Developer: Compile/Sega/Activision
Publisher: Sega

Text review

Early Sega Genesis / Mega Drive games often tend to be ignored or forgotten. This may be due to the console struggling to find an audience during its pre-Sonic years and as result, nostalgia for such initial offerings is low. Furthermore, early Genesis games did not make great use of the system's graphical or sound capabilities which emphasizes the titles' relative lack of popularity. However, those willing to explore the console's early years might be surprised by how enjoyable some of these games can be.

Ghostbusters is one such case, what it lacked in comparative audio or visual fidelity is made up by its arcade gameplay. Co-developed by Sega and Compile, this is a side scroller run n' gun platformer. Oddly enough, the game states it was originally developed by Activison and later reprogramed by Sega. However, this version is entirely different from Activision's NES, Master System and Commodore 64 game, so it's possible Sega's license required them to legally credit Activision as the original developer. 

Taking place after the events of the first movie, players take control of either Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz or Egon Spengler, Winston is mysteriously absent with no in-game or manual explanation to be found.

The three remaining characters differ in their walking/jumping speed and damage resistance, with Ray being slow but resilient, Egon fast and fragile and Venkman as the in-between character. While this may sound sensible in theory, the level design and enemy placement seems to heavily favor Ray's increased damage resistance. 

Out of the game's six stages, only the Woody House, which acts as Ghostbusters' fire level, required any sort of precision platforming. While the rest will still have you jump over spikes, foes and platforms, I never felt there would be any benefit to an increased walking of jumping speed. On the other hand, Egon's fragility provides a definite difficulty spike as enemy hits can cause up to four times as much damage as they do on other characters. It should also be noted that you cannot change characters between stages, whoever you pick will stay with you until the player completes or resets the game. Simply put, Ray is without a doubt the easiest choice, Egon is a good pick for anyone trying to speedrun Ghostbusters and Venkman serves no purpose other than to graduate players from Ray to Egon.

Though levels aren't particularly large, they can be confusing to navigate. I would also argue the enemy placement occasionally seems sloppy, spawning foes in areas where you have no choice but to take damage. Players must traverse each stage searching for mini-bosses to defeat before they can challenge the main adversary of each level. This requires your character to explore every nook and cranny of a level, often coming across one-way doors or paths which require backtracking. Thankfully, a map can be accessed at any time by entering the pause menu, once there, you can also change your arsenal or use any items your character is currently carrying.

Upon finding a mini-boss, you have to engage in battle by learning their patterns, move sets and shooting their weak spots. Most small enemies and platforming segments tend to provide little challenge, with the real exhilaration coming from the boss fights as they have more interesting designs and require a higher level of skill. With that said, there were a few boss encounters where I felt their movement patterns were randomized. In one particular example, you're supposed to walk under a crystal monster to avoid being pinned against the wall, but this action never took place forcing me to take damage with no hope of defense.

After defeating a mini-boss, a ghost will appear which the player must then capture with a proton pack and lead towards a trap. If successful, you recover part of your health and energy, a short cutscene will appear and a greater reward is reaped at the end of the level. However, if a player takes too long or fails too many attempts at capturing a ghost it can escape, nullifying any rewards.

Once all mini-bosses are cleared, a blinking spot will appear on the map indicating the location of the level's main foe. Reaching this enemy will trigger another cutscene with the ghost explaining his or her motivation before attacking. Unlike previous encounters however, they do not require you to capture them upon defeat.

Generally speaking, I was less than impressed with the enemy designs for most enemies as they often amount to flying cutlery, sheets, pans, blobs, and other fairly generic designs. Thankfully there are exceptions to this rule, namely the boss fights. Slimer making an appearance, shooting him allows you to recover your health or energy. Other appearances include Stay Puft Marshmellow Man and even a Little Shop of Horrors reference in the form of Audrey Jr. 

Dispatching foes, shooting chests, capturing ghosts and completing levels will reward the player with money. Any currency you find can be spent on the item and weapon shops which are available between missions or can be visited by walking left at the start of each level. The item shop carries health recovering items, screen-clearing bombs and night-goggles which are only really useful for one specific stage. The weapon shop includes four weapons to purchase, energy tank upgrades and even shield items. 

