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Thursday, 20 October 2016

Ghostbusters (Activision, 1984)

Designed by David Crane for the Commodore 64. Programming by David Crane and Adam Bellin. Graphics by David Crane and Hilary Mills. Music by Russell Lieblich. Published by Activision in 1984.

Converted for the Apple ][ by Robert McNally, and released by Activision in 1984.

Converted for the Atari 8-bit computers by Glyn Anderson, with graphics by Hilary Mills. Released by Activision in 1984.

Converted for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC by James Software, Ltd, with speech by David Aubrey Jones, programming assistance by Adam Bellin and graphics by Hilary Mills.
Released by Activision in 1984 for the ZX Spectrum, and in 1985 for the Amstrad CPC.

Converted for the Atari 2600 by Dan Kitchen and Adam Bellin, with graphics by Hilary Mills. Released by Activision in 1985.

Converted for the MSX computers by Robert Rutkowski, and released by Activision in 1985.

Converted for the IBM PCjr and TANDY 1000 and their compatibles by Robert Rutkowski, and released by Activision in 1986.

Conversion for the Sega Master System done at Activision, and published by SEGA of America, Inc. in 1987.

Conversion for the Nintendo Entertainment System by GlennHills Graphics Co.:
Programming by Works, Susumu Endoh, Satomi Miya and James M. Kirk
Graphics by Yoshio Tsuboike, Kaketo Tsuguri and Satoru Miyazaki
Sounds by Yoshiaki Tsuruoka and Tadashi Sou
Editing by Masatoshi Kanemitsu
Produced by Tom Sloper
Directed by Ryuuichi Yarita
Published by Activision in 1988.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


This year's Halloween theme will likely only consist of one game, but it's a rather big one - in fact, it's the biggest single comparison I've written so far, so prepare yourselves with plenty of coffee or other refreshments to keep you awake. Sorry to make the Halloween month so short this time, but these things do take quite a bit of time to prepare properly, which I don't really have too much these days. With all that crazy commentary having been going on about the recent reboot/remake of the film series, I forced myself not to take part in it until after the whole circus had quieted down and I had actually seen the movie myself. Not that seeing the new movie would have anything to do with my writing of this blog, other than for making me do the obvious statement, that Ghostbusters really is a classic 80's movie, and shall always remain as such, in both good and bad, even though I cannot but feel that the 2016 Ghostbusters movie was unfairly prejudged. I didn't think it was as bad as it could have been, but it certainly cannot beat the 80's version. But more than being a classic 80's movie, it is also almost solely responsible for making movie-licence games a viable marketing plot; after all, it was Activision's best-selling game until 1987.

Before we start pulling the game apart, let's take a brief look at the game's status from back then and now. For starters, Ernie Hudson (who played Winston in the movie) has said that his kids hated the C64 game - they thought it sucked. A good marketing speech as any, I'd reckon. Back in the day, the game received mixed reviews from computing magazines, although for the C64 original, the reviews tended to be more favourable. Now, the original has a score of 7.9 from a total of 270 votes at Lemon64, placing it at #91 in the Top voters' list based on at least 100 votes. The Atari 8-bit version has a 7.7 from 135 votes at Atarimania, but the A2600 version there has no score at all - I had to look up that one from MobyGames, where it has a score of 3.4 from 13 votes. Other necessaries from MobyGames are the Apple ][, Sega and NES versions: the Apple version has 4.0 from 10 votes, the Sega version has 3.5 from 19 votes and the NES version has 2.2 from 30 votes. At World of Spectrum, their version has a score of 6.69 from 69 votes (coincidence?), while the Amstrad conversion made by the same team has a score of 12.22 out of 20.00. If you want to count in the review at CPC Game Reviews, the reviewer has only given it a measly 3 out of 10.  At Generation MSX, 15 voters have given their version 3.5 stars out of five. 29 Abandonia visitors have rated the IBM/TANDY version 4.1 out of 5.0, while their editor has given it a full score.

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HISTORY, DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


For anyone who lived in the 1980's, Ghostbusters should be a well known franchise. The original movie was conceived as an intended reimagining of old ghost comedies for Dan Aykroyd and his fellow Saturday Night Live alum John Belushi, but due to unforeseen circumstances and budget limitations, the 1984 feature film became a more focused and localized effort, just to get the story started. This refined story was written specifically by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis for John Candy and Eddie Murphy in addition to Belushi and Aykroyd, but Belushi having died of a drug overdose in 1982, and Candy and Murphy being committed to other movie projects, the remaining roles fell to what we now consider the classic Ghostbusters combo: Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore and the movie's co-writer Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler. Due to these changes in cast, the script had to go through yet another overhaul to make sense with this set of actors. So, while the first movie is now considered a classic, it certainly went through a lot to become something that it wasn't originally intended as.

In short, the plot goes like this: ghosts start appearing in New York, and cause a lot of trouble. After losing their jobs at the Columbia University, our three main protagonists and parapsychologists Venkman, Stantz and Spengler establish a paranormal investigation and extermination service called Ghostbusters. The case of Dana Barrett gets them into a deep mess with a demonic spirit called Zuul, a servant to Gozer, a god of destruction. While the Ghostbusters are hunting for ghosts around New York, Zuul and another demon called Vinz Clortho take possession of Dana and her neighbour, declaring themselves the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper. Naturally, the building in which the two possessed people live was designed by a mad doctor as a gateway to summon Gozer and bring about the end of the world, so the Ghostbusters are made to fight the demons and a destructor summoned by Gozer, the form of which is chosen by the team. In short, it all sounds confusing and... short, but the movie definitely deserves its classic status.

According to the "Making of Ghostbusters" article at Next Generation, David Crane had been working on a game called Car Wars for the C64 and Atari, which featured armed automobiles in a city, while he was offered the job to make Ghostbusters into a computer game. Because the offer was made early in the film's production, there was very little material to base the game on. However, he quickly dropped Car Wars, but used parts of it as the basis for the Ghostbusters game - even some integral bits which weren't even included in the movie. Apparently, the rest of the development took about 6 weeks, and it has been also reported, that most of the game had already been finished by the time Crane saw the movie for the first time. In this respect, it could be said he did a great job, but much like the movie itself, the game was supposed to be something else entirely before Activision obtained the licence and handed it over to David Crane.

The game cannot be described very easily, because it's not of any traditional category - which is definitely one of its strengths, but in some cases, the lack of traditionality becomes too much of a burden. Basically, it's some sort of a multi-genre arcade game with a focus on finances. You set up an account, purchase a car and ghost-trapping equipment, drive around the map catching ghosts (if you have the equipment for it) and make profit. The end game can only be reached if you have more than $10.000 capital at the end of the game, provided you play with a new account - the required amount of end capital is relevant to your starting capital. Ghostbusting can be hard work, if you don't know what you're doing, so I suggest you read this entry with patience and see what you should do in which version.

For a game from 1984, particularly one started from remnants of a very different idea and rushed to get done to cash in from the movie hype, I have to admit David Crane's Ghostbusters, at least in its original form, is a work of genius. It hit all the right buttons for a young Ghostbusters fan at that time, and gave a nicely varied and complex gaming experience to give everlasting impressions. Although I now have to instruct new retrogamers to proceed with caution, make no mistake - it's a classic worth experiencing, much like the original movie.

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LOADING


Because Ghostbusters was such a big hit game, it was released and re-released several times by different publishers on compilations and mid-price labels and whatnot. So, for a change, to see which tape versions should be worth considering for purchasing into your collections, we shall take a look at the loading times for the tape versions of the game.

