The day is upon us at last. The pumpkins are carved, the horror movie marathon is queued up, the sweets that the trick-or-treaters didn’t claim are rapidly disappearing into my fat face. I'll be more Haribo than man by the end of the night. Happy Halloween, everybody! I hope you’re having a fun time if you’re a fan of the spooky season, and if you’re not then I hope your house remains un-egged. To close out the 2018 VGJunk Halloween Spooktacular, I’ve got one last glob of gruesome videogaming with a tale of unholy forces, exploding corpses and a guy named Rick who really needs to start wearing some goddamn shoes – it’s Now Production and Namco’s 1993 Megadrive terrifying-cleaning-bill-em-up Splatterhouse 3!

I’d imagine most people reading this already know the basics of the Splatterhouse saga, but here’s a quick recap anyway. In the original arcade game, Rick Taylor and his girlfriend Jennifer show some truly abysmal decision-making skills when they take shelter from a storm in a creepy mansion known as the Splatterhouse. “Getting a bit wet” would have been a much better outcome, but in they go, whereupon Rick is attacked by monsters and Jennifer is abducted. Rick is awakened by the Terror Mask, an ancient artefact that attaches to Rick’s face and transforms him into brutal monster-slaying madman with the body of two pro wrestlers sharing one set of skin and a mask which that makes him look like Jason Voorhees. Rick fights through the house, Jennifer becomes a monster and dies and the Terror Mask uses its evil power to summon a big monster because of course it does. It’s called the Terror Mask. It was never going to spearhead a new recycling initiative or open a cat shelter.

In Splatterhouse 2, the mask re-appears and tells Rick that if he goes back to the house, he can save Jennifer. Being the trusting sort that he is, Rick teams up with the mask once again and punches his way through yet another cavalcade of monsters that look like overgrown medical samples from an ear, nose and throat ward. It all works out in the end, though, and Rick and Jennifer are reunited and they go off to live happily until the developers decided there was money in a new Splatterhouse game.

There’s Rick now, peeking out from behind the Splatterhouse 3 logo during the intro. Don’t worry, we’ll be seeing plenty of him soon enough. So, Splatterhouse 3 has a story too, but I’m still a bit fuzzy about how it all fits together. The game itself takes a very cinematic approach to cutscenes, but for whatever reason there’s no in-game explanation for what’s happening. The manual has a bit more info – it tells us that years have passed, during which time Rick married Jennifer, they had a son named David and Rick got a job on Wall Street which makes sense because he’s used to dealing with vicious psychopaths, boom boom. Then there’s something about the Evil One, a malevolent force that rises from the abyss and attacks Rick’s mansion home. This allows the Terror Mask to wheedle its way back into Rick’s mind, and because Rick needs the mask’s power to punch all the monsters into chunky red paste they team up one more time. I think that’s how it goes, anyway. I suppose it’s not really important. I should probably, you know, play the game.

This iteration of the Terror Mask has received another new look, with a skull-like shape that’s definitely not a hockey mask and therefore safe from lawyers acting on behalf of the Friday the 13th franchise. Before the action start, the mask offers Rick a few tips, namely that he shouldn’t dawdle and that he can collect special “power stones” that’ll make Rick’s flesh expand with a surge of power. Based on that description I presume the “power stones” are fake Chinese Viagra.

And now the pummelling begins. Like previous games in the series, Splatterhouse 3 is a side-scrolling beat-em-up at heart, although the prequels were fixed to a single plane of action whereas Splatterhouse 3 allows you to move between the fore- and background in the manner of games like Final Fight. Combat also adopts the “classic” beat-em-up formula, with an attack button that can dish out a combo of punches upon repeated presses, grab attacks initiated by walking into monsters and then either headbutting them or slinging them across the room, plus a jump button for the always-welcome flying kicks. It’s a familiar toolset, so you should have no trouble getting through these early rooms filled with headless zombies. A headless zombie is kind of a genius concept, really – without a head, the zombie doesn’t have a weak point!

While Splatterhouse 3 does have stages – the first stage encompasses the mansion’s ground floor, for example – each stage is split into small rooms rather than being one continuous path from start to finish. Once you’ve cleared a room, you can bring up the map to see the pathways available to you. The X marks the stage’s boss, the white doors are one-way paths and the yellow doors are shortcuts. Rick’s position is, of course, marked by that adorable little Terror Mask icon. The optimal route to the boss might seem obvious, but because each room has its own combination of monstrous inhabitants it’s sometimes faster to take a slightly longer route to avoid especially demon-infested rooms. And you do need to be fast.

We’ve got to hurry and rescue Jennifer, who is currently hiding from the monsters. Splatterhouse 3 tells its story through these cinematic intermission screens that use digitised footage of real live actors. This means that someone had to dress as Rick, complete with a prop Terror Mask and I would love to see some behind-the-scenes footage of that process. Unfortunately none seems to exist, and who knows what happened to the Terror Mask prop? We can only hope that someone had the foresight to brick it up behind the walls of an old house so that future renovators get a real surprise.

