Game That Tune

Zombies Ate My Neighbors

Blood, Sweat, And Fears

A spirited soundtrack brings Zombies Ate My Neighbors back to afterlife.

By Derrick Sanskrit • October 31, 2013

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.

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26 Responses to “Blood, Sweat, And Fears”

  1. bostonrocco says:

    Man, I hope you keep up something similar when the AV Club transition is finalized. I played a ROM of this game a couple weeks ago and forgot how fun it is. This may be my late night Halloween activity this evening.

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  2. Mike Mariano says:

    Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol were so charming, but so frustrating! This is an excellent choice for this feature because the music really captured the zany eeriness of its featured monster movies.

  3. Newton Gimmick says:

    Thanks for these Derrick! They were something I always looked forward to on Thursday afternoon.

    • boardgameguy says:

      Agreed. Great art that was only surpassed by greater writing and descriptions of the music. One of my favorite gameological features.

  4. PugsMalone says:

    Did anyone else pick up on how the game’s structure is similar to Paperboy, or am I just crazy? Both games can end not only with the player dying, but by losing all your customers/neighbors.

    • NakedSnake says:

      I’ll say this: the main kid reminds me of the paperboy kid in both appearance and attitude.

  5. NakedSnake says:

    This seems like the appropriate juncture to go back over the whole Game That Tune catalogue to get ideas for a video game CD I am putting together for my kids. Thanks for all the good times, Derrick. Let us know where an when the next party is.

    • Still doing Alternate Soundtrack. The next one should be up sometime in November, I think. More to come, but we’re all going to have some fun together.

      • NakedSnake says:

        Cool. And I’m sure it’s occurred to you already, but The AV Club has the “Gateways to Geekery” feature. I can think of a half dozen video-game related ones that would be pretty cool. I’d love to see one on The Advantage, The Minibosses, and all those chiptune bands.

    • needlehacksaw says:

      I’m lacking another place for posting this, so here I go: Going through the whole Game That Tune cataloue as well this evening, with a tear in the eye… a DANCING tear.

      (For example, it’s thanks to Derrick that I just realized that the “Dilbert 3”-clip with its awesome “Robocop” theme-remix is by none other than Chief Boyardee… the guy who did the soundtrack for “Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden”, and the upcoming “Barkley 2”, the game I am looking forward to most. You can’t buy those little moments when the chaos of the universe seems to congele in something altogether harmonious, and pleasant…)

      Thanks for the excellent work, Derrick, is what I’m trying to say.

  6. Roswulf says:

    Thanks Derrick for putting together such a wonderful feature with such obvious loving care over the past year.

    And what a great tune to end with.

  7. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    HECK YES. I was playing this last week and had forgotten how choice the music is.

    As I mentioned last week I did a couples costume of the two player characters for my halloween getup this year. One person got it, and three others had played the game and got it after I told them. It looked really awesome, especially my girlfriend’s part. I didn’t spike my hair up, which might have been more recognizable, but effort.

    One dude was like “oh Super Nintendo? that was before my time, how old are you anyway?? I sold my Super Nintendo for $8.” and the guy was 24. I turned 23 last thursday. THE HECK, GUY?

    Also the only pictures we had of it are two or three drunk selfies that I will NOT be posting to the internet. Not even facebook gets to see them. Sorry y’all.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Your avatar looks like a drunken selfie and you don’t have any problem sharing that.

    • I was on the bus to PAX a few years back sitting a few seats from a couple dressed as these two. Everyone else must have thought they were going to a weird frat party or something (we three were the only visibly apparent nerds on board). It’s such a sweet costume. You can make it really cheap and it just feels more authentic for the goofy tongue-in-cheek grindhouse vibe.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        And you can use pretty much anything as props. Soda cans, plate, forks and knives. We went for big bright plastic guns, naturally, which aren’t hard to find.

    • Derek_Noakes says:

      Well, you can at least take my other bit of advice and marry that girl, then.

  8. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I may be bias, but there is no such thing as an unnecessary illustration.
    …Well, that’s not actually true. But it certainly doesn’t apply here. Thanks for the great feature.

  9. George_Liquor says:

    Oh Julie, your playful ponytail, short shorts and low-cut T-shirt rocked my 9th grade world.

    On a personal note, huge thanks to Senor Sanskrit for writing what may be my favorite feature here. Looking forward to more of your output post-absorption.

  10. caspiancomic says:

    Long Live Game That Tune! Sometime around the start of the month, when we were all talking Castlevania, I was all set to casually pitch a series that would examine entire OSTs. It was inspired by the realization that Castlevania soundtracks, and SOTN in particular, hit some very bizarre notes and explore some weird places, but still manage to cohere into a singular vision. Way back in the very first Game That Tune, when Derrick described Shadow Of The Colossus’ soundtrack as having balletic qualities- which I had never realized but upon reading knew immediately it was true- I knew he’d be capable of providing the kind of probing insight that I was hoping for. It would have been pretty exciting to see someone of Derrick’s talents give Silent Hill 2 or Final Fantasy Tactics or Jet Set Radio total OST shakedowns, and I know he’d have some trenchant ideas to explore in that territory. Maybe I’ll try writing something like that myself in the future.

    See you on the other side, Mr. Sanskrit, this feature has been a highlight of the site for me.

  11. edincoat says:

    I am so going to miss this column.

  12. Chuck Spear says:

    Oh, man, this game. It was a fantastic blast all the way around, and it remains one of the few games that deserves a next-gen update.

  13. Teacher in China says:

    This game is a total classic. I played the hell out of it for what seemed like years, managing to be able to go through all the levels from start to finish without using passwords. Great score, great sense of humour, great gameplay – A+++ all the way!

    Why in the HELL have they never made a sequel?!?!?!?!?!