Re-visit our last review: "Monster Squad: The Game".
Before we get into the review there's a little bit of history we need to get into. The history of the arcade light gun shooter.
|"You mean you have to use your hands?"|
Back in the good old times the arcade was the holy temple to youth. These pristine pleasure palaces were the places of dreams and one of the last pure parent-free zones. Really, arcades during this time were where we thought we could be who we REALLY were (but honestly were just what we thought we wanted to be. Savvy?). Arcades had their own rules, including who you were friends with. You would run in certain circles with their own customs and style who believed they "ran" that particular arcade. These were the friends you would have ONLY in the arcade and never invited over. This wasn't because they were bad asses or anything like that but because to invite them over would be to ruin the illusion you built of being anything other than a normal suburban kid. We needed to remain cool and mysterious within those neon walls (we were all Lucas from 'The Wizard'). Arcades were kinda like turfs for adolescent street gangs whose only rumbles occurred in Street Fighter II.
|"You see what you get when you stay too long on The Simpsons"|
There were plenty of great light gun games, from House of the Dead to Lethal Enforcers, that all had a shared vision of recreating the act of holding a fabricated weapon, pulling a trigger, and destroying a target. That all seems simple and fun but an interesting issue of morality could be raised when considering the nature of the targets in these games. Who, or what, you unloaded your virtual clip at was what made a gun game playable (and made parents fearful, but more on that later). The "cooler" shooters were the ones where you shot people, undead or otherwise. Personally I preferred blasting zombies over drug dealers but to each their own. The violence quota also raised a games notoriety and one of the most famous was a game called Chiller.
|"No world, you put your hands up!"|
Chiller, despite its spook house exterior, was essentially a snuff film where you played the lead. The game's premise was that you had to shoot victims, whose flesh and bones would slowly be stripped away by your bullets, and activate torture devices that would eviscerate these poor souls faster. That's pretty much it. No amulet to retrieve. No Dracula to defeat. Kill-maim-repeat. Jesus Christ, this was like 'Saw' but without a overcomplicated moral philosophy. This game was also notorious for the amount of pixelated nudity, but when you have bloody screaming skeletons strapped to rack you tend to overlook naked breasts (who am I kidding, that's all we thought of then). If your arcade had Chiller it was Camelot. My arcade didn't have Chiller but we had something far more intriguing: The Return of the Living Dead.
Released in 1985, 'The Return of the Living Dead' was a landmark zombie film. It was the first to feature not only the fast moving-intelligent zombie, or the "O'Bannon Zombie" variety, but also to introduce the idea of zombies eating brains. It also goes further to explain a reasoning why they hunger for grey matter and make them somewhat sympathetic (as much as a raging horde can be).
It was comedic. It was moody. It was punk rock. It was the '80s. And it's still one of my all time favorite zombie films but I didn't get to see it till years later, so my first exposure to this undead gem was through racking up points on its arcade translation released the same year. Designed much like Chiller, The Return of the Living Dead was a glorious tribute to that golden era of turning any popular property into a game. I remember playing this non-stop and then, without any reason, it was gone from the arcade. Gone not just from our arcade but all arcades. Gone like it never actually existed and I invented the whole thing in a fevered Surge-fueled dream. After that I was never able to locate another no many how many arcades I entered. Soon the memory of The Return of the Living Dead game faded into my subconscious as I moved on into a healthy obsession in Nintendo and Sega. Then, just a scant couple of months ago while pouring over old comics, I came across this...
WHAT!? THERE WAS A HOME PORT!
How could I not of known about this? This entire time I could of been re-playing my childhood in glorious 8bit violence. Why had it taken me this long to find out about this game? No one had brought this game up through my years of horror research, not even in The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead. I began searching online for any trace of the history of this game and I found nothing. I was beginning to think I was going insane until I came across a seller offering a small collection of NES games. Here's how the description went:
RETRO NINTENDO HORROR GAMES.
THE THING, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE,
POE MARIO, AND RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Could this be it, did I just stumble onto a legendary game that may or may not be real? I've heard of the other games so there was a shred of reliability. Not wanting to let this opportunity pass me by, knowing it would eat at me for perhaps the rest of my life, I took a chance and made an offer. I won't get into the amount I proposed but I'll just say it was substantial. What followed was a waiting game. Had I made a horrible mistake? What if it's all an elaborate ruse? When the box finally arrived I tore into and, to my great relief and joy, this was waiting for me.
I then proceeded to spend the following week playing this game all I can say...well...let's get into the review-
|There. Is. No. God.|
It's at this point that I also got to mention the arcade version of the game again. When doing research for this article I was unable to find more then a couple images of the arcade version of this game. One image that I was able to find was the light gun for the arcade game.
Well that's left to your imagination because that's the last of the information given to you for this game. What follows are just shooting levels that go into other shooting levels without any transitions. No collecting artifacts. No bosses. All you do is shoot and rack up points. Simple pure carnage. I can see how this could be fun in an arcade setting but this home gaming, we needed more. Find the barrels. Save the girls. Call the government.
In that same vein, LJN did attempt to recreate a variety of the zombies from the film in several of the game scenes including the half-lady corpse...
|Unlike the important need for several heads in 'Ghostbuster II'|
I can only guess but I'm going to assume that The Return of the Living Dead: Partytime suffered the same fate as its arcade cousin: parental outrage. Now, the question becomes how the PTA found out about the nudity in a game that was never wide released. Usually when parent mobs form is in the aftermath of a (supposed) offense, like a killer Santa Claus film or Breaking Bad toys. You know, the things that truly threaten the children of America. Can't let kids play with a plastic Bryan Cranston least they grow up to sell blue meth in the future (mind you they would have to be a failed science teacher/cancer patient first).
I'm always mystified at what gets parents stirred up into a tizzy and apparently pixilated nudity was a straw too far. At the time video games had reached their zenith and, because of their popularity, they were beginning to be more closely scrutinized. Gone were the dangerous days of arcade games with no rules. This was the big time and they were being watched by our censorship police. I don't want to make this all about these imposed watchdogs that feel that we must be protected from entertainment, I just want to point out that what we are talking about is poorly rendered boobs. The late eighties saw the height of these morality squads and they have only grown as the years have gone on.
|aka "Saturday Morning Full-of-Shit"|
And that's not exactly a bad thing. While it hits many notes of nostalgic fun it fails to deliver a exciting game experience. Playing the game I realized that this was probably also true of its arcade brother. Why else couldn't I remember how, after continued playing, boring the game is. I never thought I'd say this but I need more then just killing zombies in a game. I need story, I need plot. As a kid I probably didn't care so much about linear storytelling, but as an adult I can't overlook it. The game still has a level of absurdity that makes it worth checking out (also, naked zombies) but overall the game just left me kind of cold (like a naked zombie).
Due to the lack of story and repetitive nature I give this game a...
|Artwork by Andrew Barr and Leigh Young|