The Great Injustice of My Childhood: Ghostbusters Games

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It must have been back in 1985 or 1986, when I was a young boy, sitting on the living room floor at my Grandparent’s house, when one of my Uncles brought a VHS tape into the room. I was playing with my G.I. Joes with my little brother and cousin. They had a movie for us to watch, they said as the tape was loaded into the top-loading VCR, one of the new inventions of my time. The name of that movie was Ghostbusters. Roughly 90 minutes later, our minds were blown, new swear words were learned, nobody gave a shit about G.I. Joe anymore and our imaginations had been captured. The 1980’s were already in full swing, but this was the icing on the cake.

Ghostbusters-Cast

But like many generations before mine, a magical time was soon smeared by dark clouds. The great bait-and-switch of The Ghostbusters franchise came in the form of video games. These were two completely awesome goddamn things, which should have gone together like peanut butter and jelly, a popular dish of our childhood. Sure, we didn’t live through a Great Depression, or a World War, but that still didn’t excuse the travesty of well below sub-par Ghostbusters video games that children like me were forced to experience. I’m not talking about one or two lousy games, either. The Ghostbusters games of my early AND late childhood were horrible, and to be honest, the jury is still out on the Xbox 360 version, which I finally got around to playing last week.  What follows is my own personal experience with the systems I grew up with.  If you are like me, please let me go ahead and apologize in advance for bringing up a painful part of your childhood.

Ghostbusters (Atari 2600)

atarigb2600The first time this happened to me was back on our Atari 2600. Now, the NES hadn’t made its way into my house yet, so this didn’t seem too bad at the time.  There were really no “good” or “bad” video games at this point in time, as far as I was concerned. They were just another toy in the house. Safe to say, I wasn’t quite serious about gaming at that point in life.

2600gbmap

First, there was a map where I moved the Ghostbusters logo around mashing buttons until the game cut to some type of driving game where I ran over ghosts with a grey station wagon for a few minutes, and then finally it was time to bust some ghosts. This part of the game I could handle, and pretty much that was as far as I took it. I would do that over and over until the game was over or my brother and I began to fight over whose turn it was, which would cause my Grandmother to make us turn the Atari off and go outside and play.  Like I said, this first go-round with Ghostbusters video games wasn’t necessarily a bad experience due to the fact that I was so young and naïve.

Ghostbusters (NES)

GBNESstreetThe traumatic experience, however, would begin in earnest a couple years later.  So we were a little older, a little smarter, and therefore tougher to please. We had moved up in the world, with the NES on top of our wood paneled TV set that was supposed to look like a piece of furniture. (You know, the kind with fake drawers at the bottom of the screen and a carved tabletop with hand stitched inlay on the sides) This was a year or so prior to the second movie, and we acquired the ‘new’ Ghostbusters game for the NES. Hot damn. I was ready to bust some ghosts! We couldn’t get this game home fast enough. Dinner was wolfed down with reckless abandon in order to get the hell away from Mom and Dad and fire up this game and see what exciting Ghostbusting adventures awaited us in the 8-bit era. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the same damn game. Sure the graphics were improved (slightly), and my 3rd grade reading level enabled me to actually understand how the game worked, but the letdown factor set in almost immediately. The repetitive music, lackluster graphics, the fact that our ‘Busters bore no resemblance whatsoever to the movie’s characters ruined this release right off the bat. I remember buying all of the equipment, driving, driving, running out of gas, pushing the Ectomobile to the gas station, and driving some more. Catch ghosts, dont’ cross the streams and finally being able to enter the Zuul building.

GBNESstairsThis part of the game was total bullshit. You were supposed to advance your team up the stairs, just like in the movie. Only, instead of it being something simple like pushing the D-pad in the direction you intended, there was some sort of D-pad movement that required two motions, which became very tedious. And all those ghosts were right on your ass, trying to kill you. Didn’t buy the ghost food, did you? Well, game over and better luck next time, because you have to start ALL OVER and remember to buy the ghost food to try to get back to the top.  Even then, the game was merciless in its approach. I never made it to the top without the help of a Game Genie. One time my attention span stayed strong enough to make it to the top and face a naked Zuul (a rarity for any Nintendo game) and after all that hassle and hard work, I beat the game. And this was my reward:

NESGB victory screenConclaturation? Prooved the justice of our culture? What in the hell? That’s right-after all that work your reward was a horribly translated victory screen. That was it. There was no point complaining about not hearing the theme song, like at the end of the movie, because we heard it on an endless loop for the entire game, thus rendering it pointless. Occasionally, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man would storm the city and wreck everything. I don’t think I was ever able to force a battle with him, either. Over time, many good games were played and this early childhood trauma was buried deep within the dark corners of our minds. And we moved on… or so we thought.

Ghostbusters II (NES)

GB2boxartSo flash forward to early high school, around 1993. The second movie had come and gone, and we were at an odd time for Ghostbusters fans. The movies weren’t old enough for the nostalgia factor to set in, and were more or less something we all loved, but had moved past in terms of pop culture relevance. The internet hadn’t come into common use, so time went by without a third movie, and we went on with our lives. I know I did, until I was hanging out at my buddy Jim’s house. We were sitting around playing NES, and listening to Stone Temple Pilots one afternoon, and I saw that he had Ghostbusters II. I had seen it in the Sears Catalog for like $19.99, and suggested we give it a spin. He said I could have it if we didn’t play it. So I was thrilled to have a new game for free, not understanding his aversion to the game. That night, I threw it in my NES after dinner and immediately understood why he had given me the game for free.

