Tag Archives: Zombies

Digital Draughts: Resident Evil 4 with Flying Dog Brewery’s The Fear

On Saturdays through the month of October, we will be cross-posting the latest video game and beer pairings from Chip’s new blog, Digital Draughts!  Normally written on a semi-monthly basis, Digital Draughts will feature frightening and fantastic pairing posts through October as a treat for you, dear readers!

Please be sure to subscribe to Digital Draughts for future beer and video game pairings, and follow the related Instagram account for all of the pours and plays between the main posts!


There are times when I encounter a new experience and I can immediately tell that my attitude has been altered.  A previously undiscovered book becomes a new manifesto for my reading preferences, or the first taste of a new cuisine refines my palate.  But not all life-changing moments feel as though your status quo has totally shifted.  It can take years of additional experience before the proper perspective can settle for a particularly transformative incident.

When I first tried the components for today’s pairing, I enjoyed each of them at face value: the latest in a beloved survival horror series and a solid seasonal beer from an established craft brewery.  Now, with over 11 years since my first play and nearly 8 years since my first taste, I want to revisit these experiences with an updated perspective.

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My love for pumpkin-flavored treats is a well-documented psychosis.  From my first taste of pumpkin pie as a child, I was hooked on the taste of gourd and spices.  So it makes sense that I would enjoy the seasonal beers of autumn as an adult.  However, restrictive distribution routes limited my first pumpkin beer options to bland offerings from domestic beer companies.  It took a massive relocation to provide me with the opportunity to try a pumpkin brew with a some bite to it.

It was the label that first drew me to Flying Dog Brewery’s seasonal beer. Ralph Steadman’s surreal and terrifying artwork of a snarling canine beast loomed from the packaging.  The side of the bottle featured an equally aggressive piece of copy; daring the drinker to, “learn to embrace THE FEAR that consumes you.”  I heeded their advice and took the challenge of this imperial pumpkin ale.

At the time, The Fear was unlike anything I had ever drank.  Instead of a sub par beer with cloying allspice/cinnamon flavor, I was treated to a hearty ale with intense flavors of ginger and baked pumpkin.  The Fear set a new standard for pumpkin beers, which I was surprised to be met so quickly by other delicious seasonal craft offerings.  With so many other interesting autumn brews on the shelf, my dance card became quite full, leaving little room for The Fear in the years to follow.  But I made sure to clear a recent evening to check in with the brew that started my journey down the dark path of pumpkin beers.

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The Fear pours cola brown framed with a red-orange hue and topped with a fizzy toasted marshmallow head. The spices used in this brew are at the forefront of the aroma, as a strong nose of ginger and nutmeg lead into mild notes of baked pumpkin with a dash of cinnamon.  The ginger continues to lead with a tangy bite at first sip.  This kick of spice quickly dissipates into a pumpkin bread body with a toasty finish and a hint of dark chocolate. As The Fear is an imperial ale, the piquant bite of 9.0% ABV is present, but well-balanced against the pumpkin pie flavor.

After sampling dozens of autumn brews over the years, I am pleasantly surprised to find The Fear stands out from the crowd.  Its strong ginger flavor and roasted pumpkin notes are still delicious and unique.  With a glass of this striking beer by my side, I was ready to hook up the GameCube and take on the mission to save the President’s daughter once again.

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Resident Evil 4 hit store shelves during the latter half of my junior year at college.  Around that time, I had found my gaming tribe at school and we were all eager for the latest in our preferred survival horror series.  Even though each of us had pre-ordered our own copy of the game, we all gathered at a single apartment to watch the game unfold.  Across multiple televisions in a single room, we each began our journey as Leon Kennedy.

Despite playing as a protagonist from a previous entry in the series, this game did not feel like the Resident Evil to which we were accustomed.  Instead of the foreboding hallways of a derelict mansion or the oppressive destruction of a city under siege, Resident Evil 4 dropped us in the wide open villages of rural Spain.  Gone were the mindless zombie enemies, replaced by mad villagers who could utilize weapons and actually dodge our attacks.  Even the core gameplay was changed; placing the camera over Leon’s shoulder and increasing the options within the combat mechanics.  The whole experience felt more like an action movie than a suspenseful thriller, which turned out to be exactly what we were looking for.

