Long before The House of the Dead, the fine folks who brought us Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown gave us the original gore-soaked, arcade light gun zombie blast-a-thon. But does the 1989 coin-op still hold up all these years later?
By: Jimbo X
I don't know if you folks have figured this out yet, but I'm really, really fond of SNK. While just about everybody worth a damn remembers them most for their Neo Geo offerings, the company actually had a pretty extensive background making both arcade and console games before their iconic coin-op/home console hybrid went online - in fact, they were making them as early as the late 1970s.
The absolute last arcade game SNK produced before migrating to the Neo Geo platform is an especially interesting little oddity called Beast Busters (not to be confused with the totally unrelated pinball game Bone Busters, Inc., although it's probable that both games were named such to cash in on the success of a totally different kind of "Busters" license.) Although essentially nothing more than Operation: Wolf with monsters, Beast Busters nonetheless has a very idiosyncratic feel to it, with some very detailed (and extremely colorful) sprites for its time. And on top of that? Good lord, is this thing violent, even by late 1980s standards. We're talking showers of arterial explosions in this one, complete with meaty chunks of sinewy zombie guts splattering the screen.
|All hail the patriarchy!|
Considering the wanton carnage of the game, it always had a special place in my heart - especially because, try as I may to locate the coin-op in my geographical vicinity, no arcade anywhere seemed to have their own machine. Of course, by then I had totally forgotten the name of the game, and since Wikipedia or YouTube wasn't around back then, you couldn't just type a few random descriptors in a query box and find exactly what you're looking for in five seconds. So, for years, Beast Busters remained a super-mysterious relic of my early elementary years - a game I knew existed, although whose existence I could demonstrate no tangible proof.
|I don't know ... to me, it looks like the kind of|
people who actually use NYC's subway.
Recently, I decided to take an afternoon off and play through Beast Busters all the way through. Does the gooey, gory shooter from the George H.W. years still have that same kick I recalled from my ankle-biter days, or is it just another overvalued oddity from that sentimental miasma we sometimes call childhood nostalgia? Well, how about we dump some virtual quarters in this sumbitch and find out, why don't we? We begin by selecting one of three different avatars (not that it matters, since you never see any of them onscreen again until the very end of the game and they all play effectively the same.) Our choices are some blonde dude wearing a baseball cap, a black dude wearing an army helicopter helmet and a bearded fellow who sort of looks like the main character in Big Trouble in Little China. After that, we get a very, very brief (as in, just two scrolling dialogue boxes) synopsis of the plot: there's a boarded up town infected by some kind of zombie-mania, and you're there to solve the mystery of what went awry. And also, since this is a video game, you are also taking with you enough firepower to last the next five World Wars, because really, who wants to play supernatural sleuth when you can just shoot the shit out of stuff?
|Oh, so that's why the team is called "the Eagles."|
As soon as the game begins, you are just inundated with action. We've got blue-tinged zombies firing handguns at you from point-blank range, rabid undead dogs jumping at your jugular and holy shit, there are even some reanimated corpses in the background lobbing knives at you! Thankfully, it keeps raining more ammunition from the heavens, so you never really have to worry about running low on bullets. And if you are wondering if this game prides itself on pre-ESRB sadism? Well, the overweight ghouls exploding in a shower of meaty, undead blood and guts and the undead pooches whimpering like scalded pups whenever you pop a cap in 'em pretty much tells you everything you need to no, don't it?
|Even in a zombie Armageddon, you just|
can't keep women from shopping.
Up next, we've got that tried and true late 1980s\early 1990s rail-gun shooter staple, the elevator stage. Here, we're introduced to a new enemy - what appears to be a possessed golden owl, which periodically, likes to drop ZOMBIE FOOTBALL PLAYERS on you. Oh, and a couple of new zombie types make their debut, too, including some pistol packing brain-eaters with afros and these zombiefied guys wearing motorcycle helmets. Our bosses for this section are not one but TWO musclebound blue dude wearing Jason Voorhees masks and lugging AK-47s, In that, it's probably more a ripoff of The Road Warrior than Friday the 13th, but come on, is there any idea for a video game villain circa 1989 more awesome than fuckin' Jason with Rambo weaponry?