COMMODORE 64
- original Activision release: 2 minutes 49 seconds + pause for loading screen
- Ricochet re-release: 3 minutes 15 seconds > Invade-a-Load
- Beau Jolly's Big Box re-release: 2 minutes 47 seconds > just multicoloured loading bars
- Commodore Force covertape re-release: 3 minutes 22 seconds > Novaload screen
- Spanish version: 2 minutes 10 seconds > just light blue

ATARI 8-BIT: 15 minutes 36 seconds

ZX SPECTRUM
- original 48k Activision release: 2 minutes 42 seconds
- Activision's 128k release from 1986: 5 minutes 15 seconds
- Dro Soft 48k/128k re-release: 4 minutes 53 seconds*
- Proein 48k/128k re-release: 3 minutes 4 seconds*
* Could be the other way around, the tape images weren't labeled to specify them.

AMSTRAD CPC
- v1: 3 minutes 48 seconds
- v2: 3 minutes 57 seconds

MSX
- 2400 baud: 2 minutes 40 seconds**
- 1600 baud: 5 minutes 1 second**
** Both baudrates are listed, just in case.

For purposes of collecting, the original release is always the preferred choice, but at least in the case of Spectrum gamers, you also need to know, which releases work only on an old 48k rubbermat Speccy, and which ones can also be loaded on the later Spectrum models. Apart from the original 1984 48k Spectrum release, all the other tested versions seem to work on any 128k Spectrum - apart from the +3, naturally. Speaking of which, the SPECTRUM version doesn't seem to have been released in disk format - only tape, which makes it the only computer that didn't have a disk release. Of course, the APPLE and DOS versions were only released on disk, but then you would expect that, as you would expect only cartridges for ATARI 2600, NINTENDO and SEGA. MSX users also got themselves a cartridge version, but no disk release. C64'ers had it in all possible formats: tape, disk and cartridge; although the cartridge version was only ever released in Australia through HES. It should probably be noted, that the original Activision tape release for the C64 had some sort of a copy protection, that wouldn't complete loading the game, if you had a 1541 disk drive connected.

Activision loading screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, Apple ][, Amstrad CPC.
Bottom row, left to right: IBM PCjr/TANDY (x2), MSX, ZX Spectrum.


In its original C64 form, Ghostbusters used a specific type of a loader, which paused in the middle of loading to show the loading screen. Similarly to other early Activision games, the loading screen would only show the company logo as largely as possible at the top of the screen, followed by the game title in a more or less graphical manner, but the rest of it would normally be just copyrights and credits if necessary. Such is the case with Ghostbusters, and there certainly are many copyrights and credits to show here. Only the SPECTRUM loader shows two basic ghost sprites on both sides of the game title, and there are also some variations to the Activision logo. Of course, the original looks more fitting, being the original - and it's more colourful, too.

We end this section with a quick word about the DOS version, which really isn't a DOS version as such. It's a booter disk image, which will only work properly on an IBM PCjr or a TANDY PC with at least 128k RAM, so you need to set up your chosen PC emulator accordingly. It's a bit of a hassle, I grant you, and if you're not too familiar with the inner workings of PCem, DOSbox or even D-Fend Reloaded (a very recommendable frontend for DOSbox), I cannot honestly recommend it. Even more disappointingly, it will not work properly on DOSbox either, since the game will not let you go past the equipment selection (joystick problems), nor does it work on your regular old MS-DOS based computers, because of the restrictive hardware requirements. So, because I haven't been able to play the PCjr booter version yet, I shall have to base my assumptions on other people's reviews of it, but if I ever get it working properly, I shall update the entry accordingly.

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PLAYABILITY


The original David Crane version of Ghostbusters starts off with the pretext of your team already having had the initial encounter with the paranormal, so after being kicked out of the Columbia University, our three parapsychology professors decide to go into the business of catching ghosts. Your first job is to set up a new Ghostbusters franchise into your town, which requires you to enter your name and an optional bank account number. If you're playing Ghostbusters for the first time, the game sets up a new account for you, but you need to remember the name you typed in exactly as you typed it in for future sessions. Unless you're playing either the NES or the A2600 version, that is. Or the SEGA version, for that matter, although I need to clarify something before we move on: while the SEGA version makes you enter initials in the beginning for setting up a new account, and you earn money to reach a goal, the account number is never given to you, even if you manage to complete the game, so the option to continue to game with a bank account number is basically a useless feature, unless you happen to know some cheat codes.

Now, without some sort of a car, you won't be getting anywhere in the game, so it's obligatory. The next step is to select one of four possible cars, although if you start a new bank account, you will not be able to get the most expensive vehicle. The "Compact" is the cheapest option, and it looks like a VW Beetle. It can carry 5 pieces of equipment, which is, quite frankly, not enough to build a successful franchise. The "1963 Hearse" represents the classic Ghostbusters vehicle (Ecto-1, as it's called in the movie), and although it's considerably more expensive than option #1, it can carry 9 pieces of equipment. Car number 3, the "Station Wagon" can carry 11 items, and is not too much more expensive than the hearse, but enough not to make it the most sensible choice on your first run. The "High-Performance" car is perhaps the prettiest of the lot, but costs almost three times as much as the Station Wagon, and can only carry 7 items, which not only makes it the least sensible choice, but also impossible to buy on your first run. The thing is, though, all four cars also have different top speeds, which helps you to keep up with the city's ever-rising Psycho-Kinetic Energy level, and the more ghosts you catch within the allotted time (PK meter tops at 9999), the more money you will get, and your primary mission is to earn enough money to make up for the bank's advance, or more clearly put, you need to end with more money than you began with.

The NES version shares a curious similarity with the ATARI 2600 version, in that you can only use the Hearse as your vehicle. I cannot condemn the singular choice, however, since at least it's the vehicle used in the movie, but it does set some limitations. Neither of the said versions also actually feature any sort of a save-feature in the manner of a bank account or a passcode or any such thing. In the case of the A2600 version, it is acceptable and understandable, but NES games usually tend to have some sort of a passcode system, where necessary.

Once you have selected your car, you are supposed to select a few items to equip your chosen car with. If you want to make this more difficult for yourself, you can always choose less items than your car can carry, but in order to have any sort of chance to win the game, you will need at least 4 or 5 items. First, at least one Ghost Trap is required; second, the Marshmallow Sensor; and third, the Ghost Bait. I'm not completely sure about the PK Energy Detector, but it should be useful at having some sort of an idea, how much time you have left. Also, if you are more wealthy to begin with, you might want to get the Portable Laser Confinement System, so you will not have to go back to Ghostbusters HQ every time your trap/s is/are filled. As for the other items: the Image Intensifier allows you to see less important ghosts flying towards the center of the map, as well as passing you on the streets, while the Ghost Vacuum lets you suck in and trap those very ghosts.

The A2600 version seems to only feature four items you can purchase for your Ecto-1-a-like: the Image Intensifier, the Ghost Bait, the Vacuum, and the Ghost Trap, of which you can have up to 5 pieces with your allowance. So, three items are missing, although you wouldn't really need them in this version either. By contrast, the NES and SMS versions have some more items to equip your ghostbusting vehicle with. Before I go on describe the NES and SMS equipment differences in any detail, I might as well mention at this point, that the equipment shop can be accessed in mid-game, as it has been added into the map in both NES and SMS versions to replace one of the regular buildings in the top section of the map.

So, the NES equipment shop is missing at least the Marshmallow Sensor and the PK Energy Detector, and I think it's because you already have them, but there are two items that look very much alike: the Ghost Alarm and the Sound Generator. According to the NES game manual, the Ghost Alarm alerts you to paranormal activity from a distance, and the Sound Generator slows down ghosts in the stairway. The other new items are: Ghost Food, to use as bait to lure the stairway ghosts; Anti-Ghost Suit, to provide added protection in the stairs; and you also need to buy the Capture Beam in order to be able to catch ghosts, but then you can also upgrade it to Hyper Beam, giving you higher beams. The Super Trap is basically an equivalent of the original Portable Laser Confinement System.