NESGB2platformlevelThis game is horrible to the point where it is almost unplayable. The graphics were not much of an improvement over the last release, but I will say that the variety of music was a welcome relief. What I hated the most was the fact that the game was backwards. By that I mean what functioned as the jump and shoot buttons for, oh, I don’t know, every freaking game released before it, were reversed; this was confusing and extremely irritating.  The stages also scrolled from right to left, which in and of itself was not that big of a deal, but part of me thinks that was something the developers just did to mess with us. Not a single proton pack was used throughout the entire game, instead you used the slime gun, which was something I wasn’t especially crazy about in the movie. Just try to imagine, you’re fighting your way through all these stages without a particle gun, just slime, falling limply across the screen.

NESGB2 ecto sceneThe side scrolling stages were broken up by a couple of different types of stages; you had a couple of Ectomobile stages and a stage where you controlled the Statue of Liberty. The Ectomobile stages were both ridiculously difficult as well as the product of lazy design. There were HUGE chasms in the street for some reason, and if you didn’t hit the ramps just right, you’d go plummeting into a bottomless pit and lose a life. I realize the streets of NYC are deplorable, but even with suspended disbelief, its hard to imagine bottomless pits that the City just leaves open, especially with the high traffic volumes associated with New York. The ghosts were also pathetic. Instead of cool looking monsters, they were the little cartoony ‘white sheet’ looking ghosts. This was just lazy of the developers.

NESGB2statlibertylevelThe Statue of Liberty stage was another thing the developers bungled. A neat concept that could have been really cool was another example of how a broken game was made way too difficult. You use the torch to shoot fireballs at massive hordes of ghosts attacking you nonstop as you make your way towards the mainland. This could have been packaged as a top down shooter stage, but I think the designers were attempting to do a Gradius style stage. This did not work.  A notable feature of the game is the unintentionally hilarious game over screen. When you lose all of your lives (this will happen often) you are taken to a cutscene where Vigo the Carpathian leaps from the painting in which he is imprisoned and looks over NYC as the buildings are covered with slime.  Then lightning strikes as Vigo sneers like Elvis Presley, obviously pleased with his handiwork. This wasn’t meant to be funny, but it just is, thanks to the choppy animation.

newvigoslimedcityFinally, courtesy of the Game Genie, we found ourselves at the Museum of Modern Art for our showdown with Vigo.  The final level was another backwards side scrolling stage, that you had to repeat FOUR TIMES (once for each Ghostbuster) in order to beat the game. You eventually accomplish the task, and are rewarded with a victory screen that I admit was a much better than the first game. New York City and the world were saved, and you were finally able to put this abusive game behind you. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one to shy away from a difficult game, but when presented with something with a control scheme broken beyond all playability, the game becomes work. Finishing this one, even with a Game Genie, was a true testament of my long running love for the franchise.

GB2NYCsaved

New Ghostbusters II (NES-PAL)

NEWGB2TITLEPrior to my Ghostbusters II experience on the NES, I vaguely remember playing a decent Ghostbusters II game on my friend’s Game Boy on the 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. It was a lot of fun, but I never played it again after the trip. I acquired a Game Boy later but was unable to track the elusive title down. So my positive Ghostbusters experience was fleeting, until I was a grown man at my friend’s house. This was circa 2003, and my buddy Kenny had modded his Xbox with an NES emulator, which contained every NES release, as well as multiple versions of classic games and numerous prototypes that never saw the light of day. He called this monstrosity the “Executor 2,” and it was loads of fun.  I was scrolling through the list of games and noticed a game called “New Ghostbusters II.”

newGB2This version, developed and published by HAL Laboratory, was only released in Japan and Europe. Us kids in the United States were stuck with the crappy Activision version, due to licensing issues from what I understand.  This game was, in my opinion, the seminal 8-bit Ghostbusters experience. It was a real shame that this game never saw the light of day in North America.  The game starts off by giving you a choice of which of the 4 ‘Busters (plus Louis Tully) that you want to roll with. From there you progress through the story’s plot, with one Ghostbuster controlling a ghost trap and the other using the proton pack. Deserving mention here is the 2 Player co-op, which required a unique amount of team work in order to get the job done. The graphics looked great, although for some reason Winston is blue skinned, and the music fit the game as well. The only complaint I had was the fact that the levels do tend to get tedious with no real increase of difficulty, but the boss battles are fun. The game is also full of nice touches, like how Louis Tully’s hair will stand up on end after he sees a ghost. Hey, it’s the little things that count.

newGB2trapsceneLike I said, it’s a shame that this game never came to American shores, but if you don’t have a problem spending the money, there are websites that sell homemade versions, complete with box art and instruction manuals, that function perfectly on your NES.  One website I know of even manufactures slime green cartridges with a really cool Ghostbusters II label.  From what I’ve heard, European gamers had been getting the short end of the stick when it came to NES releases for years, and with this, us American gamers got a chance to have the shoe on the other foot.  Part of me wonders if my experience would have been different had I been a Sega kid; I have never played the Genesis version of the game, and I understand it was one of the better Genesis titles. Even the original GB multisystem release looked great on the Master System. It’s all water under the bridge I guess.

gbxbox

So today, as a 33 year old man, I’ve been playing the Xbox 360 version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game.  This by far is the best GB game so far; this isn’t saying a whole lot, however.  That is like saying your kid eats the least amount of paste in his or her kindergarten class.  Since it looks like we’ll never get a third movie, this will have to suffice as GB3, and with the high quality of the plot and superb voice work and cutscenes, I’m okay with that. So there you have it: the Ghostbusters games of our shared childhood were a mixed bag at best; some awful, some barely average, some hard to find, cats and dogs living together; mass hysteria.

Oh, and “The flowers are still standing.”

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fflando
fflando


I am a full time Firefighter/EMT living in the United States. In my spare time, I split my time between modern games on my Xbox and the rich universe of the systems we all grew up with.

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