itself, there's a Museum feature akin to the tremendous Digital Eclipse compilations (the recent Blizzard Arcade Collection as well as their Samurai Shodown, SNK and Disney efforts). Unfortunately, what's on offer is anaemic by comparison: there's a documentary feature of the making of Zombies Ate My Neighbors, which is cool, but the selection of artwork is downright miserly with only a few items to flick through. It's emblematic of a package that generally feels half-baked and unfinished; we're sure there are circumstances behind that, but we can't help but wonder how this would have turned out in the hands of the aforementioned Digital Eclipse.
A game as good as Zombies Ate My Neighbors deserves a stronger package than this one, which feels in parts like a bit of a hack job. We're sure it isn't, but the lack of extras or even meaningful settings to change (again, you can't remap the controls) are a huge bummer. We could complain about the lack of the Mega Drive version, as while most favour the SNES game there is something to be said for the Sega port's always-visible status screen, but overall we still recommend this package to anyone who simply wants a slightly inferior version of a bloomin' brilliant game on their Switch, plus its much worse, but kind of okay sequel. This is — shockingly — probably the worst way to play Zombies Ate My Neighbors ever, but it's still a way to play Zombies Ate My Neighbors. So it gets the slightest of thumbs-ups.