(Updated: I ran this story back in 2010 but have given it some brushing up in 2013)
If you are into video games at all, then you have likely noticed the big fad these days, the fad of adding zombies to pretty much every game type imaginable. Some games are built specifically around zombies, others just add a mode to milk the craze for all it’s worth. As I was putting together this article I decided to look around and see if anyone was offering up a good explanation of why zombies continue to reign supreme in the world of monsters and this article published today sums it up quite nicely, showing why zombies have managed to remain true to form while other monsters like vampires and werewolves have “jumped the shark”, so to speak.
Anyways, since the zombie fad doesn’t appear to have any chance at fading away anytime soon, let’s take a look at their history in arcades, with a little help from Youtube.
Splatterhouse (Namco, 1988)
In the first game on our list the main character Rick was killed and then resurrected with the hockey mask, sort of making him a zombie. While not everything in Splatterhouse is a zombie, many of the enemies you splatter on the walls are undead creatures of some kind, even though they might not always appear to be the typical zombie of say, an undead person from your town.
Beast Busters (SNK, 1st game 1990, sequel 1999)
Beast Busters is SNK’s entry into the light-gun zombie shooter but the first title came out in 1990, well before the aforementioned zombie craze hit arcades. It featured three mounted guns and while I haven’t played it, 2nd Nightmare was at the first arcade I worked at. It was a dark game with only two mounted machine guns but it also was consistently in the bottom three earning games we had there, usually fighting with Radikal Bikers or Mortal Kombat 4 for the bottom spot.
Zombie Raid (American Sammy, 1995)
Zombie Raid was a mounted light-gun title that came in around the time the 2D dynasty was beginning to crumble as most game makers were moving over to 3D games.
The House of the Dead series (Sega, 1996-2008 so far)
If you are looking for a game with strong name recognition in arcades then there is no other series which brings zombies to mind better than Sega’s The House of the Dead. The first game came along in 1996, followed by the popular House of the Dead 2 in ’98. Both of those games used pistols; In 1999 Sega released a weird variation of this series called Typing of the Dead, which is the greatest typing test game ever made; House of the Dead 3 came along in 2002 and used shotguns and in 2006 Sega released House of the Dead 4, where you used uzis to fend of hordes of zombies. Perhaps the best way to play HOTD4 is the Special Amusement version which has two 100″ screens, a moving seat and air blasts to simulate zombie breath. Perhaps the strangest thing about the evolution of the House of the Dead series is that in the later version of the game, it’s more of a city or office building of the dead instead of a house. The most recent House of the Dead entry was House of the Dead EX, which was a mini-game affair that saw a release in Japan and it made use of footpedals. An English version of the game is out there but it’s quite rare.
Evil Night (Konami, 1998)
This was Konami’s answer to Sega’s House of the Dead and while Evil Night didn’t go on to garner a big name for itself, it was an interesting game. Once again Konami tried doing a 3-player co-op gun game but this time the gun in the middle worked like a shotgun and the two on the side were pistols. Also significant to this game was the hardware, which used the 3DO M2 platform, something that never made it to fruition in the home market but did appear running a few different arcade titles.
CarnEvil (Midway, 1999)
CarnEvil is a light-gun shooter that throws all sorts of undead creatures at you, including zombies but the personality that this game has helps it stand out above many of the other titles on the list. The jester skull taunts you with poetic riddles and there is the controversial “Big Baby” boss (that can be deactivated by the operator; once I walked by a pair of teens playing the game that were lamenting shooting a zombie baby). I have one at my arcade and it still earns decently to this day, especially during the month of October.
Zombie Revenge (Sega, 1999)
(video is from the Dreamcast version)
Zombie Revenge came along at the end of the 90’s when we still had companies making scrolling fighters on a semi-regular basis and ZM followed Sega’s tried and true formula that they had gone with in games like Die Hard Arcade and Dynamite Cop. Take one of those games and combine it with something like House of the Dead and you have Zombie Revenge. This time however, you ran around 3D environments punching and shooting zombies in the head instead of terrorists. The game was ported to the Sega Dreamcast where it gained plenty of attention but if Sega was looking to revamp one of their old titles with a sequel, I think this (or something like it) would be a good way to go. Add 4 player support and you’ll latch on to the other craze that is often associated with zombies in video games!
Metal Slug 3 (SNK, 2000)
While Metal Slug 3 is not necessarily a game that’s all about zombies, zombies do play a significant role in this particular installment of the series, as you can see in the video above. In fact it’s in Metal Slug 3 that the player can end up as a zombie before dying, which gives you the power to vomit a stream of blood across the screen killing everything in the way. It was ideas like that which made MS3 one of the most highly acclaimed arcade titles in the past ten years. How I do wish to see another Metal Slug-like game come along again.
Nightmare in the Dark (Gavaking/Eleven for NeoGeo, 2000)
This was a quirky 2D game from 2000 where you played a gravedigger who had the power to throw fireballs. Your primary enemies were zombies and so this boils down to a game where the main goal is to set zombies on fire. It’s hard to top that!
Silent Hill: The Arcade (Konami, 2008)
(Video by Arcade Heroes writer TwistedSupreme)
Konami did attempt to bring Silent Hill into arcades back in 2008 but as far as we know it wasn’t a big success(strangely enough, videos of the game see a lot of views on Youtube). The cabinet was quite creepy though and it was a valiant attempt at bringing what had normally been a console game into the arcade realm, with plenty of undead creatures to blast.
Dark Escape 4D (Namco, 2012)
Plants Vs Zombies Arcade (Sega, 2013)
No video of this one yet and we don’t even know what the cabinet looks like. But Sega has announced that they are bringing the popular PvZ franchise to the arcade and giving it a redemption element. The image above was posted to their Facebook page on Oct. 31st 2013. We will known in less than a month how this works out.
These are games where you found some zombies or other undead creatures in there somewhere in the game but they weren’t the main focus of said game as they were in the titles mentioned above.
Michael Jacksons Moonwalker (Sega, 1990)
I’ll let the video do the talking on this game but it also had zombies in it at one point. Thrilling, right?
Crypt Killer (Konami, 1995)
(Zombies appear about two minutes in)
This was a light-gun shooter that one-upped Zombie Raid by offering 3D textured graphics and let up to three people play on one cabinet. Zombies are a part of this game which has you blasting all sorts of fiends from the underworld.
Vampire Night (Namco/Sega, 2001)
This game sort of blurs the line on the undead creature/zombie thing but it’s close enough since you have bodies rising from the grave to go after you and they don’t all necessarily look like typical vampires or typical zombies.
CastleVania: The Arcade Game (Konami, 2009)
Walking skeletons are still the walking dead – just with less flesh and still just as logically absurd. This game had an extremely limited release in North America and Europe so it isn’t too well known (this is because it was a very pricey game, somewhere in the neighborhood of $18k IIRC and Konami was nearing the end of their rope in supporting arcades outside of Japan). It was one of Konami’s attempts to offer a Nintendo Wii-like control scheme to a game, capitalizing on that craze which had received a boost. Of course Konami was a pioneer in motion-gaming tech prior to the Wii but they knew that the iron was burning hot thanks to that console.
Also a few others:
Gauntlet Legends; Ghosts’N Goblins; Dark Adventure