Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Games You’ve (probably) Never Played: Zombie Nation (NES)

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Console: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Released: 1991
Developer: KAZe
Publisher: Meldac
Famicom? Yes (as Abarenbou Tengu Translation: Hooligan Tengu)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? No
Value: $187.49 (used) $127.61 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Digital Release? No

Aside from the steep price tag, there are few games on the NES that are like Zombie Nation.  Not only is it it an original horizontal scrolling shmup, but it does many technical tricks not often seen on the console.  Starting with the title screen, which has a line effect that resembles many arcade shmups of the time period, there is a lot happening onscreen at any given time.  The NES would often suffer stuttering or slowdown when the screen was flooded with only a few enemies – heck, Double Dragon couldn’t have more than three characters on screen at once!  Zombie Nation has far more than that with little slowdown and even background effects with everything from burning buildings to guiding lasers.  Additionally the boss battles and frantic later levels would dowse the screen in bulletfire, making it a precursor to the popular “danmaku” genre of shmups that emerged in the mid 90s.    Did I also mention it’s fun as hell?

Screenshot from Abarenbou Tengu, the Japanese version of Zombie Nation

I had seen this game for the first time on an episode of Game Center CX, where they play the Japanese version.  In that episode they note that the Famicom version was edited by making the protagonist a Tengu mask (mythological Japanese spirit that had dog-like characteristics) instead of the original design: a severed Samurai head.  Later in the episode they reveal that the US and UK versions of the game (renamed from Hooligan Tengu to Zombie Nation) contained the original severed head.  This sets Zombie Nation apart because it has rather violent content you rarely saw in licensed NES games.  It also features a long scrolling opening scene that sets up the plot – you are a dead samurai that resurrects when a meteorite hits Earth and the alien inside, Darc Seed, and his minions zombify all humans (it could happen!).  I had never seen this game on store shelves and the other day I was in a local mom & pop store and saw a beaten cart only version for $39.99.  Normally I’m reluctant (thanks to the Internet stores like this can be guilty of over-pricing or under-pricing depending on Gamestop and eBay prices), but I really wanted to play this game and could part ways with the cash.  Naturally I was shocked when some research into this game last night revealed a much higher value, although I find it extremely difficult to recommend this game to the traditional non-collector, even at $40.  As it stands, you may want to use “alternative means” to give this title a test drive.

Zombie Nation was a cult hit worldwide, known famously as a Japanese “kuso-ge” (literally translated “sh**ty game”), which are technically terrible titles that are a blast to play in retrospect.  I don’t know that this title belongs with the likes of Beat Takeshi’s Challenge or Atlantis No Nazo because there’s a strong sense of quality and decent level/game design, but I can see how this falls into the cult following of NES titles – until that episode of GC CX I didn’t even know it existed.  I played it for roughly an hour yesterday and did a capture on my second play (which spans quite a few deaths and even a start over), but I managed to play all four levels and show off the bosses.  Did I complete it?  Find out in the gameplay below.  Have you ever heard of or played Zombie Nation?  Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm

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