video games

The Game We Received, Not Necessarily the Game We Deserved

There's a line in Kids in the Hall's Brain Candy, where the pharmaceutical company is so desperate to find their next hit product after the massive success of the drug "Stummies," and a character begins a pitch by saying, "Well, it's a lot like Stummies..." 

I can only imagine that the pitch meeting for Ghostbusters: Puzzle Fighter started out very similarly. Someone in the room posited, "Well, it's a lot like Bejeweled," and the rest was history.

First, I should mention that the intention of Ghostbusters HQ is not to become a review site. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there with differing opinions than mine who will enjoy things that I don't, so I don't want to get into the business of throwing up reviews and opinions that might sway someone away from something they like. I also hate bad reviews, which as I started playing, I knew this would come off as. But a representative of the Ghostbusters: Puzzle Fighter PR team reached out to me and offered me a review copy of the game and I figured, what the heck - I had zero interest in the game before but since they're sending it my way, I'll give it a chance.

After downloading from the App Store, you're greeted with an incredibly lengthy loading screen that looks a lot like this. Those of the old guard that once played David Crane's Ghostbusters will understand this but this load screen stays up a good ten times longer than the Commodore 64 took to load that game in the mid-1980s. It could have been a result of getting a preview of the game and the servers weren't ready for it, or there was a giant update to the game needed that wasn't in what was downloaded through the App Store, but I gave it a good five minutes before putting the phone to sleep and moving on.

I came back to the phone later in the work day to find that whatever the game had needed to download had completed, but was a little surprised at how simplistic the game was given the lengthy load time on the front-end. What about this game could have possibly taken that long to load? As mentioned, it's essentially a skinned version of Bejeweled with a "RPG" element placed on top of it without much motivation. There's also a story but the writing and voices of the characters are so out of tone that I ended up reading the first couple static screens and skipping past them from that point forward. Janine reads like a strange character from the Nicolas Cage Valley Girl, turning uncharacteristic phrases like, "Shake your tush, bozo." Venkman comes off like a frat boy creep, and everything just feels... off. Between the strange stilted writing and the odd character design (that initially faced a lot of criticism because of how crazy hyper-sexualized it was after the initial announcement of the game), it really reminds you how difficult the tone of this franchise is to perfectly capture.

Once I was finally into the gameplay, it's identical to the current trend of Candy Crush and Dots mobile games where you're swiping to match consecutive colors/jewels in order to eliminate them from the board. If you've played one of those puzzle games since 2001, you've played Ghostbusters: Puzzle Fighter. The only somewhat new mechanic is the battle aspect of it all. You take a turn, then the AI opponent takes a stab, and so on while you "fight" your opponent draining XP with every eliminated set of jewels.

The Ghostbusters aspect of the game is really just the skin as you amass player cards and characters from the Ghostbusters franchise to do battle with you and you choose your team going into it. This aspect has been sold as a "card game" akin to Magic: The Gathering but because of the gameplay mechanics, it falls flat. Even if I received a super-awesome character card and decide to play it in the next round, I'm still swiping to connect three or more identical tokens. Essentially it feels a lot like one of those puzzle games you got as a party favor at your best friends' birthday where you need to put the marbles into the divots in the playing field: the cardboard background has Ghostbusters on it, but the game pretty much has nothing to do with Ghostbusters at all. Maybe the card game aspect should have been the actual game mechanic and the antiquated 15-year old feeling Bejeweled clone could have been jettisoned, and it would have made it feel more compelling to me? I'm not entirely sure what could have kept me interested, to be completely honest.

All-in-all, I probably played three rounds of the game and felt finished with it. Total time playing the game maybe five or ten minutes. Which I believe is the purpose. It's a quick distraction while you're waiting in a lobby or sitting at the airport that you don't have to think that much about. The good news is that it's free, it most likely relies on in-game purchases for additional levels, characters, etc. but I never even got to that part of the game and probably won't. 

Hopefully this is just a place-holder for Capcom/Beeline to maintain the license until they unveil something more elaborate up their sleeves. A quick skin of an existing product to keep the brand awareness up while they work on a more complex and actually Ghostbusters-related title. I hate to be so down on it, I'm sure a lot of folks worked incredibly hard on it and worse had to scramble and redesign several aspects of the game at the last-minute. Just not really my cup of tea. I'm sure others will kick a kick out of it.