Licensing in games has always been viewed as sort of a Holy Grail type of game for Publishers. Not only is it a known entity that requires zero hype just to make people recognize what the game is, but it’s almost a sure-fire sales machine at the stores. Kids have always wanted to be their favorite movie heroes, and what better way than games? It’s the perfect synergy. Yes, I said synergy. I’m mad at myself too.
Movie licensed games these days are considered mediocre at best, but what people need to do is step back about fifteen years and remember the movie games of yore. Featuring such classics as Back to the Future on the NES, and the one ring to rule them all: E.T. for the Atari 2600. Yeah, movie licensing was a tragedy at best.
We’re not here to look at those games though. As bad as they were, they at least used the license in a way that vaguely reminded you that you were playing the movie. Some developers at the time though didn’t even try to go that far. There were more than a few games that obtained an awesome license, and then produced a game that had nothing to do with the license. We’ll be looking at one such case today, and how Activision decided they didn’t need to make a Ghostbusters game with the Ghostbusters license. Because who the fuck wants that I guess.
The Real Ghostbusters for the Gameboy is probably one of the absolute worst treatments of a license ever. There’s no question that the Ghostbusters were hot as shit in the 80s. There was NOTHING that rivaled their popularity over such a wide base of people at the time. Kids and grownups alike loved that shit. It was as much of a sure-fire thing as you could ever get to produce something for. Lunchboxes, toys, ANYTHING with Ghostbusters on it was flying off shelves. So of course you would only think that video games in full resurgence mode with the NES and Gameboy would be able to capitalize on such an amazing license, right?
Oh Lord no.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the abomination that is Ghostbusters on the NES. It’s barely a game at best. But at the very least it stayed sort of true to what the Ghostbusters should be doing – just in a terribly broken and horrible way. Even though the game failed on several basic levels of what a video game should be, at least you could look at what was happening and say to yourself, “Okay, sure, that is a Ghostbusters game.” Yeah, sure, you’d have to be coked up to insane levels to admit that, but it works on some level. Still not convinced? Let’s look at what you do in Ghostbusters for the NES:
- You busted ghosts
- You drove around in the Ecto 1
- You climbed a hotel at the end
- You fought Gozer as the last boss
Admittedly every one of those things were horrible in ways most people refuse to remember. But looking at that list you can see that – as flawed as it was – Ghosbusters on the NES tried to use the license appropriately.
Wondering where this is going? Fair enough. Now let’s take a look at a list of what you do for Ghostbusters on the Gameboy and compare and contrast the above:
- You fall into the ground and discover a magical door
- You solve puzzles
- That’s about it
So yeah, even at it’s very core, the Gameboy version of Ghostbusters sounds NOTHING like Ghostbusters in any shape or form. Perfect.
Now when you as a developer receive a license to something like the Ghostbusters, what’s the first game you instantly think of making? An awesome side scroller? A sweet ass overhead game like the awesome yet never ported to consoles arcade version of the Ghostbusters? Or a puzzle game that has absolutely nothing to do with anything? If you picked puzzle game, well, congratulations. You just made a million kids waste their money thinking you made one of those other games.
Gostbusters on the Gameboy literally would not even be recognizable as a Ghostbusters game if it didn’t have the Ghostbuster logo and Peter Venkman’s cartoon head on some of the menus. Otherwise, there is nothing that even tries to claim this is the Real Ghostbusters. I can’t even go and do the obvious “More like the Real SHITTY Ghostbusters!” joke because IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM. The stages, the characters, nothing. NOTHING.
What you do in the game is simply go through stages, collecting keys and avoiding enemies. Once you have enough keys, the door to the next stage appears and you move on. The puzzle aspects come from having to figure out how to make it through the stages with the keys, and utilize the half assed environmental puzzles to figure shit out. Sounds like a solid game, right? Sure. Sound like a solid Ghostbusters game? No.
Oh, one more brilliant thing that shows you these guys were totally hitting one out of the park: Using your proton pack causes some of the ground to crumble, trapping ghosts that are coming at you. That’s right, you shoot the ground with your proton beam. You don’t even shoot the ghosts with it.
You don’t shoot ghosts with your proton pack.
Do we even have to go any further?
So that is how you fuck up a perfectly good license. Not only did the developer completely ignore every aspect that made the Ghostbusters awesome (Ghosts and busting), they made a game that barely even acknowledges anything that has to do with them. In fact, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that this game was originally something entirely different, and when they got the license for the Ghostbusters, they simply half assed it and shoehorned it into their shitty pre-made Korean Gameboy puzzle game. I refuse to believe that these people made this game from the ground up with the Ghostbusters in mind. It is simply too much stupid to comprehend.
I’ve been playing a lot of licensed games on the 360 lately, like Surf’s Up and TMNT just for stupid fun (And achievements. I’m sorry). And while none of those games qualify as “great,” I can at least say that the license is recognizable. When I played Surf’s Up, I knew I was playing a shitty version of Tony Hawk on water, but it was still totally Surf’s Up because I felt I was doing what should be doing in a Surf’s Up game. I was not using my penguin to solve puzzles or hop around on enemy’s heads. You know what my penguin does in Surf’s Up? He fucking surfs. Imagine that. Fifteen years ago, you would not be so lucky. You’d probably be playing some generic Elevator Action clone with penguins replacing the people. I just made myself sick typing that.
So next time you go to Best Buy and moan at the 50 copies of Jumper in the clearance bin, feel good knowing it’s just a shitty beat-em-up, at least know the developer almost tried to do the right thing with their license. And really that’s about as much as we can ask for. Because if it was made back in the day, you’d probably just be playing a terrible version of a Tetris clone with Hayden Christensen.
And nobody wants that.
Jeremy is a quiet, steadily mortified man hailing from Indianapolis.
Contact him this way: firstname.lastname@example.org (hint: it’s email)