FGC #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

Who you gonna call?Ghostbusters NES is an eternal plastic monument to how Goggle Bob was a stupid, stupid child.

It all starts with the Commodore 64. For anyone that missed it (because you’re not old as dirt), the Commodore 64 was basically the home personal computer before anyone could afford personal computers. It accepted (inevitably multiple) giant floppy discs, the printer was dot matrix, and it had roughly the same processing power as a bag of doritos, but it could help with work and games! Imagine! A device that mom could use for word processing, and Little Bobby could use for playing exciting games where one block attacked another block! And there were rudimentary programming applications available! Never forget Logo Writer, the “game” where you programmed a turtle to do whatever you desired… assuming you could master Logo programming language, a programming language never to be seen again.

If you haven’t already guessed from that glowing paragraph, the Commodore 64 was my secret origin in more ways than one. Before there was even a NES in the house, the Commodore 64 could (with proper supervision) be utilized by Wee Goggle Bob. And, while I abused the word processing program before I even really knew how to write (I lurned at some point, right?), my favorites on the C64 were always the games. There were many available (I’m not going to accuse my sainted mother of software piracy, but it sure seemed like our C64 library expanded faster than other systems where you couldn’t copy that floppy), but my top choices were always two games: Rampage and Ghostbusters. Rampage was pure Id, and often the choice for two players, but Ghostbusters was much more cerebral.

ZAPGhostbusters might have been my first “comprehensive” videogame. Mario Bros and Mega Man are amazing titles, but they only require you to understand the alphabet up to its second letter (the letter that lets you shoot). Ghostbusters on the Commodore 64 tried to do something different and much more complex. The plot of Ghostbusters is not that you are Ray and Egon, no, you’re you, and you’re starting up a Ghostbusters franchise in New York City. You’re responsible for purchasing equipment, you’re responsible for maintaining your haunted bank account, and, if a Marshmallow Man stomps a building to bits, it’s your ass that is getting fined. While the game does feature a lot of repetitive nonsense (driving to locations is almost entirely pointless, and catching ghosts doesn’t really warrant a half hour of the same gameplay over and over again), there’s enough planning involved that the whole experience could truly challenge players of all ages. Wee Goggle Bob just enjoyed hearing the theme song and getting slimed, but C64 Ghostbusters was borderline WRPGian in its complexity. Screw Dragon Warrior, this is where you could really learn about inventory management while fighting monsters.

And then, four years later, we were burdened with Ghostbusters on the NES. Good news: the car segments are now more interesting, as you can dodge other vehicles and score gas cans as you drive over to your next haunted mansion. Bad news? If you run out of gas, it leads to a “pushing the car” scene so boring, the concept would not be revisited in gaming for at least twenty years. And if you so much as nudge another car, you lose $400 (in 80s dollars!). Once you arrive, capturing ghosts is mostly the same, but 90% of the interesting “Ghostbuster franchise” gameplay has been dropped. Randomly forming giant gelatinous gentlemen are a thing of the past, and any sort of indication as to what you’re supposed to be doing or working towards is gone forever. And, should you survive the experience for entirely too long, you’ll be granted access to fight the final battle.

And that’s when the fun really starts.

The final stage of Ghostbusters is a trek up 25 or so floors of nothing but stairs. And you can’t just “walk”, no, you have to hammer the A/B buttons to get your Ghostbusters to scuttle forward. If you don’t have a turbo controller, please give up immediately, it’s not worth the permanent damage to your thumbs. But even with that (NES) advantage, you have to dodge a set of four ghosts with random patterns the entire time, and, three hits later, it’s game over, man. And the game over screen is depressing!

Loser!

Your only options to survive are outright cheating (say hello, Game Genie), or purchase a pile of helpful items from the shop… which would only require about an hour of ghost grinding. It is nearly impossible to conceive of someone beating this area “the right way”, left alone being ready for more after such a feat.

But assuming you scale those stairs, you’re still not done! The peak of the building features Gozer the Gozerian flanked by Zuul and Vinz, and you’ve basically got a bullet hell final boss. But that’s not all! The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is scaling the building, so, every once in a while, you have to retreat, zap Stay Puft down to the ground floor, and then, finally, resume your assault on Gozer. Lose at any point, and its game over. Actually succeed (against all odds), and you’ll be rewarded with one of the lamest victory screens in all of gaming.