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I fell hard for Resident Evil 4.  I loved the increased action and expanded verb set, but also appreciated that the tension remained throughout the experience.  Even though Leon was a well-trained government agent, he was still regularly challenged by the maniac hordes of the Los Illuminados cult.  In addition to the main storyline, there were extra gameplay modes that kept me in great competition with my friends.  We regularly tried to compete for better scores in the Mercenaries survival mode and all of us raced to collect the tiny virtual figurines offered at the Shooting Gallery.  We played through the story again and again, trying to find every collectible, upgrade each weapon, and generally speed through the game with greater ease.

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Resident Evil 4 was a great game to discover and play with friends by my side.  But once I left college, I rarely found the time to replay this game that I had so enjoyed.  I dabbled with the sequels that followed, but there were so many other survival horror games spilling onto the market that I wanted to try.  To further complicate matters, there was a distinct split in the survival horror genre following Resident Evil 4.  Some games leaned into the action elements, forgoing any sort of suspense and subtlety and focusing on mowing down horrific monsters with bigger and bigger guns.  The other side of this coin gave up on empowering the player; purposefully placing you in terrifying situations with little resources or hope of surviving.

As it turned out, I started preferring the more cerebral and suspenseful horror games, which pulled me further away from the series that started me on this path.  So I was very curious to see how my feelings had changed towards Resident Evil 4 after playing so many other titles within the genre.

Right from the start I noticed one thing had changed drastically since the last time I played Resident Evil 4: my skill level.  I am downright terrible at this game.  I struggled to make well-aimed shots at my enemies, often wasting piles of bullets and dying repeatedly to basic scrubs that were previously no problem.  Despite this refreshed difficulty, I am still enjoying the tension provided by the combat.  Every encounter with basic enemies is a challenge to effectively eliminate targets while avoiding being overrun.  It’s a balance that remains impressive even years later.

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The visuals and sound design are equally stunning, in spite of their age.  The expressive character models and amazing lighting still look good, even when upscaled from the GameCube’s A/V output.  The story and voice acting have not aged as gracefully, with some truly hammy lines popping up time and time again.  The main villain of the game sounds like a discount-store Dracula impersonator, and some of our lovable ally’s dialogue has only become more uncomfortable over time (“I see the President has equipped his daughter with ballistics, too”).

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Quick-time events continue to be a massive frustration, often creating easy-to-fail scenarios that contribute nothing worthwhile to the game.  I was surprised how little I enjoyed the boss encounters when playing again.  Instead of feeling like clever puzzles or strategic battles, fighting major enemies felt like obnoxious bullfights; running around a tight arena and unloading massive amounts of ammo in lumbering meat walls. Alternatively, my love of the item management system has only become more acute; every moment spent arranging ammo and recovery items in that briefcase felt like a delightful little puzzle game break.

Overall, Resident Evil 4 doesn’t hold the same sense of wonder from the idyllic days of playing with my friends in college.  I no longer have the time to invest in this massive game and its many additional modes.  However, playing Resident Evil 4 after so many other lackluster survival horror titles makes me further appreciate what an impact it had on my personal taste and video games as a whole.  This game became my benchmark for quality of design and the joy of play in the survival horror genre.  I am pleased to find that Resident Evil 4 remains as that standard even after so much time has passed.  Minor complaints aside, I still recommend Resident Evil 4 for anyone looking for a great action title or survival horror game, which pairs very well with the spicy bite and tasty pumpkin notes of The Fear.

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Reviving the Living Dead: Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without A Pulse

It’s a rare video game that will let you take control of a zombie.  Most of the time, players are limited to competitive shooters where it’s humans versus the undead (Go Team Zombie!) or in action games via a sort of temporary “extra life” as a shambling corpse(read: SO SLOW).  There have been a few games with undead protagonists like the mummy Chuck D. Head in DecapAttack or the ghoulish Polterguy in Haunting, but these examples are not really “zombie” games, strictly speaking.  You don’t exactly lead Polterguy to devour brains or guide Chuck to create a legion of creeping creatures.  That’s the sort of thing you leave to Stubbs the Zombie.

