Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters
2
Game Name: Ghostbusters
Platforms: NES
Publisher(s): Activision
Developer(s): Activision
Genre(s): Strategy
Release Date: Oct, 1988

Ghostbusters, that 80’s classic film that was the highest grossing comedy for a long time – you might have heard of it – follows the antics of four scientists as they clean Manhattan from a sudden surge of paranormal activity. The game has taken that concept and run with it. People who actually read this site will recognize my generally piqued interest for games that try to do something unique. Ghostbusters forges this difficult path, choosing to forego the expected quickie side scroller (which they DID for Ghostbusters II). The result is something that you could best describe as a Ghostbusters RPG. Unfortunately, a prominent little difficulty issue causes the game to kick itself square in the nards, and combined with some other serious problems, pretty much ruin any enjoyment you might have taken home.

The game begins with you as the start-up Ghostbuster team, and presents you with an overhead map of a few blocks of New York and $10,000. Ghosts are constantly swarming into the Zuul building in the center of the map, and driving the PKE energy of the city up. This works as a sort of timer – if you allow the PKE count to get to 9999, which will take roughly thirty minutes, then New York is irredeemably overrun with ghosts and you lose. This method of timing is the only thing PKE effects, and it cannot be slowed, so you have to step up and get to bustin’.

Your first stop will be the neighborhood Ghostbusting shop, where you can buy much-needed equipment for the task at hand. The proton packs and ghost traps from the film should be recognizable, and the ghost alarm, which will alert you to infested buildings. The rest of the gear, aside from upgrades to your standard busting equipment, will come into play later in the game, and later in this review. For now, with the cheapest capture equipment in your trunk, you return to the overhead map and select blinking (infested) buildings with a cute little Ghostbusters cursor. Then you must actually drive there in a short sequence reminiscent of Spy Hunter. Hitting other cars takes money from your account, and you must be wary of your gas tank – if you run out, two little dudes hop out and push the car to the gas station. This takes both time and money, and a full tank of gas costs hundreds of dollars.

When you arrive at the scene of the slime, you control two ghostbusters fighting four ghosts. The idea here is to drop the trap, activate the proton beams, then move the two ghostbusters to snare all the ghosts – they stick to the beams. Then you move them back over the trap, hit the A button, and rack up three grand a location if you catch ’em all. You then move to a new location, repeat the process, hit up a new location, repeat, etc. This is only broken up by trips to your HQ to empty your traps, to the gas station for more fuel, or to the shop to buy improved swag.

Bustin' makes me feel... like I've done this twenty times already.

This is the main part of the game – moving from location to location, busting the same ghosts, the same NUMBER of ghosts, the same way, in the same places, until you earn enough bread to move on. Now I am certainly one to preach against repetition, but I also believe that it’s not always bad all the time. I actually enjoyed this part the first time I played it, and thought the little authentic touches like emptying traps and factoring in gas stops were pretty cool. Considering that the PKE timer means you’ll only be playing this section for a maximum of about 30 minutes, it’s pretty passable. However, I can certainly understand how this game wouldn’t hold up to multiple plays, and wouldn’t be worth the price of owning. Especially not if the second section that you were saving all this money up for wasn’t worth the trouble – but it’s a good thing THAAAAAT doesn’t happen…

When you’ve made enough money, you can enter the Zuul building for the final showdown. But before you get to that showdown, you have to play through a sequence based on the 20-second clip in the film where the Ghostbusters climb 23 floors of a New York highrise. How will you do this? Well, similar to games like Track & Field, you have to press the A button repeatedly to move – but unlike that game, you’re not running, no, no, you’re walking. You have to jam the A button as fast as you possibly can to walk just a few paces. At least it’s a good thing that ghosts don’t attack you while you do this – oh, shit, yes they do. Despite the fact that you’ve been busting ghosts professionally all across Manhattan, you can’t seem to bag these four. You can’t even take shots at them with your beams. Instead, you have to carefully time your movements to keep from getting touched by one of the ghosts. If you’re hit enough times, your line of ghostbusters will fall over. The third time they fall over, they just don’t get back up, and the game is done.

Observe as the movie's three Caucasian scientist heroes save the city. Yes. Three. There were ONLY three.

This section is evil. Absolute, uncalled for, evil. The ghosts move around at random, passing freely between stairs and floors, and there’s four of them at all times. Since they’re not bound by walls or stairs, they can, and will, be on you like stink on a monkey. Any hit upon any member in your line of three ghostbusters counts against you, and the specters can lodge themselves inside your line, racking up three or four “hits” in a row, while you just have to take it like Ned Beatty in Deliverance. You can buy things at the shop that specifically help in this level, such as bait to distract ghosts, armor that allows you to take a few extra hits, and a $100,000 piece of donkey shit that is supposed to slow ghosts down, but really doesn’t do anything. If you ever get to the top without cheating, which you won’t, you fight the main boss and get a wimpy congratulations screen at the end. That’s it. The whole game.

Graphically, this game is at the low end of the totem pole. Very simplistic, mostly single colors where they can get away with it. The sound consists of a few sparse effects, and a reasonable rendition of the Ghostbusters theme, which is the only music in the game and plays endlessly. That gets annoying quite quickly, as you might expect. After playing for about fifteen minutes, I already wanted to punch Ray Parker Jr. in the teeth. The controls are about what you’d expect, and work well for the ghost capturing sections. But I’ve already talked about the stair section, so I don’t need to go over where the bad controls are.

This leaves Ghostbusters with a reasonably enjoyable first section that quickly gets stale after subsequent playings. Then, you have a second section that incites actual physical pain by playing it, and makes the entire first section not even worth playing. The stair section is good in theory, as it gives you a goal and something to earn money for. It might even be tolerable if the items you bought worked, and if it did away with the A button’s tap-to-walk system. However, the game would still only be good for a few sessions, and still get stale pretty quickly.

While we’re at it, there’s something else that seems a little “off” about this game. Something missing… What could it be… Three white scientists, fighting ghosts. That seems about right. I think they’ve covered everything.

Why, you racist bastards!

 

The Good

Some good ideas, not a typical movie tie-in.

The Bad

Poor execution, ridiculous stair section.

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