Ghostbusters. It’s a great movie with crappy games. Sure, there’s the upcoming Ghostbusters game for all platforms. But can it top its 8-bit counterparts on Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System? Only time will tell. In the interim, let’s compare the two 8-bit versions. In all cases where screenshots are shown, we’ve depicted the NES screenshot on the left with the SMS screenshot on the right. Most of these screenshots are from Moby Games, which is an excellent video game resource for older material.
Ghostbusters was one of my favourite movies when I was a child. I always daydreamed about getting my own proton pack and I even had a jacket that I taped a Ghostbusters logo to the shoulder of. I’d wear it around the house bustin’ imaginary ghosts from time to time. When I saw that there was a Ghostbusters game for Sega Master System, I was thrilled. I finally got it and played it repeatedly but realized it was not at all like the movie. It was a few years later that I learned there was a Ghostbusters game for the NES, and that it, too, was nothing like the movie.
The main thing that makes the movie so enjoyable is the humour. And this is sorely lacking in both the SMS and NES versions of the game. In fact, there is really nothing funny about the game unless you count the fact that someone probably made a lot of money making it.
Back Off Man, I’m A Scientist
They both start out much the same way: with a black titlescreen featuring a large Ghostbusters logo smack in the centre. The theme, in 8-bit awesomeness, plays in the background. This theme plays in the background repeatedly throughout the game and in both versions, it is not only very annoying, but also the cause of insanity. The Master System version is actually slightly less annoying, however, since it oddly has more depth to it. As a fun bonus, the SMS version has a bouncing ball and scrolling lyrics should players hate themselves and their family enough to sing along.
There’s A Shop That Sells Ghostbusting Gear?
Immediately following the title screen, there’s a slight deviation between the two versions. The SMS one goes to an account management screen, where first-time players are asked to enter their initials to open a bank account. If you’ve played the game before, you can enter your initials and then your account number (basically a numeric password) and you’ll start with all the money you had the last time you played. Then it’s off to the car dealership to buy a set of wheels. There are four cars to choose from (in contrast, the NES version has the one car), including one that looks like ECTO-1. Each car has a different amount of items it can carry as well as its own top speed. Faster cars tend to carry fewer items and also tend to slide around a lot when bumped by enemies on the road. That’s right. In both versions, enemies will try to run you off the road.
Players also have to choose the Ghostbusting equipment they’ll be using at the start of the game by purchasing it at this point. Players can return to the store during the first part of the game to buy new items or upgrades to existing ones. You read that correctly. The store sells Ghostbusting equipment, so presumably just anyone can go on in and buy some.
As you can see from the above screenshots, the NES version is graphically deficient when juxtaposed with the SMS version. This is a trend you’ll see throughout this article.
City Planners Are The Worst
Next up we have the city map screen. The layout is very similar but one of the main differences is that the NES version depicts the fronts of buildings on the map whereas the SMS version is more of a top-down view, depicting the tops of buildings. In this respect, the NES version wins because although showing the front of a building is pictorially inaccurate, the colouring of the rooftops in the SMS version makes it difficult to figure out just what it is you’re looking at. On the other hand, it is a bit odd that the icon for your car in the NES version is a backwards Ghostbusters logo. How hard would it have been to get that minor detail right? Sheesh. The NES version also has uglier-looking ghosts and is missing the Gatekeeper and Master of the Key, who walk around and drain your money if you touch them in the SMS version. In both games, buildings that are haunted light up red and you have to go there to bust some heads.
You Always Drive In A Straight Line
Once you’ve selected your destination from the map, the game switches to a closer view of the road. If you thought Toronto drivers were asses, you’ve got another thing coming here. Every other car seems to want to be in your lane, and will even shove you into the curb, causing your car to explode. On top of that, there are occasional obstacles in the middle of the road for you to avoid. Crashing the car means losing cash. And you need cash for the “Zuul” part of the game. The difference in art quality between these two screenshots is astounding. It’s almost as if the NES version was a direct port of a Colecovision game.
Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good!
Now the fun part of the game – busting ghosts! Only it’s not really that fun. You move your team of two (just two?) Ghostbusters into position while ghosts hover above. Once the characters are in position, you can drop the trap and begin shooting at the ghosts. The object here is to use the beams to push the ghosts directly over the trap so you can open it, capturing the spooks. In both NES and SMS versions, you can only move one Ghostbuster at a time, and depending on the amount of money you have, you may only have a few traps. Each time you press the trap button, one trap (basically a net) will shoot out from the trap unit to capture the ghosts above it. If you only have one trap, you just have one chance to get all the ghosts. Any ghosts you miss will slime you, and you’ll have to retreat back to headquarters. If you’re out of traps, you need to go back to headquarters to transfer the ghosts to the containment unit before heading out to bust more ghosts
After playing the game for way longer than any human should, the next phase of play kicks in: Zuul. And here the difficulty is exponentially increased. You must guide your Ghostbusters up the building (after passing at least two of them by the bouncing Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man) via the stairwell. This part of the game is ridiculously frustrating, as you’re only given three chances to do this. Along the way, there are tonnes of ghosts that you must zap. If a ghost touches you, or throws a plate at you, you die. Upon reaching the top of the staircase, the final confrontation with Gozer awaits, and Gozer makes the stairclimb feel like a cakewalk. Unfortunately, at press time we don’t have comparison shots of this part of each game. Neither looks very good, but the NES version is particularly craptastic.
Tell Him About The Twinkie
By just looking at the screenshots, one would be inclined to think the Sega Master System is better. This is true, but only marginally. In addition to the cleaner graphics, the bank account feature as well as the more robust inventory system makes the SMS Ghostbusters only slightly more enjoyable. But it’s a bittersweet victory for Sega’s version: in either case, the game is frustrating at best.
Here’s hoping the upcoming Ghostbusters title from Sierra will be a hell of a lot better. There’s no possible way it can be worse, can it?