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Joseph Kaminski

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November 21, 2019

Blast from the Past: Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Nintendo’s Censorship

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a typical run-and-gun video game that was developed by LucasArts for the Super NES and Sega Genesis consoles in 1993. The game featured both a single and a local multiplayer method of playing, in which players could take control of one or two fictional protagonists to rescue their no-named, pixelated neighbors from well-known monsters that are most commonly known from horror movies.[1] Aided with a vast variety of weapons and power-ups in cliché-1990s fashion, players are given the task to battle enemies across numerous levels – all of which are thematically based around the elements of horror movies. Essentially, Zombies Ate My Neighbors took these elements and shoved them all together to create a rather aesthetically pleasing (for the time) game.

The players navigate suburban neighborhoods, shopping malls, pyramids, and haunted castles (all settings for well-known horror movies) and battle against common enemies that are drafted from movie scripts. From the namesake zombies to demonic babies and aliens controlling UFOs, players are given the task to destroy all ‘nonhumanoids’ to save their nonplayable neighbors. It is related to the concept of zombies through more than just its name, but also through the stereotypical green-faced, walking-undead, cookie-cutter creatures that they ripped from most modern movie flicks. It goes without saying that these zombies are less folkloric and more movie-based, but it still seeped through pop culture in a way that many video games (ie. Plants vs Zombies) have copied.

Kids were the initial target audience of Zombies Ate My Neighbors, as it was published for the two big ‘home consoles’ of the generation during what could be labeled as a rebirthed golden age for video games. With a cooperative (albeit localized) format of multiplayer added into the game, kids would be able to play with friends in their neighborhood. This encouraged sales through an extensive marketing campaign backed by both LucasArts and Konami. However, because the target audience was children, the game fell into the clutches of censorship. Nintendo, at the height of their control of the market, didn’t want to encourage or depict violence of any kind within their platform. Before launch, Nintendo of America forcefully removed all “blood and gore” elements and replaced them with a more fictional purple ooze. Censorship committees in other countries went as far to change the name to a simpler and less memorable Zombies. Corporate feared that kids would be negatively affected by the concept of fictional characters being potentially eaten by pixelated zombies.

The video game did a fantastic job at highlighting the ‘typical’ creatures that stem from common movies and other forms of entertainment; and it is a perfect example of pop culture ‘bleeding the lines’ of entertainment. Although it didn’t do so well at the time of release, the video game has sense evolved into a ‘cult classic’ with a rather large fanbase. A sequel – Ghoul Patrol – was released a year after the firsts initial launch date, and both were released on the Wii console in 2009 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. A second sequel, ZAMN The Sequel, has also recently been announced.[2] Nostalgia has played a major role in the ‘rebirth’ of this game, as it currently holds an average of 84.5%[3] despite its antiquated graphics and wonky sound bites. It marketed its way into the homes of children’s hearts, as it might be seeing a comeback as their once-customers are now allowing their own children a chance to look back into the early 1990s and into the fictional perspective of zombies alongside other forms of the ‘undead’.

[1] "Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Game)." Giant Bomb. Accessed November 07, 2017. https://www.giantbomb.com/zombies-ate-my-neighbors/3030-16116/.

[2] Life, Nintendo. "SNES Classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors Gets Fan-Made Sequel." Nintendo Life. September 08, 2017. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2017/09/snes_classic_zombies_ate_my_neighbors_gets_fan-made_sequel.

[3] "Zombies Ate My Neighbors." GameRankings. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://www.gamerankings.com/snes/563219-zombies-ate-my-neighbors/index.html.


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