Today is Friday the 13th. This is considered an infamous day that may bring bad luck and misfortunes more than your average day. This next game could not be reviewed on a better day. Ghoul Patrol is the unnamed “sequel” to Zombies Ate My Neighbors, one of my favorite two player SNES games back in the day. Growing up, Ghoul Patrol was one of those games I always wanted to play but never did. I finally quelled that curiosity seven years ago (October 2010). I wish I could say it was a worthy follow-up but sadly, it falls a bit short of that. It’s not terrible or even bad by any means, but it’s a rather forgettable effort that should have been so much more.
ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBORS
In the fall of 1993, Zombies Ate My Neighbors thrilled 16-bit gamers and proved that there are few things more satisfying than killing zombies and mummies alongside your best friend. ZAMN graced the covers of gaming magazines, earned high scores and accolades, and there was no end in sight to its popularity. It became something of a cult classic. A two player zombie romp, players were madly thrust into numerous B-movie inspired levels battling mutant spiders, werewolves, evil dolls, martians, chainsaw wielding masked maniacs and even a towering titanic toddler. It was a brilliant pastiche of various gaming genres; hell, you could even say survival horror. Along the way there’s plenty of camp, gags and dark humor that endeared itself to gamers all around the world. Not only was it one of the best SNES games released in 1993, some say it’s one of the best (two player) SNES games ever made.
Containing over 50 levels of sheer mayhem, I love how each level has a clever name of sorts. This one, I Was A Chainsaw Maniac, is my favorite one. Set in a giant crate factory, you must locate several keys in order to rescue cheerleaders and drooling babies. It sounds easy until you factor in all the unrelenting masked maniacs out to get them (and you)! Nothing gets the pulse beating quite like hearing the revving of chainsaws in the air and seeing two burly mad men give chase as you zip, bob, dodge and weave through the hellish factory! Good times.
Back in the day, my best friend Nelson and I played the crap out of this game. We would huddle around my 27 inch Sony TV, shouting and laughing. Such was the diverse range of emotions ZAMN delivered. One second you could be bowling over in laughter at the slightly perverse humor, and the very next second screaming in pure anguish as innocent lives perish at the hands of the various monsters. I can’t think of too many games that takes you on such a wild roller coaster ride as this one does. It’s still good as a one player game but the real magic happens with two. Even to this day, it’s one of the most beloved games on the SNES. Like the many horror movies it freely borrows from, Zombies Ate My Neighbors has developed quite the cult following over the past quarter century. I can’t help but smile whenever this game happens to cross my mind. It just reminds me of a simpler time. A time where you and your best pal spent the weekends gaming and didn’t have to worry about bills or work. Needless to say, a sequel sure would have a LOT to live up to.
A “spiritual sequel” of sorts to Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Ghoul Patrol features Zeke and Julie in a brand new adventure. I was so curious about Ghoul Patrol back in 1994 but I never got to play it. One vivid memory of Ghoul Patrol that stands out to me to this day came some time in 1995. I was at Software Etc. when I spotted this game marked at the low price of $19.99 — all the other SNES games were $50+. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I even flagged down an employee to confirm. “Is Ghoul Patrol really selling for just twenty bucks?” The clerk nodded. At a time when SNES games were going for $49.99 up to $79.99, $19.99 just seemed crazy! Unfortunately, I didn’t capitalize on the deal but I remember going home that day with the game on my mind. I mean, being the “sequel” to Zombies Ate My Neighbors, it was already on my mind. But on top of that, $20?! My young mind rationalized that maybe the game had only like three levels… I don’t know… like a “shareware” version or something. Or worse — what if the game totally blows? I remember thinking immediately, “No way. That’s just crazy talk!” Fast forward some 15 years to October 2010. I finally played Ghoul Patrol. While it doesn’t totally blow, a big part of me is glad I never got to play it back in the day. I’m not sure 11 year old me would have been able to handle the disappointment…
THE STORY GOES…
THE GHOUL PATROL
The first game had a ton of weapons and they were all rather silly which added to the zany campy fun. Chucking silverware and tomatoes aren’t exactly serious weapons. In Ghoul Patrol though, you only have five weapons and there’s no humor behind any of them. But due to having only five weapons, you thankfully don’t have to scroll through 87 weapons. Another good thing: the crossbow has unlimited arrows. Ammo in Zombies Ate My Neighbors was always an issue of concern but never here in Ghoul Patrol.
WORLD ONE: THE METROPOLIS
Although the victims aren’t as charming as the neighbors in the first game, this unlucky old bloke is quite a hoot. Some folks just have all the (bad) luck, eh?
Each world contains three or four stages followed by a gigantic boss. This is another big difference from the first game. Ghoul Patrol is much more straight forward while Zombies Ate My Neighbors had all sorts of secrets. The somewhat stiff control makes a clean boss fight sadly suicidal. Thus, boss battles are of the gimpy “consume invincible potion and hack away” sort. The first boss is a towering robotic warhead. Use your items to defeat him.
WORLD TWO: ANCIENT CHINA
Each time period has its own unique victims. As stated earlier, they’re just not as charming as they were in the first game. They’re just… kinda there. Sure it’s a small thing but it all adds up in the end.