In the SEGA version, you get even more new things to waste your money on. At least, now all the regular equipment from the original version have been kept in, but in addition to those, you also get upgraded "Super" versions of the PK Energy Detector, the Marshmallow Sensor and even the Ghost Vacuum. Also, both the High Capacity Traps from the NES version and the Portable Laser Confinement System from the original have been included for whatever reason. There are four completely new items, however: Super Anion Beam, Ghost Paralysis System, Turbo Charger and Defensive Wall. With the Super Anion (Ion) Beam, your beams will last longer; the Ghost Paralysis System slows the ghosts down; the Turbo Charger will make your car run faster; and a Defensive Wall can be placed in the middle of the road to keep ghosts, gatekeepers and keymasters from passing through - but it's a bit useless, since you can only use it once per game.

Having equipped your Ectomobile to your liking, the game starts in the map screen, showing a confined area of a roughly generalized version of New York City, and your car placed somewhere in the middle of the lower part of it, shown as the iconic Ghostbusters logo. If you're playing the NES version, you need to head into the Equipment Shop first, since that bit was skipped in favour of some sort of an introduction to how the game plays before you're given the possibilty to equip your vehicle. Singularly, the A2600 version boots up to a halted version of the very simplistic map screen (memory restrictions), and you need to press the Select key in order to get to the Equipment Shop, and then use the Left Difficulty switch to start ghostbusting.

The map screen shows us 30 different buildings, of which 20 are really in use - you cannot access the buildings edging the left and right sides of the screen. In the middle of the map, you can see the ZUUL-marked building, which can only be accessed at the end of the game, if you have managed to make enough money. Next to the left-most accessible building in the lowest row, you can see the Ghostbusters HQ, which you need to visit every time you run out of men, traps or beam energy. By pressing the Space Bar in the map screen, you can view your current status.

If a building starts flashing red, the building is haunted by a ghost, and you must make haste to catch it before the ghost escapes and moves elsewhere. The most probable way to catch a ghost in action is to drive to the street below the flashing building and pulling up to it by pulling the joystick up and pressing the fire button to enter it - although of course, this will only launch a driving sequence. Catching one of these ghosts is worth a few hundred dollars. If a building turns purple as you pass it, it means something's about to happen in that building soon. If a building turns white as you pass it, the Staypuft Man has targeted it as its next building to smash up fairly soon, but that sort of thing only happens after the PK Energy has gone past 5000, and Marshmallow attacks should only happen once during each thousand after that. As for the ghosts flying around in the map, you don't really need to start worrying about them until the PK Energy meter reaches 4000, but driving "over" the yellow ghosts on the map will make them halt, and you can suck them up with your Ghost Vacuum during the driving sections. The reason why you will have to worry about the ghosts, though, is because they are the ones building up the PK Energy in small leaps.

You will also see a key and a lock roaming around the city map in a seemingly random manner. Of course, these are Zuul the Gatekeeper and Vinz Clortho the Keymaster, which, in the movie, had taken possession of the bodies of Dana Barrett (as portrayed by Sigourney Weaver) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). In the A2600 version, you won't even see these two, but in the SEGA version, they are actually harmful - touching them while roaming around the map will cost you some money, so try to steer clear of them until absolutely necessary.

Getting from point A to point B in the map requires you to waste some time in a very straightforward driving section. The only actual purpose for this is to use the Ghost Vacuum as you drive through all the places you caught the ghosts in the map screen. In the original version, the effect of all this is simply to keep the PK Energy level from building up in leaps as the ghosts go into the ZUUL-marked building, and most versions of course follow this rule. As you might have guessed already, the NES and SMS versions give you extra money for all the ghosts caught on the road as well, which is only logical, really, since your team is the only one in town capable of catching the ghosts. The further away the ghosts are when you vacuum them up, the more cash you will be rewarded for the catch. To make up for the overflow of money, the NES and SMS versions have some added elements in the road segments, most particularly other cars and potholes which you might crash into. Crash enough times and you won't reach your destination, and some money will go into repairing the car. Therefore, while both NES and SMS versions also show the cars' top speeds to better effect than most other versions, the speed isn't much use, when you're crashing into things appearing at unexpected spots. To make things even worse for the NES version, you also need to worry about picking up fuel barrels from the road, to keep your car going. If your gas tank dries up, you will stop and the ghostbusters will emergy from the car and start pushing it to the nearest gas station, which will of course cost both time and money. At least in all versions, you will slow down and pull to the side automatically when you reach your destination. Uniquely, in the APPLE version, the driving section scrolls both vertically and horizontally, your car moves sideways slightly slower than in other versions, and the whole thing has been viewed from even closer to the ground than in the original, making it more difficult to catch any ghosts. Not impossible, just a bit more difficult.

So, once we get to the scene of crime, it is possible that the ghost(s) have left the area already, in which case you just pop in to look a bit silly and late, and automatically go back into the car a couple of seconds later. If the ghost(s) is/are still there, this is how it goes: you need to place two men (one at a time) on both sides of the building entrance, preferably facing each other (although it isn't necessary), but far enough from each other not to cross the streams once they have been turned on. The further apart you are, the more likely you are to get the randomly flying slimer-type ghost trapped between your streams. When you feel like you have placed your two men in their optimal positions, press the fire button to turn on the ion capture beams. This is where things get more difficult to explain, and things start differing a lot.

Those versions following the original design, the capture beams are leaning a bit forward from your man, and reach a height of about four times the men's height. Also, the beam's functionality in terms of catching ghosts is limited to keeping the ghosts from moving past the beams, from whichever direction they're attempting to move through the beams from. In the NES and SMS versions, the capture beams go straight up, are a bit shorter (so that there would be a reason to upgrade them, which there really isn't), and actually sort of capture the ghosts so that you can just walk them on top of the Ghost Trapper and trap them. And yes, there are more than one ghost in a ghostbusting scene on the NES and SMS versions, while the normal versions only have one, but then it's only logical, since you get more stuff to buy and the store is still open after you've actually started playing.

But that's really the problem. In the SEGA version, most of the new stuff that you can buy is useless - I never felt the need to buy them. At least in the NES version, you will actually need some of the things for the staircase section, which I haven't really gotten into properly yet. For the basic game, all the things you actually need are the same things you need in the original game and its straight ports. Both the SEGA and NES versions also suffer from a lack of a more pressing purpose for all the ghostbusting, since no matter what amount of money you will end up near the end of the game, you will still be sent to the ZUUL building.

I got a bit sidetracked there, and I need to go back into comparing the actual ghostbusting section for a while longer - bear with me. While the basic idea of catching ghosts is similar enough for all the versions based on the original, there's still quite a bit of variety in ghost behaviour and the way things generally work between versions.

In the SPECTRUM and MSX versions, for instance, the slimers tend to avoid the beams rather more easily than in the original, after which they tend to veer off to the left side of the screen and stay there more often than not, so you need to be properly quick to catch any ghosts. Also, only the round thing at the top of the bait's vacuum-ray thing is able to catch the ghost in the Spectrum version, so it's actually rather unlikely that you will be catching much of ghosts at all. The AMSTRAD version, on the other hand, lets ghosts sometimes slip through the ion beams, but the game runs somewhat slower on Amstrad than most other versions, so it should be a bit easier to catch ghosts regardless of the rather glaring bug. At least all the other regular versions play rather like the original - the ghosts fly around the scene in a slightly less hasty manner and much more likely with a more thorough scouting of the area.

Before I move on to comparing the finale, I need to talk about how to deal with Marshmallow attacks. You will notice the ghosts start to move towards the ZUUL building faster than usual, so that's when you need to act, before the Marshie materializes and destroys a building, costing you $4000 each time. You need to use the Ghost Bait to deal with this situation, and you need to use it while the ghosts are gathering up. All the versions using a keyboard use the 'B' key for planting a bait. In the A2600 version, you need to move the right difficulty switch in whichever direction you can. In the SEGA version, you just press the button '2'. The American NES version doesn't seem to even feature the Marshmallow Man in his usual form, but if you play the Japanese FAMICOM release, you will get the Marshmallow attacks as they should appear, which can be deflected by pressing the Start button at the right moment. One more rather curious difference regarding this bit can be seen in the SPECTRUM version, where you need to drive to the building where Mr. Staypuft is about to appear, before you are actually able to lay the Ghost Bait on the street.