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Rebel Without a Pulse hit store shelves in 2005, during the appropriate month of October.  The titular Stubbs the Zombie was once Edward Stubblefield, a traveling salesman who met his untimely demise from a gunshot, courtesy of his gal Maggie’s father.  After collapsing in the woods in 1933, Stubbs is reanimated in 1959, at the grand opening of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania.  Angered at the venture capitalist who disturbed his eternal rest, Stubbs decides to hunt the wealthy playboy and cause quite a bit of carnage along the way.  What follows is a comedic and creepy quest through a sort of retro-future metropolis; the “city of tomorrow” that might have been seen in 1950s science fiction.

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Most of the game is spent trailing industrialist Andrew Monday through the city of Punchbowl.  As Stubbs, players can attack the citizens of Punchbowl, eating their brains and creating a group of zombie comrades that devour right alongside you.  Stubbs has some additional actions, most of which involve tearing off his own arm to beat enemies, activate switches, and take control of better-armed adversaries for some shooter options.  There were also plenty of vehicles to commandeer and drive recklessly through the perfectly polished pathways of Punchbowl.

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For my college self, the gameplay and visuals in Stubbs the Zombie felt like second nature, since the game was developed using the Halo engine.  As an avid Halo 2 junkie, the co-op campaign and Xbox controls made the transition from space marine to dopey zombie salesman rather seamless.  My friends and I would switch off between stages, playing as a pair of zombies on a mission of revenge (and eating tasty, tasty brains).  As we shambled through Punchbowl, a fantastic soundtrack of 50s and 60s era hits covered by modern alternative rock artists kept us bouncing in our seats.  The whole game was a delightful tribute to the goofy-spooky horror movies of the past.

Just like the previous title in our zombie game round-up, Stubbs the Zombie is a tough title to track down.  Our zombie friend was briefly ported to the Xbox 360 as an “Xbox Original” download, but the game was removed from the Marketplace in 2012.  There are still original Xbox, PC, and Mac hard copies floating around the internet, but an appropriately retro system is required to play any of these versions.  Since the developer, Wideload Games, was purchased and closed by Disney Interactive, it is unlikely that Stubbs will rise again on any modern offerings.

Even for the heady price that most of the original Xbox copies are calling for, Stubbs the Zombie is worth checking out.  It is a hilarious and gory co-op romp through a quirky science fiction setting.  There is a lot of fun to be had and brains to be eaten, so shamble forth with a friend and help Stubbs find his fate!

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Resident Evil – Peace of Mind

The save rooms in Resident Evil cause a contradiction in player emotions.  On the one hand, these areas serve as a refuge from the monsters that would cause harm to protagonists Chris and Jill.  There is an unspoken rule that zombies cannot cross into these rooms, so the player has some time to collect their thoughts and plan ahead.  There is often ammunition or healing supplies located in the save rooms, as well as item boxes where one can stock up on necessary supplies.  A sort of calm exists in these spaces.

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However, Chris and Jill will eventually have to leave these peaceful zones in order to complete the game.  The momentary respite for the player is quickly replaced with the tension of preparing to depart.  It is very common to avoid killing any zombies in the mad dash to a save room, leaving these menacing creatures lurking just beyond the door.  Any tranquil thoughts have to be cleared away in order to psych yourself up for the next battle.

Aptly titled Peace of Mind, the theme for the save rooms in the first Resident Evil matches these conflicting emotions.

A soft string section tries to ease the player’s mind, while otherworldly tones instill a feeling of foreboding.  The music is just off-putting enough to keep folks from relaxing.

The save rooms and their related characteristics continued across most of the Resident Evil series, and each sequel included appropriate music to match.  A recent micro episode of Retronauts presents all of the save room themes in a seamless playback, providing listeners with a chance to hear the musical transition of this classic series in a single sitting.  Be sure to check it out, along with the other fantastic episodes of this retro-gaming podcast!

