Ghostbusters Puzzle Fighter is a strange beast, a puzzler with a turn-based battle system that gets dangerously close to being a good game but decides at the last second to wimp out of crossing the streams. You play as the Ghostbusters doing what they do best: hunting down specters and ghoulies in New York, closing portals by battling the monsters that come out of them. Most of the game plays out on a Bejeweled knock-off screen where you’re supposed to put together three of the same tile in a line. Each variety of tile does a different amount of damage to the enemy so you and the monster team take turns attacking one another by stringing together tiles while your special abilities—healing abilities, attacks with devastating damage—charge. There isn’t really any strategy here to victory since so much of these battles come down to luck. That doesn’t mean that Puzzle Fighter lacks charm though.
Collecting cards, which allow you to access new characters and power up existing ones, every time you win a battle is fun and both the artwork and music will likely satisfy anyone who adores the original films (though the absence of Bill Murray’s likeness for Peter is noticeable). However, Puzzle Fighter, which could be an amusing little game on its own, is ultimately brought down by the same thing that destroys pretty much every other free-to-play game out there: greed. The health of your characters doesn’t heal instantly after battle. Instead, it does so slowly, sometimes taking more than an hour to heal a character completely; this is a mechanic that forces you to play with more characters, which, of course, encourages you to use real money to buy booster packs that might contain a character in the game’s store. This brings the game to a screeching halt after only a handful of battles.
Free-to-play games that benefit from the model are smart enough to make their central game fun and appealing without setting up progression blocks, instead presenting customizable items as incentives for players to pour money into the game, like Team Fortress 2’s hats or the purchasable costumes in the iOS version of Batman: Arkham Origins. Puzzle Fighter instead gives the common free-to-play ultimatum: pay to play more of the game right now or wait forever to play the next segment. It’s a dumb, punishing framework adopted by developers each year at the cost of creatively running their game for the sake of a clumsy cash grab. Usually it’s just annoying because most free-to-play games are mediocre or mind-numbingly boring to begin with; however, it’s actually rather disappointing with Puzzle Fighter because there is something worthwhile at the center of the game. The odd jambalaya of tile-matching and turn-based combat is fun if not particularly deep or well designed, and, as The Witcher 3’s Gwent showed us, it’s hard to go wrong with a card collecting activity. And yet it’s all ruined by this incessant need to strong-arm players into giving up their cash hour by hour.
Removed from the free-to-play restrictions, Puzzle Fighter would probably be a game worth shelling out a few dollars for because of just how enjoyable using your special attacks or discovering new cards is. What could have been a great mobile game is ultimately just further evidence that there is no sadder, more pathetic hustle in the early 21st century than that of a mediocre free-to-play game.
If you’re jonesing to get your Ghostbusters fix, you’d be better off watching the movies again. What’s here is interesting and even entertaining to a degree but not enough to deal with the game’s unceasing, obnoxious attempts to get you to buy stuff, especially when other games starring everybody’s favorite group of ghost hunters are already so good.
Ghostbusters Puzzle Fighter was published by Beeline Interactive. It is available for iOS devices.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.