October 1993 : A young Rhod, not quite so rowdy, is playing a game called Zombies. He's got through level 1-3 easily enough and is about to enter level 4. It's name indicates that something is up. “Chainsaw Hedge maze Mayhem!” doesn't sound like a friendly romp like the previous stages. And then the music hits. The key motif here is a digitised version of childhood staple“ner ner, ner ner ner” which gradually changes in tone, speed and instrumentation, adding industrial elements to the main section. It then changes to a more whimsical melody for a section, and Rhod calms down. It's going to be Ok! But then as suddenly as it left the “ner ner, ner ner ner” section is back. This is going to be terrifying!
“Zombies” (or “Zombies Ate My Neighbours” if you don't live in Europe) is a 2 player same screen shooter for the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive. It is a loving pastiche of all things horror, from old school B movies, to the then current Friday the 13th films. You play as either Zeke (what a name!) or Julie and go around pew pew pewing all sorts of zombies, mummies, psychotic creatures, weird plant monsters and giant babies. There are 55 levels of it,a ll with different themes and names. It was the first ever horror themed game that I played, and level 4 was the first game to terrify me.
Rhod tries to work his way around the level. The basis of the game is to locate and save your neighbours, and for the previous 3 levels this has been simple. There is a map which indicates where they are standing, and the neighbours themselves are just standing around. This time it looks harder though. He realises that to find these neighbours he's going to have to wander though a maze. The open, clear levels have been replaced by a sprawling, claustrophobic hedge maze, that looks like it'll be a struggle to navigate. And how is he going to get to those tourists who are just standing there. Why wont they come towards him?
Childhood horrors don't always stay relevant. I remember being scared by Ghostbusters when I was young, but now I see it for the comedy that it is. The Resident Evil games give me jump scares to this day, but I never feel the same sense of dread that I did when I first played them. As we grow older I think we grow to accept the things that scare us. I haven't owned a Snes or Mega-drive (Genesis?) in a long time, and so I haven't had the opportunity to revisit this particular fear. But wait, in the case of investigative blogging, and not at all because I love throwing money away on video games, I learnt that the Snes version is actually available on the original Wii's shop. 800 Nintendo points later and its time to bring the pain.
The sound of a chainsaw. It grinds away. Shredding. Eviscerating. But what's worse than the noise is what's holding it. A big man, with a Jason mask on comes running along the next section of the maze. Rhod realises that he needs to run as far away from this guy as possible. He hears the sound of the chainsaw again. He looks up the screen. The psycho has cut a hole in the maze and he's right behind Rhod. He runs as fast as he can towards the bottom of the screen. It looks like he's escaped but the worst is yet to come. At the bottom of the screen the chainsaw guy is there, waiting. Rhod rushes to the left only to see another crazy guy. There are loads of these psychos about and their cutting through the level as they kill!
What struck me as I started playing the game was how well the game has stood the test of time. The graphics, music and controls stand up well to this day, and the presentation is fantastic. It really does a good job of evoking a B movie feel, and everything from the jingles to the cinematic screens which drop down in between levels drive home everything that we love from cheap and cheesy horror. As I expected the first few levels of the game were simple enough, but still incredibly fun to play through. I've got to make a shout out to the brilliance of the neighbours themselves. Wacky explorers, cranky teachers, and jumping cheerleaders all cry out to be stereotypical victims in B movies.
With all these chainsaw wielding mad men around it's easy to forget that there is a goal to the game. Those neighbours are just not moving, despite the several lunatics surrounding them, so it's up to young Rhod to get them. There are dead ends everywhere, and around most turns another loonie lurks! He has to develop a technique on the fly to try and distract the crazed mask men, by running past hedges for them to cut through. That'll get him a bit more time to get to the fools who are just waiting to be rescued. It's not long before the game has reached an incredibly intense state where button pushes are needed every split second in order to evade death.
I then got to Level 4. The Music is still incredibly creepy. Pounding and thrusting its impact all over the level. The maze is still claustrophobic. And the Jason Voorhees wannabes are about as brutal an opponent as you would have faced at any point in the 90's. In all honesty though,I didn't find it as scary as when I was a child. The shock value has now gone and it probably would never have been able to live up to the memories that I have in my head about the game. I think the giant life bars are what stops it being terrifying. What I was surprised to find though was that this level in particular was incredibly intense, and I had to use completely different techniques to get through this level compared to the ones before. I can certainly see why a younger me found this chapter so macabre.
As he runs away from one of the crazies Rhod notices something in the corner of his eyes. The crazy has turned away from him and is turning his attention towards a cheerleader. Five seconds later there is a ear piercing scream. The cheerleader is gone and the only thing left of her is her soul flying up to heaven. Rhod knows he needs to get the other neighbours quickly and so starts running around like a mad man in order to find them. Unfortunately the mad men have other plans, and surround him with their chainsaws at the ready. A young Rhod throws his controller at the ground as the screen bleeds red. Inside the words game over, we can see what's happening in the game. The maniacs are still running riot, slaughtering neighbours, having vanquished the hero.
Playing the game after all this time was eye opening. Other than a sequel “Ghoul Patrol” the franchise has pretty much disappeared and it's not a game which is brought up on the internet that frequently. It's a real shame because it's a loving homage to the horror genre, and it obviously had an impact on me. If you're into retro gaming I'd definitely advise giving it a go, and maybe experiencing a more innocent kind of horror. Thanks for taking the time to read this guys, I really appreciate it. I've been Rowdy Rhod and I'll be back with more revolting, re animating ranting sometime soon. Take care and sleep well …............... but not too well bwa ha ha.