Using any item from the weapon shop will deplete your character's energy tank. Moreover, weapons have a limited strategic use, with each being seemingly designed to take out a specific sub-set of enemies and bosses. Needless to say, discovering the best time to shift between your arsenal is the key to success.  

However, even then I found most weapons to be overly expensive for their potential usefulness, as your starting gun already does a well-enough job at eliminating enemies. In the end, a combination of the shield upgrade, spread gun and additional energy tanks seemed to be enough to offset any challenge the game could provide. Although completed levels can't be revisited, a patient player could grind a stage for enemies and treasure chests as every time you leave a level to visit a shop, all items and foes respawn.

Ghostbusters' art style is an interesting one. During cutscenes, our main cast are represented in a realistic manner, however, when traversing through stages, they feature disproportionately large heads. This bobblehead look can be a bit a jarring, but it helps give the game its own graphical identity. 

Sadly, outside of this and the interesting boss design, this is where graphical positives end. The animations for example are jerky, using only one or two frames for each action. Considering this applies to all characters and enemies, it eventually adds up. Moreover, there is a distinct lack of graphical effects here, you'd expect to at least see some parallax scrolling, a heat wave during the fire level or some water effects during swimming segments, but there are none here. The screen also seems overly zoomed in, giving you little time to react to threats that are just ahead of you.

On the sound department things do fare slightly better as the music is generally pleasing. Some levels like the High-Rise Building stage feature tunes that are catchy, but also generic as nothing about the soundtrack inherently screams Ghosbusters. The only exception is of course the Ghostbusters theme though sadly, it's poorly represented on Sega's 16-bit console, lacking any excitement. The real guilty party however are the sound effects which can quickly grate on you due to how harsh they sound, this is especially true for explosions.

Interestingly, the game features plenty of cutscenes which are handled through a still image and dialog. There are cutscenes at the start of the game and each mission, between stages, upon catching a ghost and after completing a level, some of which have a fairly large amount of text for a game of this nature. It almost feels as if at one point Sega had higher aspirations for this title, either through a lengthy story or even RPG or adventure mechanics. Sadly, if those were Sega's intentions, they had to be scaled back considerably and what we got instead were long sections of text which only serve to break the flow.

Overall, Ghosbusters for the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive leaves a lot to be desired in audiovisual department. The graphics are subpar, as even other early Genesis games such as Altered Beast or Revenge of Shinobi featured at least a layer of parallax scrolling and interesting graphical effects. The music while generally catchy, is offset by irritating sound effects. Thankfully, the gameplay is where Ghostbusters excels; exploring a level, shooting down bad guys and earning money is genuinely satisfying. More importantly, the amount of boss fights do a nice job at introducing variety and add just the right amount of challenge, serving as the game's main strength. It may not by the best game on the system, but if you can find a reasonably priced copy, it's certainly worth tracking down.

Video Review:

- Fun run n' gun platformer
- Great, varied, boss fights
- Cool Little Shop of Horrors reference
- Music is pretty catchy


- Supbar graphics
- Grating sound effects
- Short
- Winston is mysteriously absent

Final Grade: B

Text packaging review

I can't say I'm a big fan of the cover. Yes, it draws in the eye, but it's a little too simple for its own good. I know this is the movie's iconic logo, but I'd go so far as to say this seems a bit lazy. The game comes with a cartridge and manual, both sporting the same cover art.

The manual begins with a little backstory, stating that Ghostbusters takes place after the events of the first game. Sadly, the story is short and poorly written. The characters have none of the personality from the movies and instead are little more than cardboard cutouts. From here on, we go into fairly detailed instructions on how to play the game, complete with hints and tips for boss fights. I did like how the final page was dedicated to adding in your high scores. Later Sega releases eventually lost this extra.

Overall, the packaging is mediocre. Not even the cover managed to impress me.

Video packaging review

Packaging Grade: C-

No comments:

Post a Comment