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The Simpsons Arcade Game – Springfield Discount Cemetery

The soundtracks for arcade games are often overlooked by the playing public.  This lack of appreciation isn’t necessarily due to the quality of the music, so much as it is due to the ambient noise of the arcade itself.  When I was a kid playing beat-em’ ups at Chuck E. Cheese, my ears were overwhelmed with the sound of chattering children playing on other machines.  I hardly ever had the chance to enjoy the music of machines like The Simpsons Arcade Game in their original environments.

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Fortunately, the eventual release of many arcade classics to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade meant I got to clearly hear the sounds of the Springfield Discount Cemetery.

Just like a great Treehouse of Horror episode, this track is a delightful blend of goofy and spooky.  The schlocky sound effects keep the mood lighthearted, while the harrowing melody makes sure players stay on their toes.  This track was composed by Norio Hanzawa, who got his start making music for Konami titles like Quarth and Castlevania: The Adventure.  He was one of many Konami alums who went on to found the development company Treasure, where he composed soundtracks for beloved games like Gunstar Heroes, Mischief Makers, and Dynamite Headdy.  That’s quite a resume!

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I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1

Lately, it seems like all of the proper scares have been popping up from independent studios.  Horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender: The Arrival make players quiver in fear more often than the triple-A offerings sitting on store shelves.  Without having major focus groups to please or sequel expectations to fulfill, smaller studios can more clearly represent the frightening concept they want to convey.

Similarly, if an independent studio wanted to make a relatively simple and fun game about friends eliminating hordes of zombies to a goofy theme song, then keeping other cooks out of the kitchen might be the best way to go.

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Officially titled as I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, this delightful game debuted on the Xbox 360 in August 2009. Sold for only a dollar through Xbox Live’s Indie Marketplace, this game let up to four players mow down legions of increasingly difficult and absurd zombies in a top-down, twin-stick shooter fashion.  The simple controls and gradual difficulty curve emulates the arcade games of old, where a player’s only goal is to survive and set a high score.  What sets this fun little gem apart is the glorious music that serves as a single-song soundtrack to the carnage.

Instead of a chiptune background beat or a symphonic movie-style score, I Made a Game With Zombies In It features a roughly 14-minute hard rock journey from the developer himself.  The tempo of the song flows with the gameplay, featuring slower beats when the action cools and shreddin’ guitars when things get frantic.  Even the lyrics fit the on-screen onslaught, as they center around the game itself.  Right from the start, developer James Silva melodically welcomes you to his game and gives you basic instructions on how to play (zombies come shambling out from all si-aye-ides/you’d better shoot them, or you’re gonna die-aye-aye).  Since the game lasts as long as the song, the whole experience feels like some sort of awesome concert you have to fight your way through.

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Zombies Ate My Neighbors – Evening of the Undead

There is a joy to be found in uncovering mysteries about beloved music.  Interviews with composers and songwriters can reveal new information on long-enjoyed tracks, such as the meaning of lyrics or the creation of certain melodies.  In my research for today’s spooky track, my mind was blown to discover the truth behind the guttural moans featured in Evening of the Undead.

For years, my brother and I assumed the sound effect that pops up again and again in this song were meant to be the groaning of undead horrors, making their way through suburbia.  With the amount of monsters present in Zombies Ate My Neighbors, this theory made sense to us.  But as I read details from composer Joe McDermott, I learned that this seemingly incoherent uttering is actually a voice sample, asking the question, “Is there anyone outside?”

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So the sound I assumed was the zombies trying to find their latest prey was actually the victims themselves, looking for other survivors.  Mystery solved.

For a great cover of this track (along with many other fantastic spooky game music covers), be sure to check out the album Songs for the Recently Deceased by The OneUps.

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EarthBound – Threed, Zombie Central

In the past, I have bemoaned the overbearing presence of zombies in video games.  So many games that feature the living dead boil down to bland shooters with brooding plots about managing to survive in a ruined world.  If a game is going to use shambling corpses as a threat, then I want to see some interesting and innovative ways to deal with them, like using bottle rockets and fly paper to thwart the undead hordes.

