Trapped in the Cabinet: The Real Ghostbusters

30Jan10

It’s time to channel that dormant little shithead in all of us. We all have an impish bastard buried beneath the mire of office chairs, alcohol abuse, multiple choice questions and workforce malaise. Their cries of disbelief at the severe difficulty of LEVEL ONE, the entire dollar they had to pay for the added immersion of sitting in a chair to control a vehicle, or at the insistence that no they CANNOT have another two dollars haunts every bowling alley, pizza parlor, department store vestibule and dirty mall corner you can think of.

We all carry with us an annoying little brat who would beg for change with more shamelessness than a homeless person.

Adult cynicism aside, it’s hard not to miss that era. It’s difficult to avoid romanticizing a time when approaching the local mall arcade filled one with a near mystical sense of anticipation and wonder. One could enter it and discover some rare oddity never encountered again. You could gaze upon graphics that made home console efforts look like cave paintings. If you were good enough at a game like Street Fighter II or Killer Instinct a crowd of admirers could be attained. To a young kid, the arcade was a magical place even if it usually was shoved into the musty back rooms of the adult world.

That time cant be unearthed(and thankfully not the bastard fuckspawn screaming for money either), but many obscurities are to be found in the realm of the arcade. This series aims to focus on the lesser remembered(some deservedly so) titles. Tying in with this weeks podcast topic of clones and ripoffs, I examine a rather uncommon licensed effort released in 1987 by Data East: The Real Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters in the arcade? Why the hell not?

I wouldn’t exactly call it obscure but its presence certainly wasn’t as ubiquitous as something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The basic game is another in a long list of arcade games that liberally borrow from Capcom’s Commando and plays essentially the same. Being an arcade game, plot and faithfulness to the source material is eschewed in favor of straightforward action. The player controls an anonymous Ghostbuster who apparently spends most of his time policing other dimensions, as the majority of the levels look like ugly temples, deserts, or swamplands and not much like anything you would see in New York City.

The Ghostbusters going Commando.

Despite that, each level opens up with the Ghostbusters pulling up to an assumedly haunted building which looks vaguely like their firehouse HQ and is conveniently labeled Ghosthouse. I guess the GBs have gone from paranormal investigators to paranormal SWAT officers busting into rundown ghost projects and taking the poor tenants down, which makes me wonder if ghosts are the most powerless minority in our society.

Those fascist scientists are armed with their traditional proton packs, although now they shoot a basic bullet projectile as well as the standard proton beam. The projectile is fairly useless, but you are forced to use it as the proton beam has limited energy and is also the only way to capture ghosts, which give you points, lives, and powerups. You can also find Slimer, who here is given the creative name GREEN GHOST. If you manage to grab him he provides you with limited protection as a sort of shield, an option found in many SHMUP style games.

Yes, you can cross the streams. No, it doesn't do anything.

Theres no traps or anything else though…yep. Thats all you get. The ghosts are trapped by sucking them into your proton pack like a vacuum with the beams. This makes the game quite frustrating at times, since the beams are limited as mentioned earlier. You can collect powerups to replenish and upgrade your beam as well as the shot, but the shot is only decent when fully upgraded and you lose all upgrades upon death. If you were a wealthy young chap with a handful of quarters, however, you could pump them in for extra beam energy and lives.

This is where MAME comes in. As with a lot of arcade games, Ghostbusters is extremely difficult and litters the screen with death at every turn. Play it in MAME, fill it with virtual quarters and then play this game as god intended: proton beam only. It’s still hard to survive, but the beam rips through enemies a lot faster than the pathetic shot and provides a more authentic ghostbusting experience.

When viewed in perspective with all the other Ghostbusters game efforts, Data East’s offering isnt so bad. It’s quite monotonous, lacks replay value and won’t hold your imagination for long, but such is the nature of most arcade games. This is actually one of the few good Ghostbuster games, along with GB 2 on the Gameboy, New GB 2 on NES, and the current gen game released last year. Thing is, there is very little within the actual game to identify it as Ghostbusters. There’s the aforementioned changes to how the proton packs and trapping of ghosts work. There’s the fact that your Ghostbusters all wear extremely bright and colorful suits and look nothing like the cartoon renditions. Hell, the ghosts themselves all look like monsters, strange beasts or demons and only turn into ghosts once they have been destroyed.

Interestingly enough this game is known as Meikyuu Hunter G in Japan and has nothing to do with Ghostbusters at all. The level designs, weapons and enemies are all different. I assume that Data East just went ahead and slapped the GB license on it for the US after editing the graphics and tweaking the gameplay a bit. This explains why the game only feels vaguely GB like.

We aint afraid of no Meikyuu!

Considering that this game is fairly short and supports three player simultaneous play, its worth a glance. Its a quick fix of mindless blasting. Viewed as a Commando clone though, its only adequate. There isn’t much variety in the enemies, weapons, or levels and beyond it having a Ghostbusters theme nothing stands out. It received a few ports on home computer systems such as the Amiga and Commodore 64, but they were all quite horrid and should be skipped. The Real Ghostbusters certainly isn’t a timeless classic, but as a licensed arcade game from the 80s, its good enough.

filed by Eric.

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