Speaking of renovations, I hope that the Evil One’s influence has warped the very nature of the mansion because otherwise Rick and Jennifer are not raising their child in a pleasant environment. Plaster crumbles from the walls, rotten floorboards crack and splinter and rather than having a nice carpet in the lounge they went with “flagstones from a mouldering crypt” as a flooring choice. I understand that any time you buy a big old house it’s going to be something of a fixer-upper, but when your home looks like the set from an Evil Dead movie it’s time to get professional decorators in. And possibly an exorcist.

Like the other games in the series, S3 also has weapons you can pick up and use. They’re few and far between and there are no shotguns in this one, but who can argue with the brutal simplicity of hurling a breezeblock into a monster’s face? These zombies can’t, on account of them not having heads and also having a breezeblock where their heads should be. You can also find more traditional melee weapons like a piece of lumber and a machete, and those are more practical than the brick because you hold on to them rather than throwing them. The concrete bricks are especially difficult to use because if you drop a weapon on the floor, a ghostly head will fly onto the screen and steal it.  At least someone’s cleaning up around here.

As time passes, we’re treated to what is one of my favourite little horror moments in videogaming, as Jennifer begins to smell of rot of the grave. It’s such a strange, sinister phrase that manages to convey a real sense of encroaching dread – imagine how terrifying it’d be if you suddenly realised you were decomposing because you began to smell like a rotting corpse. Yikes.

In an effort to reach Jennifer more quickly, I unleashed Rick’s ultimate technique – by collecting magic orbs you can fill your power bar and then use that power to transform Rick into a form that somehow manages to be even larger and more muscular than regular Rick. The Terror Mask also fuses with Rick’s flesh, which I’m sure would be very painful as well as causing the same problems with neck movement that you see in Tim Burton’s Batman movies.
While you’re monster Rick, your attacks do more damage and you take less damage, which I’m sure is what you’d expect to happen. Your moveset changes slightly, too, but for the most part it’s a straight power upgrade; although piling on an extra three hundred pounds of raw muscle unsurprisingly makes Rick move more slowly. It’s a power than can be useful in a pinch, but you’ve got to be careful where you use it because once you clear a room as Monster Rick you lose all your power and revert to normal. Save it for the boss battles, and speaking of which…

Here’s the first boss of the game, an almost child-like mass of rubbery flesh with a ravenous maw and suppurating wounds where its eyes should be. Yep, sounds like a Splatterhouse boss to me. The boss is angry because I interrupted its dinner; when you arrive in the boss room it’s happily chowing down on a pile of corpses. Whose corpses? I haven’t got a clue, but there are plenty of them. Perhaps Rick employed large staff of maids and butlers, or maybe the monster brought the corpses with it as a packed lunch. There’s a busy day of carnage ahead and all the cafeteria serves is cold goat entrails, so he asked his monster spouse to make up a lunchbox. There’s a little note inside that says “Give them “Hell” honey!! XXX.” That’s the story I’m sticking with.

Phase one of the fight sees the boss doing little besides annoyingly hopping around just out of arm’s reach and occasionally trying to crash into Rick, but after taking enough damage its head falls off. Normally this would be a good thing for Rick, but in this case it just means the monster can now extend a huge bloody arm from its guts and claw at you. I love that you can still see the monster’s tongue flapping around where its jaw used to be.
It’s still a fairly simple boss even once transformed into a reverse sock puppet, and eventually I emerged triumphant. However, you might notice that the timer at the top of the screen has run out.

I was too slow, and now Jennifer is dead. I’m probably projecting, but I think the live-action Terror Mask does a really good job of capturing a look of both cold resignation and quiet anger. The mask encourages Rick to use his rage against the monsters, but what if I did manage to clear the stage before the time ran out?

In that case, Jennifer is still alive when Rick reaches her – however, she’s been infected with a horrible creature called a boreworm that’s eating her from the inside and the only way to stop it is to kill the giant boreworm. That’s… better than being dead? I think?
What this means is that Splatterhouse 3 has multiple different story paths you can take, with each step determined by whether you clear the stage within the time limit or not. There are even four separate endings, depending on who lives and who dies. It’s a fun feature that provides for more potential replayability than a lot of other games of this type and vintage, and I’m excited to see more of these cutscenes but everything being tied to strict time limits does have its downsides.

Stage two encompasses the second floor of the mansion, and as Rick begins his mission to find the giant boreworm I can reveal to you Rick’s true power. You might think being able transform into Goth Incredible Hulk was his ultimate attack, but you’re much better served by using Rick’s spinning kick attack. Activated by hitting away, towards and attack, it causes Rick to spin around multiple times with his foot outstretched, clobbering any monsters that dares to enter even the vague vicinity. It feels like your traditional beat-em-up “desperation” attack, and indeed in the Japanese version of the game it’s activated by pressing jump and attack together, but it doesn’t drain your health and it’s more powerful than even a full combo string. If you want to get anywhere in S3, learning to reliably activate the spin-kick is absolutely mandatory.

