There’s nothing like a good mash-up: Abraham Lincoln and vampires or Fruit Loops and quesadillas are just two of the most obvious examples. So, why wouldn’t there be a mash-up of zombies and samurai? More specifically, why wouldn’t you have a mash-up of zombies and a severed samurai head? It only makes sense, right?
Zombie Nation, released in 1990 for the NES, was a side-scrolling shooter. Players controlled the disembodied head of a samurai that shot eyeballs out of his mouth. If that isn’t enough for you, he could also attack by vomiting an explosive substance. Oh, as an aside, you weren’t actually controlling the samurai head per se. According to the game manual, you were controlling the holographic representation of Namakubi, the Great Samurai Head. For a bit of cultural background, namakubi simply translates to “severed head.” The depiction of namakubi is popular in Irezumi, the traditional art of Japanese tattoos. Why? Because it used to be customary to present the heads of fallen enemies to their leader after battles.
With that bit of history out of the way, let’s get back to gameplay. Your enemies include zombies (created by a meteor called Darc Seed that fell to earth), helicopters, zeppelins, jets, water snakes, nuclear missiles, tanks, and robots. There are also boss monsters: the head of Medusa (which as actually the Statue of Liberty), the Greek titan Atlas, an enormous, sentient/mobile nuclear plant, Venusian snakes (that is, snakes from the planet Venus), and Darc Seed itself.
There were four total levels. Each was set in a different locale, beginning with New York City and moving to the Grand Canyon, before heading to the oil fields of Texas. The fourth level was set in the underground caverns of the North Central United States.
Health was measure in heads. You began with eight heads. As you took damage, the heads would transform into skulls. You could restore health by attaining certain point levels. You also began the game with six continues, but accrued more as the game progressed.
In addition to killing enemies, you also destroyed just about everything else. As you destroyed buildings, “zombie hostages” were flung into the air. You had to rescue them before they hit the ground. Rescue five and you unlocked the “double rapid fire” feature.
The game was first released in Japan under the name Abarenbou Tengu (a name which translates to Hooligan Tengu). Unlike the American version, you controlled a tengu mask instead of a disembodied head. The Japanese version also differed from the American release in that the alien invader was known as Eva instead of Darc Seed.
It’s the sort of game that has to be seen to be believed, but once you’ve seen it, there’s virtually no change you’ll ever be able to forget.