Ghostbusters really caught me by surprise. My formative video game years occurred during a generation when almost every movie tie-in was garbage. It wasn’t always that way but I was nonetheless blown away by the ambition and, mostly, enjoyable execution of the multiple gameplay genres and mechanics in this game. Further research shed a light on why I felt this way: David Crane designed it! He was one of the early luminaries of the video game industry with a spate of terrific and influential titles to his name. Now truly, this game didn’t begin life as a Ghostbusters tie-in, but the concepts originating in the film were applied and executed in such a way that that fact is not obvious.
When I first started playing the game, I was at a loss for what to do and how to do it since my copy of the game lacked a manual. Given $10,000 and tasked with starting a new ghost busting business, I immediately had to choose from a variety of vehicles and parts what was worthy of my limited funds. Not knowing exactly what these parts did, or what to do in the following sequence, I turned to Sega Retro and found a scan of the manual. With that roadblock sorted, my comprehension of the game skyrocketed and I was able to make progress.
After purchasing a vehicle and equipping my Ghostbusters with traps and other ghost-wrangling gear, I was presented with a top-down view of the city. My job was to respond to distress signals and capture ghosts when they ransacked buildings. As long as I had purchased a PK Energy Detector, buildings would flash, indicating an imminent ghost outbreak. As soon as this occurred I mapped my route and began a driving sequence that had me avoiding other vehicles and construction sites while also vacuuming a ghost or two, if I had crossed paths with them. If I reached the building on time, the perspective would switch to a side shot and, controlling two Ghostbusters independently, I’d wrangle the ghosts into a trap. Successfully capturing ghosts earned money for the business which could be spent on further upgrades.
Save for a scant bit of minutia, that’s the first section of the game in a nutshell. After about ten minutes of busting ghosts and earning money, Zuul opened up and I could enter, as long as I had accrued $10,000 or more. I had trouble meeting this requirement on my first few attempts but my purchasing decisions and revenue generation improved with each session. Plus, the game utilized a password system that allowed me to continue with the money I had earned in a previous session. Before entering Zuul, I had to sneak at least two Ghostbusters past the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, which was difficult to botch once I determined the proper timing. On the flip side, the subsequent section was challenging in a way that made me question if completion of the game was worth my time anymore.
Once again controlling the Ghostbusters courtesy of a side shot, I had to scale nine stories and zap a variety of ghosts in order to battle Gorza on the rooftop. I struggled trying to find a successful strategy for this section. Moving along at a snail’s pace, methodically zapping ghosts worked the best, although projectile tossing foes would eventually nail me as I tried to line up to blast them. The limited aiming options caused me the most grief as I could only shoot beams directly in front of me or at an upward angle. As a result, I’d often perish while trying to situate my avatar. Alternatively, I tried running straight through and this was definitively not the method that would get me to Gorza. Eventually, slow and steady got me to the rooftop and I vanquished Gorza during our first encounter, albeit, with my final Ghostbuster.
After defeating Gorza, I was treated to an ending message and that was that! As I mentioned at the beginning, the ambition and execution of this game surprised me. The first section in particular, where I was essentially operating a business and generating revenue was not only enjoyable, but unique among what else I’ve played on the Sega Master System. The subsequent sections were also enjoyable, save for the especially frustrating ascent to Zuul, but would otherwise be insignificant were they not successfully joined into a single package. Undoubtedly, much of that praise is directed at David Crane, who once again churned out a noteworthy and entertaining video game, one that exceeded my dim expectations and offers a rare highlight in an otherwise underwhelming console library.