Rick Taylor: husband, father, occasional possession victim, collector of antique Swiss clocks. He’s a multifaceted kinda guy, is Rick.  I just wish he’d put on some goddamn shoes. I’ve mentioned this before but for whatever reason I find Rick’s constant barefootedness to be deeply unsettling. If he’s not walking on cold stone floors or through rooms warped into pulsating masses of unidentifiable flesh, he’s ramming his feet down monsters’ throats. For god’s sake, man, invest in some study work boots or something. Hell, wrapping a carrier bag around each foot would be better than nothing.

The boss of the first stage reappears as a regular enemy. Normally I’d be a little annoyed that the recycling has begun already, but it’s such a fun monster design that I don’t really mind. Plus this version of the monster has much less health and now Rick has a giant cleaver, so the playing field is both more even and very messy. Monsters have special animations if you kill them with weapons such as being cleft mostly in twain by the cleaver, and honestly Splatterhouse 3 is packing in so many horrible details that I can’t help but love it.

At the end of the stage, in a room covered in the aforementioned pulsating flesh and decorative wall hearts, the giant boreworm waits. It begins the fight by throwing lots of tiny boreworms at you that I had real trouble avoiding. In the end I stopped trying to avoid them just so I could get closer to the boss. The boreworm likes to jump around a lot, occasionally spitting more worms, and it also has the rather annoying power to block your punches.

Still, it can’t block grabs, and after enough headbutts the top half of the boreworm explodes into a writhing mass of maggots. After this transformation, the boreworm spends most of the battle propelling itself along the floor like some demented living mop. The best part of this fight is that the boreworm is constantly giggling to itself. I’ve always thought that the Splatterhouse games were more style than substance, but as I fight a laughing, maggot-faced worm monster in a room made of meat I must confess that said style is fantastic.

Mission accomplished; Jennifer remains undigested and we leave her here to recuperate while we complete the rest of the game. If you don’t make it in time the boreworm eats Jennifer’s brain and she becomes a “mindless beast,” so we’re definitely on track for the good ending now.
With Jennifer rescued, Rick turns his attention to his son, David, who is also hiding somewhere in the house. David’s survival is tied to, you guessed it, a time limit, so we’d better get a shift on.

Pictured above: Rick getting clonked in the jaw by a haunted lamp. A bit of poltergeist activity makes a nice change of pace, although after all the grotesque beasts we’ve already faced it’s hard to be scared of a book. It must be Michael Owen’s autobiography or something.

Spooky furniture aside, the combat is much the same as before. Rick controls quite well, and while his movements can feel a bit heavy with a fair amount of inertia when you’re trying to change directions, it doesn’t hamper the action much and even gives Rick a satisfying sense of solidity. Hit detection is good and quite generous, especially when trying to gather multiple monsters together so you can hit them all at once, and each attack has it’s uses – flying kick knock enemies down quickly, throws can buy you some breathing space, that sort of thing. However, there is one major issue with the combat: the spinning kick is too good. In almost every situation it is vastly superior to your normal moves, because it hits all around you, does tons of damage and you’re invincible while performing it. This is only true of the American version of the game, by the way, because the spinning kick is far weaker in the Japanese version and is mostly used for crowd control. But this is the US version, so having Rick constantly pirouetting things to death like a ballerina with anger management issues is really the only way to go.

Don’t worry, David, daddy’s coming! He’s very dizzy, but he’s on his way!

This stage’s boss fight is great, and if you ever wanted to see a masked maniac stick the nut on a huge teddy bear then you have serious issues but hey, Splatterhouse 3 has you covered. Perhaps unsurprisingly the teddy bear isn’t much of a threat at first, what with it being a cuddly toy and all. A cuddly toy inhabited by an evil spirit, sure, but it doesn’t attack much and even if it did hit you it seems unlikely to cause much damage.

Eventually the inevitable happens and the bear erupts into a twisted blob of bloody flesh and razor sharp claws. It uses those claws to taunt you with a “bring it on” gesture and boy, the bosses in this game really do have a lot of character. The boss’ bravado is misplaced, however, because all it really does is charge at Rick so you can stand there and let it run right into your spinning kicks. It might block the first one or two but Rick will keep on spinnin’ and land a hit eventually. Then the teddy bear monster explodes, because that’s what monsters do.

But alas, even though I beat the time limit David is nowhere to be seen, and the monster in his bedroom was merely a distraction. The good news is that David is still alive. The bad news is that the monsters have taken him because the Evil One needs a psychic child to serve as a sacrifice that will release the Demon Stone and whaddya know, David is psychic, apparently. I guess some of the Terror Mask’s power found its way into Rick’s, erm, gametes. There’s a difficult conversation with Jennifer waiting for Rick once all this is over.

The game says stage four takes place in the mansion’s basement, but that is quite obviously an open sewer. That can’t up to building codes, can it? Did Rick build this mansion himself, using the Terror Mask’s fearsome power to dig an uncovered drainage channel? Frankly I’m impressed that a game set entirely within a house still managed to contain a sewer level.

