The Ghostbusters quite literally use technology to trap the spirit of something in a little box. Their mission statement should have inspired the best gaming adaptations ever made. Especially since the games allow you to control guys with ridiculously impossible energy weapons, firing at ghosts that could look like anything at all and float with no regard to proper physics. Ideally, this should have made for the perfect ’80s video games, but most of them still sucked.
That’s not to say there aren’t some gems waiting for you in the franchise’s diverse line-up of games. With the Ghostbusters answering the call once again this month, both on the big screen and consoles, we’re looking back at the best, weirdest, and worst games.
1984 | Activision | Commodore 64, Atari 2600, NES, Sega Master System
A Ghostbusters game in 1984 on the Commodore 64 and NES and it sucked. The game played like a bored parent pretending to be interested in a child while doing his taxes: you started off having to pay thousands of dollars for equipment with names like “ghost vacuum” and “ghost alarm,” then spent half the game just driving places.
Not satisfied with ruining itself, the game tried to ruin your love of the original material, Clockwork Orange-ing you with an endless loop of the theme song as played by an off-key calculator.
1992 | Activision | Atari 2600
Ghostbusters II was released for the Atari 2600. In 1992, even Atari had stopped releasing for the Atari 2600. This technically counted as anti-Ghostbusting because the cartridge tried to wring a last bit of life out of a console’s long-dead corpse.
And, like most necromantic rituals, it was composed entirely of pain and bullshit.
The game only had two levels and both were impossible. In the first you played as Ray being lowered down a shaft to the sewers, which is a wonderful summary of the play experience. It was like shooting fish in a barrel when you’re the one with gills and someone forgot the water. In the second, final level, you played as the Statue of Liberty’s torch shooting the exact same ghost as many times as your mind could stand.
Imagine Pac-Man in one dimension, then remove the rich character design.
2013 | Beeline | Mobile
Everything more than two people have ever enjoyed will eventually have a garbage mobile pay-to-play app. If you’ve ever had a threesome, expect “That Time After the Concert with Trish 2011” to arrive on the app store and charge you twenty real dollars to unlock your own pants.
The Ghostbusters app had exactly one good idea: that student Peter Venkman electrocuted for fun in the first movie? He comes back for revenge! But compared to this game, that student was having more fun with electricity.
The final insult is when the game makes players pay extra, real, actual money to unlock the actual Ghostbusters in their Ghostbusters game.
(That happens pretty early, but come on: once that happens, it’s the final time you’ll ever touch that game.)
Paranormal Blast (2012)
2012 | XMG | Mobile
Paranormal Blast is an augmented reality mobile game from 2012. So it’s mainly people flailing around in dingy rooms without equipment that really works, trying to convince themselves that what they’re doing is worthwhile.
So you could view it as a prequel simulating the Ghostbusters working in university.
1990 | Sega | Genesis
The Genesis Ghostbusters was a pretty decent game, but two things punt it into the weird category. The first is: look at them. Look at those macrocephalic Ghostbusters. Someone got the song in the wrong order. If there’s something weird in the neighborhood, it’s because you called the Ghostbusters and they’re wearing the proton packs. Now we need to call the Ghostbusters-busters. In fact, they’re anti-Ghostbusters. And Peter’s portrait on the character select made him look like a guest-starring Cardassian.
The second weird thing: you couldn’t play as Winston. There were only three Ghostbusters to choose from, but it’s not like it was a Lost Vikings or Trine. You could only ever play as one Ghostbuster. One white Ghostbuster. That’s, well, the best we can say is “weird” and then move swiftly on.
The Real Ghostbusters
1993 | Activision | Game Boy
The Game Boy The Real Ghostbusters felt strangely artificial, and that’s talking about a game based on a cartoon based on a movie about imaginary living people fighting double-imaginary dead people. Because this wasn’t a Ghostbusters game, but what happens when the concept of lazy license cash-ins meditates until it achieves an awful anti-Nirvana, giving away everything about itself to gain material wealth.
The exact same game was released in Japan as a Mickey Mouse title, in Europe as a Garfield game, and in North America as The Real Ghostbusters. So, sure, the North Americans can chant U-S-A! (or Ca-Na-Da!) about having the best characters, but it’s a weirdly unsatisfying result.
The Real Ghostbusters
1987 | Data East | Arcade
The 1987 licensed arcade game delivered the chunky pixel graphics and action-packed blasting fans had wanted all along. The top-down shooter was nowhere near perfect. It would have benefited from Smash TV-style controls instead of forcing you to advance towards anything you wanted to aim at, and more than one piece of music would have been nice, but it was a fine way to fire off a few coins and proton streams.
Poor Winston was excluded again, but this time it’s obviously because they couldn’t be bothered to program any difference between the utterly anonymous characters.
2015 | Traveller’s Tales | PS4, XBO, Wii U, PS3, X360
The LEGO Dimensions franchise is the most efficient IP-to-dollars alchemy ever invented. And as long as the film-to-game conversion is this good, it works out for the players as well. The Ghostbusters level pack serves its function as pure nostalgia indulgence quite well.
Being offered as a standalone extra also means Traveller’s Tales can cater directly to those who want the nostalgia without worrying about anyone else, stuffing it with all sorts of silly references.
2009 | Terminal Reality | PS3, X360, Wii, PC, PS2, PSP, DS
Ghostbusters 2009 wasn’t just the best Ghostbusters game ever made, it was the second-best Ghostbusters movie yet made, turning the original franchise into a trilogy. It was made before Harold Ramis passed away, and even then “downloading the voices into younger artificial bodies” is the only way the movie could ever have been made.
The Ghostbusters are there, all the expected references are there, but far more important is the basic busting mechanic: it makes me feel good. It really captures the spirit. It’s high-stakes action-fishing as you wrestle the unruly dead into the iconic traps. Then the game makes the coolest equipment in fictional history even better with an array of extra weapons and modes, each an inventive attack with a satisfying feel, and still fitting perfectly into the Ghostbuster’s unique approach to nuclear weapons development. Because they’re stupidly fun.
Luke McKinney is a freelance contributor.