The Ghostbusters franchise provided kickass, kid-centric merchandise to the aspiring poltergeist hunter in each of us.
Take, for example, the Ghost Popper, an air pressurized Nerf gun that actually hurt your older sister when you shot her with it. Best of all, however, were the darkly humorous action figures. The most memorable among these was Fearsome Flush, a haunted toilet with a flapping tongue.
It certainly boded well for the Ghostbusters II NES game, released in 1990. Would we get to control the Statue of Liberty in the game as well? Would there be memorable scenes from the film? Would we get to bust ghosts of all shapes and sizes in dramatic fashion? Would we fight Vigo the Carpathian in an epic, slime-filled duel to the death?
The answers to those questions were: sort of, no, no, and no.
Ghostbusters II was not a horrendous game, but the controllers and set-up took some getting used to. First, when walking on foot, you always traveled from right to left rather than from left to right. It felt strange and unconventional – like you were constantly backtracking, even though you were actually moving forward. The A Button was to fire your Slime Blower at ghosts (you never got to use the proton pack, unfortunately), and the B Button was to jump. This also felt strange – it went against years of video game indoctrination that A was for Jump and B was for the Weapon.
As for the ghost busting equipment, it was not easy to handle. The Slime Blower could shoot in 3 directions – directly forwards, diagonally up, and directly up. Shooting directly forwards, however, was completely useless. The ghosts always floated over your head, and you could get stuck in your own Slime if you shot it right in front of you. Thus, you had no choice but to point the gun skyward at all times.
The only enemies you could actually kill were the green Slimer clones. Every other ghost, whether it was a disembodied hand or a freaky, bouncing head, was invulnerable to your shots and followed an asinine, random bouncing pattern. Your best option, 90% of the time, was to dodge and jump out of the way, like you would for the Gauntlet challenge on American Gladiators. What chance did you have against Vigo if you couldn’t even kill a tarantula?
The other weapon was the Ghost Trap. You hit Start to set the trap, and it would suck in any enemy – even the ones that couldn’t be defeated by the gun. You had to be very careful, however – when you set the trap, you set it directly where you were standing. Thus, you had about one second to move out of the way before the trap activated, killing you in the process. This was an unnecessary aggravation – the equivalent of throwing a live grenade at your feet.
These walking levels got old very quickly. There was no life bar - one hit, and you were dead. There was no platforming or variance in the terrain – just a long, flat march, level after level. The background scenery changed – from the sewers to the courthouse to the museum – but the gameplay remained the same.
The vehicle levels, where you drove the Ecto-1 and the Statue of Liberty, provided some needed reprieve. It was exciting to see the Ghostbusters doing something different – doing something that matched up well to the film’s plot.
Granted, the Ghostbusters II film was no masterpiece, but it had some action scenes with terrific video game potential. Take, for example, this scene from the Courthouse, where the Ghostbusters fight the Scoleri Brothers. By the way, those ghosts are costumes and animatronics. It’s a nice throwback to the good old days, before CGI put some truly talented artists out of work.
Nice, right? It would have made an incredible boss fight. Strangely enough, however, the Scoleri Brothers were nowhere to be seen in the entire game. In fact, there weren’t any boss fights at all. Each level simply ended, on a whimper, before transitioning to the next level.
There was no final fight with Vigo either. Instead, you were forced to repeat the Museum level four times – once for each Ghostbuster. Then, in a badly animated cut scene, the Ghostbusters slimed Vigo’s portrait, preventing him from escaping. And that was it. The End. Cue music. Roll credits.
Unbelievable. Can you get any more anti-climactic? It was as though the developers ran out of time and money, and this was their way of finishing the game under a deadline.
Between its weird mechanics and its redundancy, Ghostbusters II was difficult for all the wrong reasons. Franchise fans would have to wait until 2009 for a proper homage: Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
Finally! Here was a fan-driven, loving tribute to the quintessential 80’s franchise. Now, if they could just get that third movie off the ground (and get Bill Murray on board), all would be right in the world.