Saturday, May 4, 2013

VGR Ghostbusters (8-bit)

It's time to enter the realm of Ghostbusters-inspired merchandising!

First, credit where credit's due, where it all began...

Spook-tacular related reviews at the following links:

VGR: Ghostbusters aka Activision's Ghostbusters or also David Crane's Ghostbusters
From Activision
Played on Master System
Also available on Commodore 64, Atari 800, Atari 2600, NES, Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and MSX

Type Top-down/sidescroller action game
Year 1987

Back in the 1980s, Activision scored a lot of movie licenses. Amongst those very few managed to be somewhat playable or even fun.

Many didn't fair that well, pretty bland and generic action games. But other games were able to be fun enough and offer a challenging original experience such as the Die Hard game.

To coincide with the movie release in 1984 Activision got David Crane, video game designer behind such classics as Pitfall! and A Boy and His Blob, to come up with a concept for a game based on the would be spook-tacular blockbuster.

This 8-bit Ghostbusters game was entirely designed by David Crane alone and produced by Brad Fregger.

It was released on almost all home systems at the time and yet developed in only eight months - which is quite impressive if you ask me.

The initial original release was on the Commodore 64 and Atari 800.

But all versions be it the Atari 2600, Spectrum, Amstrad CPC or the Japanese ports on the MSX, Sega Master System and NES only differ slightly graphically. The game stayed consistent from one port to another.

First things first, across all systems, the game always start the same: the Ghosbuters logo on the title screen and an 8-bit rendition of the theme song. Most of the time of the development was actually spent on the title screen(!).

At first sight it looks like another action sidescroller, but there's a lot more going on here.

It's a very special game.

You won't be only busting ghosts but also managing the Ghosbusters business and preparing for the arrival of Gozer... 

The game is basically made of two separate parts. An RPG-like exploration and an action ending.

First things first, you start the game by picking up your vehicle at the beginning.

You have the choice between 4 cars, each different, easier to user or faster. My ideal choice being the classic Ecto-1.

The guys are allowed a certain amount of money and it's best to not spend it all on the car nor the best equipment at start.

Then you can pick up some equipment in the shop.

Because in this version of the Ghostbusters they don't make their own equipment, they apparently buy it at their local store(?).

While some equipment is absolutely necessary to continue the game without it being indicated - mainly ghost traps - other are very useful to make some cash quickly or grab ghosts easier. Like better proton packs, super-ghost traps or packs or a ghost catcher for the roof of the car which helps catch ghosts while driving and make more money faster.

It's not super clear and you either test each item with some trial and error or check things for yourself.

On the Master System at least you're only allowed a maximum of a total of 8 items for the entire playthrough. So be careful what you go for!

Then the game can properly starts.

Ghostbusters is part-action game, part-management game and part-grinding (like RPGs usually are).

The map shows you midtown Manhattan (?). You have to prepare yourself for the showdown with Gozer at the end of the playthrough.

The idea is to make enough cash and build the right tools while you bid your time for his/her/its arrival in the heart of New York City.

The screen shows the ambient psychokinetic energy rising up. While the PK level rise up with the presence of ghosts in NY the bar turns red. Once filled, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man will show up and start destroying buildings. Once reached full all over again Gozer will be ready for you.

Because in this game the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Gozer are apparently separate entities. 

(hey, they had to make this game simultaneously to the movie without much input from the movie crew...)

The idea is to fight ghosts in the meantime, which will slow the PK level. Some items can also do the same.

If you fill up your available traps (you can buy several or the super trap which equals 3 of them) you have to go back to the Ghostbusters Headquarters to empty them at the storage facility.

When you have enough money you can buy better stuff.

Every time you select a destination on the map you have to play a small car segment. Those car portions were actually made from another game that was incorporated on this project, Car Wars. With the wrong car they can be tedious, you'll run into other cars, construction sites or ghosts. (if you can catch them, good thing)

The streets are dangerous!

But then catching ghosts is super easy. You control two busters and only need to bring the ghosts to the trap, and can even get several of them in one try.

Then empty the traps at HQ. More car segments. 

And repeat. Etc.

On the map you need to avoid the Keymaster and Gatekeeper or they'll steal your money(!).

Once enough PK level is reached or you're ready and have at least 10'000$ in cash you can enter... the Temple of Zuul!!

Yep. That's how the building is called in this game.

The game then enters its final half, much simpler and shorter segments.

The Marshmallow guy is back, much smaller now, guarding the entry. The idea is have at least 2 Ghostbusters make it into the building while he jumps around.

Then you have to climb some stairs. On all the other releases this is the most annoying bit with literally a whole building to climb up (~20 or so floors!!!). On the Master System this last level is actually playable on foot with some ghosts to fight. And it's only about 5 floors.

Everytime you get hit on any of those two parts you lose a member of the team.

And finally if you've made it so far... there she is, waiting for you, the evil goddess called Gozer! (or at least, that's what Gozer is called here)

To have a chance to make it in this last fight you'll need the best proton packs and possibly a protection or two.

Gozer will hit you with all her power. More bullets flying around than you can see in a bullet-hell shmup like R-Type! And her two Terror Dogs as well.

The game features several endings. If you don't have enough money/can't enter the Zuul building you'll get the worst case scenario. Then a good/neutral one if you can enter it but lost all your Ghosbusters in any of the last three segments. And finally the best/real ending if you make it through the last fight. These alternate endings are basically just three slightly different static screens full of engrish.

In any case, you get a text screen (the infamous Conglaturation !!! screen). With slight variations in the text.

Once the game beaten, with any of these endings, the game gives you a code for the name you entered to keep your savings. This means the next playthrough you will be able to keep the amount of money you've made. And accumulate more every next playthrough.

It's basically the only way to win this game since you will lose this one the first times WITHOUT A DOUBT.

Spoiler alert! Here's my own rendition of the fantastic cutscene you get at the end. Pretty close, heh?

Graphically it's a pretty simple game.

But you have to give credit where credit's due. The game tried to translate the concept behind the film into a game, keep the money problems and management of the GB's tech as a gameplay. Kudos.

The game gets really boring and really repetitive fast. And there's only one music for the entire game, that's right, the theme song!

It's a very annoying and dull experience.. if you don't get into it!

The Master System version is easily the better of the bunch since it came almost last. At least this version's way more comprehensible overall and they tried to correct and iron most of the flaws. Sure there's still lots of typos, missing words and wrong names here and there. (Zuul!) And hilarious translated ending screens as hilarious as the NES ones.

But at least it's the best representation of this game, until the proper Ghostbusters game the Megadrive would get later on..

Overall, it's a pretty original concept. I'll leave it at that.

Really not a complicated game at heart, it's just the execution that left a lot to be desired.

While all all ports are pretty the same simple game, this one's the best to look at.

The Master System is the definitive version. They fixed most of the problems inherent to this game. Mostly visuals and details. They made the equipment in the shop more useful and better controls. And they made it much more playable (and possible to finish).

Turns out having some extra time to polish a game might be a good thing.

Still, the game's as original as it is bad. You need to play hours, grinding your cash. And like me you'll lose several times at the end. I needed three attempts at Gozer before finally understanding how to avoid its hits....

And the Master System version is still full of Japanese Engrish spelling and grammatical mistakes... 

My main complaint, be it here or most other Ghosbusters videogames: No playable Winston!? Well, not like the other three look anything like the other busters... (it's more like having three playable Venkmans)

While I'd give the NES version a "1/3" rating, to avoid. This Master System port here is probably much more playable. The last level is actually playable. The NES was the hardest version of the game, but it's possible to finish this one!
I give it:
2 / 3 Invaders!

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