Kickin’ It Old School – Ghostbusters (NES)

I’ve played a lot of crappy games in my day. E.T., Shaq Fu, Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle, Super Mario Bros. 2…none of them compare to Ghostbusters on the NES. I went into this column looking to make a few jokes at its expense, but no, there is absolutely nothing funny about this game, so I’m just going to rant.

This game is, quite simply, the worst game I’ve ever played in my life. There was nothing about this game that made me say, “Well, I had to suffer through some junk, but at least I saw that.” Nothing. And it pains me to say that, since the movie Ghostbusters is my favorite movie ever. I watch it constantly, still laughing at the jokes like it’s the first time I’ve ever heard them, and I quote it nearly every day. In fact I could probably quote the whole movie from memory. But, as good as the movie is, that’s as bad as the game is. No, it’s worse. The game times infinity still wouldn’t be as good as the movie is.

Ghostbusters (NES, 1988)

The game opens up with the Ghostbusters logo, which is the best looking thing in this game. It’s clear and bright, which you’d think would set the mood for the rest of the game, but you’d be wrong. More on the graphics later though. When you push start, a voice yells “Ghostbusters!” as if it were recorded by a guy yelling into a fan blowing in his face. More on the sound later, too, because it sucks just as bad.

The game is basically about running the Ghostbusters franchise. You have to guide them to buildings to catch ghosts, manage their money, etc. Once the game starts, you’re on the map screen. It’s a big grid of buildings, and you control the Ghostbusters logo and float between them. In the center of the city is a building you can’t enter at first called The Zuul Building. Not “The Gozer Building” or “Central Park West”, but The Zuul Building. This building is the setting for the last level of the game, and what you’re working to enter throughout the game, but why is it named after a secondary villain who is a flunky of the main villain, Gozer? This might not sound like that big a deal, but imagine if the last level in Super Mario Bros. were called “Goomba Castle” or something. Yea, it’s like that.

What you’re supposed to do is go to different buildings and catch the ghosts around them. When you float by a building with a ghost in it on the map screen it will flash red, letting you know where to go. But before you can do any of that, you have to buy your proton pack and ghost traps. Seriously. You have to drive to Ghostbusters R’ Us and buy your equipment. I don’t know about you but I’d be pretty scared if a store were selling unlicensed nuclear accelerators to the public. I’d definitely want one though. Anyway, I guess I can understand why you have to do this. Buying your items is a pretty standard thing in video games so, even though it makes no sense as far as the movie goes, I’ll let it slide. There are also other items for sale in the store, but they’re either too expensive or worthless.

So, you have your equipment, let’s get to busting. You find a flashing building, push the button to enter it, and you find yourself driving to it. You drive straight down the street, all the while trying to avoid the other cars on the road since they’re apparently all driven by ghosts because they’re all out to get you. Seriously, they drift all over the road trying to hit you, and when they do, it takes a few hundred dollars away. You can go fast, but it moves you further up the screen, and you can’t see the other cars coming. Staying at the bottom of the screen makes you go slow enough to avoid them, but it’s not long before you run out of gas. Yes, you really do run every aspect of the Ghostbusters franchise, including getting gas for the Ecto-1. It costs about $300 to fill the tank all the way up (which was pretty unheard of in 1988, but sounds about right these days), however if you go as fast as you can through the driving scenes, you save gas and time, but not money as it’s more likely that you’ll get hit. And by the way, if you run out of gas and money, the game is over. May I ask why they can’t walk? Are the Ghostbusters’ legs broken? Ghosts are taking over the world and they just give up because they’re out of gas? What a piece of crap this game is.

Every so often while driving you run across ghosts you can pick up with a special “ghost vacuum” you buy from the store, which helps you get some money back if you get hit by another car. Now, you might be wondering why I’m devoting so much time to something as simple as these driving scenes, but there’s actually a reason: they take up about 80% of the game. I am dead serious. You spend 80% of this game driving, whether it’s to the store, to the different buildings or to the Ghostbusters HQ to empty your traps. Why? This isn’t a driving game, it’s a game based on Ghostbusters! What a piece of crap.

Once you drive to the building, it’s finally time to catch some ghosts. There are usually four ghosts on the screen. They don’t hurt you, so there’s no reason to dodge them. Just lay the trap and try to catch them with your beam. Once they’re caught, drag them to the trap and suck them in. Catching more than one at a time nets you more money. Once all four ghosts are caught or if you run out of time, you leave. That’s it. That is pretty much all Ghostbusters on the NES has to offer, outside of the last level. Drive, bust, leave, drive to the HQ and empty your trap, repeat. The buildings aren’t even modeled after scenes from the movie. The game should have had stages like the New York Public Library, the hotel where they catch Slimer, a few stages from the ghostbusting montage like a club or Chinatown, etc. But instead we get…some building. What a piece of crap.

