Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Wrath of the Darkhul King
Game Boy Advance – 2003
Developed by: Natsume
Published by: THQ
Directed by: Sosuke Yamazaki

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“Darkhul King” is a video game; it is on a handheld console, it is something you press buttons to control, it has clear level breaks and end bosses, and it has a narrative arc that only progresses as you – the player – do. There are obstacles to overcome, methods of overcoming them to develop and master, and secrets to uncover. In all of these ways, the Game Boy Advance “BtVS” is a video game. And while all of these statements are true of this title, one thing remains unocquivacably accurate about it: it is pure, unfiltered bog-monster bile mixed with a generous helping of rancid, putrid vampire dookie. It is a shit sandwich and I ate it so you didn’t have to. Wanna hear about it?

I don’t even know where to start, there is so much bad here to digest. But, if you look down and you think “man, this review is too long” let me put everything into immediate perspective with one anecdote regarding this game: in the final moments, right before you enter the chamber to do combat with the titular Darhkul King, there is one final puzzle to solve. It is… to play a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Win? The gate opens to the final boss battle. Lose? Play Tic-Tac-Toe again. If ever before in your time you wondered when your childhood skills at a nine-by-nine grid would come in handy, here is your moment you infantile imbecile. Again, in short: the game’s entire final act hinges on a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. And its the hardest part of the game, too, because the boss fight? Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s break this down in easy-to-chew sections. And remember, we’re chewing a shit sandwich. Want to make that very clear.

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Visuals: Ok, this is one place where we’ll give the game a few points for the hell of it. As opposed to the incredibly awful cut scenes made in MSPaint back on the Game Boy Color game, this one uses still images from the show and they look OK. Not great, mind you. But OK. Alright. That’s out of the way, and good, because everything else this game has to offer is downhill. The gameplay graphics are complete, buggy poop. Buffy and the bad guys move well enough, but the blotchy-looking attempt at “models” vs pixels is hauntingly surreal. Sometimes the game forces a different perspective and you have no idea what you’re looking at, like during the finale when you stand over the bad guy’s corpse. It looks like a blob of blue and brown nothing. How can something look like nothing. When it is nothing. Which is what this game is. Nothing.

Story: So, unlike the last Buffy games, this one has a clear place in the story. Or, well, less contradictory place. Its Season 4, before they beat Adam but before Riley is thrown out of the Initiative. Some demons try to bring back the Darkhul King with a scepter of some kind. That’s it. You just have to stop him from showing up and then kill him when he does. There’s some stuff about Adam, but it is meaningless, despite the fact that you can kick him in the shins until boulders fall on him.

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Music/Sound: Nope. Not even going to talk about this. Composer Kinuyo Yamashita really knocked this one out of the park. All that time working on Power Rangers games have served him well. So unfortunate that his auditory diarehea gets drowned out by screeching, clanging, and otherwise unnatural sound effects one hears when jumping on a series of wooden boxes.

Gameplay: This is the real meat of a game, and “BtVS” doesn’t disappoint. Except it does. In every regard. In the previous handheld Buffy games, you knocked bad guys over and then staked them until they were dead. The GBC game was so easy, I never came close to dying because you would just sweep kick them and stab them in the heart in the same move. Even the bosses. So I was sweating bullets when this game offered some challenges. Chiefly, you have limited stakes and must keep finding them as they get used up with each dusted vamp. On top of that, you have to beat them into submission first. No more leg sweeps. This means you have to get close enough to get hit and you stand a good chance of dying a few times. Taking this into consideration, it shouldn’t be overly surprising that it took me over two hours to beat the opening, tutorial level.

That is, until I realized you can just run and jump over every monster and reach the finish line in each level in under one minute.

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That’s right, if you don’t care, you can be a lazy-as-fuck Slayer and just let the baddies roam the streets and woods of Sunnydale as you run to the unmoving arms of your boyfriend, Riley (who, even in game land is a Doof, seriously. He tosses presents – ribbons and bows and all – on the ground that you kick open. That is his entire role in the game) to see the “Save Game” screen and move on. After I figured this out, levels flew by without me breaking a sweat. I times level 6. 48 seconds. I just don’t even know. There are 16 levels. If you over-estimate a two-minute level play-time (which is essential, because falling down one of the game’s infinite bottomless pits sends you back to the start of the level with no checkpoint system in sight), that gives you an overly generous guess of 32 minutes to beat this game. Granted, you have story scenes between levels that take a few extra minutes to read through. But all in all? Under one hour. How do games like this even get made?

The only time this system doesn’t work is when there are puzzles or bosses. Aside from the previously mentioned Tic-Tac-Toe puzzle, most of the others are just getting to the right switch and flipping it to open doors in the correct order. And they are always electronic switches that turn from Red to Green, even in ancient temples or along cave walls. CAVE WALLS. I don’t…

The bosses are things you HAVE to fight. You can’t just jump over them. Thankfully, this game offers more pick-ups than just stakes. Throwing axes, holy water, crossbows, etc can be picked up from dead monsters or busted crates (or opened gifts, thank you Riley). Just switch to something long-distance and have at it. I ran out of holy water fighting Adam so I just crouch kicked his shins because he has no low-attack. The end boss I just shot from a distance with a crossbow. Took longer than Satan in the previous Game Boy game, but that’s not saying much because three seconds is three times as long as THAT fight took.

What’s left to say? Nothing.

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I don’t know why they can’t make a good Buffy game. The best one is on a cell phone. What does that tell you? What does that say about the universe? I don’t know. I can’t speak to the low quality of the things the universe shits out, like this thing. I understand that licenced games have a huge and storied history of sucking. AVGN makes a good point about this, routinely. So I get that it is a hard thing to accomplish. I just don’t know why they can’t make a good side-scrolling brawler, first, and then tie it to “BtVS” later. I don’t know. Only one more official game left and some DS game that I’ll have to figure out how to play. But that’s a long time coming. I just… I’m wiped. Time to get back to the joy of watching the show(s). And also the limited pain of reading the comics. Because the pain these games cause? Truely limitless.

This Game’s Worthiness: 9 Adams out of 10 (keep in mind, Adam sucks and is worth less than nothing, so this is a low score. I don’t know why I had to make it complicated, I guess I’m just messed up. Sorry).

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