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When main characters Ness and Paula arrive in the third town of EarthBound (aptly named Threed), the heroes find the community is plagued by zombies.  The townsfolk are in a panic, huddled in makeshift tents for safety, desperately trying to come up with plans to deal with this menace.  Unlike the second town in the game (aptly named Twoson), Threed is shrouded in darkness and ghouls roam the streets.  The soundtrack matches the grim state of emergency:

Composers Keiichi Suzuki, Hiroshi Kanazu, and Hirokazu Tanaka make great use of sound effects to heighten the mood of this track.  The noise of warning sirens is a solid compliment to the otherworldly tones of the song, making the player’s time in Threed even more ominous.

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Zombies Ate My Neighbors

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.

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Chris Redfield

For most individuals, Resident Evil was the first survival horror game they were exposed to.  The struggles in that creepy old mansion in the Arklay Mountains set the standard for so many games to come.  But over the years, the feeling of helplessness at the threat of an unstoppable evil force has been replaced with the sort of scenes you get in an over-the-top action film.  The darkened hallways and abandoned labs have been replaced with brightly lit villages and fiendish pharmaceutical facilities (yay, alliteration!).

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Many of these changes could have come with the shift in what people are afraid of in society at large.  The old days of mad scientists toiling away in their lab to perfect Godless abominations is long gone.  Now, there are real fears of biological weapons on a large scale, and the madmen who were once solitary in their crimes now come with entire countries and selfish organizations to back them.

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While such changes in atmosphere have been accompanied by drastic improvements in gameplay, I often reminisce to earlier days when I was frightened to drag poor Chris Redfield down that long hallway, knowing that something would jump out at any moment.  In fact, Chris Redfield can serve to show just how much of a change has occurred in survival horror over the last 10 years.

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Observe the old Chris Redfield of the Racoon City Police.  Fit to help citizens in need, but ill-prepared for an entire zombie onslaught.  Now  take a look at Mr. Redfield from Resident Evil 5: member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. Right at home in a modern war film, this  man is ready to get to da’ chopper.

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Through the passage of time, Chris Redfield has gone from unassuming hero cop to hulking steroid freak, ready to fight ANYTHING that would stand in his way.  For example, a boulder as big as a freaking SUV:

No wonder he had to fight The Hulk in Marvel vs Capcom 3.

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Monster Party

The early days of Nintendo were some strange times indeed.  Programmers and developers alike had to rely on their innovation and the players’ imagination to convey ideas through the limited systems at their disposal.  This (along with almost no sort of reliable translation process for games) lead to several strange and wonderous games being produced for the NES.  One of these games in particular entertained my brother and I for hours and hours without end: Monster Party.

Monster Party Box

Monster Party was a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System where a young boy named Mark gets approached by a gargoyle-like monster named Bert while he is on his way home from a baseball game.  Bert explains that he is a kindly monster from a planet far away.  Bert’s home planet is in trouble, as all of the good monsters of his world are being oppressed by an evil force.  He asks Mark to save his world, with the help of his baseball bat.

Monster Party Story

The game itself is a side-scrolling platformer, where Mark battles random enemies on his way to the exit of each stage.  Along the way, there are doors which contain the boss encounters of each level.  The first boss you “battle” on your way through Stage 1 is a dead spider.  Not an UN-dead spider, just a dead one.  The boss apologizes for being dead, and dissipates before your very eyes.  Boss encounter over.  This happening sets the bar pretty high for weirdness, but it only gets more odd once you get to Stage 5 and the Zombie Twins appear.

Monster Party Dead Spider

As you enter their lair, they merely ask the player to “Watch My Dance.”  Unlike modern zombie foes, the twins make no effort to attack (or eat) our hero.  If Mark (or Bert) hits the zombies, they will decay into the ground, and then reanimate and continue their romp.  The only way to win this “battle” is to watch the twins dance until they dance no more, and return to the grave.  Skip to about 40 seconds in to see the twins in action.

Very odd, but a damn catchy song.

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