Ghost Hunters ZX Spectrum [Review] | Nostalgia Nerd


Continuing in this week of Terror I would
like to discuss the game Ghost Hunters for the ZX Spectrum; one of my child-hood favourites. Written by the Oliver Twins and published
by Codemasters in 1987, this wasn’t an exclusive to the Speccy, with accompanying Commodore
64 and Amstrad CPC releases emerging in the same year. All of these were budget releases with the
Spectrum & Amstrad costing £1.99, whilst 64 owners were required to pay an extra pound
for the privilege of their SID chip, although with a 35% score in ZZap magazine, it probably
wasn’t worth it. A 77% review in Crash meant the Spectrum version
faired considerably better, describing the atmospheric graphics and absorbing gameplay
of roaming the house, just as I remember. In any cases, all versions featured artwork
which felt at odds with the game-play. This looks more like Rambo meets The Munsters
and loses his S**t, whilst the game-play feels more exploratory and you certainly don’t get
the feeling of an aggressive commando type from your quiff wielding protagonist. Even in the C64 version he appears to be wearing
some kind of Crop-Top. Let’s just call it creepy. The game exudes creepiness from the outset. After loading we’re presented with our place
of exploration, Nightmare Mansion, along with a rather funky Mysterioso Pizzicato inspired
riff. The story goes that Professor Twilight, the
owner of Nightmare Mansion, has offered a reward for the eradication of ghosts within
it’s walls. Chuck Studbuckle has taken up the challenge,
but after 5 days still has not emerged. As his brother, it’s your duty to rescue him. We can therefore presume that the artwork
shows Chuck Studbuckle whose muscle has been unable to stop fear from over-taking him,
and we’re just the brother, wearing a jumper who doesn’t give a crap…. although our name
is actually Hunk Studbuckle, so I guess if the shoe fits. Starting the game presents you with “Ghost
Hunters” both on screen and actually spoken though the Spectrum’s speaker. This isn’t through the 128k’s AY chip either. This is generated using some kind of Witchcraft
through the 48k’s tinny little bleeper. We begin at the base of the castle, and I
guess I was wrong about the jumper, because I think Hunk is actually topless. Good lord. Any way, at least we’re prepared in other
departments, with a trusty map to guide us. This was probably my favourite screen in the
game. It was like a big maze, and although lacking
in detail, if you extrapolate each room and build it into a more detailed map, you can
see everything belongs where it should. The map itself is activated using the “P”
key, but if you press the “P” key again to exit, you actually quit the entire game. Yep, gotta be careful there. You actually need to press FIRE to return
to the game. This caused me no end of pain, and whoever
designed that element needs to be hunted themselves. You also get a chance to choose the in game
colours. Red is probably more appropriate, but it’s
harder to see, so we’ll stick with blue. The game is completely monochrome inside it’s
borders to prevent Spectrum attribute clash. The first item we encounter is a Blood Goblet,
which activates an accompanying lift, and this is essentially how play continues, you
find items, which activates a lift somewhere on the map. You do this whilst evading the munsters which
appear to be packed wall to wall in this place. Yvette Fielding would have a, errr, Field
day. Armed with the ability to walk left and right,
whilst also jumping up and falling down, our task is to search from room to room in order
to find the items that will lead us to Chuck (bless his heart), and it’s here where we’re
presented with our first taste of fragile machoism, because if you hang about for too
long whilst surrounded by Terrors, your TerroMeter will rise and subsequently your macho bar
depletes. Once depleted fully, the rescue is over. Essentially you need to keep yourself occupied
and stay away from the Munsters to stave off the fear. If you can’t move away from them, then attack
is the alternative option. You do this by holding down FIRE, which allows
you to take control of the latest sub-compact anti-matter Phantom Splatterer, depicted as
an on screen target. You can move this target about as if you were
playing a game like Operation Wolf, and once you release FIRE you go back to controlling
your character. Even better, if you play the game with a friend,
then player 2 takes exclusive control of the gun, leaving you to move about. This is really the best way to play, even
when you’re both cramped around the tiny Spectrum keyboard. My brother and I would pour hours into this
mode of the game. It’s worth noting that there are 2 distinct
types of enemy. First you get the annoying critters which
adorn each screen, but the second – and much more fearful – type, are the demons, like
this chap, who just appear on screen and eat away at your Macho energy. Thankfully you can indeed replenish this bar
through bubbling potions found throughout the castle. I presume it’s Irn-Bru or something similar…
maybe whiskey. Whatever it is, you get to hear that amazing
speech synthesis every time, so it’s more than worthwhile. As a game now days, everything feels a bit
sluggish, but yet you need to move fast so that you don’t get terrorised to death, either
that or blast everything that moves. Even then, the cross hair mechanic soon becomes
irritating, especially with it’s slow movement; it feels like you’re hauling a weight about
on a piece of string. But yet, when I was younger, this game was
amazing. Like a lot of games of that time, I didn’t
progress far, but just moving from room to room, soaking up the atmosphere and imagining
myself on this little ghost quest was all I needed. Even if this is a piss poor design for a castle. And really it’s a quest. You’re not really hunting ghosts. You’re trying to get out of their way, whilst
rescuing Chuck, and when you do finally find him, he’s just lurking between some suits
of armour. I imagine he’s lost his shoe, because once
you pick this one up, he pegs it, leaving you to find your own way out. When you do get out, you’re told you’ve freed
Buster…. BUSTER? Who the hell is Buster? Are you telling me that I’ve got to go back
in and get Chuck? Screw that.

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