“If there’s something strange, in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?” And thus begins the iconic theme song for the classic comedy/sci-fi film, which was very loosely adapted from a 1970s Saturday morning children’s program and was the surprise blockbuster hit of the summer of 1984 (as well as spanned two very different animated series). Not surprisingly software giant Activision took advantage of the film’s success by crafting a sim-action game based on said movie which made the rounds on the different computer platforms at the time, and eventually the game began to appear on the consoles, starting with the Atari 2600 before coming to the Master System courtesy of Compile. The game would even appear on the NES a year later, making this one of the few titles to appear on both 8-bit systems in the States in the late 1980s. But of course it’s the SMS version we’ll concentrate on here so lets see how Sega’s first movie-based cart plays out.
This cart casts you as the proud owner of a new Ghostbusters franchise out on a mission to clear out all the ectoplasmic invaders infesting the city. When you first start out you’re given a loan from the bank which you use to purchase your vehicle as well as you ghostbusting equipment. Once you’re stocked up you being your mission in earnest, starting with the city map screen that indicates the buildings being attacked by ghosts, as well as the city’s PKE meter which increases constantly throughout the game. The object is to bust as many ghosts for cash as you can, trying to have at least $10,000 in your pocket before the PKE meter reaches maximum. When a building flashes on the map indicating ghosts are haunting it, you plot your course to the site, naturally trying to take the quickest route possible. Next you take control of your vehicle as you drive the road while maneuvering it to avoid the obstacles and other vehicles in your path. Crashing into an obstacle will cost you money as well as time to get another car on the road. (Unlike most of the other ports, you don’t have to worry about gas in this version.) Ghosts often hover above the road and you can snatch them up for bonus cash if you’ve purchased the ghost vacuum from the shop.
Once you arrive at the infected building you see the ghosts flying about as two of your three available ghostbusters get set up. (They’re not identified by name, so go ahead and pretend you’re Peter, Ray and Egon. They’re all Caucasian so no Winston, sadly.) Basically you order your men to shoot their vertically-shooting ion beams to try and pin the ghosts between them before firing the capture trap to scoop them up and earn the reward for catching them. Beware, any ghosts you fail to capture in time could slime one of your guys, putting him out of action and leaving you unable to collect the rest of your bounty. Once the ghosts are caught, you then head off to the next site to bag more ghosts for cash but eventually you have to head back to GHQ to empty your traps and pick up new men. You can also head back to the shop to buy more expensive equipment with the cash you earned to try and make your job easier. Busting the ghosts at each building starts out fun but the gameplay gets a little tedious quickly, especially having to constantly run back to HQ to empty your traps unless you manage to buy the expensive laser containment unit which makes that step unnecessary.
As mentioned earlier, the PKE meter continues to increase as you’re going around bagging spooks, and as it closes in to maximum the ghosts’ activiy intensifies. Unfortunately this will also bring out the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man who will appear and trample a building which will penalize you some dough, and there’s very litte you can do to stop him. You might be able to delay it if you can deploy some ghost bait in time. Once the PKE meter maxes out, if you have enough money you can move on to the next phase, otherwise the game just ends right there with a sad text message about your failure to save the city. Fortunately you do get a password to start your next playthrough with the money you already earned.
Assuming you do have the $10K, you automatically head the Shandor building at the center of the city, the one that’s labled ‘Zule’, for the next phase of the game. You have to enter the building, but trouble is the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is standing in your way (try to ignore how he’s siginifcatnly shorter now) and you must maneuver your ghostbusters past your bouncing foe through the door. You need two of your three men to get in the building to move on, but only one touch dooms them, and if you lose two men it’s suddenly game over again.
Should you successfully enter “spook central” you then find two rather annoying and difficult sequences that were added for the console versions (the original computer versions ended with a victory scene after entering the building). First you have to lead your squad up the stairs one at a time to reach the rooftop while fighting off the ghosts pestering you by either getting in your way or chucking plates at you. You have your laser rifle to ward them off but your weapon only shoots in two directions, plus only one touch will KO your man and losing all three ends your game. If you can get at least one of your men through the door at the top you’ll confront Gozar in the final showdown, which has you trying to dodge the energy bolts and fireballs being thrown at you while you shoot back at it. Just like the previous screen one hit will take you out and Gozar’s energy resets for each man who takes his turn. You also automatically lose a life if your laser rifle runs out of energy. If you’re succesful in vanquishing Gozar you get a congradulation message, then you get to do it all over again.
The graphics are one of the few positives in this title as the different gameplay screens are all bright and colorful while sporting some nice detailed sprites and locales and there’s little to no flicker or slowdown. The sounds don’t fare as well since the sound effects are unimpressive as usual while the only background music throughout the game is an off-key version of the main movie theme that never stops playing and will drive you nuts after a short time.
So overall Ghostbusters isn’t a terrible game; the game can be fun at times and the Sega version is certainly the best of the different ports by far, it’s just not as enjoyable as it could have been. Its repetitive nature and very high difficulty will scare most gamers off, espeically since there’s virtually no continues; failing at any phase will force you to start the whole thing over, and most of the screens offer little to no room for error, especially the last few stages that seem quite unfair at time. At the same time the game can be completed in under 20 minutes if you know what you’re doing, after that you’re pretty much done as there’s nothing else to see. Fans of the movie may enjoy it, but for the most part you won’t be calling this game a whole lot.