"It's got the script, style, and soul of its source material, but fails to build a compelling game around these elements."
When making a game based on the beloved Ghostbusters franchise there are two things that you should get right at all costs: 1) Busting should make you feel good; 2) The Ghostbusters theme must play in its entirety at least once. It brings me no pleasure to report that neither of these things are true of Ghostbusters: The Videogame on Wii.
The song, as it turns out, only plays during loading screens between missions. However, those interludes are so brief that we only hear the first few chords before the next mission begins. As such, we don't even get to the part where the vocals kick in. For shame (note: the theme does play during the closing credits, but it’s too little, too late).
Ghostbusting, is a trickier matter altogether. Busting is comprised of 3 phases: weakening them, wrangling them and trapping them. The first requires shooting them. This plays out like a typical third-person shooter. It's simple, but effective. After a ghost has been weakened enough, your beam turns into an electric lasso of sorts as you wrangle the ghosts by waving the Wii remote in conjunction with on-screen arrow prompts as you slam the trapped ghosts around to stun them. Finally, you can finish them off by rolling a trap under them using nunchuck motions.
The problem with this combat system is that it's repetitive and none of its components are especially well designed. Shooting ghosts is fun, but the absence of any kind of roll or dodge move makes the whole dynamic feel broken when enemies slowly lurch towards you, causing damage because your movement is too slow and unwieldy. Actually wrangling the specters works insofar as the gesture controls are responsive, but it just plain lasts for too long. It's basically a gesture-based quick-time event that must be performed with every main enemy in the game. As such, it gets old quickly. Setting traps works fine, but adds nothing to the experience because they're so easy to position and you have an infinite supply of them. That final procedure is therefore little more than a mild chore you have to remember to do.
It's a back-handed compliment to the game to say that going through the environments and destroying stuff is arguably more fun than the actual combat. The game tallies up the monetary value of how much damage you've caused (as the city is willing to pay for it) and you're ranked at the end of each level based on that. The problem is that, as far as I could tell, the rankings do nothing. As such, there's no incentive to do as much or as little damage as possible. One could make a high scores game out of it, competing with friends for most and least amount of damage, but it's not implemented in the game in any way and that makes it hard to care.
Lackluster combat can be forgiven if it's a small part of the game. Unfortunately, Ghostbusters is essentially a corridor shooter. There's little to do beyond bust ghosts and scan items and enemies Metroid Prime-style, something that will unlock bonuses like concept art. There's not much in the way of puzzle-solving, investigating, or any of the things one would expect from a ghostbuster beyond shooting and witnessing your fair share of inventive, supernatural phenomena. Any available puzzles are extremely rudimentary and mostly comprised of fetch quests, or switching between one of only a few weapon types. I'm all for simplicity in games, but this just a lack of inspiration.
If this review seems like it is turning into a total kvetch-fest, there is one very important thing I must mention; the reason people play Ghostbusters is not for its mechanics. People play it to live out their dreams as a ghostbuster, experience a wide array of amusing paranormal phenomena and to watch Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson exchange witty retorts throughout. On that level, Ghostbusters is a success.
There's plenty of great humor and the game captures the spirit (no pun intended) of the series quite well. One major advantage to Ghostbusters being a video game rather than a third movie is that they can keep the characters looking the age they were when the movies were made nearly two decades ago. There's some pretty out-there, interesting paranormal activity to fight, including maniacal ghosts chefs, digitized ghosts of 8-bit avatars emanating from a possessed arcade game, and chandeliers scurrying around like spiders. I mean, how can I stay mad at a game that lets you shoot the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man off a skyscraper?
Rather than make any attempts towards realism, the Wii version of Ghostbusters opts for a more cartoony look to make up for the system's graphical shortcomings. Visually the game does a good job at recreating the feel of the Ghostbusters cartoon, which is a more expressive way of representing the characters without sinking into the uncanny valley like the Xbox360/PS3 versions.
While all versions of Ghostbusters share the same script, there are other differences between the Wii version and its Xbox 360/PS3 brethren. Most notably, the level design has been drastically altered. The Wii version's main missions are broken down into smaller, bite-sized chunks, with drastically different layouts. There're also enemies that were in the other versions but not this one, and vice-versa. Also, you can't buy upgrades in the Wii version. Instead, you'll get them automatically as the story permits. Finally, the other huge difference between versions is that the Wii edition has no competitive multi-player modes (though it does have a local split-screen co-op mode for its single-player campaign).
Ultimately, Ghostbusters falls victim to the usual follies of licensed games. It's got the script, style, and soul of its source material, but fails to build a compelling game around these elements. As such, it feels like the material would have been better suited as another movie (even if the ghostbusters are older). It's not completely without its merits, however; if you're a big Ghostbusters fan and don't own an Xbox360 or PS3 but do have a Wii, it's probably worth your time to play through the game for the good bits. The script and voice-acting are top notch with some clever humor, inventive creatures and unique scenarios. It's also good fun for the first few hours, before the sense of repetition drudges in. It's just a shame to see all of this great talent squandered on such mediocre game design.
Freelance review by Jeffrey Matulef (August 16, 2009)
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