So, the final confrontation in the original game and its closest equivalents is nothing more than a timing exercise, in which the mission is to get two of your men through the door guarded by Mr. Staypuft. As usual, you have three men riding the car - all fairly caucasian-looking (no Winston, so no wonder Ernie Hudson's kids hated the game?), so you have one spare man, if Marshie manages to squeeze one of them. If you lose two of your men, it's game over. The rest of it is just an animation sequence. Surprisingly, even the A2600 version features an ending sequence close enough to this.

As most of you know, the NES and SMS versions don't. In the NES version, once the PKE level has reached its peak, you go to the ZUUL building straight on without any need to pass through Mr. Staypuft, but instead, you are taken to a staircase from your worst nightmares. The SEGA version also features a staircase, but it's not nearly as bad, and you still need to pass Marshie to access the staircase. Anyhoo, the NES staircase features four ghosts constantly guarding the place and following your every move, and you control all three ghostbusters walking in line simultaneously by tapping on the A button and pressing a selected direction on the D-pad. You just need to reach the top of the staircase and enter the door there to reach the top platform, where you need to then battle Gozer and her guards. So, before you even think about playing the NES Ghostbusters, get yourself a turbo controller, because this section will kill your thumbs like nothing ever has. Also, you need to purchase at least some Ghost Food to distract the guarding ghosts in the staircase (by pressing the Start button). Buying a Sound Generator would be a good idea, since it slows the staircase ghosts down, but it costs a couple of small fortunes, so it's unlikely you will have a chance to buy it. The Anti-Ghost Suit gives you two extra hits (now 5 instead of 3) from the ghosts, so it's not much use either. So, yeah... this really is the hardest part of the game, and once you get to fight Gozer, it's all cups and cakes in comparison, just as long as you have brought a Proton Pack with you to even be able to fight Gozer. That bit is just a basic single-screen shoot'em-up, which fits the Nintendo model of thought very well.

The SMS version lets you control just one ghostbuster at a time, which is a very welcome design change, and you can also shoot in this version, although you can only shoot in a sort of forward-above angle. Another welcome change is, that you only need to get through the top door with one of your ghostbusters, since you will only be fighting one man versus Gozer. This, of course, doesn't go completely together with the movie, since you're supposed to cross the streams to cause the gigantic energy surge or whatever to stop Gozer from taking over, but a regular shooter does make a more exciting gaming experience. The final battle itself is a bit different, perhaps even a bit more difficult than in the NES version, but despite that, the SMS end segment is, I dare say, much more playable and enjoyable than the NES equivalent.

Before I make my end statements for the section, there are a few minor things you should know about. For example, the APPLE version lets you waste all your Ghost Bait at once, if you tap the B-key repeatedly for a single Marshmallow Man attack. This can prove a major disadvantage, since these attacks will happen at least 4 times each game, and you lose $4000 every time Mr. Staypuft destroys a building. The reason why you might panic and push the key repeatedly is, because the game slows down a bit whenever a Marshie attack occurs, and you might experience some uncertainty, whether or not your command went through. And that can also happen - because there's something almost like a CPU overload whenever this happens, it could well be that the key press might not register. Also, in the NES version, you are actually able to go to the ZUUL building after certain goals have been met, but it's less certain that you will be able to get through the staircase without all the possible extra equipment available. So, it's preferable to earn as much money as you can, and get to the end at the very last minute. The NES and SMS versions also allows you to realign the ion beam to different angles, but it's not particularly important - what is, is the length of the beams. I mentioned the FAMICOM version earlier, and this next thing should have probably been mentioned there as well: the Japanese version is quite a bit more difficult than the North American release. Not only does it feature the Marshmallow Man in his usual form, but you also get more cars on the roads and slightly more difficult ghostbusting sections. There are also some more insignificant differences, such as what is allowed to be typed for your name, how to work the forklift and the cursors in the equipment shop and what's the ghosts' range of movement in each version, but I'm not going to dwell on those.

In the end, when you want to make a decision on which version you should prefer, you only have a few criteria to base your opinions on. First, if it's the most entertaining to play - this being the game's design choices more fitting for your taste. Second, if the game fits enough with the source material, this time being the original Ghostbusters movie. Third, if the game offers any proper replay value. While the original game by David Crane doesn't feature as many playable segments as the NES and SMS versions, at least the original and all the straight ports of it give you a possibility to make progress in your career by fair means, unlike the console versions. The NES version feels like a prototype of the SMS version, which is strange, since it was released AFTER the SMS version, but I have to admit, if it weren't for the unnecessary items and the lack of a properly working passcode system, the SMS version would be the best one around. The regular ghostbusting segments are much more fun than in the original, and the driving segments are also more about driving than just catching ghosts. This is why I have to give the scores as such (and I can only assume the IBM PCjr/TANDY version is at least as good as where I placed it, when it is played on a proper machine):

1. COMMODORE 64 / ATARI 800 / SEGA MASTER SYSTEM
2. AMSTRAD CPC / ZX SPECTRUM / MSX
3. IBM PCjr + TANDY 1000
4. NES / A2600 / APPLE ][

---

GRAPHICS


Since the Playability section took such a huge amount of work to work through, it's only fitting that the other parts of the game are less bothersome to deal with. There really are only a few things to get through, and since we already dealt with the loading screens in their own designated section, we shall begin from the title screens. And before I begin, I'd like to take this opportunity to mention and thank MobyGames and PixelatedArcade for having screenshots for the IBM PCjr/Tandy version, which I have borrowed all the relevant screenshots from. If I ever get to actually play the said version properly, I shall take my own screenshots if necessary.

Title screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, IBM PCjr, ZX Spectrum, Apple ][, Amstrad CPC.
Bottom row, left to right: Sega Master System, Nintendo NES, MSX, Atari 800.


Naturally, the game starts by showing us a huge, almost full screen pixelation of the famous Ghostbusters logo, designed by Michael C. Gross. Most versions follow the original North American form of the ghost looking left, and the no-sign being sort of right-handed; only the Spectrum version has the European mirrored Ghostbusters logo pixelated instead. Concerning the title styling: the correct way is to feature the no-ghost logo in the letter 'o' of Ghostbusters, so the NES, SPECTRUM and APPLE ][ versions went a bit lazy in that regard.

What most of us could have never expected at the time, and many of newcomers still wouldn't, is that the title screen actually features the only known occasion of a chiptune karaoke in any game, ever. CORRECTION, 23rd of October, 2015: As cubamanuel pointed out in the comments section, it is not the only game to feature chiptune karaoke, but at least it's very likely the first example of one. The bouncing ball makes the whole screen all the more fun to look at - you would otherwise probably just skip the title and start the game. Of course, the text styling varies from version to version, as do the highlights, if there are any. Any of the other possible text bits, I don't really think are much of worth in a graphical sense.

As for the actual quality of the graphics - we can safely say that the wider the pixels, the lesser the quality in drawings in general. Also, the inability to avoid colour clash makes the SPECTRUM drawing of the logo a bit weird-looking. But, while the logo is admittedly important for the franchise, let's not focus solely on that one.

Creating an account. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 800, Amstrad CPC, IBM PCjr.
Bottom row, left to right: MSX, ZX Spectrum, Apple ][, Sega Master System.


Although I hate to compare the visual worth of text, these parts in Ghostbusters are somewhat crucial, since you are filling forms and receiving information in a rather official manner. While most versions use a wildly different colouring, the only difference of practicality is with the colouring of your input; the ATARI and APPLE versions go with a single colour for all text. As for the style, I'd say the SMS version doesn't look much like an official document. As I mentioned earlier, the NES and A2600 versions don't feature this bit at all.