Rick also has a very well-appointed wine cellar, which does mean he’ll be able to drink to forget afterwards. No wonder he can afford all this wine, what with not paying building inspectors or buying shoes.

The excellent monster designs continue with these sack-wearing ghouls that hover ominously until they decide to attack with the big monster arm they’re hiding under their cloaks. You can’t go wrong with the “one eyehole in a sack” monster design, and between that and their lumpy red flesh I can’t help but wonder whether they’re related to the original Splatterhouse’s chainsaw-handed Biggy Man boss. Once you’ve hit them enough their cloaks fall off to reveal the very Deadite-like heads beneath, although getting to that point can be a struggle because these monsters can become immune to your attacks on a whim, an especially annoying trait when you’re trying to kill them as quickly as possible. I think it’s fair to say I have mixed feelings about these cool-looking bastards.

The stage’s boss starts out as an embryo that knows how to punch. Thinking to myself “I’m not going to lose a fist-fight to a foetus,” I sent Rick wading in there. Then the boss electrocuted me. Okay, fine, you win this round.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the boss to transform – or hatch, in this case – so now there’s another malformed hellspawn for you to repeatedly spin-kick back to the underworld. Definitely less endearing than the other bosses, this one, perhaps a touch nondescript, and like the teddy bear boss it’s more than willing to run right into your foot repeatedly, so keep spinning like you’re trying to drill your way to China using nothing but your disturbingly bare feet.

Phew, David’s okay, and remarkably unfazed by seeing his father transformed into a hulking brute wearing a skull mask. I suppose he already knew what was going on. Because he’s psychic, you see.
With David and Jennifer both saved, the family-rescuing aspect of the game comes to a close and we’re assured of the good ending… assuming we can vanquish the horrors that still remain.

Even though David was rescued, the ritual got far enough along to free the.. Demon Stone? Evil One? I’m having a hard time keeping track of what’s going on at this point. We don’t appear to be in Rick’s house any more, either. H.R. Giger’s house, maybe, but not Rick’s. Oh well, so long as there are monsters to punch the path to victory will be fairly straightforward, and despite being late in the game this stage is something of a relief because there are no time limits to worry about.

Considering how viciously difficult the earlier games in the series were, Splatterhouse 3 is surprisingly fair on the straightforward “kill the monsters and don’t die” side of things. You’ve got a decently-sized health bar, the spinning kick is very powerful and having an extra plane of movement means that attacks are a lot easier to avoid that they were in the single-plane prequels. Most of the game’s challenge does come from beating the time limits, and it can be really tough to save everyone, requiring multiple playthroughs to learn the fastest, safest routes. It’s an unusual balancing act and I’m not normally a fan of games with meaningful time limits, but in S3’s case it adds enough to the game that I’m glad of its inclusion.

Now that I’ve said the game wasn’t as difficult as I expected, it’s time for some hubristic punishment in the form of this stage’s boss. It’s the Evil One, and you might recognise him from Splatterhouse 2, where a giant version chased Rick during the latter potion of the game. The Evil One is smaller here but no less deadly, and the real challenge is getting close enough to it to land any hits. Not only will the boss fly away as soon as you get near, but it can also fire exploding orbs at you that knock off a big chunk of your health. I’m sure there’s a specific pattern to its movements and grabs seemed to be the most effective attacks, so manipulating it into grabbing range is probably the way to go, but I found this fight extremely hard. It’s not even very interesting visually. I didn’t like fighting buff, naked bald guys when they were the villain of Street Fighter IV and I don’t like it now

After many, many deaths and the application of a cheat code for infinite lives (hey, I want this article out on Halloween) Rick finally emerges victorious. Things are looking up for our hero – the Evil One is defeated, his wife and son are safe and the Terror Mask didn’t try to betray him this time!

Oh. I ask you, if you can’t trust ancient evil artefacts called the Terror Mask, who can you trust? Defeating the Evil One has left a power vacuum that the Terror Mask is more than happy to slide into, but Rick’s not about to let that happen. Not while I’ve still got that infinite lives cheat active.

And thus you find yourself fighting the Terror Mask’s physical form, or at least the top half. After the nightmare I had with the previous boss I’m pleased to say that the Terror Mask’s first form isn’t too hard to deal with. The trick is to try to stay close, because otherwise it’ll keep shooting pillars of fire at you. Get in close, try to land a hit just as it starts attacking and don’t get too greedy and the first stage shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The second phase kicks things up a notch. The mask consolidates itself into a mask and one very large meatball. A deadly meatball that once again tries to beat Rick through manoeuvrability rather than sheer power, teleporting away when you get close and launching a barrage of bone skewers at you. When you do land an attack, the mask responds by summoning another, ghostly mask that chases you around the screen for a while. When I say “a while” I actually mean “bloody ages,” to the point that you really shouldn’t damage the boss when it’s in the centre of the screen because then you won’t have enough space to run away from the ghost-mask.

