A Short History of Ghostbusters Video Games

Note: This post was originally written back in November 2011, but with the recent passing of Harold Ramis, I want you all to remember the best of the games his characters have taken part in – Kev

ghostbusters_07_thumb1Ghostbusters is one of my most, if not themost, favourite franchises of my life. Beginning with the first movie in 1984, it went onto spawn The Real Ghostbusters, a massively popular cartoon series that continued the timeline, and the successful movie sequel Ghostbusters II. With forums currently rife with speculation and rumours surrounding an allegedly confirmed third movie, and with the release of a re-mastered original Ghostbusters movie for Halloween, has the video game industry done this fantastic license justice over the years?

Ghostbusters (Amstrad, Commodore 64, Spectrum, others)

Fondly remembered for me as one of the first video games I ever laid eyes on, this movie tie-in was actually originally developed at the same time as the original box-office hit, albeit as a different title to begin with, named ‘Car Wars’. The version I had was for the Sinclair Spectrum, which is unfortunately inferior to the Commodore version, in particular the graphics, colours and sound. But still a fine game, for 1984.

The plot was the same as the movie, but a large majority of the game took place driving from job to job with a close top-down view, sucking up any ghosts that came across the screen. From what I remember, control responses were capable but not great, and the sections were mostly very long and quite tedious. Nonetheless, these sections were also engaging and necessary to raise cash for more equipment. It did somewhat improve with the ‘busting’ portions of the game which followed.

Upon reaching your destination you’d control two Ghostbusters attempting to catch the little bugger with your proton streams and then trap it. So it was a case of tactically placing the heroes in order to make the shots count. This was by far the most fun section of the game; quite challenging and the controls were intuitive, too. If the ghost got away, or a trap attempt was missed, the ghost would then proceed to knock over one of your heroes, which in turn triggered the soundbyte ‘He slimed me’, direct from the movie.

On the Spectrum it sounded more like someone throwing up, but hey, this was 1984, remember? Touches like this are great for fans, as was the whole game. For the faithfulness alone, this should definitely be considered a classic.

Ghostbusters II (Gameboy)

Following on from the massive success of the original movie and the cartoon and merchandise that came with it, a sequel was inevitable. As is almost obligatory, particularly these days, a licensed video game was released to coincide with the movie.

Ghostbusters_II_008_US-NTSCI tackled the GameBoy version myself, which was a very fun, although simple and short game, and a welcome addition to a somewhat short list of decent movie-licensed video game releases. Our four heroes were represented as tiny, miniaturised versions of their movie counterparts.

After choosing your character, you then chose a second. However this was an NPC character who followed wherever you went, and this formed the simple but intuitive system for capturing ghosts. Your chosen character performed the proton blasts to hold the ghosts while the NPC held the ghost trap, and activated it on command by the player in order to trap ghosts and progress.

Ghostbusters fit the mould of the perfect Gameboy game with intuitive controls that suited the D-pad and buttons perfectly. With a Zelda-esque view incorporated and its dungeon-inspired levels, you couldn’t go wrong. Great fun.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Xbox, PS3)

love this game. Yes, this will be a very biased view of what is critically considered a decent, but far from perfect video game, but I don’t care. I love it. I even got a copy from the US due to the publishing nightmare it endured on the Xbox 360 in the UK, as they kindly left it region-free. For a Ghostbusters fan, this game is the ultimate experience. You play the new recruit to the original team, who are voiced by the entire original movie cast also (fandom EXPLOSION!), as they teach you the “tools and the talent” to be a Ghostbuster. It doesn’t disappoint.

ghostbusters-the-video-game-1Using the ever-popular third person view that makes Dead Space and the latter Resident Evil games so great, you make your way through streets, buildings and spooky cemeteries, flushing out ghosts with the PKE meter. You spend your time zapping then trapping them, using the wonderfully presented Ghostbuster equipment that we all know and love. There are some excellent variations on the norm too. The slime tether is used to pull heavy objects. The stasis stream freezes ghosts in their tracks for a limited time. The zapping and trapping system is everything you could want from a Ghostbusters game; proton beams weaken the enemy enough that they are then dragged to the trap and sucked inside. This looks almost exactly like the movies and cartoon series and you also get a real sense of pulling the ghost around, whether it’s to keep them in check, or guide them to a ghost trap.

