by: Dr. Boogie
Sometimes when a game is ported from Japan, it loses something in the translation process. Maybe the story has to be rewritten, or the graphics changed because the publishers didn't think western audiences would get it. Other times, a game can remain largely unchanged, and still no one will get it because it never made any goddamn sense to begin with. Such is the story behind the 1990 NES game Zombie Nation, aka Samurai Zombie Nation, aka Attack of the Puking Head.
According to the long crawl preceding the title, a meteor containing an evil alien named "Darc Seed" crashes in Nevada. Darc Seed then starts broadcasting "strange magnetic rays", which transform the population into zombies and allow him to control all and sundry military hardware in the US. Also, for some reason, said rays grant Darc Seed control over a legendary Japanese sword called Shura, which never appears in the game but which the manual assures us that "none were more powerful than the legendary samurai sword." This careless use of rays arouses the interest of Namakubi, Japan's largest severed head.
With vengeance on his mind and hope in his head, Namakubi flies to the states to save its citizenry and determine what a legendary Japanese sword was doing there in the first place!
The manual informs us that the only way to break the zombifying hold that Darc Seed has over the US is "by destroying everything in a given area." Skyscrapers, tanks, people on the street, birds in the sky, even rock formations; all of it has to go if you want Americans to have free will. In this way, the game is sort of a post-modern take on how placing too much value on things will wind up making you a slave. Darc Seed, you see, is just a metaphor for mass media, and his magnetic zombie beams are just metaphors for how messages are "beamed" into your life via television, radio, the internet, etc. Tear it down and start over, Namakubi says, challenging our preconceived notions of what's really important in life. He's so unconcerned by material things that he got rid of his own body! Without it, his mind has grown, and now his head is so full of ideas that it looks to be around two stories tall!
He freed his own mind, and now he's come to America to share his vision. Literally.
Puke and eyeballs. That's all Namakubi brought with him on his trip, but like Jesus feeding forty people with a single loaf of bread, Namakubi has enough eyeballs and vomit for the entire country, and then some! Is it disgusting? Is it really? You'll be thanking your lucky stars that a severed head can puke this much when the shit hits the fan and the eyeballs and vomit are really flying. We're talking about life and dead, people. This guy has buildings to tear down and he doesn't give a shit about whether or not anyone is disgusted by the wet squishing sound of his giant eyeballs slapping against concrete.
But it's not all about destruction, even though destruction is the only way you can heal yourself so you can live long enough to cause more destruction.
Every now and then, exploding infrastructure will toss out a falling man for you to pick up. The manual alleges that these are the zombies' "hostages". These guys were smart enough to be wearing tinfoil hats when all this magnetic ray shit was going down, but wouldn't you know it, they got caught anyway.
If it weren't for that "help", I would swear that Namakubi is just scooping these poor bastards into his mouth and eating them. I guess he's just catching them on his head. I like to imagine that by the end of the stage, he has a dozen or so people clinging to the wisps of hair on the back of his head while he vomits their homes into oblivion.
Each rescued human moves Namakubi's power-up meter a bit closer to the next level, and each new level increases the number of projectiles that come spilling out of his head. Collect enough of them and he'll be puking like a bulimic with food poisoning at an ipecac tasting festival.
Naturally, coming to the US from Japan, Namakubi's first stop would have to be somewhere on the west coast. That's why he opts to go with that most iconic SoCal city: New York.
Ah, New York City. Look, there's the Flatiron Building! And over there, it's Wall Street! It's a shame we have to blow them all up to stop the zombie menace, but you know how magnetic rays are when it comes to zombies. You can even see said beams going off in the background.
Did I say background? I meant foreground. Sure, it looks like there's some kind of beam emitter on buildings in the background, but that's just the magic of forced perspective. The bad news is they wipe out almost all your health. The good news is the beams won't kill you, so you can get hit by beams forever, as long as you don't get hit by anything else ever.
The internet tells me that Namakubi's death expletive is Japanese for "regret". Hard to imagine a floating head shooting eyeballs and vomit could have any regrets. Apart from, "I wish I hadn't flown into that beam!"
You'll be seeing this a lot, mainly because your health increases only when you hit certain score milestones, but also because you start over with the lowest amount of eyeballs and puke allowed. That means it'll be that much tougher to tunnel through the structures and rock formations hiding those precious civilians needed to get your puke quotient back to an acceptable level.
