DEVELOPER: Sega (with uncredited help by Compile)
RELEASE DATE: 06/30/90 – (JP), 08/90 – (US), 12/90 – (EU)
I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts, but I’m positively spooked by the Ghostbusters’ video game track record. The 1984 computer game was one of the worst movie-based titles not published by LJN, thanks to a focus on running errands versus busting ghosts. Because the movie was such a hit, so too was the game, and thus it was ported to just about every computer and console of its day, including the NES and Master System. Ghostbusters II on the NES has extreme difficulty and janky controls, though at least it tries to focus on ghostbusting. New Ghostbusters II was the one good Ghostbusters game to come out during the 8-bit era, but it was only released in Japan and Europe, not America.
In light of the franchise’s beleaguered past, Sega’s Ghostbusters is a sigh of relief that succeeds by focusing on what fans want. Rather than waste time by filling up the Ghostbuster’s car with gas or wrestling with shoddy mechanics, you explore buildings across New York to trap ghosts both small and large.
Ghostbusters even features an original story, with Ray, Peter and Egon (RIP my favorite and yours, Winston) about to go broke from the lack of ghosts in the city. Suddenly, several mysterious earthquakes occur, and the phone starts to ring again. Ghosts are everywhere, including the resurrection of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and an evil woman named Jenna, calling herself the god of death and destruction. The boys are back in business!
Ray, Peter, and Egon are the playable characters – rather, caricatures, since they all look like exaggerated cartoon versions of themselves. Be mindful about who you pick. Once you choose one of them, you’re stuck with them for the rest of the game. Peter has average speed and strength, making him perfect for beginners. Egon is fast, but weak, while Ray is tough, but slow. If Winston was in the game, he’d have top speed and god-like strength; shame he’s not an unlockable character.
Once you choose a Buster, you can pick between four cases across the city, each with a different reward amount. Each case is set in a building – house, apartment, high-rise – all of which have several paths that require a bit of non-linear exploration to find and trap the ghosts. These are not your typical 1500 sq. ft houses or two-bedroom apartments. You’ll be climbing up 20-ft high ladders, jumping on rotten wooden platforms over fiery pits, traversing over frigid ice water. Even without the ghosts troubling the places, I’m not sure these buildings are up to code.
Your Buster is only equipped with a Normal Shot and three bombs, but as you earn money from trapping and destroying ghosts, you’ll be able to purchase better hardware. There’s a lot of needless, expensive equipment in the Weapon Shop, including a $10,000 Explosive and a $35,000 Barrier. I found the affordable Bubble Projectile, Phaser Shell, and 3-Way Shot to be the most helpful weapons for destroying the stronger ghosts. The Item Shop is also useful for replenishing your bomb supply, stocking up on delicious Peking Duck, or purchasing a handful of Infrared Scopes for darker levels.
Throughout your investigations, you’ll encounter Middle Ghosts, strong mid-bosses who must be destroyed in order to reach the final boss of each area. The Middle Ghost sprites are all flawlessly designed with superb animation. The nightmares include a headless ghost with a gnarly chihuahua demon emerging from his top hat, to an icy diamond creature, to the Grim Reaper himself.
Once you’ve taken the Middle Ghost down, a booger ghost known as the Spectre Spirit appears and tries to flyaway from your character. Your weapon then turns into a beam which can bring the ghost down into the already placed trap on the floor. This is trickier than it sounds. If you don’t time your zap just right, you risk the ghost escaping and running away. While this running away doesn’t prevent you from beating the level, you do miss out on extra cash if you don’t catch him.
Destroy all the Middle Ghosts in an area, and the path to the main boss will open. The main bosses aren’t nearly as difficult as the Middle Ghosts to take down. Find their weak spot and fire until dead. Once they die, they’ll drop a piece of the Stone Tablet. Collecting all the Stone Tablets unlocks more of the story and two additional levels.
Unfortunately, no password system means you’ll have to beat the game’s six challenging levels in one play session. And while the game generously provides ten continues, that doesn’t make Ghostbusters any less difficult. The Busters’ large sprites make it tough to avoid the smaller, nimbler ghosts. And, while the bosses all have set attack patterns, three hits by one of their attacks and your once long life bar will be decimated.
Difficulty aside, if all of this sounds like a plausible video game take on your favorite paranormal crimefighters, that’s because – at long last – it is. With Ghostbusters, Sega (and uncredited Compile team members) crafted a faithful 16-bit tie-in to the series. While the environments could offer more detail and feature additional ghosts to capture/avoid, the game successfully captures the over-the-top premise, lovable characters, and aggressive spooks that encompass the Ghostbusters experience. Now if only developers would stop shafting Winston…