Thu
Sep 17 2009 4:34pm

Review: Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Nintendo Wii)
Published by Atari Inc, developed by Red Fly Studio
Released June 16, 2009
MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+


It’s Thanksgiving Day, 1991. A wave of spectral activity is once again sweeping over New York City. Who ya gonna call?

The game opens at the Museum of Natural History, where a night watchman is attacked by a spirit in the new Gozer exhibit, donated by occult collector and architect Ivo Shandor. (Who thought that was a good idea?) This is where the Ghostbusters come in. Two years after defeating Vigo the Carpathian, business has never been better and everyone loves them. They even have the support of Mayor Jock Mulligan, who has granted them a contract with the city that covers all their expenses. As Ray points out, “An unhaunted New York is a tourist-friendly New York.”

They’re so busy, in fact, that the team decides to recruit someone to help out around the firehouse. You take on the role of this new Ghostbuster, called “Rookie” (also Junior, Ace, Hoss, Cadet, and other nicknames; Peter doesn’t want to get too attached, in case anything happens to you). While this might be a dream job for many fans, ghostbusting isn’t as glamorous as you might think, particularly when you’re tasked with testing Egon’s experimental equipment to make sure it’s safe. But if you’re willing to strap an unlicensed particle accelerator to your back, you probably won’t mind adding more of Egon’s wonderful toys to your arsenal either.

You’ve barely been introduced when Slimer escapes the firehouse and the group must recapture him at a familiar, well, haunt: the Sedgewick Hotel. This serves as a little on-the-job training as you learn the basics of busting ghosts and the limitations placed on you in the video game environment. The first thing you learn is that your proton pack must remain off in public areas due to the agreement with the city. Peter complains:

The world we live in today! You shoot a proton stream of highly charged particles at someone and they get all sue happy. We didn’t even burn her. I mean, there was redness. There was some redness.

But once you’re allowed to let loose in pursuit of the little green spud, you’re able to experience the joys of firing a stream of concentrated protons by pointing your Wii remote at the screen and pressing the trigger. The process is simple: aim at the ghost and zap it to decreasing its energy meter. Keep an eye on your proton pack’s thermometer in the top left of the screen. If it overheats, you’ll have to wait for the pack to vent before you can fire again.

When you’ve weakened the ghost enough, your stream changes to a “capture beam,” allowing you to grab hold of the spirit. When arrow prompts appear onscreen indicating up, down, left, or right, flick the remote in that direction to knock the ghost around. When the ghost stops moving, it’s time to toss out a trap and send it into the light by guiding the capture beam over the open trap. The manual suggests you need to swing the Nunchuk attachment on the remote and press the Z-button to throw the trap, but simply pressing the Z-button will do. If it makes you feel more authentic, go ahead and swing anyway—it’s fun. The nunchuk is also used to walk your third person character around using the analog stick, and you can shake slime off by shaking the Nunchuk. You will get slimed. Often. You want to get it off quickly because it slows your movements, making it harder to evade attacks.

The rest of the controls are just as easy and intuitive. You control the camera by pointing the remote, which sometimes gets a little disorienting, especially while trying to target ghosts. You select different tools, such as the PKE meter, via the control-pad, and some functions are enhanced with the A-button while holding down the trigger. As you test more of Egon’s devices, they’re added onto your proton pack and Egon or Ray explain how to use them. The learning curve is gentle and mastering each device is essential to defeating ghosts, progressing through levels, and solving the many puzzles that appear throughout the game. They also add variety and an element of strategy to a game that could easily become repetitive, making this more than just a shooting exercise. Eventually you will have access to Boson Darts, powerful bursts of energy that travel along your proton stream; a Slime Blower for spraying objects, people, and ghosts with mood slime with various effects; and a Stasis Stream for freezing ghosts and objects.

The PKE meter is one of the most interesting and useful devices, which is accessible from the start of the game. Your character uses it like a divining rod; the wands light up and rise when it detects electromagnetic signals, such as those emitted by ghosts. You basically play a game of “hot and cold” to track ghosts. You can also switch to PKE goggles, which shift the game into a first-person night vision POV and allows you to see spectral energy, guiding you through the level. Some ghosts, doors, and boobytraps can only be seen through the goggles and you can still move around while wearing them. The PKE meter may also be used to scan ghosts into an online “Tobin’s Spirit Guide” to get more information on them.

If you take too much of a beating from ghosts, your character kneels until one of the other Ghostbusters revives you. The screen gradually fades to black while you wait, and if no one comes to your rescue (they often won’t) you’ll have to restart from a slightly earlier point, which is not that serious a penalty. You also must keep your teammates alive, reviving them by standing near them and pressing A. The guys seem pretty incompetent for all their experience, so it’s usually up to you to save them, if only to keep them alive to save you later, especially in the more intense boss battles when you might get hit from all sides. Ray in particular is a drama queen, calling out things like “Goodbye, cruel world,” when he’s had too much. To be fair, the other Ghostbusters are handicapped because they don’t have the same equipment as you. If a Slime Blower is needed to remove a black slime shield, for instance, their attacks are useless without your help. Not bad for a mere “Experimental Equipment Technician,” eh?