Winner!

Thanks for playing the worst port of a licensed game ever!

But, for me, the “conglaturation !!!” screen is not the end of the embarrassment. No, the worst part of NES Ghostbusters is how I would have done anything to see that stupid ending.

I didn’t own Ghostbusters NES as a child, but a friend, Kevin, did have a copy. By about this time, the Commodore 64 had either been mothballed (I still have it!) or was just occupying the space in my head that said “that’s mom’s computer”, and it didn’t see any additional Ghostbusters time from yours truly. As a result, I had a fuzzy memory of “old Ghostbusters” to compare to new NES Ghostbusters. I recognized that you couldn’t buy a new car like in C64 GB, but, other than that, I assumed it was mostly the same game. And then revisiting the game at a friend’s house years (and many other games) later, I was determined to team up with Kevin and beat Gozer once and for all. Our parents didn’t let us sticky, clumsy kids take games out of the house, so I was unable to connect my Game Genie to Kevin’s Ghostbusters cartridge. Thus, thanks to horrible/prescient parenting, we were unable to cheat. But Kevin and I were in this together, and we were going to beat Ghostbusters if it killed us.

Spoilers: we are now both dead. Big twist: this article is being written by a ghost.

SexyIn all honesty, I think the friendship between Kevin and I couldn’t survive the mental strain of trying to complete this horrid NES game. But try we did! We couldn’t stop ourselves, and we were convinced it was our fault we couldn’t scale those damn stairs. How could there be a bad thing based on the Ghostbusters franchise? We love those guys! They’d never steer us wrong! And the Commodore 64 version was pretty fun! This is the version on the same system as Castlevania 3! It has to be good! What are we doing wrong?!

And then, decades later, ROB chose this ghastly game. And then I played it side by side with its C64 brother. And then, finally, after years of experience, I learned that Ghostbusters for NES is just the worst. I’m okay, Kevin is probably okay (we lost touch sometime after Sega Genesis), and it was Ghostbusters that was wrong all along.

So I only spent 30 years wallowing in ignorance. Could be worse. Could be 71 years…

FGC #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

  • System: A version more or less similar to this Ghostbusters appeared on the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Atari 800 (don’t be confused by the lower number, it was the greater system), and Sega Master System. And, yes, NES, because there wasn’t enough pain in the world.
  • Number of players: Looks like we can get three Ghostbusters on the screen at a time, but only one player is allowed.
  • GrrrrJust play the gig, man: The Commodore 64 version starts with the Ghostbusters theme, and a “karaoke” style display of the lyrics so you can sing along to your favorite legally Huey Lewis song. This joy is mitigated somewhat by the digitized Ghostbusters theme being looped forever for the entire game.
  • Big Finale: There is no crazy staircase in the C64 version, but you do have to avoid a skipping Stay Puft Marshmallow Man before booking it upstairs to cross the streams and save the day. It is a tremendously more satisfying climax.
  • New Game Plus: And speaking of which, beating the C64 version will reward the player with a password that will allow the Ghostbusters to start with more money on the next playthrough. This might be the first “new game plus” feature in a videogame.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: All of these bullet points are about the C64 version because I never want to see the NES version ever again.
  • Did you know? The Commodore 64 version has four cars available for purchase, and one is a 1963 Hearse. This is the closest vehicle to the “real” Ecto-1 available, and may be purchased for $4,800. Strangely enough, the car’s model does not correspond with the movie’s Ecto-1, but the price is exactly what Ray pays for the vehicle. Take canon where you can find it.
  • Would I play again: Never. Never ever ever. There isn’t a ghost of a chance.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Warrior for the NES! Dammit! Is this because I insulted the title earlier in this article? I feel like I’m being punished with gaming history. Oh well. Please look forward to it.

This sucks

One Response »

  1. After doing a bit of research (i.e. Wikipedia), it appears that a Japanese developer by the name of Bits Factory was responsible for this NES adaptation and its original/terrible additions. Certainly explains the Engrish in the ending.

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