DEVELOPER: Activision (port by Compile)
GENRE: I really don’t know how to classify this thing, so I’ll just say ‘Action.’
RELEASE DATE: 05/1987 – (US), 1989 – (EU)
Ghostbusters for the Master System is a port of the 1984 Activision title originally released for computers. This fact is almost as bad as a total protonic reversal. As anyone who has played the game on the Atari 800 or the Commodore 64 or the NES can attest, Ghostbusters is, at its best, a mess and, at its worst, a pile of Slimer puke. The game wants to replicate the full ghost-busting experience, but by doing so, it focuses more on the minutiae – buying items, driving between buildings, walking up stairs – and very little on the exciting aspects of the film.
You play as the Ghostbusters – or do you? You play as three squatty sprites in light brownish attire (Winston is nowhere to be found), but the men’s names and personalities are mysteriously absent. Before the game even begins, you’re informed via a text cluster that you received ten grand to open a brand new business. Hooray capitalism! A menu appears with a vast array of ghost-busting items to purchase, including four types of cars with varying power and speed and other miscellaneous bric-a-brac with names like Ghost Bait, Ghost Trap, PK Energy Detector, Marshmallow Sensor.
Most of these items are essential to the game, but learning what each item does and then choosing what you need on a limited budget is a lot to consider before you even start. If you don’t have the manual, you’ll probably experiment with item-buying a couple times before you get the balance right. But why should the Ghostbusters have to buy their own equipment at all? They should start out with everything they need from the get-go. Questions like this will arise in your brain from time to time, but the answer is always the same: because the game would be a lot shorter without it.
Once you’ve purchased your Ghostmobile and equipment, you’re transported to New York City, kind of. NYC, as represented by the game, consists of a bunch of buildings, yellow banana ghosts that creep in from the corners of the screen, the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper wandering aimlessly around town, and the Ghostbuster icon, which you control. Once the buildings turns red, travel there using the icon, then hit button II next to the building. One might expect you to enter the building immediately, seeing as the icon is right next to it. But no. You’re then forced to play a driving minigame where you have to steer around cars and manholes for a set number of kilometers until you reach the building. You can purchase a ghost vacuum for the top of your car and suck up ghosts for money while you drive, but this is the only reason these sections exist. If driving was optional or occurred less frequently, I might appreciate it more, but this is not the case. Every single time you want to reach a building, you’re forced to drive there. Unless you’re hard up for cash, it’s stupid, boring, and a waste of time.
Once you reach your destination, prepare to ghost bust. Each ghost busting excursion is a one-screen image of a handful of ghosts – sometimes those banana guys, sometimes Slimers – floating around outside of a building. Assuming you purchased a trap (you should purchase at least four before you even start), lay down the trap where you want it, then coax the ghosts directly above the trap with your proton packs. This is the most rewarding part of the game, because it’s the only part where you feel like you’ve achieved something. Trapping the ghosts between the beams is not always the easiest of tasks. When the beam comes out and captures five ghosts at once, there’s a small sense of satisfaction. Also, trapping the ghosts gives you the money you need to proceed to the next portion of the game.
On the main map screen, you’ll notice a PK meter that slowly fills from blue to yellow to red. As the colors change, more and more banana ghosts make their way to the Zuul Tower to prepare for the resurrection of Gozer. When the meter begins to fill up with red, Stay Puft can appear randomly at any time and destroy a building. For some reason, the Ghostbusters will be blamed and you’ll be charged four grand for the building’s destruction. Now, granted, if an evil giant ghost destroyed a building and I was blamed for it, four grand is not a bad price compared to the millions that the building likely cost – but still. When the meter is completely red, you’ll need to have ten grand in your account. If you don’t, the game’s over. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps you need ten grand to proceed because that was the amount you received at the beginning of the game? Still, I think with Stay Puft and Gozer on the loose, the city would want you to get rid of them as quickly as possible, debts be damned.
Once the meter fills with red, you’re summoned to Zuul Tower automatically. Stay Puft is bouncing back and forth in front of the tower, gleefully blocking any chance you have in entering it. Or so he thinks. You have a slim opportunity to pass a Ghostbuster one at a time through the building, but it’s tough. One hit and you’re dead. Because there’s three Ghostbusters, you have three opportunities to get them in the building, but you need to get two out of three in there or the game’s over. What a shame to come so far only to be killed by a giant mutant marshmallow man.
Get into Zuul Tower and prepare for a dastardly climb up nine flights to the top. Ghosts appear along the way, but your proton pack will take them out with one hit. The ones to be wary of are the ones that have no discernible movement pattern and spew what appear to be fish. As with Stay Puft, one hit from either the half-digested fish or the ghost itself will kill you. You have three chances to climb the tower, but you only need to get one Ghostbuster to the top to proceed to the final battle with Gozer.
Gozer looks intimidating with the dogs and the bolts of lightning, but he goes down really easy. Stand in front of him and blast away without stopping, and he’ll be dead. You’re congratulated (not “conglaturated”) by the game and given an extra five thousand dollars to start another game with, if you so choose. The more money you have, the better equipment you can buy, so admittedly, it would be a slightly different experience the second time around… until you got to Stay Puft, at which point your fancy car and expensive equipment wouldn’t mean Jack.
Let’s recap: the gameplay consists of buying stuff, wandering around the city waiting for buildings to turn red, driving for short distances, actual ghost busting, maneuvering around a bouncing Marshmallow Man, walking up lots of stairs while shooting ghosts, then destroying Gozer before being given the chance to do it all over again. That, friends, accounts for why this review is so long. This is the summary of a needlessly complex and pointless experience that involves little ghost busting whatsoever. And when the name of your video game is Ghostbusters, the latter is a problem. Sorry, Activision. The flowers are no longer standing.