Car options. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 800, Amstrad CPC.
Middle row, left to right: IBM PCjr, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row, left to right: MSX, NES, Atari 2600, Sega Master System.


Now, let's take a look at all the four cars, where available. In order, we have: 1) the Compact model, 2) the Hearse, 3) the Station Wagon and 4) the High Performance car. In the NES and A2600 versions, the Hearse is your only option. The Compact looks very much like a VW Beetle; the Hearse is not quite the 1959 Cadillac it's supposed to be, but a shorter version of it; the Station Wagon could be any generic station wagon; and the High-Performance car could be some sort of a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am thing, judging by the middle part of the chassis and the headlights, but then the car wasn't really in production at the time. Whatever.

Apart from the somewhat strange (if perhaps necessary) colour alterations, the only really strange thing that catches my eye is, that the Station Wagon and the High-Performance car are bigger than the Hearse in the AMSTRAD version, and contrarily, the Hearse is considerably larger than the latter two cars in the SPECTRUM version. Not that it really affects gameplay, but if you happen to be idiotically particular and obsessive about these sorts of things, you might want to take these things into consideration. The real visual differences can be found in the SEGA version, though, in which the Beetle has been changed to some other generic cheap car, the Hearse looks more like an ambulance, the Station Wagon has been renamed to "Common" and looks common enough, and the Sports car looks not a vast deal different from the other cars. In the SEGA version's defence, you can already see it does have more detailed and colourful graphics.

Items and forklifts/cursors from the equipment shop.


Much as with the cars, the items and the forklifts look much the same in all but a few versions. Sure, the versions more directly comparable to the C64 one use wider pixels for most graphics, while the SPECTRUM and MSX versions go for a more neat and pretty look, but the really big differences can only be found on consoles. Before I go there, I'd like to point out that in the SPECTRUM version, all the items appear in the same colour as your chosen car.

While the home computer versions of Ghostbusters use a cartoonish funny forklift for moving around items you purchase, the SEGA forklift looks more industrial and serious. The NES and A2600 versions, by contrast, only use a simple cursor. As for the items for purchase, the ones in the A2600 version look expectedly more simplified and crude, and there's a smaller amount of them as well. The NES and SMS versions have lots of more items, all of which are multi-coloured and very detailed - the SEGA graphics being even more so.

A regular view of the city map. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Apple ][, Atari 800.
Middle row: NES, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Sega Master System. Bottom row: IBM PCjr, Amstrad CPC, Atari 2600.


If you're playing the C64 original or any straight conversion of it, you should be getting into the map screen after you have finished your purchases. The ATARI 2600 version actually boots up to an unplayable version of the map screen, in which you need to reset to get to the equipment shop. Also, the NES version starts pretty much straight from the map after you have pressed the Start button to start.

All versions of Ghostbusters follow the original design of a 4x5 streets' grid map. Apart from the NES and SMS versions, only 20 out of the 30 buildings in sight are accessible - the said two exceptions give access to all buildings in sight, except the corner ones. To minimize chaos, all the buildings are coloured in just two or three basic colours, with the primary building colour being either green or blue. The streets are mostly some shade of grey, but on APPLE they're black and on NES they're greyish blue, since the buildings are more grey than green. In the A2600 version, all the buildings are just plain green with black edges - no details whatsoever. The MSX version has all the buildings just green and black, which makes it perhaps look more monochrome than the SPECTRUM version, but the Ghostbusters car icon is properly coloured, as are the ghosts, unlike in the SPECTRUM version, where the ghosts are black and the car is a monochrome red no-ghost frame. Then again, the SPECTRUM screen has more detail, so it's really what floats your boat. Again, the SMS version looks the prettiest with all the buildings viewed properly from above, but the ghosts look more like ducks, and the Keymaster and Gatekeeper are just two people walking the streets. Also, the PK Energy meter has been changed to a filling block from the usual numeric version.

Visit to the Ghostbusters HQ. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 800, Apple ][.
Middle row: MSX, Sega Master System, NES, ZX Spectrum (128k).
Bottom row: Amstrad CPC, IBM PCjr, Atari 2600.
You start the game with your car directly above the Ghostbusters HQ building, which you can enter straight on if you wish to - you don't even need to drive. Of course, there is no need to do that, since you're already in full strength. But when you do, you will see three men in ghostbusting uniforms walking out of the building and into your chosen car, which can be seen in most versions parked to the right edge of the screen just so that you only see the rear half of it. In the AMSTRAD and A2600 version, the car is not visible, although you wouldn't necessarily even expect that in the A2600 version, since you can't even see the Ghostbusters sign on the building. The only way to recognize it as the right building is the different colouring from all the other buildings, and even on the map screen, you only notice it as flashing in a different colour than usual. The NES version doesn't even have a separate screen for the GHQ, you just park your car outside the small building by the side of the road, and you see three miniature people come out of the building and get in the car. It's a strange design choice, but it goes together with the Equipment Shop and the ZUUL building - you can only see what's inside.

Examples of the driving sections. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 800, Apple ][.
Middle row: MSX, Sega Master System, NES, ZX Spectrum. Bottom row: Amstrad CPC, Atari 2600, IBM PCjr.


Once you have selected your first destination for either doing some ghostbusting or perhaps visit the equipment shop, depending on the version of course, you will get to the driving section, which will probably tire and/or bore you senseless in about 20-30 similar sections. If you happen to pass over and stop some ghosts on their way to the ZUUL building while choosing your route on the map, you will pass the same ghosts in the driving sections, and you will have a possibility to vacuum them up and stop them from adding a bunch to the PK Energy counter. The road you will travel is always straight and ordinarily has three lanes with nothing but ghosts to catch, if that. Since there's nothing else to see, the graphics are huge and more or less blocky. If you're lucky, the ghosts and the Ghostbusters logo are animated - the ghosts do a sort of dance and the logo glows white and blue. On the MSX, though, the logo switches wildly between white, green and blue. Still, it's better than not having any effect at all, like how it is in the NES, SMS, SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD and APPLE versions. Perhaps it's not very important, but it's still an effect that gives some extra charm to versions that have it.

Other mentionable things here are the lack of both the info panel and any animation aside from the scrolling road on the AMSTRAD version, in addition to the horrid amount of flickering of both road markings and ghosts; the overly wide road in the APPLE version, requiring scrolling both horizontally and vertically; the lack of any roadside decorations on any version but the two least similar to the original; and the peculiarly varying shapes and sizes of the ghosts in all versions. As usual, the SMS version looks the finest in every way, but the NES version isn't far behind.

Ghostbusting here we go. Top row: Commodore 64. 2nd row: Atari 800. 3rd row: Apple ][.
Bottom left: NES. Bottom right: Sega Master System.


As any city normally would, the generic city in the game - at least the 20-26 accessible buildings of it, has a lot of variety in at least the colouring of each building, if not the sizes and details of them. I have tried to choose screenshots of, at most, four different looking buildings for each version, where such thing is possible. Of course, this takes a lot of room, so I have divided the compiled sets into two pictures.

Most versions have a very good variety of building colours and details: there are at least four different kinds of doorways, two or three kinds of windows, at least four or five different wall colours, and from what I gather, three different patterns (tile, plain and concrete). The ghosts and ghostbusters wear the same colours all over the city, so the other chosen colours for the backgrounds have chosen to be accordingly suitable.

The most obvious differences can be seen on four particular versions. First, the ATARI 2600 version only has a single style of a background for any ghostbusting action - a grey building with only a bunch of windows for decorations. Second, the AMSTRAD version features only two buildings for backgrounds - the one with the revolving doors and the one that looks like Ghostbusters HQ. The other two vastly different versions are, of course, the NES and SMS versions, of which the former uses a very restricted manner of varying the building graphics (all the windows similarly placed, just a couple of types of doorways and a very limited use of colour and detail overall; and the latter has a lot more detail and colour, but focuses more on the variety of ghosts than backgrounds.