Fighting the Terror Mask raises some questions: namely, how is Rick still wearing the mask? And why does the mask still resurrect Rick when he dies? There are no fewer than four Terror Masks in the screenshot above. That’s too many Terror Masks. Perhaps it’s intended to highlight the arrogance of the Terror Mask, destroyed by a weapon that it created. Or maybe the developers thought “who cares, it’s a game about not-Jason Voorhees beating monsters to death.” Either way, with enough perseverance the Terror Mask will, in essence, punch itself to death.

Hoisted by your own veiny, bulging petard, huh? That’s the end of the Terror Mask, his plan to take over the world by manipulating someone who’s good at killing evil demigods having backfired spectacularly.

Rick returns to his family, or at least he does in the good ending. The others are variations depending on who survives. If no-one survives, you get a scene with Rick reflecting on the loss of his family and his crushing loneliness… immediately followed by a message reading “Congratulations!” I’ve got to say, that feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth.

You know, I think Splatterhouse 3 might be my favourite Splatterhouse game – my favourite to actually play, anyway. The graphics, music and overall atmosphere of Splatterhouse 2 are very difficult to top, but the difficulty does kinda wear me down whenever I play it. I’m bad at games and I’m really bad at difficult games, so Splatterhouse 3’s less brutal gameplay definitely holds my attention better. And it’s not like Splatterhouse 3 is without atmosphere, because it looks great. Perhaps style over substance, as I said earlier, but god damn what a great style. Excellent enemy designs, copious amounts of cartoonish gore, unpleasantly slimy environments where no barefoot man should dare to tread – it is absolutely a VGJunk kinda game.
A couple of boss battles aside it plays nicely too, especially if you don’t care what ending you get so you can take your time. There’s little truly special about the core gameplay, but it handles well even if the spinning kick does become a bit of a crutch, and Rick’s monster form is a nice touch. The monster form’s version of the spinning kick makes Rick shoot disgusting tendrils of flesh out of his torso, so yes, I can definitely recommend Splatterhouse 3.

For the final Halloween-O-Meter score of the season, there’s no way I could give Splatterhouse 3 anything but top marks. It’s basically a slasher film that you’re in control of, everything explodes in gouts of blood like a terrible accident at the black pudding factory and there’s a demoniacally-possessed teddy bear. The Halloween-O-Meter might be a fickle thing, but Splatterhouse 3 offers a good calibration point for a ten out of ten even if it doesn’t have any pumpkins in it.

Well, that’s the end of this year’s Halloween Spooktacular. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together – well, apart from when I was playing Vampire Killer, that was not fun. Seeing people say that they were excited to see the Spooktacular return definitely gave me the strength to keep ploughing on through, so thanks for that. VGJunk will return soon enough, but I  might take a short break. Thanks for reading, and until then remember this – it’s always Halloween if you’re willing gorge on fun-sized Mars bars and listen to Dokken’s Dream Warriors on a loop.



In the past, I have made reference to my youthful obsession with Ghostbusters, an obsession I think you could accurately describe as “all-encompassing” and which left an immutable psychic scar because I never owned the firehouse play set. I had the toys, the book, the VHS tapes, I asked for red glasses so I could look like the cartoon version of Egon and my first ever crush was on cartoon Janine. Too much information? Probably. Yet somehow, in the period when my twin obsessions were Ghostbusters and the NES, I managed to completely miss out on today’s game. Developed by HAL Labs and released in 1990, it’s New Ghostbusters II!

Here are some Ghostbusters now, as Peter, Egon and Winston chase Slimer out of a cinema screen because it can’t be the Ghostbusters if they’re not causing significant property damage while busting ghosts.
These aren’t new Ghostbusters, of course. They’re old Ghostbusters. The game’s called New Ghostbusters II because there was already an NES game based on Ghostbusters II, developed by Imagineering. The Imagineering version is a pretty terrible game that I wouldn’t recommend to even the most hardcore Ghostbusters fan, because it’s an overly-difficult slog with tedious driving sections. New Ghostbusters II is a completely different beast, as we shall see. For once it was European console owners who got the better deal, because New Ghostbusters II was never released in the US, presumably due to licensing issues. Naturally it was also released in Japan, being developed by HAL, (a Japanese company,) and I’m looking forward to seeing a Japanese take on what is a very American film franchise. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first person to point out that Ghostbusters is about a business that becomes successful by flouting health and safety regulations, mocking due legal process and monopolising their industry, after all.

Before the action begins, you must select two Ghostbusters to play as. You can even play as the Ghostbusters’ accountant / lawyer Louis Tully, which I imagine marks the first time I’ve ever had the chance to play as Rick Moranis in a videogame. I’ll be going with Egon and Ray for this playthrough, because they feel like the two most Ghostbuster-y characters to me. Plus Egon’s my favourite.

