You know things are bad when two kids with water pistols are humanity's last hope. That's the premise of Zombies Ate My Neighbors, an absolute gem of a 16-bit run-'n'-gun shooter made by the unlikely partnership of Konami and LucasArts. Our young heroes Zeke and Julie can collect more than just squirt guns, mind you, weaponizing everything from dinner plates to popsicles in the fight against legions of classic B-movie monsters. But the most powerful item in their arsenal isn't the trusty bazooka, or the deviously well-hidden flamethrower. It's an unassuming red potion with the power to grant you temporary and almighty beasthood.
Instead of doing what all those other red potions do, like restoring your health (boring) or opening up doors to shadowy parallel dimensions (weird), chugging the assuredly cherry-flavored contents of the beakers in ZAMN turns you into a fuzzy, purple version of The Hulk. In the blink of an eye, your diminutive tween body swells into the form of a muscular brute, looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger if he slipped into a vat of lavender body paint. Shapeshifting into this monstrosity doesn't just make you invincible - your attacks are now a flurry of huge-fisted haymaker punches, each one swooshing through the air with the sound of a forceful golf swing. To really drive home your newly bestowed strength, the HUD slots that once displayed your weapon and item selections are replaced with universally understood symbols of power: gigantic purple fists.
If you've played ZAMN, then you probably remember the moment you first understood the importance of the red monster potion. In the unforgettable fourth level, Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem, you're relentlessly pursued by a mob of Jason-looking goons carrying chainsaws (or hatchets, in the mildly censored UK version). All the weapons you've favored up until this point now feel ineffective, with even the bazooka barely making a dent in these maniacs. Having plowed through a few levels of mindless zombies and pesky possessed toys to reach this point, you're suddenly made terribly aware of how fragile you really are. Unless, that is, you've saved up (or salvage) the means to morph into your husky alter-ego and take the fight to these strongmen. Their chainsaws, zey do nah-thing, as you pound in those hockey-masked faces until they're the consistency of Silly Putty.
There are plenty more ideal moments to go into beast mode, you'll soon find. When you're needing to knock some sense into a gigantic baby, for instance. Or those times when you want to positively plow through the environment, busting through locked doors, cracked walls, and secret-obscuring shrubbery like your hands are five-fingered rocket launchers. Best of all, your monstrous form doesn't compromise your mission: save the neighbors. If someone from your suburb so much as touches a baddie, they're instantly sent to Heaven - but they're perfectly happy to be rescued by a hulking, furiously punching behemoth.
And LucasArts thought of everything. In those rare moments when both kids channel the Aspect of the Purple Monster during co-op play, there's never any confusion. Even when she's a giant, grape-soda-pigmented creature, Julie still likes to rock her pink baseball cap. You also have a one-in-six chance of unleashing the beast when you quaff one of the question-mark-labeled mystery potions - though they're just as likely to induce a temporary state of uncontrollable zombiehood, which could get you (or your neighbors) killed.
The best power-ups are transformative, made to super-charge your experience like shots of short-lived adrenaline. ZAMN's monster potions provide the same euphoria as Super Mario's Super Stars: because you're suddenly made very deadly and completely impervious, you're encouraged to charge headlong into the enemies you once feared. A truly distinctive power-up doesn't just enhance your abilities - it effectively changes the way you play, if only for a few fleeting moments. And during those half-minute rampages after you've downed a monster potion, you'll experience the kind of intoxicating might that makes your usual firepower feel like... well, a water pistol.