What you don't pine for, however, are the many video games designed for Ghostbusters. And if you do, then there either must be a steady paycheck involved or you're a glutton for punishment and enjoy floating around Spook Central. Reason being, for over ...and more »
Screen to GamesÂ is a monthly column in which Michael Roffman dusts off hisÂ endless collection of video games based on films. This time, heâ€™s taking theÂ Ecto-1 for a spin and examining how he was slimed by theÂ Ghostbusters franchise.
At its most basic, fundamental understanding, Ghostbusters is a film about catching ghosts. Or rather, itâ€™s a story set in a world where ghosts are real and enough of a nuisance to require some sort of exterminator. But what makes Dan Aykroydâ€™s breezy blockbuster pitchÂ so iconic is the 1984 comedyâ€™s containment unitâ€™s worth of amenities:Â Ivan Reitmanâ€™s direction, Bill Murrayâ€™s laissez faire attitude, the castâ€™s enviable comic chemistry, Elmer Bernsteinâ€™s score â€¦ and Lenny!
Yet a large part of that successÂ boils down to good, old-fashioned American marketing and merchandise. Now, if you were fortunate enough to grow up in the â€™80s and â€™90s, you probably still relish the days when The Real Ghostbusters haunted your television, Ecto Cooler actually hadÂ Slimer on it, and Kenner made just about the best toys money could buy. Hell, you might even miss clutching thatÂ glow-in-the-dark Stay Puft Marshmallow Man doll before bed.
What you donâ€™t pine for, however, areÂ the many video games designedÂ for Ghostbusters. And if you do, thenÂ there either must be a steady paycheck involved or youâ€™re a glutton for punishment and enjoy floating aroundÂ Spook Central. Reason being, for over two decades, not one developer could capture the magic and excitement of the franchise. Instead, they tortured die-hard fans with tedious side-scrollers that, no pun intended, were absolutely spiritless.
No kidding, if youâ€™d ever like to suffer fromÂ an anxiety attack or an embolism, go find yourself a Commodore 64 or a Nintendo Entertainment System and boot up the original Ghostbusters game. David Craneâ€™s frustrating, platform-spanning title isÂ anÂ 8-bit poltergeist with bugs that willÂ bite your head off, man. Even worse is the follow-up game for the 1989 sequel, an ugly little spud thatâ€™s more or less an endurance test for your own sanity. Spoiler: Youâ€™ll lose it.
In hindsight, the only saving grace of this era was Compileâ€™s 1990 remake for Sega. The run-and-gun action adventure proved to be a considerable upgrade on itsÂ awfulÂ predecessors, thanks to itsÂ charming 16-bit graphicsÂ â€” those cartoon sprites are close enoughÂ to Murray, Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis â€” and a favorable grip on the controls and environments. How novel, you could actually trap ghosts, the gadgets finally had a purpose, and it just so happened to beÂ funny.
The game did commit a major mortal sin by curiously leaving out Winston Zeddemore, the cynical everyman whoÂ canâ€™t be denied or replaced, but if you can look past that glaring omission, itâ€™s a worthy play. For the first time ever, gamers could feel like they were experiencing the film for themselves, and letâ€™s be honest, that should always be the top priority of any film-related game. Sadly, thatÂ hasnâ€™t always been the case, but thereâ€™s a good reason for that.
Not too long ago, film-branded games were little more thanÂ transparent cash grabs for studios toÂ nickel and dime. If they believed there was money to be made, theyâ€™d slap the filmâ€™s name onÂ anything, wholly uninterested in whether the final product was any good or not.Â One of the more popular and egregious examples of this exploitive process dates back to December 1982, when Atari spent five-and-a-half weeks (!) to develop a game based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Legend has it thatÂ millions of unsold copies currently reside in aÂ New Mexico landfill.
But things haveÂ changed.Â Thatâ€™s not to say there arenâ€™t cheap knock-offsÂ anymore,Â but thereâ€™s at least a concerted effort to deliver something of greater quality. After all, video game consumersÂ have since become a delicate, discerning lot, one that can quickly smell bullshit, and both studios and developers now know that the better the game, the more lucrative the game. Oh, and then thereâ€™s this 35-foot Twinkie of a fact to chew on: Nostalgia sells.