This certainly was the game created with the fans in mind the most. As mentioned above, the original movie cast have reunited to provide the voices of their respective characters. The soundtrack is taken from the original movie, which is hardly original, but it’s still excellent to this day and fits in with the game very well. Even the achievements/trophies are named with quotes from the movies.

Overall

Unlike some movie franchises, Ghostbusters has been treated pretty well over the years. Only the most recent Sanctum of Slime seemed awful, so much so I couldn’t even bring myself to upgrade from the trial version. For anyone who thinks that all the Ghostbusters games were sub-standard, the 2009 video game is the exception to the general movie licensed video game mediocrity, and an excellent game in its own right. At £14.99 from Microsoft’s Games on Demand, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is also now a bargain.

Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1: A Parent’s Tale

The-Walking-Dead-Dairy-Farm

Warning: This article contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead season 1. If you haven’t finished the game yet, bookmark the post and come back when you have. Seriously. Spoilers.

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series is the benchmark of episodic video gaming. Never has a video game been so simple in it’s mechanics yet present so many conflicting and complicated narratives to deal with. Episode by episode the stakes were raised, culminating with Game of the Year awards for the first season back in 2012.

The fabulous storytelling Telltale equals if not betters that of the comic book and TV show. Regardless of the medium, The Walking Dead is a universe tinged with tragedy, unrelenting tragedy. After all, what is there to look forward to during a zombie apocalypse?

Another common theme is children. In the TV/comic series, you have Rick Grimes and his son Carl, a boy who is mentally forced into adulthood by the zombie apocalypse and its dangers.

the-walking-dead-season-1-clementine-and-lee

Telltale’s incarnation presents Lee and Clementine, a father/daughter (but-not-really) relationship brought together in unlikely circumstances; Lee, a convicted murderer of his wife’s lover, escapes his police escort vehicle after it, and the escorting officer, meet their end via nearby walkers. With Clementine, she is spotted by Lee and found to be home alone with only her tree-house keeping her out of harms way.

Given that Lee is the main playable protagonist it is easy to forget, sympathise or maybe even empathise with this initial murderous narrative. Especially given you are tasked into ensuring his survival as if it was your own. This is a somewhat polar opposite to Rick Grimes, who is a man of the law. But as the chapters unravel, Lee often becomes the voice of reason, recognised by many as as leader, and is looking out for the child all the while. Just like Rick.

Eventually it is revealed that Lee had always wanted a family of his own. His wife’s long-distance work and eventual extramarital affair ended those prospects, regardless of Lee’s subsequently murderous actions. I’m not crazy enough to condone murder of course, but this narrative is repeatedly thrust upon you to test how you may or may not reason with it, and the others around you. This includes Clementine, who is only 9 years old by the end of the first season. Her eyes and mind are already being forced wide open to a world a child should never have to endure. For Lee, this is a chance at redemption. That redemption comes in the form of Clementine.

The-Walking-Dead-Episode-One-1

There are many characters that come and go in The Walking Dead, but Lee and Clementine’s relationship is the bedrock of the first season. It’s how it starts and how it ends, regardless of the decisions you make. Being a father of two myself, it is a relationship that grew deep in my heart. It toyed with my emotions if Clementine went missing; room by room searches provoked only feelings of dread. Not only does protecting Clem becomes Lee’s primary focus, it became mine also.

I’ve played through season 1 twice. Once in 2012, and again in 2017. Both times I made choices based around Lee’s position at that moment, but in fact I was making the exact choices that I would make, not Lee. At first I often decided to lie to save Clem’s feelings, and felt bad for doing so. I think it’s fair to say we’ve all told a little porky here and there to stop a child’s train of thought.

