Remember a time when LucasArts used to not only make games, but made games that didn't suck or didn't come tumbling forth from the bloated uterus of the weary Star Wars cash cow? I know, it's difficult to recall. But it did exist. Once upon a time, LucasArts played the field like a princess amongst stable hands, striking up new IPs with publishers far and wide, and then doing it themselves when they fancied a bit of professional control. LucasArts delivered creative masterpiece upon creative masterpiece, they even learned how to make frankly excellent franchise tie-ins to make sure that Skywalker, Solo and Organa's legacy wasn't completely bastardised.
Of course, those days are long gone now.
But if you cast your minds back to the early 90s, some of you might remember a quirky little Contra-esque game that made its way onto the SNES and Mega Drive (the SNES version was probably the better of the two) in 1993 in the States and arrived here a year later. A B-horror homage that delivered arguably one of the finest co-operative experiences of the decade, LucasArts and Konami (of all people!) had you running around suburban back gardens, dousing the undead with Holy Water from a Super Soaker, all the while trying to rescue your clearly unprepared neighbours from the zombie apocalypse, not to mention knife-hurling midgets and giant babies.
Zombies Ate My Neighbours didn't exactly storm the sales charts when it released, but it did drop to high critical acclaim and, what began as a fairly lukewarm reaction, burgeoned over the years into cacophony of appreciation; a noise loud enough that ensured its eventual inclusion in the roster of games adorning the Virtual Console.
After choosing between two playable characters - Zeke, who sports a no doubt useful pair of cardboard 3D spectacles and hair that no doubt came from getting too friendly with an electrical generator, and Julie, who sports the red cap and blue gun of a tomboy and has patently Crazy Eyes - the players are launched into the game world, whether a cartoonish recreation of Wysteria Lane, orsomething moreoutlandish such as a haunted castle or ancient pyramid. Things get wacky pretty quickly, and that's absolutely fine.
Across 48 stages Zeke and Julie battle all sorts of nightmarish creatures, mincing around and dishing out damage to vampires, werewolves, mer-men, amorphous blobs, aliens, enormous demon children, worms that would make Shai-Hulud run a mile and, of course, the eponymous moaning, shuffling undead oafs themselves. The goal is to save as many of the titular neighbours as is humanly possible. Fail to reach them in time and they die, fail to save any of them in the level and you have to start again. Killing the beasties roaming the map in inventive ways and saving neighbours all adds to your score, with certain neighbours, usually those who are guarded well or stashed in tucked away areas of the area, commanding higher points for your score. Moreover, if you lost neighbours along the way, the maximum neighbour count for each stages would decrease, but you could earn them back by achieving high score targets.
To look around and the standard weapon set you're given today and compare to the items of destruction that developers used to dish out is to weep. ZAMN delivered some truly outstanding armaments to help quell the nightmarish invaders. From crucifixes (especially helpful against vampires, against whom they did extra damage) to rotten tomatoes to garden strimmers to dynamite to crockery, it's all in here. And, if you found yourself standing in front of a locked door, with absolutely no idea where to find the pesky key, you could always just blow it open with a bazooka.
The presentation was all exaggerated ham-ridden horror, with a Joe McDermott soundtrack that riffed on every 50s horror-staple, and excellent sound design that brought the creaking eeriness of derelict buildings, the midnight creature chorus of crickets and owls in surburbia, all adorned with spooky strings and creepy organ tunes. And you were kicking bottom and taking names, usually with a friend. It was excellent!
If there is a game today that most encapsulates the B-movie, tongue-in-cheek spirit of Zombies Ate My Neighbours, then it rather has to be Dead Rising. Arcade-style, zombie-smacking action? Check. Rescuing clueless innocents who clearly never read up on 'How To survive The Zombie Apocalypse'? Check. Using kitchen utensils and other assorted household items as weapons when you run out of ammo? Oh, absolutely! But Zombies Ate My Neighbours gave you the change to indulge in all of that with a friend. A rib-tickling take on the run-and-gun genre, it often gets overlooked, but the good thing is that gamers made enough noise to bring it back so a whole new generation could enjoy hurling fizzy drinks at Chucky wannabes.
If you haven't played it, dust of the Wii and remedy that sad, temporary truth.