Monday, 19 September 2011

Ghostbusters (ZX Spectrum) - Guest Post

I've received a challenge!

Ghostbusters on the ZX Spectrum. One of the very first games I ever played, if not the first. Haven't played it in many, many years.

Can I play it start to finish without going completely crazy? We shall see!


No kiddin', it laughs at you. This game is merciless.

When the game finally finishes loading, you're treated to an off-key, single-channel beep kareoke version of the Ghostbusters theme (YouTube link). They're trying their best, but it sounds like somebody dialling a phone and it sounding like the Ghostbusters theme by sheer coincidence. The words light up on screen in time with what's played, but... well, you'd better see for yourself.

The C64 and Atari versions (YouTube links) of the theme fare a lot better due to being polyphonic, in time, in key, and generally not awful.

In Speccy Ghostbusters, you run your own Ghostbusters franchise in 'your city' and handle a Keymaster-Gatekeeper-Gozer crisis mirroring that of the 1984 movie.

What could possibly be cooler than that?

First up, you pick a Ghostbusting Vehicle from a selection of four. The different cars can carry different amounts of equipment and have different speeds. It's gotta be the ECTO-1.

Once you've picked your car, you can outfit it with the latest and greatest in prototype ghostbusting technology. You can get a PK Energy Detector, which does... something. And an Image Intensifier, which does... something else. The Marshmallow Sensor senses marshmallows, of course.

There's three pages of equipment and it's printed on screen character by character VERY SLOWLY. I'm sure it all does various very important things but it's been a long time, so you'll have to forgive me. I'm a little rusty on how it all works.

We're responsible for this four by three block section of My City surrounding the Zuul Building. Don't ask why the building is Zuul when Zuul was the dog that possessed Dana. The building is Zuul as well. The Ghostbusters HQ is in the lower left.

Our mission is to bust ghosts, and keep busting ghosts. As we do so, the City's PK Energy meter gradually goes up from 0 to 9999 (it never goes down). When the PK reaches 9999, we face off against the minions of Gozer and save the city. Or die trying.

The building in the top right is flashing, which means... WE GOT ONE!!!

I immediately set a route from GHQ to the ghost sighting! It's ghost busting time!

Driving, driving, driving!

The longer the route, the longer it takes to get to the destination and the more PK Energy the city absorbs.

The drive takes place in complete silence. If you want to hear the ECTO-1's signature siren, you'll have to do it yourself. You can slide the car from side to side to pass the time, if you want. It's very exciting.

Here's how we're gonna do this.

We send out Ray with the trap. He can place it anywhere on the pavement on the bottom of the screen. After the trap has been placed, we position him and Egon either side of the trap and wait for the ghost to hover over the top of the trap. With a tap of the fire button, the streams are activated, unleashing diagonal lines of nuclear death ghostwards.

The actual busting is pretty tricky. We have to wait until the ghost is above the trap, then press Fire to activate it. The problem is that the ghost moves around randomly and can move in any direction. If he wanted to, he could stick to the corner of the screen. Sometimes the ghost doesn't even go anywhere near the trap.

The Ghostbusters themselves aren't much help. The streams don't hurt the ghost, but form a wall around the trap. You're supposed to move your Ghostbusters forwards so that the ghost is trapped a closed region above the trap. Each Ghostbuster can only move forwards once the streams have been activated, so it's possible to prevent the ghost from coming anywhere near the trap.

You don't have unlimited time, either. You have a backpack energy gauge that decreases while the streams are active. If you run out of energy, the trap activates itself and the bust is over. Energy isn't restored between busts, you just have to go back to GHQ to get your proton packs recharged.

Cross the streams and every molecule in your body explodes at the speed of light. Well, it's not that bad really. All it does is discharge the backpacks meaning you can't bust until you return to GHQ.

Wait for it... NOW!


Our men calmly carry the captured ghost offscreen. We ain't 'fraid of no ghost.


We're out of traps, so it's back to GHOSTBUSTERS to get the traps emptied and the proton packs recharged. I only got paid $100 for that mission. That's rubbish!

Alright, that first bust wasn't so tough, so lets try another one. There's two to pick from and several floaty ghosts heading towards Zuul. If they reach Zuul, it's bad news for the PK meter, so. Hitting them with the Ghostbusters logo stops them in their tracks, letting you capture them when you're driving.

You thought it was pretty funny on the map, didn't you? Ghosting about like that. I've got a bloody VACUUM CLEANER STRAPPED to the BONNET of my CAR.

Not so ghosty now, eh?

Bust 2. Bust Harder.

When that punk floats his ass down here, he's going to get a damn good trapping. Until then... I guess all I can do is wait.

And it just continues on like that.

The map screen, the car screen, the busting screen, "GHOSTBUSTERS!" (Panama!)

You can't go back to the shop to get more equipment. All you can do is bust as fast as you can until the PK hits the max. You don't get to even steer the car. Occasionally, you'll get to your destination after the crisis has passed, resulting a somewhat disappointed Ghostbuster alone in front of the building carrying the trap back off-screen.

