VIdeo games made from licensed films are notorious for their sketchy quality. Gameplay and graphics tend to be thrown together slap dash in an effort to capitalize on the film’s popularity before the public has moved on to the next big thing. So, it would be if gamers were skeptical when the Commodore 64 released a video game version of Ghostbusters, but they were in for a surprise.
The game was released in 1984, the same year that Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson took to the silver screen to prove that they weren’t afraid of no ghosts. The game was designed by David Crane (the designer behind Pitfall! and later games like The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants ) and released by Activision (which Crane co-founded in 1979 with Alan Miller, Jim Levy, Bob Whitehead, and Larry Kaplan after Atari CEO Ray Kassar refused to give them proper credit when it released games they had designed).
In a later interview, Crane recalls that the company determined that they had to create the game from start to finish in six weeks to make a profit. Fortunately, rather than starting from nothing, the company was already working on a top-down racer called Car Wars. The team used the existing structure of Car Wars, replaced it with proper ghost busting vehicles (players could choose between a compact that resembled a VW Bug, a hearse like the Ecto-1, a station wagon, and a high performance sports car) and adapted the weaponry to the Ghostbuster universe.
The game featured you as a Ghostbuster. You traveled around town to various haunted locations. Players knew which buildings were haunted, because they would be flashing on the map. You then used your trap and proton pack to capture the ghost. If you failed, the ghost would slime you. This also introduced one of the game’s novelties. In-game voices were still fairly rare in 1984, and Ghostbusters used them. If you captured the ghost, a voice declared, “Ghostbusters!” If you didn’t, it said, “He slimed me!” Succeed and you also earned money. You didn’t have to defeat every ghost to win the game, you simply had to raise enough money. If you had enough money when the city’s psychokinetic energy level reached 9999, the Ghostbusters drove to a skyscraper serving as the temple for Zuul. You then had to guide two of the Ghostbusters past the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Succeed, and the world was saved. Fail and, well…you failed. The game was over either way.
The game was an immediate success at the time of its release. Six years later, Activision would release Ghostbusters II for the NES, by which point David Crane had moved on to found Absolute Entertainment. The second game was not nearly so well received, with critics calling it, “a good laugh” with “absolutely awful graphics”, while Crane’s original is now recognized as a Commodore 64 classic.