With the outsized success of Pokemon Go through the years, it was only a matter of time before other publishers pushed into the AR space. Now we're seeing the rush truly begin in earnest with Ghostbusters World, which seeks to expand upon the foundation put down by Pokemon Go.
As other outlets have pointed out, Ghostbusters World is basically a more attractive Pokemon Go, but with proton packs. When you spot a ghost on the street, you tap it and enter battle. After a perfunctory scan with the PKE meter, you look up to find the ghost. You then zap it until its health bar reaches roughly the midway point, throw down a trap, and guide it into the beam.
Mechanically speaking, it's very faithful to the source material, albeit with a few liberties taken with the weapons. The ghosts are drawn from every corner of the Ghostbusters mythos, including the animated series, the comics, and the 2009 video game. Even the dancing toaster from Ghostbusters 2 makes the cut.
Elements from Pokemon Go are rebranded with a ghostly spin. PokeStops are now "Dimension Doors." Eggs are "Ecto-Spheres." There's no equivalent to Team Mystic or Valor, but later versions will feature "franchises," which are basically clans.
But dig in deeper and you'll start to see a game that's far bigger and more ambitious than Pokemon Go, both for better and for worse. One of Ghostbusters World's key features is an expansive story campaign that takes place in the "Ghost Dimension," where your captured ghosts form a party and fight in turn-based battles. Combat is broken down into normal and special attacks, with some ghosts able to inflict status effects, and others being able to heal. Ghosts fall under elemental categories, with accompanying strengths and weaknesses.
This is cool, but it's also where microtransactions start to seep in to the design. Entering the Ghost Dimension requires "Phantom Keys," which replenish each day (naturally you can buy more if you want to continue). Traps can be upgraded, but timers prevent you from getting them immediately. The timers also apply to building ammo for special weapons, which are useful for defeating ghosts and accuring resources.
Currency is, of course, a big part of Ghostbusters World. There are PKE Crystals, Elemental Shards, Slime Shards, and Coins. Many can be earned through the normal run for play. For instance, there are the "Daily Haunts," resource dungeons that update on a daily basis. You can also choose to tackle Gozer's Tower: a seasonal battle tower that confers better rewards the higher you climb.
This is all par for the course in mobile games, of course. More concerning, though, are the gems— a hard currency that can only be purchased with real money. Gems can be used to purchase coins, which are necessary to progress down your ghost's skill tree. Ghosts are promoted from one to five stars, with each star requiring a run through a full skill tree. Basically, if you're willing to spend, you can get your ghosts up to speed quite quickly. Otherwise, prepare to grind.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Ghostbusters World has these elements. After all, microtransactions are common in free-to-play games. But Pokemon Go's microtransactions are fairly light, with all currency available through standard play. Rather than use timers, for instance, many of Pokemon Go's quests are completed by simply walking around a lot.
Ghostbusters World may be a lot more ambitious than Pokemon Go, but it's also much more heavily monetized. We'll see how much the microtransactions impact the progression. Based on what I've seen, though, I expect the grind to a team of five star ghosts to be painful.
It's too bad because Ghostbusters World otherwise has much to recommend it. It's an attractive game, and the flow of capturing a ghost is entertaining. The RPG elements also promise an arena metagame similar to that of Fire Emblem Heroes, which pits your team against CPU-controlled versions of other players' parties.
In the final part of the demo, I fought the classic Stay Puft Marshmallow man, who rampages through New York in the climax of the original film. Rather than simply tap until he was dead, I fought an elaborate battle in which Stay Puft spawned mini-Stay Pufts—an element that was apparently pulled from the 2009 game. As the battle wore on, Stay Puft got more and more cooked. These are sort of graphical flourishes that Pokemon Go lacks.
Whether they will be worth suffering through microtransactions for will, as always, be a matter of a taste. Personally, I prefer Pokemon Go's lighter touch. Others may prefer the more elaborate mechanics of Ghostbusters World. Either way, I expect it will make a ridiculous amount of money.
Ghostbusters World will be out on iOS and Android later this year. It will join a host of other AR games, including Niantic's own Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which ought to make the space feel quite crowded by the end of 2018.