Ghostbusters Paranormal Blast for iPhone and iPad
“Bustin’,” Ray Parker, Jr. once observed, “makes me feel good.” Mr. Parker made that declaration in song for the 1984 movie Ghostbusters. Had he instead been tasked with recording a tune for the 2012 iOS game Ghostbusters Paranormal Blast, he’d be less likely to feel enthusiastically toward busting, be it ghosts or otherwise.
It’s not that the $2 iPhone and iPad offering from XMG Studio is poorly put together or hastily conceived. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into producing the game, and it has the clever idea of folding your iOS device’s location-awareness and gyroscope features into the gameplay. In practice, though, things fall flat. Ghostbusters Paranormal Blast simply isn’t as fun to play as it should be.
In Ghostbusters Paranormal Blast, you don the flight suit and proton packs made famous by Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddmore so that you can do battle with assorted spooks and specters. XMG Studio comes up with a clever way to that: It incorporates augmented reality and your iOS device’s rear-facing camera so that virtual ghosts appear overlayed on the background of real-life surroundings. Ghosts zip around, so you’ve got to pan, tilt, and turn yourself in circles to keep track of them. When a ghost is in the sights of your neutrona wand, tap the screen to blast them. (Hold your finger down too long, though, and you run the risk of an overheated proton pack, leaving you vulnerable to ghost counter-attacks.) If you can drain their energy before they manage to slime you too many times, you can tilt the weakened ghost into the waiting beam of your ghost trap. You collect coins and bucks for capturing ghosts, which you can then use to upgrade your equipment.
Using augmented reality puts a new spin on the battle game genre. It also ups the hardware requirements for Ghostsbusters Paranormal Blast: You’ll need an iPhone 4 or 4S, a fourth-generation iPod touch, or an iPad 2 or third-generation iPad to play the game. (XMG lists those requirements at the top of the App Store page for Ghostbusters; annoyingly, the Requirements section lower down on the page lists completely different—and apparently incompatible—hardware.)
Augmented reality isn’t the only trick up this game’s sleeve. Ghostbusters is also aware of your location, so that it displays reports of paranormal activity at real spots in your neighborhood. From my office, I can go bust ghosts at a nearby restaurant, a hotel, and other local landmarks. (The game also features an offline mode for those times you can’t get a network connection or if you’re not keen on sharing your location.) The location-awareness features are a little more than eye candy at this point: I don’t have to physically walk three blocks for a 40-second battle with a ghost that only I can see if I don’t want to, which is both a relief to me and passersby. But it is pretty neat to take on a ghost with an iconic sight like the Bay Bridge in the background. And real world locations do give the game a nice “You are there” feel.
As welcome as augmented reality and location-aware features might be to a game, they can’t mask the fact that battles in Ghostbusters are kind of dull. Part of the problem is with the gameplay itself. Your iOS device is many things, but it certainly isn’t shaped like a neutrona wand, which makes tracking down ghosts, aiming at them, and accurately firing a more awkward task than it should be. It might feel less clumsy if you could hold your device in landscape mode—that would at least approximate the sight on a weapon—but Ghostbusters restricts you to portrait mode. Spinning, panning, and shooting works all right on an iPhone or iPod touch; on the larger iPad, it’s kind of excruciating and not something you’d want to play for prolonged periods.
In that sense, it’s fortunate that the battles are brief—around a minute at most—and not very complicated. You fire blasts at the ghosts, and they attack you, with no way to dodge or parry their attacks. There’s one basic strategy: Blast anything that comes into view. After a few battles, the thrill of that approach quickly wears off.
I like that XMG tried something different with Ghostbusters Paranormal Blast. Whatever else you can say about the game, it’s certainly not a “me-too” offering. But in its present format, it’s also not a game that keeps you coming back for more.
[Philip Michaels is managing editor of TechHive Media.]