Review: Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime (XBLA)

Review: Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime (XBLA)

The Ghostbusters movies (yes, both of them) will never get old for me. I’ll watch them thirty years from now and still be entertained to no end with the masterfully told story of four men, a woman, another man, another woman, a baby, another man, a giant marshmallow-man, a Carpathian destroyer, an asshole, and a bunch of ghosts. I enjoyed the late-80s animated series at the time, but I’m not sure that it holds up today. Part of my enjoyment may have simply been that I was a child, and it was a Ghostbusters cartoon. More recently, I immersed myself in Ghostbusters: The Video Game (X360), referred to by Dan Akroyd as “essentially the third movie.” With script-editing done by Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd, and voice talent provided by the original Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters: The Video Game provided an excellent link to the original property wrapped up in a beautifully designed game. Then news came out that a new Ghostbusters game would be released in March of 2011 (last month, for those not keeping track). Anticipation immediately took hold of me; another Ghostbusters game, on XBLA, that could carry Ghostbusters: The Video Game’s contribution to the property forward? Count me in!

Well, I’ve played the thing now and the best thing I can say about it is that the title screen has the full Ghostbusters theme song, lyrics and all. When I first loaded the game, I sat and listened to the theme song loop for quite a while, much to my wife’s annoyance (she just doesn’t get it). The menu is well designed, as far as menus go. Navigation is simple, and cycling between menu options results in the sound of a proton pack powering up. Once I figured that out, I sat and cycled through the menu options for a little bit while giggling to myself, much to my wife’s annoyance (she just doesn’t get it). Once my childlike joy was satisfied, I ventured into the single-player mode, choosing from one of four new rookie Ghostbusters.

The game’s story is presented in comic-panel style, with timed speech bubbles showing exposition for the sake of the player. The timing is slow, and there are a ridiculous number of panels to sit through. If the writing had been up to par with the Ghostbusters movies and Ghostbusters: The Video Game, this would have been an excellent thing. However, the writing is fairly substandard, and hardly witty or amusing, so the slow pace of the comic panels seems to stretch into eternity. “But surely you can skip the exposition, right?” You most certainly can, at the cost of a 20G achievement that unlocks only if you watch all of the comics without skipping. Knowing that the temptation to skip may overwhelm me, each time a comic panel came up, I placed my controller on the floor, leaned back, and placed my hands behind my head so that a part of the temptation was removed from easy access. I easily sat for at least five minutes watching the introductory comic exposition. While it is a clever way to bring the player up to speed on the game’s story, it could have been executed better. The story itself loosely continues from Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which saw the original Ghostbusters bring on a single rookie recruit to experiment new technology on and to carry some of the team’s weight. In Sanctum of Slime, the exhausted Ghostbusters bring on an entire team of recruits, who are thrust headfirst into a paranormal event that threatens the world. The basic framework of a Ghostbusters story is there, but it just doesn’t have the same feel to it.

Graphically, the game does what it sets out to do. It’s no work of art, but it’s acceptable for an XBLA game. The characters and enemies are sharply defined enough to look good, while the colors are vibrant enough to make it easy to detect what enemy type is headed your way. The levels look nice, but have an easily detectable pattern to them. If you’re in a hallway, you’re generally safe; if you emerge into anything larger than a hallway, expect a few waves of enemies. The pattern does not change (except in the two levels where you’re defending your moving Ghostbusters 4×4 from ghosts while headed to HQ), and gets repetitive. To add to that repetitive feeling is the fact that certain levels are revisited, and most areas within levels are just reused environments (especially in the sewers).

