On home consoles, Ghostbusters: The Video Game has proven to be an undeniably fun experience that does justice to the source material while providing unique, polished gameplay that's both accessible and challenging. It's not a perfect game, but it's one of the best games based on a movie license in recent years. If there's one type of game more likely to suck than movie tie-ins, its handheld movie tie-ins, so the odds of Ghostbusters: The Video Game on the DS being a worthwhile title were pretty slim. Fortunately, Atari and Red Fly Studios have crafted a thoroughly playable portable ghost-busting experience. It doesn't quite match up to the home versions, and a major facet of the game is deeply flawed, but it's still a fun adventure that's worth checking out.
The DS version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game takes an approach that is more reminiscent of the old NES Ghostbusters game. Each day, you receive main objectives and side missions from inside the Ghostbusters HQ, then drive the Ecto-1 (complete with its own proton stream and ghost trap for wandering spooks) through a tiny version of New York City to your destination in a certain amount of time, trap some ghosts, then return to HQ. New missions Completing missions will gain your team money, which can then be used to refill secondary weapons like healing guns, create new weapons, or repair the Ecto-1. There’s also plenty of slime to collect, which will help you research new technologies, as well as skill points that are earned by each Ghostbuster. Replenishing weapons and researching new technologies take several days to unlock, adding an element of strategy to the proceedings. For a DS title, there’s a surprising amount of content to unlock and utilize, and most players won’t get a chance to use or even invent all the different weapons, upgrades, and gadgets.
There are some issues with the game’s basic mechanics, however. Driving the Ecto-1 is a tedious affair that uses only the d-pad to accelerate, brake and steer. Not only is the vehicle slow hard to control, it’s extremely fragile, and quickly accumulates damage that gradually slows it down. Early in the game, you’ll end up spending most of your money repairing the Ecto-1, but eventually, you’ll gather enough money to support your car’s outrageous maintenance costs. The controls never get any better, and even with an upgraded engine it still seems to crawl through the city, but at least the repair costs become less of a burden.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, the Ghostbusters leave the vehicle, and the control scheme changes completely. The camera switches from behind the back to overhead, and you are able to switch between the four Ghostbusters by tapping their picture on the side of the touch screen. Characters are moved with the D-pad in a very Smash TV style, and you can set your three teammates to either follow you or stand their ground, attacking any ghouls that come their way. Holding down the stylus in any direction fires your proton pack, which weakens and immobilizes ghosts, and the left trigger throws a ghost trap to capture them. With movement and firing direction independently controlled, the game plays like a two-stick shooter, except with even more control. This plays perfectly with your enemies’ tendency to throw wide arcs of projectiles, allowing you to dance between shots and enemies while keeping your proton stream fixed on a single opponent.
There are occasionally other objectives, such as escorting hotel patrons outside, collecting artifacts and slime samples, and locating spirits with your PKE meter, but for the most part, you’ll be capturing and destroying ghosts. Luckily, the core of the ghost-fighting mechanics are solid, and catching specters can be an addictive pursuit. The only real issue with the on-foot sections is that the side missions get extremely repetitive very quickly, and you’ll frequently be asked to do the same exact mission over and over again.
While it’s by no means a graphical standout, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a nice enough looking game. Developer Red Fly Studios opted for a more cartoonish style than what’s seen in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, and the results aren’t exceptional, but they get the job done. From the top-down view, the four Busters look okay in motion, but are pretty much indistinguishable from one another, except for Winston, for obvious reasons. The dancing, random animation of the proton streams are much more impressive, and while they don’t scorch walls like the console versions’, they can destroy certain items and environmental elements. Level design is pretty basic, with limited textures and very simple layouts, and many side mission stages are clones of one another, but there are some nice shadowing effects that give a bit of visual depth to the environments, and enough variety to the main campaign’s stages to keep things interesting. The visuals are less notable while driving. The city is completely bereft of people, and a thick, grey fog obscures everything more than 20 feet away, hiding the game’s considerable pop-in. The Ecto-1 looks decent, but feels completely weightless and toy-like.
Ghostbusters HQ is probably the best looking environment in the game, and looks exactly like it should, but it lacks the little touches that make the console versions’ HQ so charming and explorable. You can still slide down the firepoles, but that’s about it. At least there’s music from the movies playing while at your home base, and it sounds good, as does the rest of the game’s audio presentation. Proton packs hum just the way they’re supposed to, and several tracks from the movie scores make appearances. As a side note, players should get real comfortable with Ray Parker Jr’s iconic theme song, because it plays at all times while driving. It’s not particularly irritating, but it will definitely get stuck in your head.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game on the DS is an above-average handheld movie tie-in. Half of the game plays well, and keeps you coming back for more with missions that don’t take too long, and offer a nice level of challenge. The other half, however, is a tremendous chore that seriously hurts the experience as a whole. Sadly, despite the game’s top-down gameplay, perfect for four-player action, there are no multiplayer options. You’re only able to bust ghosts with AI teammates, but at least there are plenty of ways to outfit and upgrade them. It’s got a lot of the Ghostbusters charm that make the movies and console games so endearing, busting ghosts is plenty of fun, and there’s more content than you’d expect from a DS action title. It’s just a shame about the driving.