So, the other week I wrote about SNK's rapid-fire lightgun coin-op Mechanized Attack, and you know what? It was fun. It was simple and uncomplicated and my tired old synapses were glad to get some rest, and now I want more of the same. I'm blaming this on the fact that I've been playing Dark Souls recently, and From Software's sombre role-playing masterpiece is such an unrelenting exercise in high tension that when it comes to VGJUNK I need something a little less... taxing. Well, my brain is going to stay well and truly un-taxed with today's subject: Sega's 1990 arcade definitely-not-Ghostbusters-em-up Laser Ghost!

Laser Ghost: eighties cyberpunk novel, possible member of G.I. Joe or speed-metal band, it's a name that could have graced many a product before Sega got hold of it. At least they had the decency to use the name literally, because this is a game about two things - lasers and ghosts.

Oh, and wide-eyed devil children with disturbingly bulbous heads. This flaxen-haired moppet is out with her mother / government-appointed minder on a trip to the big city. Just as she's about to take a bite out of the lightbulb she's carrying...

...she falls victim to some extreme demonic child-borrowing. That was a textbook kidnapping right there - assured, confident, the kid's dropped ice-cream slowly melting for added pathos. I like this demon's style!

Okay, there's no need to get smug about it. Where was I? Oh yeah. The city is under attack by all manner of ghastly ghosts and self-satisfied demon abductionists! A young girl has been kidnapped by dread powers beyond our mortal ken! We need help, but from whom? Who are ya gonna call? Put down that phone, you great tit - in this city the heroes come to you!

Why yes I do have perfect faith in the abilities of this group of people, especially in the fields of child rescuing and the wearing of padded vests. Look man, they're colour coordinated. That implies a level of trustworthiness and responsibility far beyond that carried by a police badge or PhD in Ghost Energy. Just let them get on with the job of rescuing your child, ma'am. They're professionals; they know what they're doing.

The gameplay in Laser Ghost is almost identical to Mechanized Attack: you've got a gun mounted to the cabinet, it's got a trigger and a button on the side that activates a limited-use special attack, you point the gun at things and pull the trigger until your foes have been busted. Hopefully this will prove to be such fun that said busting might even make you feel good. The obvious difference between this and Mechanized Attack is that where MA armed you with an uzi powerful enough to sink battleships, Laser Ghost unsurprisingly features laser weaponry that looks like a hand-held vacuum cleaner. Sega obviously realised that by making their weapon more outlandish they provide fat nerds like me fewer opportunities complain about the glaring inaccuracies in said weapon's ballistic performance, so kudos to them for their foresight. Also, bullets don't work on ghosts.

You start out in the city, which makes sense because that's where the little girl was kidnapped and also it's full of ghosts. Floating ghost heads, ghost that throw axes at you, even the ghosts of fire hydrants which raises some disturbing questions about fire-fighting equipment possessing an immortal soul and whether we are terrible people for letting dogs piss on them. Their undead anger does seem somewhat more justified than the rest of the ghosts, at least.

There are even haunted cars with gaping, tooth-filled mouths! See, this is what I came here for. I just love cartoony ghosts, monsters and demons, as I'm sure you'll know if you ever read any of the Hallowe'en articles. These particular monsters also benefit from being part of a neat little section where you head into the screen, your movements recreated using the scaler technology found in other Sega games such as OutRun and Space Harrier. It's not much, but it's a nice touch none the less.

As surely as all rivers must run to the sea, so too must all stages have a boss at the end. Here's the first one, a pair of skeletal heads who come to life from a movie poster and try to stab you with their knives. Knives? Really? You couldn't have used your undead powers to attack me with something a little more interesting than things I can find in my cutlery drawer? Fine, whatever. Just don't come crying to me at my next séance, complaining about how you brought a knife to a laser fight.
Still, I would like to see the movie that is being advertised by this poster. Monster Monster the Movie, it's called, and the poster makes it look like a rom-com (until the ghosts pop out of it, at least). Renee Zellweger and Gerard Butler play a mummy and a fish-man respectively, and we're taken on a wild ride of emotion and laughter as they try to make their relationship work despite being from two different worlds!

O... okay? I suppose the ghosts are from out of town, so they'd need somewhere to stay. Yeah, that makes sense.

Straight away you're accosted by haunted shirts (or possibly the invisible man wearing nothing but a shirt), living food carts and best of all a bunch of ghostly waiters who attack by throwing cakes and waffles at you. Oh man, see, this is why I love writing VGJUNK and playing old arcade games. That little prick just threw a slice of strawberry cheesecake at me, and even more bafflingly it hurt. Like, if a ghost was going to throw something at me and I got to choose what it was cake would be pretty goddamn high on the list, so for it to launch some kind of harmful dessert at me is almost too ironic for me to bear.
Actually, I should get my grandmother to play Laser Ghost - given her almost Judge Dredd-esque condemnation of anyone who wastes food, she'd relish the opportunity to dispense some laser justice at these little guys.

