Retro Game Review – Ghostbusters

Publisher: Activision
Platform: Commodore 64
Release Date: 1984
Media: 5 1/4″ Floppy Disk
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The video game industry is filled with adaptations of movies. Most get lost somewhere in that void between a good movie and a good game. Though every once in a while, a good one shines through. In 1984 Activision released their adaptation for the classic movie Ghostbusters. While good reviews of this game have been met with controversy, I personally consider it a winner.

I think a lot of people miss the point of this game. A review once made the brazen claim that its creators must never have seen the movie. Let us not forget that Ghostbusters was, to quote Harold Ramis, a “going into business movie”. It was this concept that so obviously inspired the game. In it, you are put in charge of an official Ghostbusters franchise. You borrow 10k from the bank, head out to your local ghost busting supply store, and get to work in your new field. The object here is to make as much money as you can, by catching ghosts in the time allotted.

While at the store you first choose a car to be your Ecto1. I could never bring myself to choose anything other than the classic Hearse. It’s arguably the best car anyway since it’s cheap but can still hold a lot of stuff. This brings us to the equipment. There are plenty of ghost busting supplies to choose from, some more useful than others. Make sure you get the Psychokinetic (PKE) Meter, Ghost Bait, Vacuum, and as many traps as your car will hold. Those items are essential, the others just make your life a little easier.

Once you’ve made your purchase, you’re off to begin ghost busting in your home town. The interface consists of a map of the area, in which you are represented by the flashing Ghostbusters logo. Throughout the game, houses will begin to flash red, signaling you of a haunting-in-progress. You choose the shortest route on the map, since time is money, and hit the road.

While choosing your route, it pays to pass by the big yellow ghosts floating around town. If you bought the Ghost Vacuum you’ll have a chance to clear them off the road. Doing so will slow down the city’s buildup of PK Energy. This will lengthen the game giving you time to make more money. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride. The length of the driving scene is proportionate to the length of the route you chose on the map.

Once you arrive at the scene, one of your men exits the car carrying a the ghost trap. You lay down the trap, take position with your proton gun, and another Ghostbuster comes out to back you up. The object here is to guide the ghost into the trap using your proton beams. However, once your men begin shooting, they can only move forward. It’s very important to position them correctly, otherwise, your only hope is that the ghost flies over the trap by himself. Also, you need to act quickly, because if you fail to trap the ghost, he will slime your men and fly away scott free.

In addition to catching ghosts you have to protect the city from the dreaded Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. He will appear occasionally in the game while you are in map mode. If you bought the Marshmallow Sensor, you will get a warning shortly before he appears. This is where the ghost bait becomes important, as the Marshmallow Man materializes you can hit the ‘B’ key to catch him with the bait. The city will reward you immensely for your efforts. If you press the key too late, or you ain’t got no bait, he will wreck a part of town and the city expects you to pay for it.

The one gripe I have with Ghostbusters is its anti-climactic ending. When the city’s PK Energy builds up too high, an inevitable situation, the Key Master and Gatekeeper will rendezvous for a slammin’ party at Zuul’s place. Being the only Ghostbusters in town, you are sent there to break things up. It is at this point where you meet Mr. Stay Puft again , who is jammin’ to the beats of Ray Parker Junior.. Literally… He’s actually jumping from side to side in front of Zuul’s door. Do you blast him in an awesome display of fireworks just like the movie? No! All you can do is try to rush him and get through the door before he squashes you. That’s it! There’s a cheesy animation at the end, but you can discover that for yourself.

One thing I forgot to mention is the amazing voice work in this game. Keep in mind that this was made in the days before digital recording. To put a voice in a Commodore game a programmer had to program the music track to play in such a way that it sounded like a human voice. I can’t think of a better way to explain it, you just have to listen to it with that in mind. The voice in Ghostbusters is phenomenal.

All in all, Ghostbusters is a good solid game. This is more amazing when you realize that most games today based on movies are pretty bad. It’s not just a rehash of another game, you can tell the designers put some thought into this one. If you’ve got an hour to kill, download the rom and go bust some ghosts.

— Matt

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