Ghostbusting here we go again. Top row: MSX. 2nd row, left: Atari 2600. 2nd row, right: Amstrad CPC.
3rd row: IBM PCjr. 4th row: ZX Spectrum 128k. Bottom row: ZX Spectrum 48k.


To me, the most interesting bit in the comparison came, when I noticed that the 48k and 128k SPECTRUM versions have some big colouring differences. In the 48k version, all the outer walls of each building are basically colourless, the windows have less details, the colouring is overall a bit backwards compared to the 128k version, and your car is only seen parked in the 128k version. In some ways, the 48k version works better for having less colour in places, but the more colourful buildings in the 128k version are nicer to look at.

One thing I put high importance on, when comparing graphics depicting some sort of real life activity, even though this is in a more fantastical setting, is the plausibility of shapes and colourings in various things you could see in reality. Because Ghostbusters was a live-action movie for the most part, I should make some sort of a decision on which version pays the most tribute to the movie - what colour are the ghostbusting suits, how does the capture beam look like, and so on. Well, the suits are originally some shade of grey, there were various types of ghosts in the movie (although the slimers were mostly represented, who are green blob-like things), the streams were mostly red with blue smaller streams around it, and the capture beam was just a basic light with no real colour to it. There is no version of the game, that gets any of this completely or even remotely correct, so it's pretty much all the same how it looks. The only thing I can feel okay about, is the streams being proper linear streams instead of pulse-patterned orb-like lines.

As for the buildings and backgrounds in general, I'd say the SMS version looks easily the most believable in that regard, but the best original-style colouring and patterns can be found on the C64 and IBM versions. If you want to go for more radical colour choices, the 128k SPECTRUM, MSX and ATARI 8-BIT versions offer good alternatives.

Mr. Staypuft on the loose. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Apple ][, Atari 800.
Middle row: ZX Spectrum, Sega Master System, MSX. Bottom row: IBM PCjr, Atari 2600, Amstrad CPC.


When the PK Energy level passes 5000, the city becomes prone to becoming attacked by Mr. Staypuft. The way it happens is, the game notifies you of "Marshmallow Alert!", and the four ghosts start quickly gathering to some chosen place away from the ZUUL building, and if they manage to do so and combine themselves, Mr. Staypuft will emerge from the combined energy, stomping down the chosen building with a smile on his face. If you manage to press the required button or key to place the Ghost Bait, before the ghosts have reached their destination, they will steer towards the Ghost Bait instead, and you will catch Marshmallow Man, now wearing a frown on his face.

In most versions, the Marshmallow Man is rather pleasantly drawn to be about the size of one building block, and as a monochrome sprite, so it doesn't really take more space than necessary. Only in the two ATARI versions, it lacks both detail and finesse: the A2600 version makes him faceless and not as wide as a block, and the version for the 8-bit computers makes him as wide as a block and the two streets on both sides of it. Come to think of it, all the ghosts are kind of ugly blocky things on the ATARI 8-BIT as well. And before I forget, the SEGA version has a strangely Japanese/Anime-looking Mr. Staypuft, which I'm not very comfortable with, since Ghostbusters is a fairly Hollywoodian concept... but at least he has all the necessary colour there. I'm not entirely sure if the NES/FAMICOM version even features the Marshmallow attacks, since I haven't been able to reproduce them myself on any of my sessions playing either the North American or the Japanese release, but I have seen a screenshot of such an occurence on the internet.

Entering the ZUUL building from under Mr. Staypuft's feet. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum.
Middle row: IBM PCjr, MSX, Atari 800. Bottom row: Atari 2600, Sega Master System, Amstrad CPC.


Since we're on the subject of Mr. Staypuft, let's move straight onto the final interactive bit in the original game - entering the ZUUL building. Sorry about the bad screenshot for the APPLE version, but I couldn't be bothered to play the game three times through (I'm experiencing problems saving and loading the game for some reason) just to get to the ending - it takes over an hour to do so.

Anyway, Mr. Staypuft jumps back and forth both sides of the entrance, through which you must navigate your men. The Marshmallow Man's shape and size varies wildly depending on the version, but so does his manner of jumping. The only version, in which he retains the size from the map screen is the SPECTRUM version, which gives it an unexpected comic effect. On the A2600, he is wider than he is tall, and on the MSX, he's a bit too thin, but in all the rest of the versions, he looks pretty much his part. Well, perhaps the ATARI 8-BIT version makes him look too big, but he's supposed to be big as a... well, not house, more like a tower. As usual, the SMS version is the most detailed and colourful, but I should point out, that all of these screens match the rest of each version.

Ending bits from the NES version (top row) and the Sega Master System version (bottom row).


In the NES and SEGA versions, the last 5% of the game is taken by a staircase and a rooftop shoot'em-up section. On the NES, you need to climb 22 floors that look exactly the same and feature nothing but stairs, doors, floors, ghostbusters and those yellow generic ghosts. You can open the doors, but graphically, they're of little else use. In addition to those, you have the option to leave Ghost Food on the floor, but that's about it for the graphical offerings in the staircase. The rooftop looks almost as boring as a background, since there's nothing but grey blocks for a flooring. At least there's Gozer and her two dogs, as well as some mean-looking white ghosts showing their tongues at you. If you back up to the screen below the Gozer's fight screen, you can see Mr. Staypuft climbing up the wall closer and closer to the roof every time you back up to his screen. You can also see the building shown on the right, along with a better view of where Marshie is coming at.

The SEGA version gives us a slightly more colourful and a much shorter staircase, with no doors to open, but there are windows have different views instead. More importantly, every couple of floors up, you will meet a new kind of a ghost getting in your way. On the roof, there is only one screen to look at, but it's a 3D'ish view of your men fighting Gozer (or Gorza, as she's typed here for some reason) and her trusty dog servants. Here, Gozer has more of a disco-look, compared to her relatively naked appearance on the NES, which is, frankly, rather shocking for an NES game. But in addition to the different viewpoint, the amount of details and colours is almost overwhelming compared to the NES version. Aside from a lack of additional worry in the form of a climbing Marshmallow Man, the SEGA version beats the living green mucus out of the NES version.

Original style endings, where available. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari 800.
Bottom row, left to right: MSX, Atari 2600, Apple ][.


Because the NES and SMS versions feature the ending as a playable section, there is no reason why I shouldn't show the original ending as well. Besides, there shouldn't be anything too mysterious about it, since it's just a simplified reinterpretation of what happens in the movie, which most of you have probably seen. At least the original ending design gets the idea right: crossing the streams is the right and only way to beat Gozer and close the gateway to her world. Unfortunately, your job here is just to sit and watch the portal close while two ghostbusters are standing on both sides of it, crossing their streams. Sounds rather disgusting, now that I think about it. Only a comedian could have thought of it as a plot device.

As you can see, the A2600 version is the only one with any radical difference to the ending ceremony, but as you also might have noticed, the above picture is missing the AMSTRAD ending screen. That's because after you get through the ZUUL entrance, the Amstrad version goes straight into the ending text bits, which I'm not going to bother to show you, because it's just text. I grant you, the NES version's ending text is always funny to see, but you can see it clearly enough at Cinemassacre, in the classic AVGN episode about the NES Ghostbusters.

In conclusion, Ghostbusters shows its age as being made at the end of the classic era of C64 games by having a surprising amount of variety, some nice effects that hadn't been seen all that much previously, and even having a proper ending was something quite rare at the time. Unfortunately, things evolved pretty quickly after that, so doing a conversion job for more modern consoles wasn't a very sensible idea, particularly as it happened several years after the original was released. As we can see from the NES version, some imagination would not have been amiss in the process. It's weird that this is the case, since the earlier SMS version's graphical upgrade really works to its advantage.

