Ghostbusters: The Video Game (the PS3 and 360 version, not the Wii, DS or PSP versions) was pretty good, but not much else can be said about the gaming success of this personal favorite franchise. Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime (also on PS3 and 360) was a total disaster, as was the iPhone AR game Ghostbusters: Paranormal Blast. And let's not forget any of the older titles, such as the awful Game Boy ones or the NES game that was so bad Ernie Hudson's (Winston Zeddemore in the films) own children hated it. So that's, what, 1 out of 10 or more games that didn't disgrace the Ghostbusters name simply by existing? Despite the film-to-game misfires in the past, I decided, as all good fans must, to go into the latest Ghostbusters game, simply called Ghostbusters, with an open mind. Guess what? Except for one major flaw, the game is actually fun; and not just for fans, either.
The Ghostbusters haven't always had the best luck when it comes to video games.
The best way to describe Ghostbusters iOS (it is a universal app and looks great on both my iPad Mini and my wife's iPhone 5) is a mix between resource management games like Farmville and action RPGs like Battleheart, with a little Persona 3 tower climbing thrown in for good measure. Your ultimate goal is to climb a skyscraper a floor at a time. Each floor ends with barrier, and can only be passed if you have enough green slime to unlock it. Answering calls and busting ghosts at other locales around the city is the main way to acquire this slime. So you have an isometric view of New York City and you and the other Ghostbusters must capture ghosts and complete jobs to earn the slime to move ahead. This aspect reminds me a lot of world-builders like Skylanders: Lost Islands; you must prioritize jobs, resources and time if you want to succeed.
I'm not a huge fan of the management aspect, but busting is easy, varied and fun. How will you be busting ghosts? It plays out like other one-touch iOS RPGs; you have a team of Ghostbusters with various powers. Dragging a finger from a Ghostbuster to another character or enemy will command him/her to act. Party members abilities can be anything from straight up attacks to healing powers from to buffs and everything in between. Damage any ghost enough and a trap icon pops up, and a simple tap will capture the weakened enemy. Capture enough ghosts and you'll have that next benchmark amount of slime to climb another floor in the main tower. It's a flow that works great in short and long play sessions alike, and climbing that tower can be very addicting if you get sucked in.
The developers could have stopped there and they would have had a pretty decent title to show the world. They went the extra mile and built in all kinds of different things to explore and unlock. New Ghostbusters, upgradeable attacks and defensive skills and a whole Tobin's Spirit Guide to fill with info as you catch various ghost species are more than enough to keep gamers busy, but the best part of this title is the care with which they treat and expand upon the source material. Remember the kid Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) kept shocking in the experiment at the start of the first film? He becomes one of the game's enemies, aided by a mysterious ghost and seeking revenge against Venkman. One of the unlockable Ghostbusters is Egon Spengler's distant relative, and even more minor characters and spirits make appearances. Even the entire Ghostbusters firehouse is recreated, and simple swipes move you from floor to floor, all of which contain some small thing to fiddle with. And though you are limited to playing with mostly new characters at first, all four of the famous Ghostbusters can be unlocked and used in battle. The developers took a big chance on expanding material that is so well-known and loved, but somehow old and new work together, and, even more strangely, old fans and new fans alike will be pleased. And yes, the Ray Parker Jr. song did make it in.
A fun, polished, clever and lengthy Ghostbusters game with old and new fans in mind' what could be that one thing, that one flaw that drags things down? You guessed it, iOS gamers: in-app purchases, or IAP. Most of the time I'll let IAP slide; it usually only serves as a means to complete the game more quickly than slogging through at a normal pace. In Ghostbusters, though, it becomes more and more necessary as the game progresses. Players can spend up to $100 at a time for in-game cash and power cores used to beef up characters, and as you near the tower's pinnacle, you will be tempted. More and more slime is needed to progress (it jumps from 1 unit to 10 between floors 1 and 2, you can imagine how much higher it gets), and you'll need to choose between grinding for hours, even days, or spending a little cash (or a lot). If you are a completionist like I am, you begin to realize that without the IAP you could play this game through three or four Christmases and still not have everything done. Most people would rather pay for the game itself and have it be one they could finish, rather than get the game for free and have to spend money to wrap up something they have already put a ton of time into. It isn't like this is true for every game with IAP, but in Ghostbusters it can feel like a subtle form of extortion.
Bad Ghostbuster games outnumber the good ones by a heavy margin; some have been so bad that I've often wondered whether the dev team included Gozer or Vigo the Carpathian; only the purest of evil could have been responsible for Sanctum of Slime. This game, though, feels more like it was designed by accountant Louis Tulley (Rick Moranis). It's fun, good-natured and interesting, but just below the surface, all it is really interested in is squeezing some begrudgingly offered dollars from your pocket. A great game nonetheless, iOS folks shouldn't hesitate to download Ghostbusters. Just don't expect to finish it.
Final Rating: 89%