If anyone remembers Zombies Ate My Neighbours for the SNES and Megadrive back in 1994, they should know exactly what to expect with Monster Madness. Commercially, the two games are unrelated, but spiritually they have the same undead heart. One, however, is a good deal better than the other.
Each sees you assume the role of an unwitting teenage protagonist, lumbered with the responsibility of protecting their suburban neighbourhood from a scourge of rampaging zombie fiends.
Monster Madness may not scream 'must-have', and is far from a killer ap, but for the teenage market that are undoubtedly its target audience, it is a perfectly pitched game with enough content to keep adolescent minds occupied for hours. Sadly though, it is not without its faults, and for those looking for something with some depth or innovation, there is little here to excite.
At the outset, you are thrown into the deep end, as a marauding pack of cold-blooded Zombies storm into the sanctity of your living room. From thereon in Battle for Suburbia exposes you to a consistent stream of single-minded shuffling undead monstrosities. There are quiet moments on occasion, but the emphasis here is on hack 'n' slash and trigger happy combat.
The Zombie has been so enduringly popular in modern culture as an enemy for a number of reasons, including the fact that their murky status as the living dead makes knocking them about a completely moral activity. Where their appeal really lies though, is in their lurching pace and rather delayed approach to combat. While they can rip you from limb to limb, the basic idea is that most of us can outrun and outwit them, meaning the idea of beating them about with garden tools and household objects as you dance about them is one that appeals to many people more than they might like to admit.
Think Shaun of the Dead and you get the picture. Most of us don't want get trapped in the reality of a horror film, but if we had to, we'd all probably choose zombies over being hunted by the Blair Witch or harassed by Freddy Krueger.
Which is exactly the kind of fantasy Monster Madness is playing on. Starting out with simple melee weapons and taking the lead from the classic low-budget zombie films made by Peter Jackson, you must destroy your enemies with everything from lawn mowers to axes. Some objects, like the irrationally powerful road cones, can be picked up and flung, while others, like cement mixers, can be used as sluggish clubs.
Sadly the control system is counterintuitive and cumbersome, and from the outset you spend too much time dying over and over, as zombies engulf you. Insult is added to injury when you begin to realise the repetitive nature of the lengthy single-player campaign. To struggle time and time again to beat a crowd of the undead, only to be rewarded with a near identical gameplay segment almost immediately is infuriating without fail.
Projectile weapons can be created by gathering the various pieces of junk, such as nails and gaffer tape, that litter each level. Once enough parts have been created, rudimentary nail guns or CD launchers can be cobbled together, before being upgraded with additional components. While hunting down the needed parts adds some depth to the game, sadly the projectile weapons are fairly useless until late in the game.
Firing feels inaccurate, and aiming, using the right stick while the left handles player movement, is sporadic at best. All too often each ruckus with a crowd of zombies deteriorates into a game of chase, where you stay constantly on the move with the dodge function, stopping temporarily to lob a car tyre or make desperate swing with a plunger, before dashing off again.
The vehicles on the whole are great fun, bringing some variety to the game and breaking up the monotony. Though they would be frustrating in a fully-fledged racing game, here their unwieldy controls are perfectly matched to charging chaotically through suburbia, and in the two player co-operative mode, where one of you takes the wheel while another handles the weaponry, they can be fantastic and hilarious.
Sadly the rest of the multiplayer experience leaves sufficient room for improvement. Locking the camera for a two to four-player adventure is a misguided move by the developers, turning a game that takes a little skill into a claustrophobic one that relies almost entirely on player luck. Online, with up to 16 players, Monster Madness is a more enjoyable experience, and certainly great fun in small doses. However, it doesn't warrant the game purchase alone, and is plagued by the same problems as the single-player game.
The final complaints lie with the game's presentation. Graphically it is fine, and in terms of encapsulating all the stereotypes about suburbia, zombies, and the best ways to dispatch them, it does a wonderful job. Technically it can handle itself well, and there is a certain unique flair to the game's style, which is hard to knock. However, the four teenagers that are Monster Madness' playable characters are obnoxious, bratty and brash, and are the kind of youngsters most people would cross the street to avoid. One is a nerd, one a goth, one a cheerleader and the other a skateboarder, and all are victims of such ignorant pigeonholing they are as cringe worthy as they are difficult to bear.
Despite all this, there is something about Battle for Suburbia that will keep you coming back for more, even if you are not too sure why. It has a delightful old school feel about it that is reminiscent of The Chaos Engine or the aforementioned LucasArts gem, Zombies Ate My Neighbours, but if you're interested in gameplay over middling next-gen visuals, you'd be better off browsing eBay than dipping your toe in the very American world of Monster Madness.