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Consumed With Hate: Ghostbusters (NES)

👻 Slip My Hand from Your Hand, Leave You Dancing with a Ghost...

The Crime: Ghostbusters (NES)
The Guilty Party: Activision
Overview: Weird mechanics and an unplayable ending make what could have been a good game idea decidedly un-fun.

Why I Hate It...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that video games based on movies are broken rush jobs trying to cash in on IP and they will only break your heart.* But this was not widely known in 1984. Oh wait! It was totally well-known in 1984, because this was just two years after the video game industry had completely crashed after the disastrous release of E.T., a game that was thrown together in just six weeks so it could ship for Christmas. It is the stuff of legends now, one of the worst-received games ever made. Millions of copies were buried in a hole in New Mexico. It was the Glitter soundtrack of 1982, with the added bonus that it nearly cratered an entire industry. So you would think that said industry--having just barely survived this--would have learned some valuable lessons. And you'd be wrong. Activision was approached to make a game and given six weeks to develop it so it could come out while the movie was still popular.

In all fairness, the market kind of snuck up on them. Nobody realized that the slobs-versus-snobs Bill Murray supernatural workplace comedy was going to be such a hit with kids.** Live and learn. And I suppose there is one lesson that they took from E.T. Steven Spielberg had originally wanted the E.T. game to be a re-skin of Pac-Man, but the developer convinced Spielberg to let him try an original idea. A re-skin would have been much less work and while the game would never have been highly-regarded, it would (probably) not have been completely broken and boring. In that light, for Ghostbusters, Activision started by re-skinning a game they already had in development called Car Wars, and then tacked on some movie-related stuff.

The result is a moderately fun driving game with some blasé Ghostbusting business attached to it that gets progressively more broken the farther into it you get. The proton packs don't feel anything like proton packs, but if you are playing with two players and cross the streams, you die. The ghost traps don't feel anything like the traps from the movie. None of the characters have any resemblance to characters from the movie, and Winston has been removed entirely. It was a notable absence in the 80s, but today it just feels straight-up racist. You can get power-ups for your car that let you vacuum up ghosts while you drive--which is pretty far removed from the movie but feels like it totally would have worked in the Saturday-morning cartoon. And then at a certain point you have to go face Gozer and that's when the game turns into some outright bullshit!

The final battle is at the top of a building, so you start this sequence by... walking up many flights of stairs. But you aren't just using the D-pad to walk, you have to press A and B in order to take individual steps. You're also being chased by ghosts who move faster than you. As if the gameplay mechanic of "walk up a bunch of stairs by pushing alternating buttons forever" weren't bad enough. This sequence may be literally impossible. I don't know if I'm adequately conveying just how janky and broken this gameplay element was, but fortunately, Angry Video Game Nerd did a whole video on it. So you're playing this game, and it's fine, and then you trigger the ending and you get about fifteen inches into an unending slog and... turn it off and go outside? And then try it again a week later because you're 8 years old and have limited long-term recall ability, and only like 10 games in your collection anyway.

Hilariously, the game came out in 1984, but the best remembered version was for the Nintendo, and the NES wasn't released in America until late 1985. But the game still sold like (who you gonna call?) gangbusters because the IP had legs, especially supported by the Saturday morning cartoon and related toy lines. So, this could have been not rushed at all and actually turned into something like a good game.

But it wasn't.

*Obligatory mention of the notable exception Goldeneye 007, one of the classic games for the Nintendo 64 that was released two years after the movie.

**I'm kind of astounded that I didn't write about it for my Misspent Youth in Films series. That was an oversight, for sure.

Next week, we look at Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, a movie that I don't hate hate, but I definitely didn't get it until a very recent re-watch...

In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.