Grab your shotgun and aim for the head of the – as we check out the best zombie arcade games of all time!
Popularised originally by George Romero in his ‘Dead’ trilogy of zombie movies – starting with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, continued in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and reaching a conclusion with 1985’s Day of the Dead – the modern image of shambling hordes of the undead, who can only be stopped by their heads being destroyed (usually explosively!), is a surprisingly enduring one.
With their relentless hunger for flesh and remorseless, mindless nature – not to mention the fact that they’re essentially already dead, making killing them pretty much morally justifiable – it turns out that zombies are perfect video game villains.
Scary, numerous and thrilling to face off against, zombies have been the focus of many arcade games (many of which are light gun shooting games!).
Which are the best though? Let’s find out, as we take a look at the best zombie arcade games of all time!
Table of Contents
10. CarnEvil (1998)
Though largely forgotten these days – perhaps because it was never converted to home console formats, but also perhaps because it was overshadowed by The House of the Dead 2, which released in the same year – CarnEvil was a popular and pretty fun lightgun shooter.
Featuring twisted character design and a very creepy funfair horror setting (hence the pun in the game’s title), CarnEvil’s cabinet has chunky, colourful pump-action guns – and is decorated with eye-catching illustrations.
The game itself goes all out in trying to scare players, featuring plenty of zombies as well as other supernatural creatures (and coulrophobes be warned: evil clowns do make an appearance!) – and was surprisingly gory too, causing quite a bit of controversy in its day.
Not the most accomplished of shooters, but definitely one that deserves a second chance – and a place on the best zombie arcade games list!
9. Beast Busters (1989)
SNK are mostly remembered for their stunning fighting games today, but they have a rich arcade history (just check out our best Neo Geo games list!) and were responsible for an awful lot of great titles in plenty of different genres. One non-fighting game that SNK brought to the arcades was lightgun shooter Beast Busters.
The first ever three player lightgun game, Beast Busters saw players – as one of three hilariously named characters: Johnny Justice, Paul Patriot or Sammy Stately – taking on hordes of oddly gun-wielding zombies and very strange bosses (a zombie punk who transforms into a dog, for example) with wonderfully lurid pixel art visuals.
Unusually, the zombies in Beast Busters often have guns – and they shoot back too! It has a very different feel to most zombie games, feeling like it’s halfway between fever dream and B-movie – Beast Busters is gloriously stupid fun!
8. The Typing of the Dead (1999)
A really unique arcade oddity, The Typing of the Dead took The House of the Dead 2’s lightguns and replaced them with…keyboards?
Yep, in this spin-off of Sega’s massively popular House of the Dead series, players must react to words displayed onscreen – typing them as quickly as possible to dispatch the hordes of approaching zombies. It’s the kind of concept that seems like it’d never work.
And yet…it does. Sega’s weird experiment is actually an incredibly satisfying genuinely fun and amusing game to play – its Dreamcast port even made it to our best Dreamcast games list.
What’s more is that it can genuinely improve the speed and accuracy of your typing. Not bad for a daft zombie game, eh?
7. Night Slashers (1993)
A scrolling beat ‘em up, Night Slashers sees up to three players taking on hordes of the undead – and kicking their butts straight back to hell!
Though the pixel art style of Night Slashers wasn’t as impressive as its contemporaries when it released, the silly, monster-fighting fun was – and remains – incredibly enjoyable. The plot, such as it is, sees a Dracula wannabe looking to open portals to allow hordes of the undead to take over the world.
Though there’s plenty of zombies to smack around – with the choice of playable characters being cyborg-armed Jake White, fancily-dressed Christopher Smith or female martial artist Zhao Hong Hua – there’s lots more monsters here, making it a bit less zombie-themed than other titles on the best zombie arcade games list.
Still, with a plot a bit like 80s movie classic The Monster Squad and a great range of attacks to unleash on the undead, this one’s an overlooked, underappreciated arcade game that’s well worth seeking out.
Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to do so now – as it’s available as a digital download on the Switch, PS4 and Xbox One.
Even better news is that Night Slashers is apparently being remade too, by Forever Entertainment, who also recently released the remakes of The House of the Dead and Panzer Dragoon.
6. The House of the Dead 4 (2005)
Sega’s House of the Dead light gun games have been near enough ever present in arcades since the first game debuted way back in 1996.
