Retro Game Of The Week: Ghostbusters (Sega Master System/Mega Drive)

Who you gonna call? Yeah… them. Ghostbusters is an interesting retro game property, handled in some very different ways depending on the platform and generation.

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

There wasn’t a retro game of the week for last week, so I figured I’d do two this week in order to catch up. There’s not that many games that I have copies of in the collection across two different console generations; typically when that happened it was because a lesser copy of a new game was being made for the older system, usually with mediocre results if you had the older console.

That’s not the story of Ghostbusters across Sega’s 8-bit and 16-bit systems, however.

First up, let’s talk about Ghostbusters.

No, wait, that’s not helpful, is it?

Let’s talk about Ghostbusters for the Sega Master System, developed by Activision and the legendary David Crane.

Ghostbusters Master System

Bonus points for the bouncing sing-a-long ball. Does it need to be there? No.
Is it better because it is there? Yes.

Mention Ghostbusters as a retro video game and this is almost certainly the game that most will think of, even if they’ve never specifically played the Master System version.

Ghostbusters Master System

If you’re a gamer of an.. ahem… ‘certain age’… then this map will look instantly familiar.

That’s because Activision ported Ghostbusters to everything at the time, from the Commodore 64 to the Apple II, Amstrad CPC to the ZX Spectrum, MSX to Atari 2600 (no, really, in some ways it’s an incredible port) to the Famicom/NES and of course the Sega Master System.

Ghostbusters Master System

Gorza might be about to destroy the world, but all capitalism cares about is selling you supplies.

I’m told the NES version is just plain horrible — another clear win for Sega’s little 8-bit bundle of joy there, because it is at least playable, even if it’s not particularly difficult.

Ghostbusters sort-of tries to follow the plot of the first movie, starting you out with a Ghostbusters franchise and the city of New York to protect. Drive around to haunted buildings flashing red, trap the ghosts there and try to raise the minimum $10,000 needed to progress through to the game’s final levels facing off against Gorza.

Ghostbusters Master System

You will do this a lot. The ghosts are… not smart.

Why does Gorza care about you having 10 large? It’s never really explained.

Ghostbusters Master System

Also not explained: How four street ghosts can combine to form the Marshmallow Man.
They just can, don’t ask difficult questions!

Ghostbusters (SMS) does vary it up a little with a very easy level dodging the Marshmallow Man, a vertical shooting level going up the stairs and then the final epic battle with Gorza… which really isn’t terribly epic at all.

Ghostbusters Master System

It’s almost harder to get squished by the Marshmallow Man than it is to get hit by him.


Ghostbusters Master System

There’s something VERY David Crane about those player sprites. Sadly, Winston is not playable at all.

I’ve not played my copy of this for some years now, and in one attempt I got there, got hit once by Gorza’s beams… and then wiped the floor with the puny god, easy as.

Ghostbusters Master System

“Ray, if somebody asks you if you’re a God, you say ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re stupidly easy to beat anyway’!”

Ghostbusters Master System

Saving the city nets you five grand. FIVE GRAND! That’s almost insulting.
Let it burn, I say. GORZA FOR MAYOR!

As far as 1984-programmed movie games go, Ghostbusters is one of the better efforts… but it’s still a pretty plain game with little that’s really engaging.

The theme music is about as well presented as you might expect, but because it plays endlessly, you’ll get sick of it long before you’ve finished Ghostbusters — and Ghostbusters is not a terribly long game.

Essentially, while it’s interesting for what could be done with movie concepts, it’s not a game that’s aged terribly gracefully.

If you weren’t there at the time and don’t have nostalgic memories of playing it, you’re more than likely going to bounce off this one hard.

Then we come to Ghostbusters for the Sega Mega Drive.

Ghostbusters Mega Drive

I can fondly recall reading about this one back in the day in those things we called “Gaming Magazines”, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t a game I ever came across to play when the Mega Drive was a current generation machine.

Fast forward quite a few years, and my first trip to Japan where I was able to hit up Akihabara for a little retro game buying action — which at the time, meant I had a few hours to go through Super Potato in Akihabara.

Yes, back then it had enough in-store stock to spend that long in there. These days? Considerably less so.

I won’t bore you for hours here… but how about 30 seconds?

Fun recollection: I shot that on a Flip camera. Remember those?

Anyway, one of the very few games I picked up that day (because I was on a seriously limited budget) was Ghostbusters for the Sega Mega Drive.

Ghostbusters Mega Drive

Also featuring special guest appearance by Ren Höek, with added SPACE MADNESS!

This was absolutely a nostalgia buy because I’d never been able to play it before, and it was ~1,000 Yen, boxed and with instructions. Felt like it was worth the punt.

The Sega Mega Drive version is an odd piece of software. The Ghostbusters IP was seriously on the wane by then, so quite why Sega decided to turn it into a Chibi-fied scrolling shooter is still something of a mystery.

Ghostbusters Mega Drive

Play as any Ghostbuster you like… except Winston. Boo!

Mind you, 30 years after release, something’s being done about the lack of Winston in Ghostbusters for the Sega Mega Drive:


Winston issues aside, Ghostbusters is a decent enough little game, especially when you consider it was one of the earlier Mega Drive releases, though later games in that style are considerably better.

If you want to stay within the movie space, Alien 3 for the Mega Drive (which I’m stunned to discover I still haven’t covered as a Retro Game of The Week) is better, and of course, there’s Gunstar Heroes… but I digress.

Ghostbusters Mega Drive

It’s an OK game, but not one worth losing your head over.

While I can’t hold up Ghostbusters’ rather simple blasting action as the best in its category on the console, it’s a fun enough distraction and one that I don’t have the same simple nostalgic attachment to — but equally, I’d argue, one that’s actually a slightly better game in terms of keeping some level of appeal, relative to the 8-bit Ghostbusters games.

Considering how many utterly terrible 16-bit movie games there are, that’s something of an achievement in itself.

How to play Ghostbusters (Sega Master System and Sega Mega Drive) today

Ghostbusters Mega Drive and Master System (Photo: Alex Kidman)

The peril with movie tie-in games is that with very limited exceptions, they rarely end up in modern collections or as remasters, if only because the licence fees would be way too high to be worthwhile.

That’s very much the story for both games in this case. I’ve got a boxed Japanese copy of Ghostbusters for the Mega Drive, but just the plain old cart for the Master System with a lot of scratching on it. Looks like a cat’s been at it or something.

But what if you wanted a copy yourself?

Copies of the Master System version typically go for around $25 AUD or so on eBay, though there are plenty of chancers looking for more than that.

The Mega Drive version will run you a little more than that, typically between $50-$100 depending on whether it’s a loose cart or a full boxed version.

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