It's difficult to put the others into any real order of preference, because all of them have merely okay graphics. Only the lack of elements, weird colouring choices and worse blockiness would drop any points from any version in question. Well, you have seen the evidence - here are the results:

1. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM
2. COMMODORE 64 / IBM PCjr + TANDY 1000
3. ATARI 8-BIT / APPLE ][
4. ZX SPECTRUM 128k / MSX
5. ZX SPECTRUM 48k / NES
6. AMSTRAD CPC
7. ATARI 2600

---

SOUNDS


"Ghostbusters", the song by Ray Parker Jr., is probably as important in making the movie successful as all the other aspects of the movie combined. While it lost to Stevie Wonder's duckish "I Just Called To Say I Love You" from The Woman In Red for an Academy Award for the Best Original Song, the Ghostbusters theme song has certainly a much more fanatic following and it has been covered by many famous bands and artists, our very own (the) Rasmus included. While the rest of the song's history is certainly fascinating, I suggest you read about it elsewhere, because my purpose here is to compare the different chiptune versions of it, as well as any other tune that might be included in any of the versions, not to mention any possible sound effects.

For the C64 version, Russell Lieblich wrote a rather optimal arrangement, considering this was 1984. There weren't too many people, who knew how to handle the SID chip to its full advantage around that time. So, you won't hear any trademark chord arpeggios here, or any truly evolved use of different channels for different purposes. What you do hear, is a basic percussive track featuring a sort of a bass drum and a sort of a snare, a bass line and the vocal melody, as performed by a couple of different nasal instruments dug out from the SID chip. In addition to that, the only sound effects are speech samples of someone saying "Ghostbusters!", "ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaa" and "He slimed me!" in different places, and then there's that repeating pip-sound for the contracts and other text bits. The sound effects are only played when prompted, and when they do, the music goes on pause. The song itself lasts for about 4 minutes, after which it fades out and begins again. The only place where the song isn't heard is during the text bits.

The APPLE version requires a SAM/DAC or Phasor for you to hear the music; the speech samples can be heard with Mockingboard as well, but then you only get beeper sound effects and no music. To be honest, in the case of this particular version, I would recommend using a Mockingboard, because the Apple ]['s multi-channel music tends to rip your ears off with its uncomfortably high frequencies. The speech samples sound a bit different, because they were performed by a different person, so if you feel nostalgic towards a certain kind of a set of speech samples, of course you can choose to play any version you like based on that.

Because of the SID chip's yet unfound advantage over some other 8-bit computers, I would have thought the ATARI line of 8-bit computers would be closer to the C64 version in this regard. In terms of music, that is actually the case, since it sounds surprisingly close to the theme tune as reproduced by the C64, but the speech samples are a different story. Again, the person who gave his voice for the speech samples sounds again a bit different, but the main problem is, that there is only the one sample in the title screen, saying "Ghostbusteerrrrrsss! Wa-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaa!" - this being one full sample. You don't get to hear any sound effects during the game, apart from the little pip noises in the text bits.

Like in graphics, both the 48k and 128k SPECTRUM versions have notable differences in sound. Naturally, the 48k version has beeper music, which is actually rather badly programmed - the time values of many notes are off, making the music very stiff-necked and jumpy. Whichever your views on the quality of the music, I think it's a good thing the theme tune isn't played during the game at all. As with most other versions, the only real non-sampled sound effect is a rapidly repeating tapping noise in the text bits, while the only in-game sound effects are the two obvious samples. The AY-chip makes the 128k version's theme tune sound more like the ATARI 8-BIT rendition of it, which is certainly a large step up from the 48k version. It's not a complete surprise, then, that on the 128k SPECTRUM, you also hear the theme tune played during the game. I also noticed some additional sound effects: at least the forklift has a BRRRRing noise, the Ghost Vacuum also does some sort of a static or staccato noise as you catch ghosts on the road, and the Capture Beam makes a booming sound that rises and falls as it goes. All in all, a huge improvement over the 48k version.

At first, the AMSTRAD version sounds like a mixture between the C64 version and both of the SPECTRUM versions. The theme tune sounds much like the 128k SPECTRUM one, which is natural, considering the sound chip, but has some wrong notes for some reason. The speech samples sound a bit different on different emulators, so I cannot tell, which sounds the closest to a real Amstrad, but all the regular speech samples have been included. The typing machine noise sounds very close to how it sounds on the C64, but that's as much as I was able to find any sound effects apart from the samples. There is one particular thing, however, which makes the AMSTRAD version stand out rather strangely: each time you manage to make the game play a speech sample, the music starts from the beginning immediately after that. In all the other versions, the music will continue in the background and move on as if nothing had happened. Sloppy programming, I'd say.

The MSX version doesn't have any of the speech samples featured, but it does have the full, uninterrupted version of the theme tune, pretty much sounding like it does on the 128k SPECTRUM. Also, the only sound effects I noticed are the quickly repeating typewriting noise in the text bits, the quiet brrring of the forklift, the traditional suction noise of the Ghost Vacuum on your car, a rather bleepy Capture Beam and the choppy ending noise when you cross the beams. Not the worst, I gather, but not nearly the most impressive.

As you might expect, though, the least impressive set of sound effects is presented in the ATARI 2600 version, which only features two different suction-like effects. Even the theme tune is a bit chopped down, but at least it features a percussive track along with the two necessary melody tracks. Not as cheap as it could have been, but definitely one of the lower cast.

I guess you have noticed a pattern here by now. The NES version doesn't have any more or less music than any of the other versions, but it plays the tune with a more energetic tempo and next to no focus at all on any percussive instruments. However, they put a lot more focus on the sound effects - if not the quality of them, at least the quantity is certainly more notable than in any of the above. The sound effects I bothered to notice, are notably different from the effects in any other version, not counting the obligatory "Ghostbusteerrrs!" sample - but even that one is only used in the title screen, and I do mean ONLY. There's a little ascending "bah-ding" for picking up gas barrels, a quick high-pitched "di-dit" used in the Equipment Shop for swapping the cursor's location between two inventories, a vacuum noise that quickly ascends and descends for both the driving section and the ghostbusting section, a quick crash noise for when you crash into a car, a descending double beep for switching between the two of your men during the ghostbusting scenes, and a slow ascending "brrrr"-noise for filling up your tank. I'm sure I even missed a few, because that was only the basic sound effects you get during the regular ghostbusting segments - the ending is its own separate thing, so it has a few sound effects of its own. The point is, it's a lot more than what you get in any of the straight conversions of the original.

Compared to the NES version, the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM version starts off strangely chirpy, with an even faster rendition of the theme tune, with plenty of percussions, too... but oh, the horror: the speech samples are entirely missing! And yet more horror: there's a lot of major harmonics used in the tune, when there should be minor harmonics. Very unsettling at first, but you get used to it, and it's certainly a more fully arranged version of the tune than what the NES version has. The amount of sound effects is similar to the NES version, but they're in different places and have a lot more variety in execution. There's at least three different sounds signals used for the menu system, two different driving noises - one for the map and one for the actual driving bits, very audible and different suction noises for catching ghosts in different situations, bumping into other cars makes a bumpy sound, and of course, scoring points and failing at catching a ghost will make their own sort of dingly sounds. It's very similar to the NES version in essentials, but the sound effects and the music are so much better done here, that it would have been nice to have the option to turn either of them off - preferably the music.

Finally, I cannot say with any certainty, whether or not the theme tune plays in the PCjr/TANDY version during the game, since I haven't been able to get past the Equipment Shop, but in the title screen, the music sounds kind of like a more metallic version (cling noises for the drum pattern) of the SPECTRUM/AMSTRAD theme tune. Since I cannot check on the speech samples and sound effects beyond the Equipment Shop, I shall have to assume all the samples are in, but that's all I can base my placing of the PCjr/TANDY version on at the moment. Let's hope it's close to the truth.