The game wastes no time in breaking out the spooks, beginning with good ol’ Slimer – a floating, unthreatening target on which to practise your busting skills. NG2 has an unusual set-up where you have two characters but only control one of them directly, in this case Egon. You move around with the d-pad until you see a ghost, at which point you press the A button to fire your proton beam. If you hit the ghost they’ll be stunned so long as you hold the beam on them, at which point you can press the B button to make your CPU-controlled partner throw out a trap to capture the ghost. Your partner will follow you around fairly closely and make their way to a good trapping position once you’ve got a ghost in your beam… for the most part. Ray's definitely more reliable than I expected him to be, though.

As far as the core gameplay goes, that’s about it. Zap ‘em and trap ‘em, nice and easy. Each stage is split into a series of rooms, and eliminating all the ghosts in a room opens up the next, complete with a big on-screen arrow telling you where to go next. Let’s pretend the arrow represents the PKE Meter tracking ectoplasmic activity throughout this… wait, where are we?

With all the offices and scattered paperwork, it appears that New Ghostbusters II begins at around the end of the movie’s first act, when the courthouse is attacked by ghosts thanks to the emotion-manipulating pink slime. Perhaps that’s why there are so many Slimers about; slime sticks together. There are plenty of other ghosts here too, though, including the jogging ghost from the movie, pink blobs that split into even smaller pink blobs when zapped, spectral snakes that pop out of bathtubs and chainsaw maniacs.

There’s a chainsaw maniac now, with its chainsaw and its face that’s kind of difficult to interpret. Is it wearing a baseball catcher’s mask, for a Jason Voorhees riff? Possibly, although thanks to my over-consumption of horror movies I keep seeing it as the Chatterer cenobite from Hellraiser. Not that the Chatterer ever used a chainsaw. I don’t think Pinhead would stand for one of his crew torturing people with something so gauche as a chainsaw, he’d have a big speech about how it lacks the brutal elegance of chains with hooks on the end.
It’s been easy going thus far, but I should mention that you don’t have any kind of health bar in this game. One hit and you lose a life, although thankfully your CPU partner is invulnerable. This means that you should try to be careful, and my top tip for doing that is that you can catch ghosts through walls, so use that to your advantage whenever possible.

Things get more difficult when projectiles are involved, such as in this room full of Slimers that chuck food at you. For whatever reason these lethal projectile pineapples cannot be stopped by blasting them with a highly-concentrated, nuclear-powered proton beam, so you’ll have to dodge them. Fortunately your chosen Buster handles well, with sharp, precise controls, although the perspective can sometimes make it difficult to tell if an attack is going to hit you even though it looks like it should pass “above” you.

Having cleared the building you arrive at the courtroom itself, where the jar of pink slime explodes and releases the game’s first boss – the Scoleri Brothers! A pair of murderers given the electric chair, they’re freed from Hell to enact their sinister plan of running around the screen in predictable patterns. Yeah, they’re not the most menacing pair. The difficulty comes from having to hold your beam on them for a little while before they turn pink and trappable, but you can move around while you’re zapping a ghost and your remain “tethered” to it up to a certain distance so you can still avoid the other brother.

Onwards to stage two, which takes place during the Ghostbusters' exploration of New York’s abandoned subway tunnels. It’s also where the ghosts of all the Mets that Mega Man ever destroyed have ended up. They’re happily working away down here with their pickaxes and pneumatic drills until you bust them. I’m sure they were working on something evil. I assume they were trying to cause as much pubic transport disruption as possible, driving ordinary people to contemplate all manner of terrible acts as they’re crushed against someone who hasn’t bathed in three weeks while their train is stuck in a siding – a diabolical plan indeed.

You can’t have small train tracks in a videogame without mine carts, can you? If an alien civilisation learned of Earth solely through videogames they’d have to assume that mine carts are a fundamental aspect of an Earthling’s everyday life, along with opening chests and killing each other. Uh, scratch that last one.
So yeah, mine carts that’ll kill you if they crash into you. You still have to bust the ghosts inside, of course, but you can hold out your beam as they pass and let them ride into it. This stage represents a good step up from the first, with the same basic gameplay that’s spiced up by having to pay attention to where you’re standing. It feels like an organic addition to the complexity of the game and is definitely preferably to the game simply dumping more ghosts on you, or bigger ghosts, or ghosts with guns.

Sadly this stage does suffer from being a bit dull to look at. Ninety-five percent of the stage is the same orange bricks and mine cart tracks patrolled by undead construction workers. I’d be more critical of it if I wasn’t having so much fun with the gameplay, but it could definitely use a bit of sprucing up. At least chuck in a bit of graffiti or something, maybe a giant albino alligator that was flushed down the sewers and grew to an enormous size beneath the city. This is New York, after all.

The final few screens take place aboard a train where you’re attacked by ghostly severed heads. I certainly hope they’re ghosts, anyway. If not, I think the Ghostbusters should also be keeping an eye out for Herbert West.
Right at the very end of the train is Slimer, except now he’s a locomotive engineer with a little hat and everything, and it is adorable. Less adorable when Slimer fired a spread-shot of projectiles that immediately killed Egon with no warning, but still a lovely sight to see. Then I blasted the old onionhead. I felt a little bad about it, but not bad enough to prevent me from seeing the rest of the game.

