Reflection on the SNES and Sega game Zombies Ate My Neighbors is sure to transport many players to a time-aged place in their childhoods. A now cult-classic of the burgeoning gaming era, the title follows Zeke and Julie as they pay homage to horror tropes by navigating them in a style somewhere at the crux of Pac-Man, Super Mario, and Gauntlet.
A time capsule, a cultural kaleidoscope – Zombies Ate My Neighbors was above all a game to beat. While it may seem simple in retrospect, players in 1993 were challenged by its fast-paced nightmare-scape. Groups of adolescents were collectively frustrated by its most devious snafus. Future lifelong gamers were obsessed with its creativity and commitment to quality in minutes. Of the forty-eight levels that made up this experience, here are the ten best.
10 Level 32: Giant Ant Farm
In 1950s commercial product Hollywood, some degree of effort was put toward making every animal and creature possible into a giant, terrifying version of itself. While spiders and centipedes are scarier in their real-life form, the giant ants of Them! are among the best of the monster B-movie period. Their inspirational descendants here occupy a mine shaft as their familiar tunnel system.
As far as gameplay, the ant villains are some of the more threatening in the entire game due to their combination of size and mobility. One trick is to freeze one in a strategic place, blocking other attackers behind its creepy-crawly carcass.
9 Level 34: I Was A Chainsaw Maniac
As most Zombies Ate My Neighbors characters are, the “chainsaw maniac” is on the hunt for Zeke, Julie, and their clueless neighbors across numerous levels. Level 34 is his (or her?) moment in the spotlight.
In a warehouse full of crates, the game’s standard maze format is of no interest to chainsaw maniacs, who rip right through box after box with their titular weapon. Luckily, this level makes available the potion which turns players into a monster in their own right, so that they can do the very same path-disregarding.
8 Level 22: The Revenge Of Dr. Tongue
Announced as “The Scary Sequel to Level 7,” “The Revenge of Dr. Tongue” brings far more mayhem into Dr. Tongue’s castle than its predecessor. Most of his Frankenstein-type monsters have escaped their electric bondage and dynamic baddies like vampires and sea creatures run amok. There’s also the terrifying “pod people” which need not be spoiled here.
Dr. Tongue is one of the utmost villains in Zombies Ate My Neighbors. He is inspired by a combination of Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s The Fly.
7 Bonus Level/Credits: Monsters Among US
“Lowbrow” works of entertainment which are ultimately canonized as cult favorites are those whose creators put love into the details. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is not a unique game, but its entertaining title cards, welcome divergences from horror expectations, and bonus elements immortalized it in the imaginations of its fans. This bonus level doubles as a credits sequence with the game developers themselves featured as macabre level elements.
These types of easter eggs and secrets planted in video games were fascinating to ’90s audiences whose dial-up internet did not allow for instant mass uncovering and sharing of such things.
6 Level 6: Pyramid Of Fear
Billed boldly as “More Shocking Than Level 5,” it is this level that initially brings Zeke and Julie far from their unfortunate neighborhood. Suddenly they are among ancient crypts and tombs which in later levels will give way to demonic castles, mysterious islands, and much more.
The “Pyramid of Fear” is also the first time a player is introduced to the tourist victims, who need saving alongside local sunbathers, cheerleaders, infants, and teachers holding up big ‘F’s.
5 Level 19: Invasion Of The Snakeoids
“Invasion of the Snakeoids” continues to explore the open-concept possibilities of this run-and-gun narrative with villains that operate in three-hundred and sixty degrees and take up loads of space. They don’t need to be and are difficult to destroy, and so are more like a part of the immersive terror environment.
The Snakeoids themselves owe their inspiration to the Tremors series and Dune, of which a new adaptation is set to be released soon. In a later Zombies Ate My Neighbors level, they take over a football field.
4 Level 8: Titanic Toddler
The concept of “bosses” in level-based games is standard. In this game especially, a player would have to imagine that eventually, the scare hall of fame would turn out a classic giant beast of some kind. That this expectation’s first manifestation is the Titanic Toddler is a testament to the shelf-life genius of Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is an iconic B-movie monster flick, and more recent horrors have utilized children and dolls for heebie-jeebies times over. There’s even the titular Rosemary’s Baby, who, while mostly a plot device, delivered one shock at the film’s close. But Zombies Ate My Neighbors is unique in the invention of the Titanic Toddler. The very closest existing character may be the docile Goo Goo Goliath of Looney Tunes.
3 Level 3: Terror In Aisle 5
George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is one of the great all-time sequel successes. Released a full ten years after its predecessor, it spawned a genre outbreak and is regarded as perhaps the greatest zombie movie of all-time for its endless entertainment and social commentary. It is directly celebrated everywhere from the gaming world to Netflix.
By just its third level, Zombies Ate My Neighbors takes on this legend and captures it completely within its limited pixels. Escalators, cash registers, and rows of retail are the satisfying backdrop to bloodthirsty escapades and unsuspecting heroes.
2 Level 48: The Curse Of The Tongue
There is an entire franchise within Zombies Ate My Neighbors – the Dr. Tongue Cinematic Universe – and it culminates in the game’s final level. After having sought revenge and later teaming up with his grotesque son, Dr. Tongue, who has all but lost his mind, makes his final maniacal effort in Level 48.
As expected in the finale, almost all of the game’s various villains are present and at the attack. Perhaps this has more to do with a terrifying trip down memory lane, however. Could Dr. Tongue himself be behind the nuclear waste spills, the suspicious comet landings, and the sudden Halloween creature infestation threatening Zeke and Julie’s neighbors so constantly?
1 Level 12: Mars Needs Cheerleaders
A thrilling encyclopedia of spooky lore, Zombies Ate My Neighbors makes its most definitive statement with the wholly original “Mars Needs Cheerleaders.”
Pursued by intelligent alien beings, players dash endlessly around the high school football stadium Forrest Gump style, all the while a dominating UFO looms overhead and deploys electric rays.