Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Real Ghostbusters: The Arcade Game!

It's a multiplayer coin-op featuring one of the most beloved pop cultural licenses of the 1980s. Wondering why you never hear anything about it? Primarily, because it sucks. 

By: Jimbo X

In just a few hours, we are all about to get gobsmacked by a newfangled, more vagina-centric Ghostbusters reboot. Whether the film is any good is irrelevant, as its mere existence has become a flashpoint in the great, ongoing social-justice-identity-politics war. One side will absolutely champion it no matter how shitty it is because it represents some sort of "anti-patriarchy" sentiment and the other will mercilessly berate it, regardless of its quality as a cinematic offering, for using the template of a beloved pop cultural commodity to espouse that same sociopolitical message. No matter what, Ghostbusters: XX Edition is going to be chalked up as a cultural win and a cultural loss at the same time - with the cinematic foray an admirable success or a dizzying failure hinging on your preexisting worldviews heading into the motion picture, naturally. 

To be frank, I've never given half a shit about the Ghostbusters movies. In fact, I consider both of the "canon" movies to be extremely overrated. Indeed, the only real nostalgia I have for the license stems not from the feature films, but from the corresponding Real Ghostbusters cartoon and toy series from the late 1980s. [In case you were wondering? My favorite episode was the one with the People Busters, and my favorite toy was either the demonic toilet or the garbage man who sacked a can of trash over his head and turned into a Martian insect monster.]

In hindsight, the show does not hold up well at all. The stories are hackneyed, the animation leaves a lot to be desired and the later episodes get REALLY corny and juvenile. Still, the nonstop monster madness was a welcome change of pace from the mostly militaristic and cybernetic-nonsense from the timeframe; as bad as The Real Ghostbusters may have been, on the whole, it was still a MUCH better program than G.I. Joe, Transformers and Masters of the Universe by a considerable margin. 

As popular as the cartoon was, it's not surprising at all that eventually, someone would get the wise idea to create a multiplayer arcade game around the property, and in 1987, Data East came a knocking. The end result is a mixed bag that, while managing to do a decent job incorporating some aspects of the license, ultimately left too much off the table to satisfy either hardcore Ghostbusters fans or general coin-op enthusiasts alike. 

Hope you like the level design ... because it's recycled at least four more times throughout the game.

At first glance, The Real Ghostbusters looks like a "can't lose" prospect. The border surrounding the screen depicts a mural that looks like it was taken straight out of the TV show, the gameplay allots three-player simultaneous action and the "attract mode" cut scene does a tremendous job capturing the half comedic/half spooky atmosphere of the I.P. But as soon as you dump your first quarter in the coin slot, however, the fundamental failings of the game make themselves apparent in a hurry.

For starters, you don't actually play as any of the canonical Ghostbusters. Yes, instead of Ray, Peter, Eagan or Winston, you instead take control of one of three color-coded, generic avatars lugging around the standard ghost busting tools. Considering how identity-driven the property is, you really have to wonder why Data East elected to scrub the personalities from the playable characters - outside of sheer programming laziness, anyway. 

The second major problem you'll observe is a vital infrastructural component of the gameplay mechanics. You see, you can't just shoot enemies with your A-fire weapon and keep moving. No siree, staying true to the license, you also have to zap them up with your proton pack, which wouldn't you know it, has a battery that depletes every time you use it. Now, this wouldn't be such a hassle if a.) there were more proton power-ups liberally scattered throughout the stages, b.) the proton pack didn't drain quicker than a Game Gear and c.) most importantly of all, EVERY FUCKING ENEMY IN THE GAME DIDN'T RESPAWN IF YOU DON'T SUCK THEM UP WITH YOUR ELECTRO-VACUUM CLEANER AFTER ONE AND A HALF SECONDS. Making it even worse, the game immediately flings dozens of ghosts, creepy-crawlies and mutant-monster beings at you from the very first stage, meaning if you don't want to die in less than five seconds, you pretty much HAVE to hit the B-fire button to keep from being gangbanged by poltergeists. It's an easier experience if you have a buddy or two playing with you, but as a solo affair? Yeah, this one is going to hurt bunches.

As far as the general level layout, there is some good and there is some bad. The big positive is that there is a TON of variety in the enemies. One second you are fighting mummies and flying purple devil bats that try to French kiss you to death and the next you are gunning down giant turd-head monsters that look kind of like the evil muppet on the cover of the first Ghoulies theatrical poster. Data East may have taken a short cut on the protagonist design, but at least they did a bang-up job on the bad guys. Now, as for the negatives? Well, for one thing, there are a LOT of annoying obstacles scattered throughout the stage, namely these exploding mushroom thingies and ESPECIALLY these screaming spike-ghost doo-hickies that surround virtually EVERY power-up in the game. So that means that, in order to pick up your much needed proton blaster juice, you usually have to wait five seconds for the things to pop underground, in the process leaving you wide open to enemy attacks from every angle. And then there's the backgrounds, which are REALLY nondescript. Indeed, the first level looks about as inspired as any of the backdrops in that god-awful Uncanny X-Men game on the NES

The later stages, thankfully, are a bit more nuanced. Each map is a bit of a puzzle, with several dead-ends. In multiplayer mode, this isn't really a big deal, since the automatic scrolling usually points you in the right direction. But as a one-player mode, it can get pretty frustrating, resulting in a LOT of trial and error-spawned dying your first go at it. But as a plus? Rest assured that the end of the second level DOES entail you fighting a horde of demonic blue turkeys as the grand finale. Surely, that has to account for something, right?