Stage three takes place in Peter Venkman’s apartment building, where he let Sigourney Weaver stay after an evil force tried to kidnap her baby. Unfortunately the lifts aren’t working, so you have to work your way up from the ground floor, trapping a ton of ghosts as you go because Peter apparently lives in the most haunted building in America. Common spooks in this stage include pink blobs, strange winged things that look like Cupid fell asleep on a tanning bed and, for some reason, ninja ghosts. I want to know how the spirits of an entire ninja clan ended up bound to the earthly confines of a New York apartment building, although as I type this I realise I already know the answer – this must be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ doing. “Ghostbusters meet Turtles” is a crossover event that, had I read it as a child, would probably have killed me through raw excitement. A couple of years ago there was a Ghostbusters / Turtles crossover comic, but I can’t bring myself to read it. I know it won’t live up to my childhood fantasy of the Turtles meeting Zuul and thinking of Shredder so they have to fight a giant Shredder and then the Ghostbusters arrive in the Statue of Liberty and they fight and it is the best. Ahem.

The apartment building has minibosses at the end of each floor in the form of these flail-wielding cyclopses. A menacing sight at first, you’ll soon learn that they can only attack directly downwards so once you’ve gotten around the side of them they’re completely helpless.

Much like the previous stage, this area does suffer from repetitiveness -  a feeling exacerbated by it being about three times longer than the previous stage. You move through the very similar looking rooms, fight a couple of cyclopses, repeat – and I repeated it for long enough that I was worried I was missing something, that I needed to do something special to break the cycle in a Zelda-Lost-Woods kind of deal. But no, you just have to keep plugging away until you reach the end of the stage.

I’m happy to keep plugging away, mind you, because I’m having a really fun time with New Ghostbusters II. The action’s slick and smooth, with just enough thought required to avoid boxing yourself in or getting surrounded that it avoids becoming stale. The range of your proton beam is long enough to give you room to manoeuvre but still short enough that you have to get involved and can’t just trap ghosts from a mile away, and when you’ve learned how the ghosts move you can use their patterns to your advantage. Plus it looks great, with endearingly chubby little sprites and simple but charming ghost designs. Oh, and the music is really good, too. You’ve got a fantastic NES recreation of the famous Ghostbusters theme, for starters, and all the stage music is a blast, from stage one’s bouncy use of motifs from the theme to stage four’s funky riff on “Entrance of the Gladiators.” Then there’s stage three’s theme, which is clearly from a Kirby game.

If you listened to that out of context, you’d definitely say “hey, that sure sounds a lot like music from a Kirby game.” I know I did. It’s because NG2’s soundtrack is by Kirby composer Jun Ishikawa. Having heard this track I’d have been amazed if Ishikawa wasn’t the composer.

Any complaints I may have had about this stage being repetitious were allayed once the Ghostbusters were attacked by these grim reapers with pumpkins for heads. They are, with only mild hyperbole, the greatest enemies in any videogame ever. I’d like to believe they’re based on the pumpkin-headed “Ghost of Halloween” Samhain from the Ghostbusters cartoon, but I don't have any evidence for that.

There’s no boss at the end of stage three, but you do get a cutscene showing Dana’s baby Oscar being abducted by the creepy Renfield-a-like Janosz. Like almost everything in this game, the cutscene is very cute.

Into the river of slime for the next stage, where our intrepid paranormal investigators must do battle with evil strawberry jam while avoiding the projectiles that come their way. You might also notice that NG2 does have some problems with sprite flickering, especially when you’re zapping a ghost / deadly emotion-enhancing fruit preserve. It’s a fairly minor issue, and overall I’d say that there’s very little to criticise in NG2. Once or twice Ray managed to get himself stuck behind a wall and I had to go back and fetch him, but the pathfinding on your CPU helper is generally very good. The stage backgrounds do get samey, and that’s probably the game’s biggest flaw. I’ve played games with a lot worse biggest flaws.

Hey, maybe there is something to the whole Slimer / slime connection in this game? There certainly are a lot of Slimers down here and not much else beside, you know, slime. Maybe Slimers are independent, fully-realised globs of emotion slime, and that emotion is “me at about 8pm when I suddenly realise I’ve forgotten to have any dinner.”
It was also around this point that I realised what other game NG2 is reminding me of – Sunsoft’s NES version of Gremlins 2. They’re both top-down games based on spooky comedy movies set in New York that I watched a lot when I was a kid. There’s no point to this revelation, it’s just nice to finally figure it out.

