As I stated in my review for Zombie Carnaval, the saturation of zombies in pop culture leads to some peculiar uses of the living dead that Romero couldn’t even cobble together in his wildest dreams. The idea that the somber tones of the original Dead trilogy or the gore-soaked mayhem of Fulci’s output could be harbingers for games like Lollipop Chainsaw, which girded the ghouls with glitter and glam, is a weird leap to make.
Except this really isn’t a new trend. Weird uses of zeds have been a fairly constant theme in gaming for a very long time, from the days gone by of the Dreamcast to today. Shuffle with us down this maligned memory lane as we turn an oozing eye towards the weirdest and wackiest zombie games that have ever pushed pixels across our screens.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
Right out of the gates, we’ve got a doozy: Stubbs the Zombie was a shar-pei’s worth of weird wrinkles that draped across a fairly generic action-strategy title. Players stepped in the sensible shoes of Stubbs, a resurrected door-to-door salesman munching brains across the retro-futuristic utopia of Punchbowl, slaughtering civilians and semi-sentient robots alike in his quest for love.
Biting brainpans added rotting recruits to your rancid ranks, which made your terrible trek across Tomorrowland a horrific hoot. The entire vibe the game gives off, both with its shimmering sci-fi and rollicking rock and roll soundtrack, is pure atom-age goofiness.
SEGA’s House of the Dead 2 was already a less-than-serious exercise, due in no small part to a heavy dose of Japanese weirdness and localization gaffes—the voice acting alone is hammier than a thousand Easter dinners. How could it possibly get any weirder? By making the game a typing tutor!
That’s right, Typing of the Dead—or Lucio Fulci Teaches Typing, as I like to call it—disarms the agents from the original game and gives them keyboards attached to Dreamcast backpacks to fell the dead with the power of high words-per-minute. While this opens a whole line of questioning regarding the abilities of the agents they’re sending in (wouldn’t the mission be better suited to an elite squad of secretaries and court stenographers?) this game for the SEGA Dreamcast, and later PC, at least helped you prepare for both the zombie apocalypse and job interviews.
Zombies may be at the top of the hypothetical food chain, they are not without their share of enemies. Humans try their damnedest to re-kill them on land, and sharks will try and pull a Jaws on them beneath the waves (according to Fulci, at least), but there is nothing more capable of reducing them to component parts than…plants?
Plants vs. Zombies squared off the living dead against a lawn full of violent vegetation, who decimating the decomposing droves with more stems and seeds than you’d find in the creases of a thousand Black Sabbath records. Your organic ordnance, which ranges from peashooters to potato mines, will be hard-pressed to hold back the hordes, which are comprised of not just normal zombies, but football players, pole vaulters, and even a bobsled team…because the initial concept wasn’t weird enough as it is.
The Playforge are far from rookies in developing strange zombie games—their Zombie Farm was a zombified Farmville clone—but Zombie Life takes it to a whole new level of odd. The gameplay is your usual social-game sim, with your daily tasks consisting of advancing at your job, building up your wardrobe, and decorating your home. However, being a zombie adds a humorous and horrific hook, tasking players to balance their base zombie nature of brain-eating with their mundane “human” lives. However, your ruse is always in danger of falling apart as your putrescent pong begins to waft through your always-dwindling supply of deodorant, which makes your daily grind of menial labor a challenge for those who don’t mind their postmortem hygiene.