Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Into every generation a review is born, one review in all the world, a chosen one…that will play Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the original Xbox. If you haven’t already guessed I’m a huge fan of the original nineties TV show, so, was already quite excited to start playing this. TV to game conversions, similar to film to game conversions, are a rather common trend, especially if there is already a fan base behind the source material. However, again similar to film conversions, the outcomes of these games often have rather mixed results.
As you would expect you play as Buffy Summers, the chosen one, destined to take down all of the nasties that go bump in the night. One of the main highlights for me, was that the game brings in the main characters from the show. This includes main bad guy The Master who, of course, is up to no good and its up to Buffy and the Scooby gang to sort it out. Overall the story feels like a several part episode of the show and for those who are interested, the story sits within season three of the Buffy anthology. Despite being released in 2002 (season three aired in 1998) the plot of this game still ties in really well. The writers did a great job to make this appeal to fans, with characters regularly bringing up stories or incidents that happened in the TV show. If you are totally new to Buffy, on the other hand, it’s possible some of the dialogue and plot will throw you a bit as it doesn’t come across as particularly friendly for newbies. That said, the basic story is pretty straight forward and self contained: there’s a bad guy that needs taking down and you’re the good guy to save the day.
The game scores big right off the bat as the opening theme from the TV show is also in the game. Other than that the music wasn’t particularly engaging or memorable but it fit in well enough for the cutscenes and level design. The voice acting is just fantastic, pretty much every actor from the TV show lends voice talent to the game except for Sarah Michelle Gellar (reasons unknown), which is odd. Instead Geselle Loren provides the voice work for Buffy and does a fantastic job. The only problem with the voice work – and this was an issue for a lot of games from this era – is Buffy and other enemies will spurt out with the same one-liners constantly. Though its fun to hear Buffy say “Come on, kick my ass,” after hearing it several times in the same level it gets old really quick.
At its core this game is a 3D beat-em-up with some platforming thrown in; at a glance the fighting looks tedious as you’re mostly taking down the same vampires or demons over and over again. Surprisingly though, I rarely found the combat boring at all. You have a basic punch and kick system that also includes a combination of inputs to perform special attacks, which drains your slayer power (that increases by killing the bad guys) and sits just above your health. Once the enemy is worn down you need to stake them with a sharp object – I favored the stake of course – but you can throw them into environmental hazards which will also take them out. Buffy automatically focuses on the enemy closest to her, which helps simplify things, but you can easily move from one enemy to another with attacks should you get surrounded.
Most of the time you will have a stake in hand with the press of the Y button, Buffy will aim for the heart whether the enemy is standing up or on the floor, but if the enemy hasn’t been worn down enough they will block this attack. There’s a handy enemy health bar in the top right of the screen that will indicate the right time to use it, but you also have a couple of additional weapons at your disposal. There is a crossbow, which sound’s cool but I found it next to useless because you have to use it in first person view and aim for the vampires heart. If you aim the crosshair at the heart you will hear a heart beat to indicate the shot will find its mark, but this process is incredibly slow and the beast has usually spotted you and begun pummeling away before you can get a good aim on it. Another weapon is the water pistol, which can be filled with hellfire and holy water, but I rarely used it because the game has these doors which can only be destroyed with hellfire or holy water and if you ran out of the correct solution you would have to backtrack through the level to refill it. This was incredibly frustrating and given that it used 25 percent of the solution on each door I didn’t dare waste any on enemies that could be dispatched in other ways.
The levels and environments are a mixed bag in this one. On one hand, fans of the show will appreciate familiar locations brought to life in the game; on the other, there is a fair share of standard levels, like the docks and the train yard, which look just boring. One level I particularly admired was the one just before the last boss: a “dreamer’s realm” that showed some excellent creativity but sadly – like all things awesome – it was over way too soon and it’s a shame the game didn’t make better use of it.
Buffy was released very close to the launch of the system and the character models in particular, look very impressive even today. Mouths move when characters talk and character models look very much like the actors from the show. The enemy characters are mostly vampires and demons with the odd spider thrown in to keep you on your toes. There’s not a huge variation in enemy character models, but they still look good and the overall design of the creatures is similar to the show. On a side note, I did find the gothic or grunge clothing choices of the vampires brought back some great nineties nostalgia of my younger years.
This game is surprisingly long. There are many levels with a handful of boss fights thrown in, which will keep you busy for several gaming sessions. It automatically saves at the end of each level but can’t save anywhere else in the game, which seems kind of silly especially if you need to suddenly shut the game off because you will have to restart the level from the beginning. Once completed, can load any of the levels again to replay, but its unlikely you’ll be running back to it and you receive nothing for completing the game aside from the bragging rights.
A simple control system in Buffy assures that you can easily return to it after a long break, but it doesn’t always work out as well as it sounds. There are platforming sections, which really don’t work with the controls; Buffy has this over the top long jump that works well in combat but determining where she lands in platforming segments was tricky. This setback is accentuated by the lack of checkpoints previously referenced, so if you die you start the level at the beginning. Although most levels are not too long there were a couple of areas where you have to jump from ledge to ledge, and of course this usually happened near the end. This lead to some pretty aggressive rage quits. Buffy would have been a lot more entertaining without these sections entirely. It is probably worth pointing out, however, that I love the Game Over screen for this game: you hear evil laughter from The Master, mocking your failure and reminding me of older games that used to do something similar.
Overall, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a pretty solid game with quite significant faults. Fans of the TV show will love the use of characters from the show and how the story could believably fit in with the actual cannon. The combat is entertaining and by far the game’s strongest mechanic. Unfortunately the combination of awful platforming segments and a lack of a true save system means lots of gamers will unlikely see this game through to the end, both due to utter frustration and cheap deaths. Though I praise the combat aspects, the additional weapons you receive in this game are not well implemented and thus feel pretty pointless. Those who are not fans of the TV show may enjoy the design and combat of the game, but there’s no denying that this is a much more engaging experience for fans the TV show as well.
Final Score: 3/5 (See our review policy here)