Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlighted a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).
Most games are content with just one kind of horrible beastie. Shooting zombies, busting ghosts, pocketing monsters—all you need to do is choose one and do it well. It takes a special kind of game, though, to take on the entire lexicon of late-night science fiction double features and do it all well. The Castlevania series manages to make all sorts of classic horror tropes appropriately threatening and frightful, but nothing captured the jovial spirit of sneaking out after dark to the drive-in quite like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis game Zombies Ate My Neighbors. There were countless b-movie rejects out to destroy your neighborhood, but everything told us it was all in good fun, from the zany art style and off-kilter arsenal to the soundtrack, which balanced serious spooks and savvy silliness.
The first thing you’ll notice about “Zombie Panic” is it has some serious swing. The lead synth lingers and lazily rolls off each step, giving the impression of a saxophonist who is just too cool to care as the world melts around him. The lead is mirrored by twisted and distorted echoes of itself at four all-too-brief moments, each echo distinct from the others without any pretention of analog instrumentation. While the natural reaction might be fear, these ghoulish melodies are just too funky fresh, opting instead to welcome us to their reverie. The bass line, a classic swing scale, calls to mind the goofy sitcom horrors of yesteryear—of families both Munster and Addams—simultaneously comforting and cautious. And then comes the chorus of 16-bit laughter, not joyous but malicious. Confident and crooked, these voices shock us to attention. The Super Nintendo is laughing at me? Is it haunted? Is it cursed? These are the things that go bump in the night, but at least their clarion call allows us to bump and grind right back at them.
Thanks to everyone for playing along with Game That Tune over the past 13 months. We had 52 entries accompanied by 51 entirely unnecessary illustrations for no reason other than I felt like it. Tremendous gratitude to John Teti and Matt Gerardi for letting me get away with it for so long, to Matt Kodner, Steve Heisler, Drew Toal, Bryan Bierman, and Matt Crowley for their contributions, and especially to our fantastic commenters for their suggestions, insight, encouragement, and lively conversations. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side.