Sound difficult? That's just because I haven't mentioned the bosses yet.
First of all, you mean to tell me that a crummy sword is more powerful than a possessed Statue of Liberty? Have you seen Ghostbusters II?
Secondly, all boss fights are done in the dark, literally and figuratively; the background turns black, and once you go into the fight, you lose your health bar. It's still there, you just won't know how badly injured you are until you move onto the next level. What's that? You were expecting your health to be refilled after beating the boss? Oh you.
Also, you can't pause, so bring a milk jug to pee in.
Stage 2 is the Grand Canyon. That's right, Namakubi's cross-country tour is almost over. All he has to do is get past the piranha, giant snakes, horseback riders, and stray lightning bolts. And also this guy:
Guy in a raft, what's the big deal, right? This fucking guy has more hit points than the fighter jets you were fighting in the previous stage! And he fights you while paddling his raft UP A WATERFALL!!! At one point, you fight your own doppelganger, and it's still not as tough as this rafting guy! How are they going to top that?
With a half-naked old guy. You still can't see your health bar, but don't worry: it doesn't matter because one hit kills you! That makes me so mad I just want to frame the kanji for "pissed" over my head!
It would've made too much sense to go right from the Grand Canyon to wherever it is in Nevada that Darc Seed's meteorite landed, so now we're in some oil fields in Texas. "No blood for oil"? Namakubi's never liked that expression, and the puke will flow freely as he messes with Texas on a grand scale.
After that, it's off to one of Texas' famed robot factories. This part doubly frustrating because in addition to dodging hordes of killer robots, all of the terrain is indestructible. That means shooting at all the bad guys will result in the constant ringing sound of your projectiles bouncing harmlessly off the walls.
And the ringing in your ears continues when you fight a Bowser-esque giant tank thing armed with those same deadly magnetic rays you thought you had escaped when you went indoors. Again, I refer to the manual, which dubs this whole thing a mobile nuclear planet, complete with a lump of plutonium at the end that you need to destroy. Is this some sort of commentary on how much the US spends on Defense? Granted, we may not have prioritized the development of air-to-surface eyeballs like Japan, but at least we aren't sending our undead to pillage other countries' mobile energy sources. Oh well. Time to stake our future on wind power, I guess.
Namakubi's wandering continues as we travel to some caves in "Northern Central US". I guess that means Minnesota, in which case he had better be on the lookout for... ah, damnit, what do they have in Minnesota... something about lutefisk, maybe? Fuck it, Wisconsin. Look out for cheese. Moving on.
Darc Seed must have opened some kind of hellmouth because these caves are flooded with all manner of infernal-looking things. Thankfully, when you do die, there's plenty of rocks around to blast thro- Garrison Keillor! He's from Minnesota, damnit!
What now? Oh, the boss. Snakes from Venus, the manual says. While I'm on the subject, the manual also claims Darc Seed brought these things to Earth to terrorize the people in the US. Why did he need to terrorize them if they've all be turned into zombies thanks to the power of magnetism? Man, this whole game is just not making any sense.
At long last, Namakubi is transported to Darc Seed's pocket dimension to fight the evil alien's supine form. Oh, don't get up. I've just come here to kill you with vomit . Yeah, why don't you just lie there and let that spinning ring of globes do all the work for you. Hell, I don't even feel bad about drilling him in the head and ending the fight in less than ten seconds. I mean, look at this ending sequence and tell me it wasn't all worth it:
You want to talk about stories with a successful wrap-up, it's basically just this game, and Breaking Bad. Every loose end was tied up in that brief montage. There are literally no questions you could ask that cannot be answered by just watching that sequence again. "Are all the zombies back to normal?" Stars and stripes. "Whatever happened with that sword Shura?" Kid playing with his dog. "Who's going to clean up all that vomit?" Old couple enjoying the sunset.
I admit I would have enjoyed seeing the credits roll over a shot of Namakubi flying across the ocean with Shura clenched in his teeth, but that just wasn't a part of the director's vision. He knew that you have to leave your audience wanting more. Truth be told: nothing he could have turned out could match my own mental image of Namakubi using the power of Shura to shoot a beam of hyperpuke at the moon, transforming it into his own image. The camera switches back to him, and he gives the audience a sly wink. Then he ruins the moment when he uses his tongue to clean some lingering puke off his lips.
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