However, a lot has changed in 5 years. My then infant daughter is now well into her seventh year of life, and absorbing information like a sponge. Even from age 4, the cortex begins to operate at the same level as an adults. Moreover, from age 4 a child’s brain is twice as active as any adult due to the increased consumption of glucose. It makes perfect sense, as children grow and develop into adults. This also means they are more likely to trust and accept what is in front of their eyes, what they are told and what they experience is what life is. And it is this ongoing narrative that almost every conversation with Clem is asking of you.

the-walking-dead

It was evident on the second play through that I found myself being far more honest, not just with Clementine, but others also. This is where Telltale have succeeded the most; for all the black-and-white answers you can give, there are shades of grey that can equally be successful, or not so, in different ways. Even at Clementine’s young age, she easily determine’s Lee’s criminal misgivings from the simplest of half-truths. The challenge is how you deal with that, as it is unexpected of a child only a few years old.

Then there is Duck. Remember him? Hyper little thing, around the same age as Clementine. Duck is evidently far from ready for any catastrophe due to Katjaa’s mothering ways, and I would expect no less from most mother’s in the same situation.  In both play-through’s, my instinct was to save Duck instead of Herschel Green’s son. But this first major decision is a trick; Shawn dies no matter what you pick and is merely a points scoring exercise with Kenny, Duck’s dad. Telltale, you bastards!

Back in 2012 my son was an excitable, full-of-beans young man who was rather hyper at times, but equally affectionate. So like Duck, the potential was there for him to get into trouble, or not be fully aware of the dangers (hardly zombie danger, but still) around him until it’s too late. Throughout Duck’s eagerness my instincts were always to protect a child. Even though he wasn’t my own. Between a grieving mother and an increasingly unstable father in Katjaa and Kenny respectively, my inclinations were toward being their voice of reason in a world of tragedy and chaos.

When Duck meets his end after being bitten in chapter 3, the first time I took the mantle of putting him down before he returned as a zombie. This is of course a decision that 1) I hope to never ever have to make in real life with my own or anyone’s kids, and 2) I would also be the one to pull the trigger. I have no idea how I would cope with that level or manner of loss. In fact the thought makes me physically sick. The second time however, the added years of parenthood hit me. I found myself telling Duck’s father, Kenny, who had just witnessed his wife shoot herself in the head with Duck about to turn, that he should finish off Duck. I just couldn’t do it. Damn this game. For some, such choices may seem flippant as it is but a video game. But such decisions ripped at my conscience. Such decisions should never have to be made. And it makes for heart-pounding entertainment.

telltales-the-walking-dead

This brings us poignantly onto the final scenes of the first season’s final episode. People’s accounts have detailed being visibly upset or distressed at what is the ‘parent’s’ final moments of the game. It truly is a heart-wrenching scene of which I felt distinct sadness for. Unlike any other in a video game before in fact. All I kept hoping for was for Clem not to die, with the feeling of dread rapidly increasing at the prospect. Despite this, it was also incredibly touching to see how Lee and Clem’s rapport had built up to this point. I’d like to think it’s a similar rapport I’d have with my own daughter, given a similar situation.

In both instances, I ensured Lee was hand-cuffed to the radiator and encouraged Clem to shoot him before turning. I’m not sure if I could deal with Clem seeing a zombie Lee, and am only tentatively contemplating replaying the scene if a different way. Even by not triggering a particular outcome, Telltale is challenging me. Toying with my emotions.

Following Lee’s tragic departure from the series, the focus becomes purely on Clementine. She becomes the playable protagonist. In my mind, there is no one better to encapsulate the series than Clementine. She is this Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes. Visibly older, mentally stronger, Clem is now a hardened survivalist. But still just a child. The decisions you make are now hers, and not of a guardian.