|I wonder if skeleton bikers have patches|
depicting screaming humans on their
Stage four takes us down to the river ... not to pray, but to slay more undead cretins on speed boats, as well as some new enemy types, including - yes, you knew it was coming - ZOMBIE PIRANHAS, as well as a mid-boss I can only describe as a sentient piece of shit with a humanoid face. Eventually, you make your way down an aqueduct, where after a game of handgun-toting zombie whack-a-mole, you do battle with a flying eyeball that throws NAKED BLUE CORPSES at you as a projectile attack.
|Told you I wasn't lying about their being a sentient turd-beast boss...|
All right, now we're inside a factory, which seems to produce nothing but scrap heap. Oh, and also, there are now sentient, humanoid, orange cyborg beings shooting electricity bolts at you. Eventually, you will make it to a yellow corridor where you tango with five of the above-mentioned mechanical beings who manage to assemble, Voltron style into one huge assed robotic steampunk cybernetic clusterfuck of a mid-boss.
|...or the naked blue gang-bang clusterfuck boss...|
|...or the living tank meatloaf monster.|
Stage six (subtitled "Friend or Foe?") takes place in an underground parking garage. Honestly, it's just more of the same old, mindless zombie-shootin' shenanigans ... that is, up until the point you have to fight a LIVING tank, which is easily one of the greatest body horror abominations to never seep out of the nightmares of David Cronenberg. Say what you will about the formulaic nature of the core gameplay, when you have character design this fucking out there you can't help but appreciate the experience for all it's worth.
From there, we get to take yet another elevator ride, except this time around it's on one of them fancy-schmancy glass ones. Regardless, it's more or less a carbon copy of the sequence from earlier, only with way more enemies on screen and much, much more frantic firefights. Oh, and the boss battle in this one is against a giant meatball, which looks so much like the monster from Terrorvision that I am SHOCKED a lawsuit never came out of it.
"Were the missing scared to death then brought back to life?" the next cutscene poses. In a section titled "Last Battle," we find ourselves in a weird, very Lifeforce like chamber (meaning, the whole damn lair could be exposed bran tissue or something) and right out the gate we find ourselves rewatching with the Eddie wannabe from earlier. Uh-oh, we don't have the beginning of that old lazy game developer stand-by the boss rush on our hands, do we? Aye, sure enough, we get to fight our old friends Mr. Living Turdpile and Senor I'm-Actually-Made-Out-Of-A-Good-Two-Dozen-Indigo-Hued-Dead-Bodies one more time, thankfully.
|Yeah ... admittedly, "generic old Japanese dude sitting in IKEA furniture in a space ship made out of Big League bubble gum" is kind of an underwhelming way to end the game.|
|John Cena's scared, black military man is terrified but bearded white tanktop|
guy? Either he's ready to fight or he's straining out one hellacious dump.
|The only thing gnarlier than a giant penis|
Thankfully, it's a much brisker - and funner - game with another buddy or two playing with you, so not only is multiplayer encouraged, it's pretty much the only way to truly experience Beast Busters as intended. Granted, this is no all-time classic we're talking about here, but as a quick, throwaway seasonally thematic gaming experience, you could do a whole lot worse, to be sure (especially compared to some other horror-themed multiplayer coin-op offerings from the era, including a certain Smash T.V. precursor starring shitty facsimiles of Peter Venkman and Ray Stantz fighting spectral Klan members.)
|...naturally, it would have to be an|
unauthorized cameo from the Terrorvision
I really can't call Beast Busters a great game by any stretch. It's repetitive, the level design is stubbornly staid and the boss battles, by and large, leave a lot to be desired. That said, as throwaway Halloween entertainment, you really can't complain about the holistic experience too much. The visuals are great, the music, while a little low key, is effective at establishing a nice, spooky atmosphere and the character design is just superb. At the end of the day Beast Busters may hardly be anything more than a slightly above average light gun shooter, but considering its oh-so-awesome aesthetics, it definitely has enough eyeball appeal to keep you blasting your way to the very end. I mean, can you really hate on a game that was enjoyable enough that Michael freakin' Jackson himself took it on tour with them via cargo plane? I think you already know the answer there, mi amigos.