There’s only ever been one good Ghostbusters game


I’m off to see the new Ghostbusters film tonight. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be good after reading a four-star review in The Guardian, in which the reviewer was at pains to point out that the movie is a damn sight better than the bafflingly mediocre trailer. Seems this could be one instance where for once the best bits of the film aren’t just stuffed into the trailer, leaving the main feature sagging empty.

For the record, I think it’s a really interesting move to go for an all-female cast, and I’m intrigued to see how the film turns out. I would have loved to see Ghostbusters III with the return of the original cast – but with the death of Harold Ramis in 2014 that is never going to happen. And judging by the ongoing concerns that Bill Murray had about the scripts for the third movie – which he kept refusing to take part in – perhaps it’s just as well that it didn’t happen.

But that version of Ghostbusters III actually DID happen, in a way. Ghostbusters: The Video Game, released in 2009, not only reunited the original cast (with the notable exceptions of Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis), it also offered a plot that paid homage to the first two films at the same time as pushing things forward with new characters. There’s a great feature on the making of the game over at Kotaku UK.

ghostbusters 2009 video game library

Considering it was based on a film license, Ghostbusters: The Video Game was surprisingly brilliant – clearly a lot of love went into making it, as evidenced by the involvement of the principal actors (including a brilliant turn by William Atherton as the odious Walter Peck). The ‘busting’ mechanics work a treat, with the proton beams crackling and sparking just like in the films, as you wrangle ghosts into traps. The collectibles, too, are worthy of a mention – whereas many games are content to let you gather several hundred identical objects (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed), Ghostbusters saw you collecting unique haunted artefacts, each with an interesting and often funny backstory. Shock horror: a video game with collectibles that are actually worth collecting.

Back in 2010, I did a podcast with Ian over at 101 Video Games that gave this game its dues – you can have a listen here (or get it through iTunes here).

Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009 - the Ghostbusters III that never happened.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009 – the Ghostbusters III that never happened.

Although it’s probably too much to expect really good games to be made from film licenses, I’m still shocked by how poorly Ghostbusters has been served as a game franchise over the years. The 2009 game was a triumph, but it’s very much the exception to the rule. Digitiser2000 has a run down of all the Ghostbusters games released over the years, and it’s pretty much wall-to-wall dross.

Many people seem to hold the 1984 C64 game in high regard, but I remember thinking it was thoroughly awful back in the eighties. It did that weird thing that a lot of eighties film licenses did (e.g. Batman, Robocop, Live and Let Die), where each level was essentially a completely different game in a completely different style. Rather than providing variety, this portmanteau approach just irritated me – and it meant the quality of the game varied wildly from level to level.

I still don’t know why they insisted on this approach. Surely it’s more work to create such wildly varying gameplay? It would make more sense to concentrate on one format – say a driving game – and just make that really, really good, rather than spread the developers’ talents thinly.

Of course, the other approach that film licenses tend to take is to rush out something utterly slapdash in time for the film’s release – which sadly seems to be the case with the 2016 Ghostbusters game, judging by the scathing reviews.

As I said above, there’s only ever been one good Ghostbusters game – and it came out in 2009.