Ghoul Patrol didn’t actually start off as the sequel to Zombies Ate My Neighbors, but as an unrelated game that merely used the same engine. As developer Mike Ebert recalled: “I never really understood that project. No one approached Dean or I about doing a ZAMN sequel, and when we first saw the game, it was a unique product, not related to ZAMN at all. Dean and I were heads down working on Metal Warriors, then one day we find out that Zeke and Julie are in that game, and it’s suddenly changed into a ZAMN sequel. So I’ve always been somewhat confused about that game. I always felt someone in management changed it into a ZAMN sequel in the hope it would sell better. But I had almost no involvement in that product.” In place of Ebert, his old buddy Kalani Streicher was put in charge of the project, who explains how the transformation came to be: “At the time we had a strong publishing/distribution relationship with JVC for a certain amount of titles over a certain amount of years. Even with the success coming off ZAMN, Konami didn’t want to continue with a sequel, and therefore JVC stepped in adding a sequel to the list of titles they wanted to develop with LucasArts. That’s how Ghoul Patrol started to evolve.”
But the meat of the development was outsourced to an unknown studio in Malaysia called Motion Pixel: “LucasArts/JVC was the publisher and [Motion Pixel were] the developer. We were responsible for the design and art direction and they for the coding, additional art and level layout.” The founders of Motion Pixel actually came from a very familiar pedigree: “Motion Pixel was a company formed by Andrew Carter and his team. We worked with Andrew Carter when he was at Beam Software in Australia on the Star Wars 8-bit title. When Beam closed down several of the team members moved and formed Motion Pixel. Since we enjoyed working together we decided to do Ghoul Patrol.” About the cooperation Streicher remembers: “Yes, there were challenges in long distance development at the time. We were not used to working with a team on the other side of the globe. Mostly it was the time difference that we had to get adjusted to. In the end we overcame those difficulties and got the game out.”
For a game that started out as an unrelated title, the basic premise of Ghoul Patrol is surprisingly similar: once again the neighbors are being held hostage by the creatures of the night, and only the two daring teenagers Zeke and Julie can save them. Like in ZAMN, each stage contains 10 victims in addition to hidden keys and breakable walls.
The visual design in general has been changed quite a bit. It’s still very cartoonish, but everything seems a bit more serious and menacing; more ’90s rad than ’80s weird. “The main reason was that we wanted the sequel to be a bit darker than the first, and ground it more with monsters of modern myths from international countries,” says Streicher. “We also wanted to give the player a little more challenge by increasing their patterns and the weapons you can use. Basically show the player a slight evolution from the first.”
The game definitely makes better use of the SNES color palette, although not to make the game look any more “colorful”, since the visuals are less outlandish than before. Unfortunately, that also applies to the arsenal, which aside from the crossbow now consists entirely of “ordinary” alien guns. These might have been interesting compared to any typical shooter of the time, but after all the crazy makeshift weapons in the first game, they almost seem a bit boring. As if to make up for this, the corny purple monster Zeke and Julie could transform into previously, to deal massive damage to both their enemies and the environment, is replaced by a cool Grim Reaper.
New mechanics are few, but effective: the heroes can now jump on and over most pieces of small furniture, which is often required to fully explore the environments. The later stages also introduce some mean holes and magma fields where pixel-perfect jumping is required, lest you get killed instantly. A new sliding move also helps getting around, especially to speed up while running away from monsters. Streicher remembers: “The goal was to take ZAMN to the next level by adding additional character mechanics such as slide and jump. It changed how the levels had to be addressed and the original engine needed to compensate for this new game mechanic.”
The pressure in general feels much lower this time around, though. Most enemies follow fixed movement patterns, with only a few like the deadly samurai ghosts actively chasing you and your neighbors. Getting the latter killed is not as bad as it used to be, either, as they’re restocked to 10 at the start of every new world. Resources are also supplied generously, and restarting a later stage with a password isn’t nearly as much of a handicap as it used to be. Some of the enemy patterns, however, are pretty wicked, and you often have to break your way through constantly respawning circles or narrowly escape patrolling sharks.
At the fourth stage awaits a giant Robot; the first of several boss fights, a feature Zombies ate my Neighbors didn’t really have, apart from the end boss (unless you count the giant babies which showed up sometimes). They’re not too exciting, though. They’re just hovering around the arena, spawning projectiles and being massive damage sponges that take forever to kill, especially if you’ve run out of invincibility potions.
After the fight, Zeke and Julie find themselves in an unfamiliar environment. ZAMN cycled through several tilesets for its surroundings, but they could all easily be interpreted as being somewhere in present day North America or Europe (or sometimes Egypt). Their second journey, however, takes them all around the globe and to different time zones, all with individual sets of “neighbors”. After securing their own neighborhood, the kids go to feudal Japan to save geishas from bloodthirsty samurai and crazy taoist immortals. Next stop is the Caribbean, where the main threats are sharks and ghost pirates. Then it goes to the castles and dungeons of medieval Europe, followed by a short stop in hell, and then… then it’s already over.