This fourth game in the main series sees players armed with Uzi-style guns, with an appropriately high-speed firing rate for very fast-paced zombie blasting.
Just like the other games in the series, cheesy cutscenes and terrible voice acting feature heavily, but that just adds to the charm of the B-movie styled action. Branching paths and multiple endings add replayability too.
Not a bad game, by any means – but the bar is set very high when it comes to the House of the Dead series, as you’ll see as we make our way to the top of the best zombie arcade games list!
5. The Walking Dead (2017)
Based on the TV show – that’s based on the Image comic of the same name – The Walking Dead is striking and terrifying even before you start to play.
That’s thanks to arcade specialist Raw Thrills and their characteristic flair for eye-catching cabinets. The back of the machine features a glowing zombie with LED eyes – and ‘Dead Inside’ painted in blood…on the fake doors the spookily lit zombie is emerging from. It’s like the machine itself is daring you to play it!
The game itself is a House of the Dead-esque lightgun shooter, except instead of guns you have crossbows – just like Daryl in the TV show. Though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of most of the House of the Dead games, The Walking Dead is still an excellent experience in its own right – and definitely deserving its place on the best zombie arcade games list!
4. Zombie Revenge (1999)
Another House of the Dead spin-off – with tons of references to those games – Zombie Revenge is a scrolling beat ’em up that’s incredibly good fun.
Just like the House of the Dead games, the plot is cheesy and amusing here, with awful voice acting too. It’s got a similarly authentic B-movie, video nasty-style charm that’s hard to resist.
And let’s face it – who wouldn’t want to go around punching and kicking zombies? With Zombie Revenge, there’s plenty of opportunity to do just that!
Want to shoot zombies or use other objects as weapons? Zombie Revenge has you covered there too, with tons of weapons to add to your armoury – one of our favourites being the cannon shot, which is a rocket launcher in a guitar case!
3. The House of the Dead III (2002)
The first game in the series to feature branching stages which the player could choose their route through before tackling the mission, The House of the Dead III also brought big, pump-action shotguns to the House of the Dead.
Early on in development, The House of the Dead III featured cel-shaded, comic book-esque visuals – but this aesthetic was changed back to a more realistic style by the time the game was released.
Though The House of the Dead III was a slight disappointment after the second game, it’s still a hugely enjoyable experience in its own right – with lots of touches that make it feel like a unique entry in the series.
2. The House of the Dead (1996)
Though the visuals haven’t aged particularly well, the very first game in Sega’s long-running, massively popular zombie lightgun shooter series still plays brilliantly today.
When it was released, it was an absolute revelation – the combination of campy, B-movie style horror (which didn’t skimp on the gore) with addictive shooting gameplay was a huge success.
Not only was The House of the Dead responsible for kick-starting the rest of the series, but also numerous spin-offs, a (terrible and mostly unrelated) movie and was recently remade in HD for PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One/Series consoles.
It made a huge impact and continues to be highly regarded to this day – not bad for a relatively early 3D game, which is now over a quarter of a century old!
1.The House of the Dead 2 (1998)
The first game set a high bar for the sequel to clear, but The House of the Dead 2 was such a success in every way that it remains the best game in the series twenty four years later.
In our opinion, it’s also the best zombie arcade game of all time too. Despite – or perhaps because of – the daft story and hilariously terrible voice acting (as you’ve probably gathered if you’ve got this far down the list, those are definitely clear series traits!), the game plays beautifully.
The House of the Dead 2 has a superb soundtrack, a range of inventive bosses, a unique Venetian setting and even branching paths through its levels, adding quite a bit of replay value – which felt really refreshing in arcade games of the time.
Though it’s getting harder to find a House of the Dead 2 machine in working order in arcades these days – understandable given its age – the game was ported to various home consoles and PC.
The Dreamcast port was the last game in the series to appear on a Sega console, but the whole game was an unlockable extra on the Xbox port of The House of the Dead III – yep, completely free as a bonus; these days it would undoubtedly have been paid DLC!
It was also included in the double release The House of the Dead 2 & 3 on the Wii, which is probably the easiest, if not necessarily cheapest way of getting your hands on the game these days.
It’s still an absolute blast to play – and given that it comes packaged with its excellent sequel, it’s well worth picking up!
Looking for our thoughts on the best arcade games in general, rather than just those featuring zombies? Check out our best arcade games list!
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.