So what’s this last level I keep mentioning? Eventually, you get a message telling you to “enter Zuul building”. I don’t know what determines when the building opens; I think it has to do with how much money you have, but it could be anything. So you go in, and this is where the game really starts to suck. Now, you’re no doubt saying, “But Charlie, the game sucks enough already, how could it get worse?” Believe me; it gets much, much worse.

When you get into the building, you have to climb the stairs. To do this, you have to tap the A button on the controller. Constantly. Why can’t you just use the D-Pad? Because that would be too easy, I guess. All the while, you have to dodge ghosts. There are a bunch of ghosts here that fly all over the screen like in the busting scenes, but unlike the busting scenes they actually hurt you. When they touch you a few times, you fall, and falling a few times kills you. Also unlike the busting scenes, you’re not allowed to use your proton pack here. Why? Because that would be too easy, I guess. Maybe they were worried about property damage, but then again why wouldn’t they have made property damage a part of the game to needlessly drain more money from you? What a piece of crap.

So keep tapping the A button and dodging the ghosts, and you better have strong thumbs because there are 22 floors to climb. Normally, I’d say this is a nice touch, since in the movie the Ghostbusters climbed up 22 floors to get to Dana Barrett’s apartment, but come on! The game had to pick this part to start being faithful to the movie? It’s basically impossible without both a turbo controller and a Game Genie. It’s as if the developers said, “No one will play the game enough to get to the staircase, but let’s make it as hard as possible for the ones that do make it. It’ll be funny!” Seriously, if you’ve made it all the way up the stairs while tapping the A button and dodging the ghosts, you have my respect. And that’s a zillion times better than the reward waiting for you at the top of the staircase.

The final level of the game is a “battle” between the Ghostbusters and Gozer and his/her minions, Zuul and Vinz Clortho. You have to dodge their projectiles and fire your own at Gozer. Yea, you read that right. Finally this game starts being somewhat fun. But not too much; the control still sucks, and it all just looks terrible. Basically, pwn Gozer with your proton beams enough times to beat him/her, and get to the absolute worst, most unrewarding ending in the history of video games:

I’m speechless.

Really, I have nothing to add to that. I’d honestly feel kind of bad making fun of it. Making fun of that ending would be like punching a retarded kid in the face. However, outside of the ending, there’s still much more I have to rip the game apart over.

I’ve mentioned a few times that the graphics are bad, but let me rephrase that: they suck so much ass that if E.T. could talk it would say, “Who designed this crap?” Ghostbusters is sort of a port of an Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 game, and it sure looks like it. Nearly everything is gray and grid-like, the Ghostbusters don’t even look like humans, and the ghosts are generic, not animated outside of floating around the screen, and aren’t even close to how they look in the movie. Gozer and his/her minions sort of look like their movie counter-parts, but they don’t move from the top of the screen, and they aren’t animated either. I mean, the graphics in NES games weren’t exactly the most realistic around, but games that came out years before Ghostbusters look exponentially better. What a piece of crap.

Another issue I have with the game is its sound. When you first start the game, you get a nice little NES version of the Ghostbusters theme. “But how can you complain about it if you want the game to be more faithful to the movie?” I can hear you asking. Well, here’s my problem: this one rendition of the theme song is the only song in the entire game. That is it. One song on a constant loop throughout the game: the driving scenes, the busting scenes, the stairway scene, the final battle with Gozer, the ending, and the credits. One song! You ever see that cartoon on You Tube with the guy listening to the Banana Phone theme until his head explodes? That’s what this is like. It will cause your head to explode if you play the game too long. And I know the movie had a great soundtrack. I had it on a cassette tape and listened to it on my Walkman. Why couldn’t they have put more songs into the game? Why use the minimum amount of work and time in developing a game, especially one based off a great movie that could have promise as a great game? What a piece of crap.

That’s really all I have to say. Rather, that’s all I want to say because I can’t stand to even think of this game anymore. It’s so disappointing, especially to a Ghostbusters fan. Where’s Slimer? Where’s Janine? Where’s the mayor? Where’s that douchebag EPA agent (fun note: the actor that played him is from my hometown; his aunt was my bus driver in Jr. High.)? Even the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man only makes a brief appearance, climbing the building as you fight Gozer. This game could have been so much more, but instead it’s, say it with me now, A PIECE OF CRAP!!!

Believe it or not, there is some good news on the horizon. There’s a new game in development that I’m very excited about which is supposed to be Ghostbusters 3, to be available on pretty much every current system (except the PSP, the poor thing). The story is being written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, which is awesome enough, and the dialogue will be acted by the original cast, including the douchebag EPA agent and Janine. Hopefully driving won’t be a part of it.

Next time: Something…anything good. Chrono Trigger? Fine, it’s done. And I’m done with this column. Gotta get that Ghostbusters song out of my head.