It’s difficult to coordinate attacks with the computer-controlled Ghostbusters, and they’ll always leave the actual trapping to you, though their streams help weaken ghosts and they’ll offer hints as to what needs to be done. In case you’re wondering, it is possible to cross the streams, though it’s slightly difficult given the danger of overheating your pack and the others’ tendencies to fire in short bursts. If you succeed, the air around your streams glows and a ball of energy expands until it explodes. Naturally, you’ll have to restart the level, which is better than “all life as you know it stopping instantaneously.” Try this at home, kids.

Back to the Sedgewick... Once you understand the game mechanics, you’ll recapture Slimer but discover that more ghost activity is on the rise at the hotel.

Ray: More ghosts? But we gave this hotel a clean bill of health five years ago.
Egon: New people die every day.

One of the bigger manifestations is your old friend, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. (Ray: “Wasn’t me this time. I swear it.”) Soon you’ll be called to the New York Public Library to meet another familiar face. The Grey Lady, the ghost librarian Eleanor Twitty, is up to her old tricks, maliciously stacking books and scattering card catalogues. That encounter leads the team to the Gozerian Codex, which provides the first clue that there’s a dangerous resurgence in ghost activity somehow linked to buildings designed by Ivo Shandor for some nefarious purpose.

If this sounds like the plot for a sequel to the first two films, it’s as close as we’re likely to get. Dan Aykroyd, who co-wrote much of the script with Harold Ramis and provides voice work along with other actors from the movies (including Annie Potts as Janine and William Atherton as Walter Peck, but sadly no Sigour), has called this “essentially the third movie.” As a film, the recycling of so many ghosts and locations in the earlier stages would seem too derivative, but once the action takes off you’re in all-new territory and it’s worth playing through just for the story. The dialogue in the game and cinema sequences is often funny and the voice acting is superb, with the one exception of Bill Murray, who just doesn’t have his heart in it. He seems distracted, as though he’s busy counting all his money while recording his lines. Otherwise, the other characters are spot-on, conveying Egon’s dorkiness, Ray’s enthusiasm, and Winston’s grumbled complaints.

If you’re looking for a stronger cinematic experience, the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC versions of the game (developed by Terminal Reality) are much more realistic and detailed with convincing likenesses of the actors as they appeared eighteen years ago. The Wii version (developed by Red Fly Studio) adopts on a more cartoonish look with brighter colors, simpler environments, and caricatures of the Ghostbusters that are evocative of the popular animated series, The Real Ghostbusters, particularly in the character design for Janine. Again, only Bill Murray loses out, because the Wii design for Peter Venkman is none too flattering. Dan Aykroyd reportedly prefers the Wii graphics to those on the Xbox 360 and PS3, perhaps because those versions are occasionally plagued by the “uncanny valley” effect. Regardless of the visual presentation, both games feature the same plot and feature most of the same recorded dialogue, though there are some minor differences throughout. Interestingly, the subtitles in the Wii version sometimes display different dialogue than what is spoken, providing a clue to the changes from other consoles.

There are of course other significant differences between the Wii/PS2 version and the Xbox 360/PS3/PC games. The Wii version allows you to select your character’s gender and features a local multiplayer option for the full game via split screen, which works pretty well and makes it easier to coordinate attacks—and cross your streams with a willing partner. The Wii also relies heavily on solving puzzles, such as hunting and trapping ghosts to acquire keys to unlock padlocked doors, or recharging battery cells to power generators. You can collect pages from Tobin’s Spirit Guide and scan ghosts throughout the game, unlocking rewards and upgrades to your equipment, which provides additional replay value.

Objects and environments in the Wii game are as fully destructible as those in the Xbox 360/PS3/PC versions, but the money accumulated in damages can’t be used to purchase new equipment. Still, destroying everything is encouraged, as ghosts and Spirit Guide pages can be hidden anywhere, and with the city footing the bill, there’s no reason not to blow stuff up. The Wii version is also a bit easier, both to control and in actual gameplay, but playing it on “Difficult” mode provides plenty of challenge and less frustration (especially in ghost wrangling). Regrettably, Ghostbusters headquarters (a waypoint between levels) is much less detailed on the Wii version; however, you can still wander around the firehouse and slide down the poles, and you should keep your eye out for the painting of Vigo from Ghostbusters II!

Your best bet is to try out both versions of the game, if possible, to see which you like better. Having played both the Xbox 360 and Wii games, I think the Xbox version probably edges out as the better of the two, but playing on the Wii is much more fun, if only because you can wield your Wii remote as a neutrona wand and zap away. As a fan of the animated series, the Wii design is also more appealing to me, though the level of realism to be had in the Xbox game is something to marvel at. Both versions of the game are pretty short, with some claiming it can be completed in five or six hours, but my game clocked in at just over ten so your mileage will vary, and there are incentives to replaying the levels later. If you can afford to, you should try to get both games or buy one and swap with your friends (the Wii game is notably cheaper). If you’re in it just for the story, either will do, but they’re very different games that provide similar experiences.


Eugene Myers has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines (writing as E.C. Myers). He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult novels.

1 comment
David Pucik
1. Notmaker
Very cool. If gamefly gets around to actually sending it to me, looking forward to trying out the 360 version.

It's too bad that Murray sounded like he was phoning it in, though. His voice was, for obvious reasons, was one of my main reasons for being interested in the game in the first place.

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