The game plays in a three-quarters top-down view with no camera control, but walls will become semi-transparent to let you see what you’redoing and where you’re going. The gameplay is based on a twin-stick shooter style, with your left joystick controlling your character’s movement, and your right joystick controlling your character’s aim and firing. I am personally not a big fan of this gameplay mechanic, but I know that some people are, and the basic implementation of the mechanic in Sanctum of Slime seemed well done. As in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, you earn cash by destroying enemies and your environment. Unlike Ghostbusters: The Video Game, however, the cash is absolutely meaningless except as a leaderboard statistic. No upgrades or bonuses can be purchased with the cash you earn in the game. That is not to say, however, that you are stuck with only the standard proton stream; by the third level, your proton pack is able to fire three different types of attacks. These three different attacks are important, because there are three different enemy types. Red enemies are damaged by the proton stream, yellow enemies are damaged by a yellow electronic wave, and blue enemies are damaged by a bouncing blue plasma ball. You can switch your output type with the push of a button, which is great because once you get deeper into the game, you’ll have enemies of multiple damage types attacking at once, and you’ll need to be able to quickly switch your weapon output to match.

Part of the orgasmically fun Ghostbusters: The Video Game was the trap mechanic. Even more importantly, defeating ghosts in the Ghostbusters world in general requires the use of a trap. One thing you need to know before going into this game, though, is that the only ghosts you trap are the level bosses. Every other ghost in this game has a simple health bar that is depleted by firing your weapons at them. Once the enemy health is fully depleted, they disappear, or revert to plasma. When trapping ghosts, there’s no sense of struggling to keep the ghost in the containment area of the trap; a simple button sequence mini-game determines the amount of bonus points you receive for trapping the boss. Of all of the missteps this game has made, the removal of the trapping mechanic in favor of simple health bars for the common enemies is the one that bothers me the most.

The ally AI is, for the most part, incredibly stupid. For the first nine levels, it did an arguably decent job of reviving fallen Ghostbusters. Once you hit the tenth level, any intelligent action on their part goes out the window. If you fall in battle, they will most likely die. During the first nine levels, allies would walk into their own deaths while moving to revive a fallen Ghostbuster, and if there are multiple enemy types on the screen, there is no real coordination between them to divide responsibilities and handle all incoming enemies. In certain confined areas, both of these AI failures easily result in retry after retry after retry. Luckily, the checkpoint system is beautifully handled. If your entire team falls, you retry from your current location, with your enemy spawns restarted. This alone kept me from giving up out of sheer frustration; having to restart an entire level six times in a row because 3/4 of the way into the level you have to deal with a badly designed enemy encounter is not my idea of a good time.

There is a balance issue between the three weapon types. The yellow electron wave, while necessary to battle yellow enemies, becomes fairly useless in a swarm situation because it takes far too long to recharge between shots. The blue plasma ball, while necessary to battle blue enemies, is not nearly as accurate or easy to aim as the proton beam or electron wave. The proton beam functions beautifully, for the most part, but the electron wave and plasma ball are major liabilities, especially when you’re being swarmed with both yellow and blue enemies simultaneously (which happens quite often). The balance issue carries over to enemy health, as well. Enemies take a very long time to defeat (especially with the electron wave and plasma ball loadouts). Combine high enemy health with overwhelming enemy numbers, unbalanced weapon damage, and enemy types that only receive damage from certain weapon loadouts, and you get a game that is just badly designed.

Local and online multiplayer are both available. More often than not, games are being released that completely ignore the local multiplayer demographic, so I’m very happy whenever I see something come out that embraces it with full functionality. Unfortunately, in this case, the game is not enjoyable in any mode, single or multiplayer. I’ll be blunt; this game is, by far, one of the most infuriating, frustrating, throw-my-controller-through-the-god-damn-window-because-I-need-to-break-something-and-unfortunately-Ghostbusters-Sanctum-of-Slime-is-not-a-disc-based-game-so-I-can’t-break-it games I have EVER PLAYED. I can’t justify recommending this game to anyone, because it manages to miss the most basic element of any good game: fun. Save your time and money for something that gives you a more rewarding gameplay experience.

Review

ProsCons
Ghostbusters theme song,
Menu sounds,
Good checkpoint system,
Good twin-stick implementation,
Local and online multiplayer.
Infuriating Gameplay,
Badly designed enemy encounters,
Excessive reuse of environments,
Balance issues with weapons/enemies,
I almost broke a controller on this.
Rating
40 out of 100

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