As the resident classic gaming fan here at Co-Optimus, I take a certain pride in my knowledge of arcade games from the 80s and 90s. As a kid, I was enamored by the flickering screens, digital bleeps and boops, and gorgeous cabinet artwork of these amazing machines. I spent many, many hours in dedicated arcades, pizza places, gas stations, and grocery stores plugging quarters into coin slots. Many of these games are etched into my memory, since I enjoyed them so much, and it's very rare when I learn about a classic arcade game that I don't remember playing.
You can imagine my surprise and shame, then, when I learned recently of an arcade game based on the classic 1984 film Ghostbusters. Compounding my embarrassment was the fact that it would have been a natural tie-in to cover this title when the Ghostbusters games were released on modern consoles in 2009. Sheepish, I grabbed my ten year old son, handed him a controller, and we played a session of The Real Ghostbusters in MAME. It was a mixed experience, to put it delicately.
Ghostbusters would seem to be a natural fit for a video game. In the movie, the team wield gun-like proton packs and shoot dizzyingly colorful blasts of lightning. They hunt down ghosts, spirits, and other paranormal foes, ranging from the horrific (the librarian) to the hilarious (Slimer) to the ferocious (the demonic dogs). The setting is even interesting: New York City itself is a cool place to hang around in. There's even a sweet vehicle, the Ecto-1. You would imagine that all of these things would combine to make an excellent video game, wouldn't you?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The Real Ghostbusters doesn't feel much like the movies at all. While there are indeed Ghostbusters, they are merely generic guys instead of the memorable four from the film. The fire station headquarters and the Ecto-1 itself only make appearances in short cut scenes between levels. The levels themselves take place in what must be strange, bizarre locations, and really feel more like an alien world or the surface of the moon than a place where the Ghostbusters should be. The buildings these nameless 'Busters explore throughout the game are plain and boring, with little in the way of decoration other than doors and windows.
The enemies are a mixed lot, and while some actually resemble what you picture in your mind when you think of ghosts, others decidedly do not. There are tall creatures that appear to be made of magma that swing giant wrecking balls on chains. Purple, long-snouted beasts that would be more at home in the Mos Eisley cantina appear and attack the squad. An early boss has a lumpy body with a gaping mouth at its belly, a long segmented neck, and a strange skull-like head. These creatures and many others scattered throughout the ten levels are ill-suited to a Ghostbusters game.