Ghostbusters - A Ghostly ZX Spectrum Retro Review by Steve Trower!

Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your retro gaming room? Have you or your family ever seen a bad reboot of a classic 80s movie? If the answer is "yes," then don't wait another minute. Pick up the phone and call the professionals... Ghostbusters

And thanks to Activision's early acquisition of the tie-in licence in 1984, every ten year old with an 8-bit micro was on call to serve their neighbourhood's supernatural elimination needs.

Who you gonna call?
And what a strange and beautiful thing this game is. On first starting the game the player is treated to some sort of business strategy simulation; loaned $10000 by your friendly bank manager, you must choose a car (do you go for speed over space, or get the biggest car and carry as much kit as you can?) and equip it with ghost traps and whatever other ghost catching equipment suits your strategy.

Spend your money wisely on your first game...
Succeed in the game and you receive an account number which by some manner of witchcraft allows you access to whatever money you ended the game with - that was just one of the things about this game that blew my ten year old mind.

Once the main game has started, you typically get a single call to a slimer that needs trapping before everything stops for about ten minutes allowing you to go out and spend the last of your petty cash on a Chinese, the only hint that the game hasn't actually crashed being the (slowly) increasing PK Energy meter at the bottom of the screen.

Needs some suspension work and shocks. Brakes, brake pads, linings, steering box, transmission, rear-end...
You can spend this time patrolling the streets, freezing the cute little 'roamers' as they try to make their way to Zuul or team up to unleash marshmallowy armageddon; and if you acquired a Ghost Vacuum at the start, you can get to work cleanin' up the town on the driving section of the game, which is otherwise a rather pointless wasted opportunity for a mini-game.

The calm before the storm can be a bit tedious, but once that Twinkie starts to grow, you'll soon be chasing ghostly sightings all across the city. This is complicated by the fact that you have to return to Ghostbusters HQ if you either fill all your traps or get all your colleagues slimed - and in my first time playing this in 20 odd years it was much more frequently the latter.

Nobody steps on a church in my town!
And so we come to the key part of the game: the actual busting of ghosts. This is done not in the ballroom, but outside the front doors of various differently decorated but otherwise identical New York buildings, where you must navigate two stickmen into suitable positions for their streamers to hold the ghost (without crossing - that would be bad) so that the trap can be set to catch it.

Did you bring the trap, Ray?
The whole process is actually easier to do than it is to describe, but because you can't actually change the angle of your streamers, only move them closer together once they are, um, streaming, good positioning, perfect timing, and no small amount of luck are required to actually catch a slimer.

While all this is going on, the Gatekeeper and Keymaster are aimlessly roaming the streets, slowly at first, but picking up pace as the city's PK Energy level increases, until things suddenly reach melting point, they meet at Zuul, an interdimensional crossrip occurs, and...

This looks extraordinarily bad.
You have to complete the hardest, most anti-climactic final level in video game history. Sneak two stick men past Mr Stay Puft and you will suddenly win. Which is easier said than done, of course, but that doesn't detract from how lame a final level this is.

Objectively, Ghostbusters is a game that takes too long to get going, is stupidly repetitive, and has a crap ending; but it also remembers your winnings without the tedious business of saving game data, and has speech - although, because I played the game before I saw the film, for ages I had no idea that my stick Venkman was saying 'He slimed me' when I failed to catch a ghost.

Um, wasn't there a black Ghostbuster...?
Although I've probably never played more than one game in a row, somehow the fact that it's just that bit too hard to get right first time, the way the pace ramps up exponentially, and the fact that you can come back next time with more money to bling out your Ectomobile, all add up to a game that I still enjoy playing.

(Oh, and I haven't seen the new film yet, and am hoping it won't turn out to be as bad as some seem to think it will!)

Review by Steve Trower

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