Depending on the version of the game, the player controls the giant levitating disembodied samurai head Namakubi (Japanese word denoting "sliced off heads") or a giant Tengu Mask. The player can destroy structures and enemies by shooting rapid-fire eyeballs and vomit at them. Enemies include zombie snipers, zeppelins, and lava monsters.
The player can upgrade his/her firepower by rescuing zombie hostages that leap out of structures when destroyed.
The player starts every level with a full life bar of eight units (displayed as mini Namakubi heads on the bottom of the screen), and as the player gets hit, the life bar decreases. When it is down to one bar remaining, the music changes to a dramatic theme. The game ends when the player loses all eight units on his/her life bar or is crushed by the scrolling of the screen. However, the player can regenerate some of his/her life by defeating enemies and structures. In addition, the player gets six continues to beat the game.
Zombie Nation features two difficulty levels - easy and hard. It also allows the player, like in the Mega Man Series, to select any stage at will. Once a stage is selected the following stages will be played sequentially cycling from stage 4 back to 1. The objective is to clear all four stages and then destroy the final boss, Darc Seed.
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