Being totally honest, there really isn't a whole lot to talk about concerning the first two levels. But once you get to the third stage, hoo boy, now we've got ourselves some conversational fodder.

...well, I guess that explains why Winston isn't a playable character, I suppose.

Nope, thine eyes are not deceiving you - one of the enemies included in the game, apparently, are members of the Ku Klux Klan. Yup, the entire stage is just littered with the, ahem, fright supremacists, whose special attack is the ability to launch mini-fireballs at you from the tips of their staffs. Personally, I was hoping the developers would have really stuck to the KKK motif and given them flaming crosses as weapons instead, but hey - I suppose having startlingly authentic facsimiles of much reviled hate groups included in a video game based on one of the most beloved children's licenses of all time is pretty much enough WTF as it is

Unfortunately, the next stage is nowhere near as noteworthy. In fact, it's nearly a carbon copy of the second stage, albeit with way more killer pimento olives and little chicken demons that shoot lightning at you out of their crotches. And I have no earthly clue what the bosses at the end of this level are supposed to be - aqua headed turnip monsters that shoot electro-scythes at you? Eh, it's something along the lines, anyway.

Believe it or not, the next stage is even MORE generic - it's basically just a big old chunk of rocky desert plopped down in the middle of outer space. Even the boss fight - against a purple-robed embodiment of death - feels REALLY uninspired. 

There's really nothing at all to say about the NEXT stage either, except it ends with you fighting this red and blue dude who swings a wrecking ball at you. Apparently, there are only three background types used in the game, and they recycle in patterns of three. Hoo-boy ... Data East didn't phone this one in or nothing, did they?

You fight more Klan people and kill some purple snuffleupaguses (or is it snuffleupagi?) then you get chased through the space desert by these red motherfuckers before fighting a giant yellow mouth with a tentacle pincer over its head, and then you have to fight the Grim Reaper one more time, except now he's wearing white and he throws what appears to be DEMONIC pieces of paper at you. 

The tenth and final stage has you trekking across the kingdom of concrete slab one more time, doing battle with a handful of bosses from earlier before fighting one more of those ball-swinging dudes. You off him - and all things considered, it's definitely one of the more facile foes in the game - then you get this inspiring little message as a reward ...

You could have at least included an apostrophe in "bustin," you cheap-ass, no-grammar havin' motherfuckers.

Well, it's a marginally less error-riddled concluding message than the infamous closing remarks from the NES game, but considering all of the goddamn quarters you have to feed the machine to get to this point, you kinda' expect something a little grander, you know? 

Whether you are hardcore Ghostbusters fanatic or someone totally ambivalent about the property, it's hard to imagine either type of consumer being satisfied by this one. Granted, the game does have its merits - the enemy sprites are very detailed and the combat is certainly fast paced - but the negatives far, FAR outweigh any of the positives. 

There are a lot of great branded coin-ops from the epoch (both the highly touted ones like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men and sorely underappreciated ones like Aliens), but unfortunately, this ain't one of them. It's clearly a rush job meant to capitalize on the popularity of the Ghostbusters brand, without really incorporating all that much iconography from the license itself. Hell, maybe the game started off as an entirely different concept and they just slapped on a 'Busters coat of paint towards the end of production - an all too common practice from the era, you know. 

The game gets a few points for the graphics and three-player at a time co-op, but the core gameplay and horrible level design really takes it down a few notches. It's basically a proto Smash TV, only with much worse controls and infinitely more cheap hits (and none of the nostalgia-inducing references to The Running Man, naturally.) 

Next to that game on the NES, I'd surmise this is the WORST Ghostbusters title to date (then again, I never played any of the Extreme Ghostbusters games on the Game Boy, so I could be direly wrong on that account.) If you're looking for a solid virtual ghost-busting experience, I'd suggest playing the 1990 Sega Genesis game or any of the Ghostbusters games that came out on the Game Boy. And if you never got around to playing The New Ghostbusters II on the NES - it was a PAL exclusive when first released - you really ought to, as it's probably one of the 10 best movie licensed 8-bit games ever. And for you modern control stick junkies, I'v heard nothing but good things about the Ghostbusters game that came out on the Xbox360 and PS3 a few years ago. I haven't played it myselfbut the videos look pretty good, at least

So is this Data East outing worth experiencing? Eh, it's probably worth a five or 10 minute run, but you're not really missing anything at all special here. Frankly, the Ghostbusters aesthetics is merely cosmetic, the overall gameplay is pretty bland and sweet Mohammad, is the music in this game annoying as all hell. The inherent nostalgia of the game might incentivize you to give it a whirl, but I assure you the ennui will kick in fast. 

Who you gonna' call if you want a great Ghostbusters gaming experience, then? Well ... pretty much anything but this arcade title, I am afraid. 


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