Atari 2600

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 8

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

The year was 1984, and business was booming at the box office. The mega-hits Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Beverly Hills Cop were among the most talked about films that year. Also released that year was a film starring alumni from both Saturday Night Live and SCTV, a comedy with a sci-fi and supernatural slant to it. It went on to become one of the biggest films that year, right up with the other three I mentioned, and spawned - among other things - a chart-topping hit single, an animated series, an inevitable sequel a few years later, and, of course, video games. Yes, it was none other than Ghostbusters. Activision landed the rights to do home and computer games based on the film, and the man that handled most of them was none other than David Crane, creator of the smash hits Pitfall! and Pitfall II: Lost Caverns. He created the version of Ghostbusters that I'm reviewing here, and in the process created one of the best licensed titles ever made for the VCS.

Considering the limits of the technology he was working with, Crane stayed very true to the source material. Ghosts? Check. Ghostbusters? Check. The Ectomobile? Check. Proton packs and ghost traps? Check. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man? Check. Of course, he added a few things of his own creation to make the game a little more challenging, and the story - while not identical to the film - is perfectly suited to a videogame. You start with a five thousand dollar bank loan to set up your Ghostbusters franchise. The first screen you'll see after pressing reset is the shop. Here you'll find all of the things you need to bust ghosts. First is the Image Intensifier (cost: eight hundred dollars). This isn't really necessary to have, but it does make the ghosts in the building easier to see. Next up is the Bait (cost: four hundred dollars). This is a must buy, as you WILL need this later on in the game. After that comes the Ghost Vacuum (cost: five hundred dollars). This also isn't necessary to have, but if you do buy it, you'll be able to slow down the ghosts headed for Zuul. Finally are the Ghost Traps (cost: six hundred dollars each). You have to buy at least one of these, otherwise you won't be able to trap any ghosts, and then where would you be? One trap holds one ghost each.

From there, you move the left difficulty switch to start the game. You'll see a map of New York City, with a small Ghostbusters logo on one of the streets, which represents your Ectomobile. Up near the top right of the screen, one of the buildings has the word "Zuul" written over it, and from the lower left of the screen, you'll see ghosts, called roamers, start flying up and heading for Zuul. Also, down above your remaining money, you'll see a notation that reads PK. This represents NYC's P(sycho)K(inetic)E(nergy) count, and it's steadily climbing. Once it reaches 5000, be alert, because the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man will start arriving after that, and once it reaches 9999, you'd better have ten thousand dollars so you can pay off the bank and... well, more on this in a little bit. One of the buildings on the map will be flashing red at this point.

Move your Ghostbusters logo over to the building. If you bought the Ghost Vacuum, stop to run over the roamers that are heading for Zuul, but if you didn't, ignore them (or just run them over anyway to freeze them and slow them down). If the building that's flashing is above the logo, press the button. If it's below it, press down and the button at the same time. You'll then go the next screen - an overhead view of the Ectomobile as it races to its destination. If you ran over any of the roamers on the map, they'll fly by the Ectomobile, and if you have the Vacuum, you can press the button to vacuum them up. After a few seconds of driving you'll pull over.

Now you'll find yourself in front of a building. Up near the top of it, a green ghost will be flitting around. If you have the Image Intensifier, it'll be very easy to see; if not, it will flit in and out of the windows. Your first Ghostbuster is carrying a ghost trap. Move him to where you want the trap to go, and press the button to set it down, then move the Ghostbuster into trapping position. Press the button to set him and call out your next Ghostbuster. Position him where you want him (a recommended strategy is to put the trap in the middle, the first Ghostbuster on the far left and the second on the far right), and press the button to activate your Positron Glider. Two streams of energy will come out, and from there it's a matter of trapping the ghost between them and setting off the trap (once you have the ghost where you want him, press the button to trap him). Should you succeed, the ghost will be trapped. Should you miss, it will slime one of the Ghostbusters and escape. If two Ghostbusters get slimed, you must report back to GB HQ (which flashes yellow on the map) and get fixed up. Should you run out of traps (by trapping as many ghosts as you have traps), you must go back to GB HQ as well to empty your traps into the Ectocontainment Unit.

Just like in the movie, you have to be careful of one thing - crossing the streams. It won't end everything like Egon thought it would, but it will put both Ghostbusters out of commission, and you'll have to return to GB HQ. If you cross the streams, the ghost will escape. Every ghost that escapes raises the city's PK count by 300 units, and every roamer that reaches Zuul raises the PK count by 100 points. You must keep going from flashing building to flashing building to try to trap as many ghosts as you can (each one successfully trapped earns you several hundred dollars, the amount of which depends on how fast you trap them). Once the PK count reaches 5000, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man will come out to stomp one of the buildings. You'll know he's on his way when the screen freezes and all of the roamers suddenly speed up and fly towards Zuul. You have until the last one reaches Zuul to activate your Bait (by moving the right difficulty switch). If you did it in time, you'll ward him off and gain an extra two thousand dollars. If you're too slow, he'll stomp a building and you'll lose four thousand dollars. Now you know why I said that you'd need that Bait, eh? Stay-Puft will show up from time to time until the PK count reaches 9999, so be ready for him (you can earn some easy cash if you get good at placing the Bait before he arrives).

As the PK count climbs, it gets harder and harder to trap the ghosts before they escape. Once the PK count hits 9999, if you don't have at least ten thousand dollars, it's game over. If you do, you move to the last stage of the game. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is in front of a building, jumping back and forth (which I do NOT recall happening in the movie). You must get at least two Ghostbusters underneath him and through to the other side. You have three chances to do this; if you succeed, you'll see both Ghostbusters crossing the streams (as they did at the end of the film to defeat Gozer). If not, that's that, and the game ends.

Ghostbusters is another high-quality Activision title. The Ghostbusters (who resemble Pitfall Harry dressed in a brown jumpsuit) are very easy to control, as is the Ectomobile, both on the map and during the actual driving sequences. The animation on the streams, the ghosts, Stay-Puft and the trap is excellent. The music is a repetitive loop of the Ray Parker Jr. "Ghostbusters" song, and while it sounds nice, it does get old after a while. There aren't much in the way of sound effects, but what there is is very well done (most notably the sound of the trap opening and closing).

I wanted to be a Ghostbuster after seeing the film for the first time, and Ghostbusters helped me live out that fantasy. There were other versions of this game released, for the NES, Sega Master System, and various personal computers. Sega also released a Ghostbusters game for the Genesis, but even though Activision is credited in the opening credits, the two games are entirely different. Out of all of them, the VCS version is the one I keep coming back to. Maybe it's the nostalgia, maybe it's because it's the easiest to play out of all of them - I'm not sure. All I know is that I find the game to be incredibly fun, and if you're a Ghostbusters fan, then there's a very good chance you will too.


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Last updated: Sunday, October 31, 2004 12:18 PM