Game Review: Ghostbusters

cpccoverIf you follow me on social media it may come as no surprise that Ghostbusters was a favourite of mine back in the day; which is slightly odd because my parents wouldn’t let me see the film, which came out when I was ten, so I compensated by playing the heck out of the Spectrum game and learning the words to the theme tune from its slightly nasty beeper karaoke introduction.

Now, there’s a new team of Ghostbusters in town, and I have a ten year old of my own to ban from watching it – at least until the weekend, so I can watch it too.

The Facts.

Released by Activision on the C64, Atari 8-bit, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, MSX, etc… in 1984, the first of the Ghostbusters tie-in games was a curious mixture of business strategy and several flavours of arcade action. In a dramatic break with tradition, I’m going to review the Amstrad CPC version here.

The Game.

On first starting the game you are loaned $10000 by your friendly bank manager, with which you must purchase and equip your Ectomobile; this is where the strategy comes in – do you go for speed over space, or get the biggest car and carry as many traps as you can? And what’s this Marshmallow Sensor about? Does my virtual Egon have a sweet tooth?

The bulk of the game is then spent catching ghosts around the city as the psychokinetic energy levels steadily rise, causing the occasional Marshmallow Alert along the way, until the Gatekeeper and Keymaster meet at Zuul and open the biggest interdimensional cross-rip since the Tunguska event of 1917. Or something.

If you end the game with more than $10000 you will receive an account number, which by some manner of witchcraft allows you to access the same amount next time you play, giving you a wider choice of equipment strategies.

Sound & Vision.

First thing to notice about the sound: this game talks. And laughs. Which is quite impressive really, when you stop and think about how complex a word ‘Ghostbusters’ actually is. The karaoke intro is slightly more sophisticated than on the Sinclair version I had in my youth, and plays throughout the game – although, since a typical game lasts about 45 minutes, you’ll probably want to dig out your cassette of the original soundtrack and put that on the stereo instead.

The graphics are, it must be said, fairly repetitive, but your ‘busters are less stick-figurey, and your slimers more colourful (if not green) than in the Sinclair version, so it’s all good so far.

Play the Game.

Typically you will get a single call to a ghost that needs trapping before everything stops for about ten minutes, allowing you to go out and spend the last of your petty cash on a Chinese, the only hint that the game hasn’t actually crashed being the (slowly) increasing PK Energy meter at the bottom of the screen.

You can spend this time patrolling the streets, freezing the cute little ‘roamers’ that try to make their way to Zuul or team up to unleash marshmallowy armageddon, and if you acquired a Ghost Vaccuum at the start, you can get to work cleanin’ up the town on the driving section of the game, which is otherwise a rather pointless wasted opportunity for a mini-game.

The calm before the storm can be a bit tedious, but once that Twinkie starts to grow, you’ll soon be chasing ghostly sightings all across the city. This is complicated by the fact that you have to return to Ghostbusters HQ if you either fill all your traps or get all your colleagues slimed – and in my first time playing this for 20 odd years it was much more frequently the latter.

And so we come to the key part of the game: the actual busting of ghosts. This is done not in the ballroom, but outside the front doors of various differently decorated but otherwise identical New York buildings, where you must navigate two Ghostbusters into suitable positions for their streamers to hold the ghost so that the trap can be set to catch it.

The whole process is actually easier to do than it is to describe, but because you can’t actually change the angle of your streamers, only move them closer together once they are, um, streaming, good positioning, perfect timing, and no small amount of luck are required to actually catch a slimer.

Once the city’s PKE level reaches 9999 and it all kicks off down at Dana’s apartment, you have to rush your Ghostbusters there in readiness for the hardest, most anti-climactic final level in video game history. Sneak two stick men past Mr Stay Puft and you will suddenly win. Which is easier said than done, of course, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s a lame ending.
Objectively, Ghostbusters is a game that takes too long to get going, is stupidly repetitive, and has a crap ending. However, it also has speech, and remembers your winnings without you having to save any game data; combined with the fact that it’s just that bit too hard to get right first time, this makes it worth coming back to, even now.

Retro Appeal.

While the Amstrad version is, in itself, new to me, it plays exactly like the Spectrum version I loved as a kid, but with better sound and graphics. And on whatever format, it’s a decent, playable movie tie-in for a classic 80s movie. What could have more retro appeal than that?

This Amstrad game review was ported from a ZX Spectrum review written for Indie Retro News.

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