Title : Zombie Nation
Publisher : Meldac / Liveplanning
Developer : KAZe
Genre : Side Scrolling Shoot 'em Up
Players : 1 Player
Release Date : 1991
Estimated Value (as of today's date) : $150-$200
SIDE NOTE -
I'm jumping ahead on this review because of somewhat of an announcement. I've been picked up by ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE DEFENSE FORCE (a blog about horror / zombie movies, games, books, etc.) to do their horror related video game reviews. I figured, what better way to start things off than by showcasing a NES zombie / horror shoot 'em up classic like this. Anyway, check out ZADF, and enjoy the read. I'm stoked to be able to review more games for them. On to the review!
Quick. What are the first two things that come to your mind when you hear the word "awesome". Chances are, if you are any bit of a mega-nerd like I am, Zombies and Ninjas were probably right up at the top of the list. I'll even give you a break if you thought of some Samurais. Well hold on to your heads folks, because that's exactly what you are getting with this rare little gem that came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1991.
That's right. I'm talking about ZOMBIE NATION.
This game was relatively unknown, but it did manage to obtain quite the cult following. Over the years, the value of even owning this game has grown exponentially mainly due to the fact that it was released in limited numbers, and let's just say the market was quite niche. Then again, those who did experience this game growing up as a young lad or lass, were greeted with one of the best shoot 'em ups of the NES generation.
A floating samurai head that is.
When you think of side scrolling shoot 'em ups, you pretty much always think of soaring across the screen in some sort of galactic space fighter. Just take a look at all the classics like Gradius, R-Type, and Axelay. They all follow the same formula. Pilot your space fighter straight into the gaping maw of your powerful enemy, blasting away with an endless onslaught of missiles, lasers, and screen clearing mega-bombs.
Zombie Nation, while using that ever-so-successful formula, decided to do something a "tad" bit different. You're not controlling a ship. OH NO. You are the pilot of something much more epic. A floating samurai head. Oh? And maybe you're wondering what sort of attacks a giant floating head has? Well, that's easy. You fling your eyeballs and spew vomit at your enemies.
You know, I can't make this stuff up.
To go along with the floating head odditie, you can downright imagine that the storyline in this game is going to be just as freakish. Your floating samurai head has been tasked with destroying an alien creature that has crash landed into Earth and has turned all its inhabitants into Zombies. A creature, known as DARC SEED. It's up to you, to recover an ancient samurai sword.......although thinking about it now, I'm not sure how a head can use a sword, but hey, who cares.....and destroy DARC SEED, restoring Earth's humanity.
No, you aren't seeing things. That is in fact the Statue of Liberty that has transformed into a gigantic Medusa. That is just one of the games mega-bosses that you will be confronted with. Speaking of bosses and enemies, this is one of the things that this game does so well. You'll encounter anything from Zombified aircraft, relentless tanks, zombie snipers as well as insanely designed monsters that at some points will just make your jaw drop.
Going back to the traditional formula of a side-scrolling shoot 'em up, you probably remember how in most games in order to upgrade your weapons you would be forced to collect floating item boxes. Well, ZOMBIE NATION takes it one step further. Instead of collecting items to increase your power, you'll need to snatch zombies who have leaped to their death from buildings. Rescue a zombie, and you'll be granted with some power ups.
The game, across all 4 levels (with 3 sub-levels each), is a zombie / horror overload with a difficulty setting to match. Even at it's easiest difficulty setting, this game remains to be one of the most highly challenging side-scrolling shoot 'em ups I have ever played in my long gaming history. However, it's a fair challenge, that requires you to constantly be on your toes. There is a constant presence of enemy on the screens, and the only break you will ever get is at the end of each stage when you can finally catch your breath.
It really relies solely on how many continues and extra lives you will be able to rack up which will ultimately determine if you are able to beat the game. And I am talking about the easiest setting. I have YET to defeat this game at the higher difficulty level. If you have done so already, I salute you. You've done what this humble gamer has once thought to have been impossible.
One of the most entertaining parts about the sheer difficulty of this game, is the fact that the music even becomes more ominous and dramatic once you get down to your last life bar. And speaking of music, let me just say this game has one of the most epic soundtracks to have ever graced a NES cartridge.
Visually, this has to be one of the more fleshed out (flesh...ha...zombie food) games out there for an 8-bit console. It far exceeds most of the games that were out during the same time, and it even surpasses that came out during the end of the NES run a few years later. The game holds its own with creative monster designs, detailed backdrops, and an overall unique style that stands out among a huge NES library.
If there is one thing that bursts my bubble with this game, it has to be the controls. The game is difficult enough as it is, but it really does feel as if you are struggling to move your giant samurai head in the direction you want. He always seems to slip and slide across the screen at rates of speed you really didn't intend on. Maybe he's just a stubborn samurai with a mind of his own. Regardless, it really does make the game that much harder.
Despite it's one downfall, this game has comfortably earned it's position as one of the most enjoyable and entertaining NES games out there. Sure, it's received it's rough share of reviews when it first came out, but since then it's grown in popularity thanks to its ever promimnent cult following.
And if you do happen to come across this game at a yard sale or a thrift store, do yourself a favor and pick it up with no questions asked. Not only will you be getting your hands on a NES classic, but one that is worth quite a bit of money as well. Oh, and you can always juts end it my way if you want. I'll happily add it to my NES collection.
Final Score (out of 5 zombie heads):
Until next time, remember: Aim for the Head.