I should also mention this adorable lobster. He's not a ghost, he has merely become one of their projectiles. No wonder he looks so delicious sad.

The boss of stage two is a gigantic, maggot-covered head. I mean, I assume he's got a gigantic, maggot-covered body too but you never get to see that. He's got tentacles he can fire at you, he has the ability to launch projectile maggots, and he kinda reminds me of Hugo from Street Fighter III. There's not much to say about him other than that I bet the ability to fire ectoplasmic maggots is incredibly highly regarded in the ghost community, like the undead equivalent of being a paediatric surgeon or something.
Shockingly, the demon who kidnapped the girl appears at the end of the hotel stage, so maybe I'm being a little unfair on the heroes of Laser Ghost and their ghost-tracking skills are second-to-none. I'm still more inclined to chalk it up to blind luck, though. Anyway, stage three awaits!

Oh good, a sewer level. Lord knows I can't get enough of sewer levels in my videogames. At least it doesn't really matter in a game like Laser Ghost, because it's just a backdrop and an excuse to have slimier monsters than usual. There are plenty of them, too - the mucous-dripping skull is good, but special mention must go to the blue zombie at the bottom who attacks by squeezing his own neck so hard that a deadly blob of pus flies out of his head.

And zombie alligators, too? Well, this just gets better and better, even if that alligator does have a creepily human-looking arm. It looks like it belongs to an oversized, olive-green baby. Most threatening of the fiends in the sewers are the roaming flocks of flying bricks which launch themselves at your face whenever you go near them.
I'll also draw your attention to the "DAMAGE!" marker on the left of the screen, because this illustrates another difference between LG and Mechanized Attack. As you can see, you've got three status bars at the top of the screen, one for each on the participating players. The thing is, projectile attacks only hurt you if they land in your third of the screen, so for much of the game you can almost ignore the other two-thirds and concentrate on stopping the axes / maggots / bricks that are hurtling towards your vulnerable patch of screen. It does feel kinda strange to be letting attacks get to the screen in a game like this, but you have to because there's so much crap flying at you that you couldn't shoot it all down even if you tried and you need to prioritise.
Speaking of deadly crap, it's time for the boss of the sewers!

A literal piece of shit, complete with the anguished spirits of dumps long-flushed. If you ignore his little poopy minions, he looks a little like Mr. Snuffleupagus sinking into a thick purple carpet. Luckily for our heroes and their immune systems, the boss doesn't attack through the medium of faeces but with rubbish that has accumulated in the sewers, because even Sega though that a monster who attacked with a concentrated stream of faecal matter was a little beyond the pale. At least this boss fight settles the age-old question "can I unblock my toilet with a high-powered experimental laser rifle?"

Sure, why not? If that demon didn't take her to the hotel or into the sewer system, the docks are really the only place left.

Oh god no, it's Birdemic! Shoot them!

Okay, so most of the stage does take place on a ghostly pirate ship that has sailed into the harbour, so our heroes can be forgiven for taking a detour to the docks. It's all just more of the same, but with some enemies that look like undead midget pirates and some that appear to be extremely pissed-off pineapples.

Time to get to work of a script for a horror film about a race of vicious killer pineapples, I guess. Then Michael Bay buys the rights and changes the vicious pineapples to rabid eggplants, thus undermining the essential message of the film and angering fans of PainApple: Death by Fruit the world over.

Of course, there's also a boss, and it's the world's shiftiest octopus. I mean really, check out this animation:

Don't get me wrong, I love octopuses and think that they're really cool, but I would not trust this suspicious pink bastard as far as I could throw him. I mean, we got off to a bad start when he started spitting ink at me the moment I met him, but it's those shifty eyes that have forever soured our relationship. I don't feel bad about shooting him in the face with a laser in the slightest.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that the "ghosts' hangout" is neither an illicit speakeasy ripped straight from the prohibition era or a childlike blanket fort with a crudely-lettered "NO HUMANS ALLOWED!!!" sign hanging at the entrance.

Instead it's a graveyard filled with Grim Reapers who are trying to increase their productivity by using double-ended scythes. Ghosts using a graveyard as a hangout? How gauche. They should have gone for maximum irony and planned their attacks from a maternity ward.

A hanged man tries to lick you, which seems like something of a let-off after having axes and bricks thrown at your head. This chap does remind me that the most frustrating part of Laser Ghost is that there seems to be some parts of the game where you cannot avoid taking damage. Not like in Mechanized Attack - there you just couldn't move your aim between the many targets fast enough. The problem here is that in most lightgun games, if you shoot an enemy quickly and accurately enough you'll interrupt their attacks. Not so here, and you can keep blasting the larger enemies right in their weak spots but they just ignore it and hit you anyway. I don't know how playing with more than one player affects this - perhaps the combined weight of your three lasers is enough to halt the onslaught - but I'm not really in a rush to find out. He died before I did, and I guess that's all that matters, but being forced to take damage just doesn't feel right.