Which is the best way to explainÂ Terminal Realityâ€™s 2009 blockbusterÂ Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Hereâ€™s a fun story: Sometime in the mid-aughts, a few geniusesÂ over at ZootFly got really, really ambitious and started developing a Ghostbusters game even though they didnâ€™t have the rights. (Again, really, really ambitious.) Unfortunately, their dreams were squashed by Sony, but the projectâ€™s leaked footage caused quite a riot online, proving that people still love the boys in gray.
As such,Â Terminal Reality, alongside Sierra Entertainment, met with Sony to make the game a reality.Â Now, at this time, stars were alreadyÂ hip to lendingÂ their voices to games, namely dueÂ to the masterminds at Rockstar Games who pioneered a whole new wave of gaming with their Grand Theft Auto titles. Even better, dusty franchises were being taken off the shelf by the handful, from Francis Ford Coppolaâ€™sÂ The Godfather to James Bondâ€™sÂ From Russia with Love.
So it was hardly unreasonable for Sony to turn the Ghostbusters video game intoÂ a big-budgetÂ production, especially given the filmâ€™s blockbuster clout. Besides, it wasnâ€™t like the brand nameÂ ever left the public consciousness,Â what with all the talk and rumors of a third film brewing for years and years. Still, that didnâ€™t stop theÂ mass hysteriaÂ that ensuedÂ when Aykroyd, Ramis, Ernie Hudson,Â and especiallyÂ the ever-reluctant Murray signed on to reprise their respective roles.
â€œThis is essentially the third movie,â€ Aykroyd teasedÂ repeatedly during pre-production, and it certainly felt that way. Written by the original craftsmen, aka Aykroyd and Ramis, the video game takes place in 1991, two years after the events of the second film, and concludes the story of the demonic architectÂ Ivo Shandor. In addition to the four principals, several other stars returned to the fold, includingÂ Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz and William Atherton as Walter Peck.
Rather thanÂ choosing betweenÂ Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, or Ray Stantz, players are tasked to take on the role of a nameless rookie whoâ€™s just signed up at the Hook and Ladder. It was a genius move on behalf of Aykroyd and Ramis, as the newbie not only allowed fans and gamers to experience what itâ€™s like to be a Ghostbuster, but what itâ€™s like to work with the Ghostbusters.Â It was a marshmallow dream 25 years in the making.
To the day, in fact. Despite a number ofÂ delays and false starts, Sony was able to go nuclear withÂ the game on the 25th anniversary of the filmâ€™s original JuneÂ release date. It felt right, it felt bold, it felt â€¦ pure. Seeing the fuzzy logo for Columbia Pictures as Bernsteinâ€™s eerie score crept in sent all the right chills down the fanbaseâ€™s collective spine, a feeling that so many of them hadnâ€™t felt since they first saw the classic comedy â€” likelyÂ as bug-eyed kids.
It was more than that, though. By finally having a proper Ghostbusters game, Sony had also crossed the streams to deliver the sequel fans had been waiting for since Doug E. Freshâ€™s â€œSpiritâ€ shut things down back in 1989. It wasnâ€™t a particularly stellar story â€” admittedly, double-dipping far too much on nostalgia for the sake of gameplay, and itâ€™s still a damn shame Sigourney Weaver agreed to the game too late â€” but by then, it wasnâ€™t really about the narrative anymore.
Simply put, fans wanted to see their favorite characters again. What the game did that no theatrical sequel could ever do was heighten that reunion by making it feel as tangible as possible. Because of this, weaker through-lines, like Venkmanâ€™s abrupt relationship with Dana Barrett-stand-inÂ Dr. Ilyssa Selwyn,Â felt agreeably superfluous in the grander scheme of things. They just didnâ€™t matter; you were one of the Ghostbusters. Thatâ€™s a power no filmmaker wields.
Of course, Harold Ramisâ€™ untimely death in 2014 and Paul Feigâ€™s forthcoming rebootÂ changes the way most fans will look back on Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Itâ€™s the last time all four of them would ever â€œsuit upâ€ together, and now itâ€™s probably the last time weâ€™ll ever see any of the characters. That undoubtedly adds a funereal wash to the experience, but thereâ€™s also something reassuring about it, too. Barring any scratches, the guys are always waiting for you to suit up.
Generally, you donâ€™t see that kind of behavior in a major appliance.
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