Ghoul Patrol is incredibly short. All four worlds combined amount to as few as 17 stages, a far cry from the more than 40 maps in the first game. According to Kalani Streicher, more levels were planned and already started, but had to be cut to meet a tight deadline: “Ghoul Patrol had a short development cycle due to the Christmas release. It was kind of crazy.” Another victim of the development time frame was the port for Sega’s 16-bit console: “In parallel to the SNES version we were working on the Genesis version of Ghoul Patrol. Though in the end we only focused on the SNES version and dropped the Genesis.”
The short while that it lasts, however, Ghoul Patrol can still be a load of fun, especially with two players. The game has kind of a difficult standing as the sequel to one of the most interesting and genuinely unique action games of the 16-bit era, and cannot help but fall short of the expectations that come with it, but that’s not really its own fault. It can probably be most favourably viewed as kind of an expansion pack to the original, even though the additional moves do make Ghoul Patrol its own thing. The short length was a problem when it was sold at full-price back in 1995 – not so much now, when it’s available on the Wii Virtual Console alongside its predecessor.
The engine for ZAMN also lived on in modified form, used for LucasArts’ phenomenal mecha platformer, Metal Warriors. Now highly collectible, it sells for high prices on eBay. “Metal Warriors was sort of a sad situation,” comments Ebert. “We were actually slated to have Nintendo as the publisher on that game, and were making changes requested by them. Like being able to name your character, an improved UI and health bar. Then when the PS1 came out, Nintendo canned all releases for that Christmas and we were dropped. Konami picked us up at the last second, but only made like 50,000 units. So the game was pretty hard to find.”
So, after a side-scrolling mecha game with the same engine under the hood and an unplanned sequel, was there ever talk of a third, official game in the series? “No,” says says Streicher. “Konami wasn’t interested in a sequel and JVC was getting out of the console business. And with the incredible success of Super Star Wars, Super Empire Strikes Back and Super Return of the Jedi, that franchise kind of died off.” Ebert wasn’t approached for another sequel, either: “ZAMN sold well for Konami, but since LucasArts was unwilling to put up the cash to produce the cartridges, most of the profit went to Konami, not LucasArts. So in the end I don’t think anyone at LucasArts felt it was successful enough for them to continue the games. Dean Sharpe tried to get the rights for a GBA ZAMN from LucasArts a few years ago, but was unsuccessful. So it’s just stuck in limbo there.”
As many fans will attest to though, Herc’s Adventure on the Saturn and PS1, which Ebert worked on, is highly reminiscent of ZAMN. The game is set in ancient Greece and focused on parodying myths rather than horror movies, but the top-down non-stop action gameplay remains similar, although more adventure and RPG-like elements are added. The game’s setting also isn’t as unrelated as one would think by the first impression: “There are some fun call outs to ZAMN in Herc’s Adventure,” admits Ebert. “The space aliens from ZAMN built the pyramids and are the final villains in Herc’s. It was supposed to be a lot like ZAMN, but we had issues with it being on Saturn – and that machine died almost immediately. The PS1 release was an inferior port of the Saturn version, so most people didn’t get to play Herc’s as we intended.”
It’s been nearly 20 years since ZAMN was first released, and people are still talking about it. In fact it was apparently one of the most requested re-releases for Nintendo’s Virtual Console on Wii. Additionally, not too long ago there was even a clone on 360/PS3 called Monster Madness. Even though it adds elements that sound great on paper, like four-player support and vehicle rides, it’s nowhere as good as ZAMN. The gameplay is just too chaotic to be any fun, as often it’s hard to make out what’s going on when looking at the screen.
With such enduring popularity, how does Ebert feel about ZAMN‘s legacy? “I’m still surprised. I really didn’t expect it to be so popular so long. I wish we could have gotten it onto the GBA or DS. Just so we could have a pocket version! ZAMN is always with me though. Every time I work on a Skylander‘s level a little influence from ZAMN sneaks in somewhere!”
A film adaptation of Zombies Ate My Neighbors
According to firstshowing.net back in February 2011, there’s a Zombies Ate my Neighbors film adaptation in the works. The screenplay has already been written by John Darko. According to the news story: “The film borrows a bit from the video game, but is primarily its own coming-of-age high school story. Though rest assured, Zeke and Julie from the game will be in this. Darko is producing with April Wade and Ahmed al Baker. This is currently in the works as an independent production and they’re still securing rights, but it sounds like an awesome project that we’ll likely see on the big screen in a few years.” Since then though, it seems to have gone quiet…