When keys run low, the time taken to secure the next one can make all the difference between life and death. Although you should be fine on keys if you’re playing from level one. If you’re continuing off a password however, then all bets are off. The enemy AI here isn’t as relentless as it was in the first game. Those samurai skeletons are pretty savvy but most other enemies kind of just meander around, even with victims in the vicinity. A bit odd but it benefits the player for sure.
The second boss is the Demon Warlock. The bosses definitely look nasty but they’re all essentially the same. Time to power up!
WORLD THREE: CRAZY CARIBBEAN
WORLD FOUR: MEDIEVAL MADNESS
A friend can join the fray. As a one player game, I find Ghoul Patrol more manageable than Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Not saying I like the “sequel” better but the enemies aren’t as ruthless at killing victims, so I actually get more game time out of the one player mode in Ghoul Patrol than I do in ZAMN. Two player mode is fun but it doesn’t hold a candle to two player ZAMN. And as you can see here, the later jumps in Ghoul Patrol get a bit ridiculous! It certainly put a damper on things as the jumps bring back haunting flashbacks of NES Double Dragon…
After defeating Sir Raleigh MacSpirit, you’re off to the final world: Ghosts and Demons Land! It’s a world flowing with lava, Grim Reapers and that “funky Demon dude” that you’ve unleashed from an eternal slumber.
GAME OVER, MAN!
Zombies Ate My Neighbors featured a purple slime sliding down the screen whenever you Game Over. It was supposed to be red for blood but Nintendo nixed that. Ghoul Patrol has a black slime rolling down. Hey, at least it kept to tradition somewhat.
ZEKE’S BIG ADVENTURE
I instantly fell in love with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure when I first saw it back in the late ’80s. It’s a bit kooky to say the least — it’s got chills, thrills and plenty of cheap frills. In that way, it has a bit in common with Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Both have a good amount of charm and both are cult favorites. So why am I bringing up this old Tim Burton film, aside from my own sick perverse pleasures? Ghoul Patrol pays homage to the epic Pee-Wee movie! What, you don’t believe me? You say there was absolutely NOTHING from the game that in any way, shape or form gave a nod to the 1985 cult classic? LOOK AGAIN!
Zeke: “Please don’t kill me — WAIT! Don’t I get a last request?” *activates the jukebox*
Of course, the best scene hands down is the infamous Large Marge highway truck scene. It gave me the heebie-jeebies as a kid. I love Pee Wee’s comment “Some night huh?” as he boards the terror truck. The payoff came with this creepy shot. The proceeding diner scene sealed it as one for the ages. The whole “HER GHOSSST” line did me in. And the way the one guy said, “It was 10 years ago… ON A NIGHT JUST LIKE TONIGHT…”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Ghoul Patrol, unlike Zombies Ate My Neighbors, didn’t grace any gaming magazine covers. Nor did it earn any “Game of the Month” honors. People weren’t singing its praises from the rooftops. Nevertheless, it didn’t do too badly in the presses. EGM gave it ratings of 7, 8, 8, 8 and 8. GameFan scored it 70, 78 and 79%. Super Play rated it 82%. I have yet to meet one person who prefers this game to its predecessor. It is objectively nowhere near as good or memorable.
Some may say it’s a bit unfair to compare Ghoul Patrol to Zombies Ate My Neighbors but it goes with the territory. And as such, Ghoul Patrol falls short. It’s missing the camp, charm, frenetic sense of urgency, secrets and that inexplicable “Ooh, I can’t wait to see what’s next!” factor. Ghoul Patrol is instead played straight forward and seriously which just doesn’t work for me personally. That’s not to say it isn’t a decent game. I believe that it is. Viewed entirely on its own, it’s decent enough to provide a solid weekend or two of ghoul-blasting mayhem. Graphically, it fares better than Zombies Ate My Neighbors. The huge bosses are a sight for sore eyes and their level of detail go beyond anything you saw in the first game. Zombies Ate My Neighbors smokes Ghoul Patrol in every other area. But that’s not to say I didn’t have fun with Ghoul Patrol. I like the ability to run, jump and slide. Still a shame though that LucasArts didn’t implement a much needed lock or strafe feature, which the original game could have benefited greatly from having as well.
Speaking of missed opportunities, Zeke and Julie still don’t play any differently. To make matters even worse, control is less responsive than the first game. It almost feels like you’re caught in mud a bit. This causes some frustration as you’ll eat unnecessary damage from the quick ghouls and whatnot. Also, it was a poor design choice to make the run button the same as the shoot button. Yikes. Who thought that was a good idea? But hey, taken for what it is, Ghoul Patrol provides a decent two player zombie romp. It’s a bit more forgiving than the original, which was balls tough. The enemies here (for the most part) don’t chase down the victims you need to save and the victim count doesn’t drop for the next level. In other words, the game does not penalize you for lost victims. Trust me, I’m not complaining about that! It’s really not a bad game at all. Just don’t expect the camp, charm or playability of Zombies Ate My Neighbors and you’ll be fine. Like any decent movie or game sequel, Ghoul Patrol won’t win any awards but fans won’t exactly curse its existence as much as they will express a certain level of overall disappointment. But that doesn’t mean they still can’t enjoy it to some degree. And being that it’s Halloween season, Ghoul Patrol is a welcomed two player foray into the macabre. Sure you could just play ZAMN instead but variety is the spice of life, is it not?