Technically, there's no doubt that the SEGA version is the obvious winner. However, I'm never very comfortable with badly programmed music, unless it is so bad it's funny. That doesn't apply here. Also, the overabundance of sound effects tend to come in the music's way, or vice versa, so it's a bit unbalanced. For a more balanced soundtrack, you need to look outside of the console realm. Still, different is different, and again, I'm practically forced to give tied spots for versions I would rather not. And of course, I shall have to give the IBM/TANDY version a neutral spot, because I don't know all about it.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM 128k / SEGA MASTER SYSTEM
3. APPLE ][ / NES / IBM+TANDY
4. ATARI 8-BIT / MSX / AMSTRAD CPC
5. ATARI 2600 / ZX SPECTRUM 48k

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OVERALL


Sorry it took so long, but as you can see, the game was a lot to deal with. At least we got to the end before the month was over, so that's a good thing, right? Anyway, to quickly recap this whole thing, Ghostbusters was a slow burner, both as a movie and as a game. It took a while for it to reach its final form, and although the original game version of the movie was a surprisingly good game for its time (not to mention hugely successful), the idea of the game wouldn't be fully evolved into what it perhaps should have been from the start until it was made for the Sega Master System. Perhaps it's just my opinion, but that's the one I would rather and most likely play now, after I have tried out all the officially released versions - not counting the IBM PCjr/TANDY version.

The scores have been some of the most difficult ones to determine on in the blog's history. There are so many slight, almost insignificant differences in all the main areas, that simply balancing it all out took a couple of days of pondering and calculating. So, finally, here are the still unforgivingly mathematical results that, in the end, I wouldn't put much weight on...

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 4, Graphics 6, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 15
1. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM: Playability 4, Graphics 7, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 15
2. ATARI 800: Playability 4, Graphics 5, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 11
2. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
2. IBM PCjr + TANDY 1000: Playability 2, Graphics 6, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 11
3. MSX: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 9
3. APPLE ][: Playability 1, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
4. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 7
4. NES: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 7
5. ATARI 2600: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

Yeah, it's a mess. But if you look strictly at the order of the machines on the list, I'd say it's pretty accurate, particularly concerning the bottom half. My recommendation is to take the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM version for a spin, and find the official Ghostbusters motion picture soundtrack from Spotify or CD, or better yet, on vinyl, and play your heart out. Although, as you might have known already, there are some optional games to consider.

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WHO YOU GONNA CALL?


First off, there's this weird text adventure called Ghostbusters - Basic Training by David Zeiss for the regular MS-DOS-based PC's. It hasn't been documented, when or where this game was released, if it indeed even was properly released, but a good estimation would be in the mid-80's. I found this one while trying to find a playable version of the IBM PCjr/TANDY version of the proper Ghostbusters game, only to fail miserably at it. Also, I wasn't able to find a single verb and/or noun for the game to recognize, so I couldn't really recommend it to anyone, but you can click the link above, if you want to take a look at it.

Ghostbusters: Basic Training by David Zeiss, 198? (DOS)
In 1988, Georg Odenthal created his own version of the official Ghostbusters game, because he wasn't very happy about the official product on the AMSTRAD CPC. So, in an attempt to steer a bit clearer of copyright issues, he named it Ghosthunters. It does have some things in it that feel a bit nicer than in the official CPC product, but for the most part, the game shows quite clearly having been programmed mostly in Basic.

Ghosthunters by Georg "Odie" Odenthal, 1988 (CPC).
As you will likely be aware, James Rolfe as the Angry Video Game Nerd has a three-part review of Ghostbusters games on his favourite consoles. This is the first time I heard of another Ghostbusters game, loosely based on the original movie, released for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive in 1990. Being a completely different sort of a game, an almost straight-forward platformer in the vein of Duck Tales on the NES, to be exact, I couldn't include it in the comparison. It's a good game, to be sure, but I can't say I feel much about it, since it doesn't have that nostalgia factor to me that the original David Crane game does. Still, worth a look, and you might as well remind yourself about it by watching the AVGN episode in question.

Ghostbusters for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive, 1990

Currently a very busy man in the C64 scene, Trevor "Smila" Storey, worked up a Windows remake of Ghostbusters with Scott "Scottige" Watson for the 2006 Retro Remakes competition. Golly, that's 10 years ago already! Anyway, this remake features some brilliant new graphics, an amazing soundtrack by Xentrix and the Evil Scotsman, multiple difficulty levels and a nicely re-balanced gameplay style, which features the best of both NES and C64 worlds. If you're a fan of the original, or retro remakes in general, this one's still definitely worth a try.

Ghostbusters Remake by Auld Games, 2006 (Windows)

Team Pixelboy have also been working on a straight port from MSX to ColecoVision, but apparently it's still in the beta testing phase. If they ever get it released, the Coleco port would require the Super Game Module to play the game on either a ColecoVision or an Adam computer. If you feel like that's what your Coleco needs, then that's your decision, but seeing as it's a straight port of the MSX version... well, you know.

As if that weren't enough, Ghostbusters had a sequel. And even more recently, a reboot, but let's just forget about that, shall we. Naturally, movies with sequels beget sequel games. Perhaps that's a story for another time, because I feel like I've wasted enough time on this article already. If I don't see you before November, I might as well bid you all a happy Halloween now! Thanks for reading, I hope it was worth the wait!

9 comments:

  1. Speaking about chiptune karaoke, Ghostbusters is not the only game to do it. There's a RPG originally released for the Atari 8-bit computers called "Alternate Reality: The City" which has karaoke in the intro and various locations. Here's a few videos to show what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuHqw_3A-vo and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYYnmgs4Pfg

    Oh, and there's a patch for Alley Cat available that gives it enhanced graphics and title theme for the Tandy 1000. Without it, the enhancements were only available for the PCjr. Here's the link: https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=45896 along with this video of it on action in real hardware: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIGycFyjGPQ

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    1. And speaking about Alley Cat, its creator Bill Williams made a game back in 1982 called Necromancer for the Atari 800, which would have made it into your Unique Games list, if it wasn't ported to the C64 in '83.

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    2. Yeah, I knew about Necromancer - pity I couldn't mention it in the UG list! Perhaps I'll have to think up a new series to deal with ... I don't know, how about "Games I Would Rather Make Comparisons Of Or Talk About In The Unique Games Series, Hadn't There Been Just Two Versions Of Them." Has a good ring to it, don't you think? =D

      But hey, thanks for the correction, I didn't know about AR: The City having a chiptune karaoke, because I have only tried out AR: The Dungeon a couple of times. I'll fix that into the appropriate bit asap.

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  2. Hello from Los Angeles. Awesome stuff! I'd love to see California Games and Archon some day. :)

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    1. Thanks afiction! Both games you mentioned have been considered at some point, but I'm sorry to say, Archon is just too much to work on. I love the game to bits, but it's much too complex to talk about and it really has too many versions out there to be actually even a sensible subject for such a thorough comparison as I've been making here. California Games, however, is much more possible, but it shall have to wait until at least next summer.

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  3. Did you think about trading with the most recommended Bitcoin exchange company - Coinbase.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. This was not a title unfamiliar to me, in spite of my yet reaching double digits in age, and playing Ghostbusters, ofcourse , like most at that time, on the C64. A game with off the wall screams and voice effects, that alone induced me to cross the streams and fry myself, whenever I was not up for the challenge, which was often, considering what seemed to me, as an above average level of difficulty, some of which may have been attributed, like many games of that time, to the stiffness and rigidity of the play control. I must confess this was not to me a game that could have roused a curiosity within to try, at the time, on other systems. Although unfair as it is to insert a 16 bit game in an 8 bit blog, the Genesis version became nevertheless, and remains for me by far, the version of choice.

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    1. Yes, the Genesis version is preferable for the majority of gamers, but then it is a completely different game, thus not applicable for this blog entry in any other form than a passing mention. But in case you haven't noticed, this isn't strictly an 8-bit blog, as there are plenty of games compared that have been featured on Amiga and ST, and sometimes even SNES and Genesis. It just so happens that comparisons are more worth doing for games that were more commonly known on the 8-bits.

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