As for the boss, it's an Iron Maiden cover come to life as a trio of haunted heads float about in a vaguely threatening way. I like the one in the middle, with his Hellraiser-style mask that appears to have been nailed onto his head. Sure they can vomit flaming skulls at you, but after fighting that thing in the sewers... well, this just seems a little small-time. Shoot 'em fast and let's move on to the final area.

Even the Mission Start screen is losing patience with me.

Spooky green mansion is the location - the ghosts are running scared and returning to locations where they feel safe, like my old dog who used to wedge herself between the sofa and the wall every Guy Fawkes' Night. Progress is slow but steady until you eventually find your target hiding in a bedroom.

Well, that's the end of that. We can all go home and there'll be no further problems. The young girl who has been left alone and unscathed in the monster-filled mansion is surely completely fine and isn't about to undergo a gruesome transformation.

Yes, Suzy Pinkdress here has come down with a bad case of infernal bumpification. Luckily, this condition can be rectified with a little laser surgery. I mean, I see women who look like this every time I go to my local market, she's really not that menacing.

Oh dear. Poor Suzy's never going to be a ballerina now. I have no idea what this thing is or what it wants, besides its obvious desire for my immediate death beneath an avalanche of eyeballs. Is this why the demon kidnapped this one particular girl? Maybe she's the Antichrist and he was just trying to give Armageddon a little push. Luckily for the human race, Satan didn't realise that his foul spawn would be up against laser weaponry and soon the evil has been blasted right out of the little girl. The heroes of Laser Ghost have saved the day and Suzy is reunited with her mother, completely free of the dark forces that once inhabited her mortal body.

Okay, maybe not completely free. All the other ghosts are gone, though, so I guess the day is saved and the practicality of using lasers to kill ghosts has been proven once again. Thank you to all the hard-working scientists who made this fabulous laser gun a possibility, and much smaller thanks to the three weirdoes who ran around pointing it at things.

I said smaller thanks, not a bloody parade!
Is there any point me doing my usual recap here? You already know if you're going to enjoy Laser Ghost. It's very short, very colourful, very simple and it's filled with some great cutesy ghosts and the occasional abomination of dark magic. If you've got half-an-hour spare and you want to shoot at something while laughing at evil pineapples, then Laser Ghost will fit the bill. The only other point I can really make is that to me, this game seems almost to be the very definition of an "arcade" game. It requires no instruction beyond one screen to show you where the special fire button is, it's big and cheery and graphically superior to any of the consoles of the time, it's the archetype of arcade cabinets you'd find in the corner of a bowling alley and as such it's kind of sad to think we'll never see it's like again.

It's good fun for a short amount of time, at least. Better than Mechanized Attack? Well, it does have that incredibly shifty octopus, so I guess it just about wins out.

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  1. You left out the most "arcadey" thing about it - gimmicky hardware! I can't find any footage on youtube unfortunately, but I remember seeing this game when I was young (indeed in a bowling alley, or something like that) and the reason it stuck out in my mind all these years was that there was some tricky setup involving a reflection on a pane of glass that actually made it look like you were firing laser beams INTO the screen. I don't remember it clearly enough to say exactly how it worked, but wikipedia will back me up on the feature's existence. I could never remember what the game was called, so I wasn't sure if I had just imagined the whole thing all these years, but I recognized it as soon as I saw your first gameplay screenshot, so thanks for letting me get to the bottom of that. ;)

    1. Oh man, I can't believe I forgot that! You're spot on, Laser Ghost did indeed use mirrors to make it look as though you were actually firing at the bad guys. Sadly, I've played Laser Ghost on an actual cabinet, but it didn't have the "real laser" function - it must have been broken, I guess. Did it look as cool as I imagine it would have in the early nineties?

    2. It blew my tiny mind well enough that I still remember it, even though I'm pretty sure I only saw it for a moment and I don't even remember where I was! (Actually, to be perfectly honest, until I looked it up I was also convinced that the ghosts were projected on another pane of glass too, which says something about how fleeting this memory is, considering it's lasted this long!)

    3. Ah, the unforgettable power of Sega's arcade hardware...

    4. Late to the party but...

  2. THIS GAME. I played this in its entirety one glorious summer day at Disney Magic Kingdom in Orlando. They used to have a fantastic arcade. My Mother, knowing how much I desired to waste my youth on bleeps and bloops, gave me an entire twenty dollar bill for quarters and sat outside reading a book until I was done. I spent most of them on this cabinet. Most of the rest of them went to the Alien Versus Predator cabinet. Ravenworks is right, it did look like the bad guys appeared on another screen floating in front of the backdrop. I never knew the name of this one, but the memory came flooding back when I saw the intro screens. This game was wonderful, and I'm glad someone else thinks so too.


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