Something that didn’t appear in Ghostbusters II (the movie) is this stage’s boss, a pack of slimy… lizards? Dragons? Whatever they are, they seem to have been flayed alive, given that they’re red and you can see all their musculature. They can also breathe fire, so I’m going with dragons. Slime dragons, the worst kind of dragons. Like the Scoleri Brothers you have to keep your beam on a dragon for a while to defeat it, although you don’t have to trap them. I assume this is because they’re made of slime and not ectoplasm. It works out nicely for Ray, who can spend the entire battle doing bugger all and being invincible. Hang on, why doesn’t Ray join in with the zapping? Does he not have a proton pack? Were there budget cuts at Ghostbusters HQ? C’mon, Ray, start pulling your weight.

With the dragons defeated it’s time for the final stage – the art museum, where kidnapped baby Oscar has been taken so that the evil wizard Vigo the Carpathian can transfer his essence out of the painting he’s trapped in and into Oscar’s body. Oh yeah, Vigo the Carpathian. You remember him, he’s the driving force behind the events of Ghostbusters 2. Kinda weird that we haven’t seen him in the game yet, huh?
I like the exhibits on display in the museum. You can’t go wrong with pictures of Slimer and blank canvases that drip blood, can you? Plus I reckon that the pictures you can see just about Egon and Ray in the screenshot above are teeny-tiny recreations of the Ghostbusters 2 movie poster.

The museum takes everything that you’ve seen thus far during the course of the game and bundles it all into one stage. Almost every type of previously-encountered ghost makes a return, including the Scoleri Brothers and the pumpkin reapers, and it feels like one last section of “pure” gameplay before the final battles ahead. Nothing much has changed, but nothing really needed to change because the gameplay was perfectly enjoyable as it was.

The stage ends with a battle against Janosz, as portrayed by the actor Peter MacNicol and represented in-game as a sprite of Peter MacNicol with a gigantic forehead. There’s something I find very entertaining about doing battle with an American character actor who I associate most with Ally McBeal in a Japanese-developed NES game. Like, I wonder if Peter MacNicol has ever seen this? I’m far too British to ever do it, but part of me wants to get in touch with him on Twitter and let him know about this (please do not take this as a request to bother Peter MacNicol). He does have a Twitter. I just checked it out. He seems to really like Halloween, so he’s okay in my book.
As for the boss fight itself, it’s… not great. The game’s lowest ebb, as far as I’m concerned, mostly because it’s an enormous spike in difficulty compared to the rest of the game which, up until this point, has been relatively easy. To defeat Janosz, you have to zap one of his clones with your beam for fifteen seconds or so – but as soon as you hit one Janosz, the other two begin firing projectiles at you, so you have to try to avoid those missile while maintaining your beam and that is no easy task. It’s made worse by you having to eliminate about ten Janosz clones before the fight grinds to a halt, with any lapse in concentration or false move leading to the loss of a life because hey, it’s one-hit kills. A frustrating battle needlessly stretched into a gruelling slog, then – but those sprites are fantastic.

There’s Vigo, the Scourge of Carpathia, the Sorrow of Moldavia. About bloody time. He used to sit in a castle of pain on a throne of blood, now he’s reduced to possessing art restorers and looking like a sculpture of George Carlin carved from scabs. No wonder he’s so angry.

After getting my arse kicked into a brand new shape by Janosz, fighting Vigo was like skipping through a summer meadow by comparison. It seems that Vigo’s been telling fibs on his CV and by “dark sorcery” he means juggling. Vigo throws slow, easily dodged balls at the Ghostbusters and then spins a protective ball barrier around himself, and it’s a very simple task to avoid the projectiles, hit him with the proton beam and then simply walk backwards a little so the spinning balls don’t hit you. Vigo’s must be out of practise, because he’s the scourge of nothing in this state, except maybe people who have to tidy the ball pit at a kid’s soft play centre.

With Vigo defeated, baby Oscar is saved and the game is over. There’s not really an “ending” as such, but that’s fine by me – I know how Ghostbusters II ends, and instead you get a fun series of little skits over the credits, like the Statue of Liberty chasing Vigo down presumably so she can kick him right in his huddled masses.

My favourite is definitely when Egon steals the reaper’s jack o’lantern head.
I’ll use the obvious gag to sum up New Ghostbusters II – bustin’ made me feel good. HAL crafted an enjoyable little game that, unlike the Western Ghostbusters II game, does one thing and does it well. It’s extremely cute, and there’s a lot of fun to be had as you waddle around the stages hoovering up non-terminal repeating phantasms thanks to the solid controls and the smidgen of space for a bit of tactical play, especially when it comes to learning enemy patterns and grabbing ghosts through walls. It’s also not too difficult, Janosz fight excepted, and it’s nice to play through a NES action game that doesn’t spend every moment reminding me that I’m an old man with failing reflexes and encroaching baldness. New Ghostbusters II definitely gets my recommendation, and doubly so during the Halloween season. If only you could play as Janine, I’d be ordering myself a cartridge from eBay.

High marks of the Halloween-O-Meter for NG2, because hey, it’s Ghostbusters, and also I wouldn’t be surprised if that sprite of Peter MacNicol crept into my nightmares. Plus it’s got pumpkin-headed grim reapers, that’s worth an extra point all on its own.

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