During the glory days of the 16-bit era, LucasArts released the co-op classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors. This was at a time when zombies were not yet an overused trope in video games; when developers released interesting and creative games featuring the walking dead, as opposed to the numerous uninspired and unnecessary titles flooding the market today. Zombies Ate My Neighbors tasked our heroes, the teenagers Zeke and Julie, with saving nearby residents from several different classic movie monsters. To protect their companions from various horrors, the player would utilize weapons ranging from typical fare, such as bazookas and crucifixes, to more humorous items, such as squirt guns and silverware (to throw at werewolves, obviously).
While the game featured quite a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and campy horror movie nonsense, Zombies Ate My Neighbors was a rather challenging game. Even with two players at the helm, the difficulty in the 55 levels (of terror!) ramped up rather quickly, so my friends and I would often fall off around level 20 (“Invasion of the Snakeoids”). To this day, my brother and I have only completed the game once (with no passwords, booya!). Recently, I discovered there was a secret challenge that eluded us all: a hidden level that would only appear with all neighbors intact by the 12th stage. Now, you may think keeping a perfect score by the 12th stage in a game does not sound too difficult. Just shoot the zombies, grab the survivors, walk through the magic exit door to the next level; rinse and repeat. But the reality of this situation is a bit more complex.
To complete each stage, Zeke and/or Julie must save the survivors before any of the monsters had a chance to devour them or frighten them to death. If any of the undead horrors made contact with a neighbor, the innocent victim would immediately die and the total number of neighbors available to save would permanently decrease by one. So let’s say you are hurrying through Stage Four (“Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem”), and you notice an innocent neighbor, casually flipping burgers beyond a wall without a care in the world. You ready your bazooka to blast through the wall and save him, but before you get a chance, some psycho with a chainsaw happens upon your neighbor and takes care of business. With a scream and an angel wing’s flutter, your total number of survivors just dropped by one.
And so, on a dark and stormy night (alright, it was a breezy summer evening), my friend Christian and I decided to take on the Twelve-Level Challenge and finally witness the fabled promised land of an extra stage. Knowing full-well the trials that awaited us, we stocked up on important supplies (pizza and beer) and prepared for a long night of zombie-killing.
Things started off rather well, with the water from our squirt guns peeling through the undead like, well, bullets from an actual gun. Our combined skills and years of playing games as a team aided Christian and I in the first seven stages, but none of that mattered once we hit Level Eight (“Titanic Toddler”). No amount of teamwork can prepare Zeke and Julie for the mindless wandering of a 40-foot tall baby crushing the life out of their friends and loved ones. As soon as the stage began, Christian and I donned our speed shoes and made a dash for the helpless neighbors who would be crushed by this colossal child. We managed to save most of them, but a single survivor was trampled underfoot, and our hopes and neighbor count diminished by one.
The loss of a single neighbor did not dissuade our progress, as there is a rule in Zombies Ate My Neighbors for just this sort of situation. For every 40,000 points a player collects, a bonus neighbor will be added to their total count. This knowledge steeled our resolve, so Christian and I decided to forge ahead through the remaining levels; hopeful for that bonus survivor in the final moments of the game. Of the levels that remained, we feared only one: the manufacturing plant of possessed killer dolls, Level 10, “No Assembly Required.” The evil dolls in Zombies Ate My Neighbors are musch faster than either Zeke or Julie, and they are immune to some of the stronger weapons (they can duck right beneath bazooka shots, super lame). The murderous chopping of the dolls’ axes can cut right through a neighbor with deadly speed, so Christian and I had to act fast, lest we lose another victim on our path to glory.
Somehow, we made it through the cursed factory and scored a bonus neighbor, thus bringing our count back to the full ten survivors. From there, we chopped through the heinous plant monsters in Level Eleven (“Weeds Gone Bad”) and even hiked across the terrorized football fields of Level Twelve (“Mars Need Cheerleaders”) to final victory. Our quest was at an end, and with the closing of the level summary, we read these words with champion’s delight: “Bonus Level: Cheerleaders Versus The Martians.” After nearly 15 years of playing Zombies Ate My Neighbors with our friends, Christian and I had stepped into newfound territory.
Following that, we played through the bonus stage, turned off the television, and, quite drunk and very tired from hours of playing video games, we promptly went to bed. What, you expected us to play through the rest of the game? We might be fools, but we are certainly aren’t masochists.