It’s an obvious thing to say, but after years of waiting, we’ll finally have another Ghostbusters film back in theatres soon. Heck, we have the original film playing in drive-ins, and that once again topped the box office! How it all plays out with Ghostbusters: Afterlife remains to be seen, but in the meantime, at least we have video game adaptations to keep us company. As was the norm for early film-to-game adaptations, the quality was “mixed”, to say the least. Things eventually did get better, whether by fans input, or by companies actually caring about delivering a quality product.
For this list, we’ll be looking at adaptations for the original Ghostbusters series of films, and not the Extreme Ghostbusters (hint: The games based on this aren’t that great). Also, given the multitude of mobile games (of varying quality), we’ll be sticking primarily with consoles.
Ghostbusters – Atari 2600, MSX, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System (1984)
The player takes on the roles of Peter, Ray and Egon as you set up the Ghostbusters franchise in New York with its rising PKE levels. You’ll have to catch ghosts, earn money and eventually enter the apartment building to face off against Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in order to avoid a “paranormal disaster of biblical proportions.”
While released on multiple systems at the time, this first attempt at bringing the Ghostbusters to video games garnered the most attention on the NES. And not in a good way. Marred by poor gameplay decisions such as not being able to zap ghosts while ascending the apartment stairwell (though you could in the Master System version), poor translation (“Conglaturation!!!”), as well as lackluster graphics and sound, the game remained the butt of a joke for decades. Diehard fans have modified the game heavily to improve the NES version, but this still remains a flat first attempt.
The Real Ghostbusters – Arcade (1987)
Adapted from the arcade game Meikyuu Hunter G, the game has up to three players travelling across New York and into the bowels of the city to save it from the ghosts that have infested it. You must shoot creatures and then try to suck up ghosts with your proton pack. Players can shoot and collect various power-ups, including a protective aura, shot and proton beam boosters, and a Slimer shield satellite.
While pretty pedestrian, The Real Ghostbusters did sport a pretty nice rendition of Ray Parker Jr.’s song (even if you heard it every single level). The game has you travelling up from a top-down perspective, where you have to collect a key by defeating the end boss of each stage to progress. The game won’t beat out Ikari Warriors or Super Contra in the fun department, but it’s not a horrible game. Though the absence of Gozer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man as bosses/enemies is inexcusable.
Ghostbusters – Sega Genesis (1990)
Taking place after the film, Egon, Ray and Peter are inundated with calls after a recent earthquake results in a plethora of ghost activity. After one such call, the trio find what appears to be part of an ancient stone tablet. As you progress through the game, you’ll acquire more pieces of the tablet, which eventually leads to the ultimate source behind the ghost activity.
As the old saying goes, Genesis does what Nintendon’t. Improving upon every aspect of the previous game, the Genesis version features superior gameplay, mixing platforming and shoot ’em up segments while ditching the segments involving driving ECTO-1, with better sound and graphics. Each Ghostbuster features their own attributes, and in between levels, you can upgrade your proton pack, health and damage resistance. All that being said, the game hasn’t aged by today’s standards, with the gameplay being superseded by other action platformers in later years. And the absence of Winston is infuriating. All that being said, the game is still adequate, and a far better video game debut for the franchise.
The Real Ghostbusters – Game Boy (1993)
Based once again on the cartoon series, this entry sees Peter Venkman separated from the rest of the team in a haunted mansion. Peter has to navigate through a maze of 51 floors in order to meet up with the rest of the team.
Part of the Crazy Castle series of games starring a who’s who of characters, this game is actually a reworked version of Garfield Labyrinth in Europe (note the coincidence of voice actor Lorenzo Music voicing both Peter Venkman and Garfield the cat), which in turn is a reworked version of Mickey Mouse IV: The Magical Labyrinth in Japan. The Real Ghostbusters contains ten more levels than the other versions, and has you solving puzzles to collect stars, which open the door to the next level. In another nonsensical decision (although it’s more shoehorning the game into the license), Peter’s proton pack is only effective on blocks, and not on the ghosts. Instead, you must use bombs to destroy the ghosts. It’s an okay puzzle game, but really, this is far away from what many fans would want when they think Ghostbusters.
Ghostbusters II – Nintendo Entertainment System, MS-DOS, Atari 2600 (1989, 1990)
Following the events of the film, Ghostbusters II has the team battling Vigo the Carpathian as he attempts to escape his portrait in the Manhattan Museum of Art on New Year’s Eve. There are actually several versions based on the film, with the most well-known (again) being on the NES, which actually has two different versions.
The North American version of the game has players progressing through seven stages, each with different gameplay. Unfortunately, the game is frustration upon frustration. The sidescrolling sections use the reverse of the then-established control scheme of A being jump and B firing your weapon, but also have you moving from right to left. All the while, you have to raise and lower your slime blower to hit ghosts while avoiding them dripping slime on you. Meanwhile, the ECTO-1A scenes scroll from left to right, and require you to fend off ghosts while hitting jumps to cross huge holes in the street. Lastly, the Statue of Liberty levels are a glorified Space Invaders ripoff.
