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Zombies Ate My Neighbors And Ghoul Patrol

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Lucasfilm Games
Developer: DotEmu
Release Date: July 2, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol'

by Cody Medellin on July 21, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Zombies Ate My Neighbors and its sequel Ghoul Patrol are back with more than 70 levels of classic 16-bit gameplay.

Whether you know them as Lucasfilm Games or LucasArts, chances are that the name conjures up some memories of classic games. For some, that'll be their licensed Indiana Jones and Star Wars titles, some of which are held in very high regard among PC players. Others will remember the slew of point-and-click adventure games from the Monkey Island series to Maniac Mansion, to name a few. Beyond that, there's Zombies Ate My Neighbors, a co-op, top-down shooter that appeared on the Super NES and Sega Genesis. With its numerous levels, vast bestiary, and easy-to-understand action, it became a beloved cult classic. In a surprise move, LucasArts has gone ahead and released both this and its sequel, Ghoul Patrol, in one package on modern platforms.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors loosely follows a plot where Dr. Tongue creates a horde of monsters to take over the world, and it falls upon two kids, Zeke and Julie, to stop them. However, that plot only exists in the instruction manual. In-game, this is more about homages to classic monster movies and the more modern horror movies of the time. You may start off fighting against zombies, but it doesn't take long before that expands to mummies, hockey mask-wearing maniacs wielding chainsaws, blobs, and giant babies. Your arsenal is more playful than serious, as you use the power of squirt guns, tomatoes, and silverware to fend off enemies.

The game is presented as a top-down shooter, though not a twin-stick one, considering the platforms this was originally released on. Unlike many other titles of this type, you aren't here to kill the monsters and make it to the exit. Instead, the game takes a page from the likes of Alien Syndrome, as your mission is to find all of the neighbors and rescue them before making an escape. Some of the neighbors fit the tropes of old horror movies, like the hapless soldier or the cheerleader, while others are normal, like a kid on a trampoline, a guy lounging in a pool, and even a dog. Picking up the neighbors is all you need to do to rescue them, and picking up the final neighbor immediately creates an exit next to you, so you can enter the next level.

That design change transforms the focus of the game, as it becomes more of a puzzle and a race rather than a pure run-and-gun title. You'll still kill monsters because they get in your way and they can kill the neighbors. You'll spend a good chunk of your time trying to navigate the maze-like levels to rescue neighbors faster than the foes can get to them, and the enjoyment comes from being able to figure that out while also not getting killed. Conversely, the title doesn't punish you harshly if you let some neighbors die, as you can still beat the level and move on if you fail to save everyone.

There are only a few things that people might have issues with, and they're the same issues mentioned all those years ago. The password system is helpful, considering that you'll go through roughly 47 levels, not counting the seven bonus stages, which are doled out every four levels. Furthermore, the passwords don't keep track of your inventory, so you'll always start with water guns. That doesn't seem too mean until you take into account that the game gets really tough before the halfway point, so unless you go in with a friend and can manage to correctly identify where any neighbors would be, you'll have a hell of a time trying to get through this one normally.

Ghoul Patrol, the second game in the package, wasn't originally intended to be a sequel to Zombies Ate My Neighbors, but it took on that distinction midway through development once the heroes of the first game were added. Julie and Zeke are visiting a museum exhibit about monsters and demons when they end up freeing a major one from its prison. As the being travels through space and time with his hordes, it falls on the two teens to stop the menace.

The blueprint is essentially the same as the first game, where you go from level to level from a top-down perspective, picking up all sorts of weapons and items as you blast monsters and rescue helpless neighbors before finding the exit to repeat the process. The formula has changed in that you now have a crossbow with unlimited ammo, giving you some sort of attack when everything else dries up, and using the potion now turns you into a reaper instead of a purple behemoth. Extra movement has also been added, so you can now slide and jump, which you'll do often since the level design requires these moves. Otherwise, players of the first game can easily jump into this one without much of a learning curve.

Taken on its own, Ghoul Patrol is a decent action game. When evaluated as a sequel, however, it regresses rather than improves on the formula. Overall character movement is slow, and there seems to be issues with moving through doors, as your character's collision box (or the one for the wall) is larger than expected. Enemies tend to appear back in their spawn points far too quickly, so it almost becomes inevitable that you'll get hit no matter how many enemies you try to kill. Instead of a map toggle, there's no map at all, and finding all of the survivors means that you need to find the exit instead of it appearing immediately when the last person has been rescued.

The weapon selection is far tamer than what we saw in the first game, so expect more grenade launchers and laser rifles rather than Weedwackers and soda can grenades. The inclusion of cut scenes lessens the cool factor of the characters, since you see them willingly introduce demons into the world, all while spouting stilted dialogue, and the number of levels pales in comparison to the first title, capping itself at 17 compared to the first game's 50+ stages. Again, you might not notice these things if it weren't for the first game doing these things well, but once you do, the desire to play through the sequel drops significantly.

If the developers had stopped here, people could look at this as a rather bare-bones port of some fine SNES titles that would still get a recommendation based solely on how good the first game was, even though some would lament the lack of online play. However, there are some changes and additions that actively work against the package. The bezels that appear while playing either game are basic enough, since they mimic the first game's title screen, but those who don't like bezels will lament that there's no option to remove them. There are extras in the form of pictures of the box art and instruction manuals for both games for both regions and the ability to see character animations outside of the game. There's also a movie talking with one of the original developers about the first game, but there seems to be a lack of quality control, as the audio has a constant echo throughout.

While the above might seem like minor gripes, the other issues are quite major. The game claims to have a save system in place, a potential boon for those who might find the design of only providing passwords every four levels to be difficult to handle. Unfortunately, the save system gets wiped once you lose all of your lives, so you have to depend on that old password system after all. That makes things more painful for modern players, as the passwords only save level progress, not item progress, so it is entirely possible to head into the back (more difficult) half — of the game with only your default weapon and items.

The second issue is probably more egregious, as the developers have taken it upon themselves to change out the controls for both games. For Zombies Ate My Neighbors, A is now used to fire your weapon instead of Y, X changes items instead of A, and Y uses up items instead of X. For Ghoul Patrol, A is now used to fire your weapon instead of Y, and B cycles out the weapon instead of A. The X button does item cycling instead of L and R, while those buttons are now used for performing slides and jumping, respectively, instead of X and B and Y uses the item instead of the Select button. New players might not mind the changes, but those who have played the originals on the SNES will hate the placement, since it messes with their muscle memory. For those who move between platforms like from the Nintendo Switch to the PC, that also affects them, since the buttons are the same but the different button placement on those controllers means getting re-acclimated whenever you move between them. Making matters worse is the fact that there's no option to configure the controls, an omission that can be enough for some to disregard this package outright.

On the one hand, getting Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol on a modern platform is great, especially on the Switch, where docked and portable play has always served as the system's strength. The former is still a classic title that holds up well even if the difficulty can scare people away, while the latter is good but not as ambitious or polished as its predecessor. On the other hand, the inability to disable bezels is a shame, but the unclear save system and the unnecessary control changes ruin things for new and old players alike. This isn't the ideal way to play any of these games, but it works when no other options are available.

Score: 6.0/10

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