Game and Book Retrospectives

Can a video game evoke real emotions? Can it, for example, make you feel like you are in the scene in Ghostbusters where four out of shape, middle-aged men are forced to walk up 22 flights of stairs? Ghostbusters is a decent game until it answers that question.

Part 2: The Sega Games


Master System - Compile, 1987

As mentioned in part one, the C64 and NES versions of Ghostbusters are slightly different. The Sega version is a mashup of the C64 and NES versions with better, but somehow uglier, graphics and worse music than either.

The Master System had double the colour palette than the NES, which was a selling point at the time and there’s no doubt it benefits from it. I’m not a huge fan of pre-32-bit era graphics and the Master System often looks closer to a Mega Drive or SNES than the limited palette of the NES. Still, despite the better colours, I found most screens messy and harder to read.

More colours, less legible compared to the simple NES map screen.

Likewise the music is more scratchy and whiny than the relaxing beeps and boops of the C64. The Master System generally sounded a bit grating, but Ghostbusters in particular is bad. The theme song is fast and sounds out of key at points, and it certainly isn’t on the list of games that made use of the FM sound chip. It’s easily the worst music of the three which really grated on my nerves and the reason I won't return to it

In gameplay terms the Master System is the best compromise of all three games. The beginning of the game is from the C64 version, including the ability to buy different vehicles. The busting and map are closer to the C64 version as well, but in order to approach the final boss you require a certain amount of money, like on the NES.

Fantastic Slimers instead of generic ghosts, please excuse my other buster disappearing due to sprite flickering.

You can only move horizontally while driving now, and the other cars can actually destroy you, putting you back to the beginning of the level. Thankfully there is no fuel requirement which focuses the overall experience somewhat as well and makes the driving more tolerable.

As for the all important ending, you get both! The simpler boss ending of the C64, followed by a mercifully much easier version of the stairwell (almost enjoyable!) and boss fight of the NES version. I enjoyed the end game the most of all versions, but I still preferred the NES game’s ghost busting.

Crucially, the final screen is different and the typos on it, while many and pleasing, are not as good as on the NES.


Mega Drive/Genesis - Compile, 1990

Both the Master System and Mega Drive versions of Ghostbusters were made by Compile, a company that mostly did ports of existing games to other platforms. Years after the Master System part, and after Ghostbusters II had already been released on multiple systems, Compile released another Ghostbusters game, this time an original one based on the first film. The 90s had a glut of generic platformers, many based on film properties, and you can add this one to the pile.

The Ghostbusters have big heads like in the Wayne’s World games, but in general the style is quite cute. You can choose your character based on the marginally different stats of each which is welcome, but there’s not even a big head Winston Zeddemore, so there’s no doubt Ernie Hudson’s kids again would have thought this sucked, and so do I.

Another great Slimer, and a somehow recognisable big head Bill Murray.

What little story present is fine, you need to find some ancient stones to stop ghosts coming out of ghost land and save the city. It’s not really necessary for a platformer, although Dan Akroyd’s deep and crazy Ghostbusters lore has always been a fun part of it. In between the platforming there is some progression, with the ability to buy upgrades with money earned from busting ghosts. The upgrades are what you would expect for a generic platformer but have nothing to do with Ghostbusters, unlike the other three games’ upgrades.

In fact the whole Ghostbusters theme is only skin deep. There’s not even really any busting at all, instead just firing generic weapons instead of using a proton pack. Yes it’s true. This game has no pack. (Well that’s what I heard!).

Every level has a couple of ‘middle ghosts’, and if you bust these bosses a spectre will be left behind which you can wrangle towards a trap with a proton pack. That’s the only time you’ll see a proton beam or a trap, and you don’t really get to control either. Imagine designing this game based on a film with one of the most iconic weapons in cultural history, which every kid wants. And you choose generic guns instead. And if you don’t want to use your primary weapon, perhaps you’d like to deploy Egon’s latest technological invention: the, err, bomb.

Generic ice level, the next one being generic fire level. Not very original.

I found it brutally difficult, although I never was very good at this style of platformer, always being a Mario kid. To add insult to injury, when hit by enemies you will be sent flying backwards, often falling off a platform, which is very annoying. It’s much harder compared to similar games I’ve played recently like Super Star Wars and Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures, both of which are considered quite difficult. They both also tie in the fictional universe much better than this.

Each level is a different haunted building, but you’d be hard pressed to identify them as such. They are totally bland and generic, and the same goes for the music, apart from the main menu on which you will spend 5 seconds. The enemies (except Slimer) have no relation to the film at all.

I don’t know the history but given the generic guns, enemies, levels and music, you might suspect this was a generic platformer in production in search of a licence and they slapped Ghostbusters on it.

It might sound far-fetched, but I’m ready to believe you.

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