As for the DOS version, it consists of three minigames that follow the film. Instead of sidescrolling, the first minigame is another Space Invaders clone where you move a Ghostbuster along the bottom of the screen, zapping ghosts. The second minigame has you dangling from the street into the sewer to scoop up slime while avoiding ghosts. You then have to take the slime back to the firehouse, and use a CD player and determine which songs will stabilize the slime. The third has you moving the Statue of Liberty down the street (while using an NES controller and not an NES Advantage joystick) while avoiding cars.
For the other computer versions, you have three segments that again follow the events of the film: The first has you descending into the sewer as Ray, where you must collect slime while using three different weapons to fend off ghosts. The second segment has the Statue of Liberty walking down the street automatically. You control the statue’s torch to destroy oncoming ghosts, which turn into slime. You then control the pedestrians following the statue to retrieve the slime in order to keep the torch lit. The last level has the Ghostbusters trying to rappel down a rope to land inside the museum. Once all four Ghostbusters are in the museum, the player then alternates between the four Ghostbusters as they rescue Oscar and defeat Vigo.
New Ghostbusters II – Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy (1990, 1991)
Due to licensing issues, Europe and Japan got their own version of Ghostbusters II that is far different than what North American players got to play.
Developed by HAL Laboratory instead of Activision, New Ghostbusters II is an overhead action game where you can select two members of the four Ghostbusters and Lewis Tully. You control one member to stun the ghosts, while the AI controls the second member to trap them. Loosely following the events of the film, the objective for each level is to trap all the ghosts in an area before advancing to the next room to do it again, with a boss appearing at the end of each stage. Unlike the Activision version, this version of the game features far more colourful graphics and much-improved sound and music. Challenge-wise, the game is relatively easy, and gets repetitive quickly. However, it’s still far more enjoyable than what Activision put out. Sadly, there’s no two-player option.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS and PC (2009)
Taking place two years after the events of the second film, Gozer is once again unleashed upon New York, and it’s up to the Ghostbusters and a new recruit (played by the player) to stop Gozer’s plan to bring about the destruction of the world.
After years of waiting for a third film that never came, Sony managed to pull off the unthinkable by not only giving fans a sequel in video game form, but also giving gamers a quality game. Bringing back almost all of the main actors from the original films (though Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis are sadly absent), and using a script with help from Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the game also fleshed out some ideas that Aykroyd had for the original film. Along with a “love letter” story for fans, the game made capturing ghosts fun and boasted great multiplayer modes. About the only negative aspects of the game is its criminally-short length and some suspect lip-syncing. The game was remastered in 2019, and while it does show its age in certain areas, the joy of being in what can be essentially seen as the third film can’t be denied.
Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime – Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and PC (2011)
Once again taking place after the events of Ghostbusters II, a man named Ismael McEnthol has been driven insane by horrifying hallucinations of Dumazu The Destroyer, an ancient god who long ago was imprisoned in the subsequently-broken Relic of Nilhe. Reuniting the pieces would result in Dumazu being resurrected. McEnthol seeks to find the missing pieces, while at the same time, ghost activity has once again increased in New York. The Ghostbusters, exhausted from the work, enlist a new group of four to help them not only fend off the ghost activity, but also stop Dumazu from being brought back to life.
A twin stick shooter Ghostbusters game sounds like it would be fun, but this Behaviour Santiago-developed game is sadly lacking. Not only does it take 10 minutes or so to get through the comic book-styled cutscenes filled with text at the start of the game, once you do get going, the game throws waves of zombies and ghosts with no real creativity. While the mechanic of having to switch between three weapons in order to properly deal with ghosts of different colours is at least something, Sanctum of Slime boils down to mindlessly blasting through room after room with no real effort to engage players. Top it off with humour that falls flat, a choppy framerate and the same music track looping ad nauseam; you’re better off spending your $10 elsewhere.
Ghostbusters – PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC (2016)
Following the events of the 2016 film, the four Ghostbusters are called away to Washington to save the President from ghost assassins. In the meantime, a new group of four unnamed Ghostbusters have to save New York from the returning Rowan.
Another twin stick shooter, you know that when a developer (in this case, FireForge Games) ends up filing for bankruptcy after the game’s release, you’re in for a rough time. Unfortunately, much like Sanctum of Slime, the gameplay for this game devolves into plodding through meandering levels that are indistinguishable from one another that take about a half an hour each to complete. Your protagonists (which receive next to nothing in terms of development) are armed with their proton pack, as well as a specific ranged weapon, but that’s the extent of variety. The art style is derivative of something you’d see out of Overwatch or Team Fortress 2, and each level is a case of blasting everything that you see, with a boss at the end that ends up being defeated with the same mechanic as the previous one. Again, avoid.
So yes, Ghostbusters hasn’t exactly had the best track record when it comes to video game adaptations. The thing is, these aren’t all of the games that have been released using the license. Unfortunately, the rest of those titles consist of lame mobile games, pachinko or phoned-in arcade games. The late 90s spin-off cartoon, Extreme Ghostbusters, didn’t fare much better with their series of games, either. Obviously disheartening, but at least with Ghostbusters: The Video Game and the Sega Genesis entry, there are some gems that are worthwhile for fans to seek out and play.