Lost amid the hype for its bigger brother on the set-top consoles, Ghostbusters: The Video Game for the Nintendo DS received virtually no fanfare whatsoever. It’s understandable though as even I, fan of Nintendo’s portable that I am, barely acknowledged the game’s existence even as I oohed and ahhed over the fan service shenanigans that its counterpart promised.
So when it finally showed up on my doorstep - alone in its plain padded envelope - weeks after I had received (and even completed) the Xbox 360 version, I popped it in more out of a sense of necessity than actual want. What I found, shockingly, was a game that bore little to no resemblance to its next-gen counterpart but still managed to succeed in its own peculiar niche.
Following roughly the same narrative path as the home versions, Ghostbusters on the DS has you controlling the four members of the team (no room for the nameless Rookie in the abridged version, I suppose) as they face a new threat plaguing the city. That, and an art style shared with the Wii version, is the only similarity that I could find. Instead of trying to cram the next-gen version’s gloriously destructive over-the-shoulder mayhem onto the modestly-powered DS, developer Red Fly instead decided to make this game a throwback, mixing action and strategy with a generous dash of role-playing in a neo-retro package.
You start out in the iconic firehouse, where you can accept either main story missions or side missions. Once you accept your mission, you control the Ecto-1 on the way to its destination using the face buttons to steer down the city streets…a task easier said than done given the Ecto’s plodding pace and awkward controls.
There’s the additional mechanic of being able to capture roaming ghosts, a daunting feat, especially when you take the aforementioned clumsiness of the car’s handling coupled with the blinding speed and hairpin turn radius of the fugitive phantoms. To add annoyance to injury, you’ll be listening to Ray Parker Jr.’s theme every time you get behind the wheel. Didn’t get sick of the song in the eighties? You will now!
However, once you leave the dreadful gameplay of the driving segment and actually reach your destination, the game suddenly switches gears, putting you in control of the foursome from a top-down perspective as they complete simple mission objectives such as capturing ghosts, gathering slime (important to the game’s research mechanic), and getting your mitts on various haunted artifacts. Here, the game becomes a touch-screen riff on Smash TV or Robotron, with the face buttons controlling your squad and the stylus aiming your proton stream. Even though the missions can be repetitive, oftentimes repeating objectives or just outright being recycled, the low-commitment design (your average mission can be done in 5 minutes or less) proves to be surprisingly addictive and fun.
Once missions are completed for money (as well as slime), you can spend these precious resources on researching new technologies, producing important items for the Ghostbusters’ tool belts, and repairing the damaged Ecto-1. Remember how horrific I said the Ecto’s controls were? What do you think you wind up spending a lot of your hard earned scratch on early in the game? However, once you get to later portions of the game, where the financial rewards for your missions outweigh your vehicular maintenance costs, you get to the real meat; building up your arsenal. It’s a rare feat that all of a game’s weapons have real purpose from beginning to end, let alone relevance whatsoever (something not even the console Ghostbusters could claim), yet this game does it with ease.
Don’t get me wrong, Ghostbusters: The Video Game for the Nintendo DS is not a replacement for its bold and boisterous big brother. Hell, it’s barely even the same franchise. However, there’s more than enough entertainment here to warrant a look.