This presents a problem. The ghosts are all scrambling to form the Stay-Puft mashmallow man and I have no idea how to stop them. I can still bust but I can't do anything to the ghosts!

WHAT...! The city just charged me $4000 for the damage done by Stay-Puft! I need that money! Probably!


I'm getting sloppy now that I'm getting nervous. If you miss with the trap, the ghost comes down, slimes one of your men and you have to abort the bust. You can lose two men before you have to return to GHQ and get some new ones, but that wastes time.

Apart from the speech samples, this game is played in complete silence. (If you don't count the electric hum of the television.)

Argh! It's happening AGAIN! I'm busting as fast as I can!

Okay, the PK meter's nearly there. Time to head back to GHQ one last time to recharge everything before taking on the boss.


Hey! HEY! GAME OVER? What happened?!

I didn't make enough money? I would have made enough money if that Stay-Puft guy didn't stop appearing and squashing everything.

Well, time to rewind the tape and try again.


On my second time, I did even worse!

I'm going to have to find a copy of the manual to see if it has any tips on defeating Stay-Puft. Otherwise, I'm going to have to go all out flawlessly busting ghosts and skipping to the map as often as I can to prevent him from appearing.

Get this. Defeating Stay-Puft on the map is easy. You press B to use Ghost Bait when he appears. You do that and the game gives you $2000. That's all I had to do. That's what the bloody Ghost Bait is for! Argggh!

I think that future copies of Monopoly should include the Chance card 'MAYOR AWARDS YOU $2000 FOR AVERTING MARSHMALLOW CATASTROPHE'.

According to the manual, in order to face the final boss, you need to have as much money as you started with when the PK meter hits 9999. I was so close!

The busting has come to its end. It's time to hit Zuul.

Oh, it's you. Hi there. You're not Zuul. Or Gozer. Or whatever.

Um... could you let me in please?

He wobbles from side to side and bounces up and down in front of the door. If I can get two guys in there, I've won.


Wait! What the hell!? He's nowhere near me!

He splats my second guy too.

Ughh... and I can't just replay the game! I have to reset the machine and rewind the tape.

I'm not going to use the account because you have to make all the money you spend back if you want to fight Zuul. Basically, all it does it make the more difficult!

Ughh... I'm so tired of this now. Doing the same bust over and over, in complete silence, waiting for the ghost to finally get in the trap, or for the car to get to where it's going. Everything feels like it takes hours.

I got so bored during the driving sequence that I started to press the fire button idly, resulting in this somewhat unconventional ghostbusting arrangement.

Nevertheless, I managed to trap him! Hell, it might even be more convenient this way around, considering how much they like to stick to the upper corners of the screen.

Okay, you can pick the trap up now guys. Guys?


... I had to reset the machine.

I had enough money and I had... to reset... the machine.


Of course, I'm not going to let something like that stop me!

With two out of the three Ghostbusters inside the building, the game is over and it's another victory for mecha-neko! The game still laughs at me, but I laugh louder.

What do you mean I missed out the scene where you have to climb the giant staircase by tapping a button over and over again? Or the scene where the Gozer fires laser beams at the Ghostbusters? Or the scene the Ghostbusters cross the streams in the other dimension and close the spirit portal?

You're thinking of the C64 or NES versions, my friend. Here, all you have to do is get two guys past Stay-Puft and you've won.

If you enter your name in as NEKO MECHA and use account number 05576402, you can play a New Game+ with my money! And get splattered by unfair Stay-Puft! And get shafted by glitchy Ghostbusters! And drive yourself mad with the driving scenes!

But wait, there's more!

It's Commodore 64 Ghostbusters! This is the original version of Ghostbusters, something I didn't know until recently. I'd always thought of it as a Spectrum game.

The C64 has a more muted "GHOSTBUSTERS!" shout than the Speccy. It's more of a "Gnostbushters.", but the laugh is as malicious as ever. You get a bouncy ball bouncing on the words as well as lighting up.

Same damn car. In colour!

Everything moves a damn sight faster than the Speccy, which makes picking the equipment a lot more bearable.

Same damn city. We've got the Ghostbusters theme playing on an endless loop in the background.

Same damn car. Again.

Same damn ghosts sticking to the top right of the screen and refusing to come down. The 'trophy' is more of a recognisable purple ghost-catching beam and it makes a nice VEUUUUUUUUUUW sound.

Playing this makes me appreciate the Speccy version even more. I'm surprised at how well the game turned out on it, given that the C64's got hardware sprites and over a dozen washed out colours while the Speccy only has its awful blocks of crap.

No more Ghostbusters! For anyone! Ever!

1 comment:

  1. awesome post man, you brought the memories flooding back! i used to spend hours on Ghostbusters on the Spectrum (I had the 128k so was amazed with the sampled speech and dazzling music at the start lol).

    was thinking of trying this out on an emulator, but maybe I'll just leave it as a happy memory instead!


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