I remember laughing hysterically when I first heard there was a movie called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The thought of a movie where the dumb blonde cheerleader is actually the one doing the fighting filled me with glee as I felt it was about time someone used that angle. Then I saw the movie, and aside from an inspired turn by Paul “I flash porn house” Reubens, the flick was as lame as the horror films it was trying to lampoon.
Apparently, the writer, Joss Whedon, felt the same and thus created the TV show starring former soap star Sarah Michelle Gellar. I sat in the lobby of my dorm in the spring semester of my freshman year and as I watched the premier, I fell in love. The witty banter, kids in jeopardy and fighting for themselves, a really hot leading lady who kicked butt with the best of them, and vampires. It had everything I was looking for in a television show and I was hooked. It took a few years before the rest of the public caught on, but I was a BTVS die-hard from the outset.
Hence, when I heard there was a BTVS game in the works I was immediately skeptical, as there was no way anyone could pull off the feel of the show. Any look can be replicated, but to capture the soul of the show (pithy asides, romance, drama, and good old fashioned all-American violence) would be a high-degree of difficulty. Not to mention the key to a fight in the Buffy-verse is that anything and everything can be used as a weapon.
This is something I always felt was lacking in fighting games, and as such I’ve never been a huge fan of them. Most fighting games have two players square off, and whoever knows the most combos and hits them faster than their opponent usually wins. For me, that gets real old real quick. That being said, I’ve repeatedly played through dozens of the boards in BTVS because I cannot get enough of the fights. Once Buffy gets her petite hands on an enemy, be it vampire, demon or something else, anything goes. Kicks, head-butts, throwing vampires through boarded up windows into the light of day where they instantly burn up (my favorite), or beating them down with a pool cue only to spin it around and use it for a stake. It’s all here and it plays beautifully.
Every cast member, save the mighty star herself, lends their voice to the game, and the characters look, live and breathe just as they did in the first few years of the show (the game is set in the third season), and even the stand-in for Gellar sounds very close to the real deal. She handles the snappy banter with style, though some of the one-liners quickly grow stale from repeated use. It’s also a hoot to hear favorites Xander and Willow and Giles again while everyone is worried about high school, and not the giant dangers they would face in later years.
What dangers they face in the game, though, are terrific. Vampires of all shapes and sizes from regular guys and gals to larger, hulking brutes and spinning demons, all come at you at the same time so it’s not uncommon to wind up in a 4-on-1 throwdown and be slugging one vamp then spin and knock another out of the way only to catch a fist from the third vamp which spins you into the fourth, who you grab and throw into the third… and it just goes from there. The thing to keep in mind is something that Spike says in the fifth season (my favorite episode “Fool for Love” to be specific- yes, I need help) when Buffy asks him how he managed to kill two Slayers, “A Slayer must always reach for her weapon, I’ve already got mine.” Buffy must grab a stake (or something else wooden with a tip) and use that as the killing blow on vamps and demons. The simple joy comes from being able to stake them in a variety of ways, from catching them in midair, to throwing a piece of wood at them, to throwing them into the air so they land on a sharp wooden object, or simply knocking them into the daylight or an overly convenient fireplace.
You can string together combos as you wail on the vampires, thus leading to more and more powerful attacks. If you string together the right set you even get the opening bars to the theme song. What that leads to is the charging of your Slayer Strength, which when powered up means you can dish out some serious damage to the villains. All manner of vampire fighting weapons are available by default, stakes, holy water, pool cues, two-by-fours, water guns loaded with holy water, and so on. Most of them are pretty inventive, and lots of fun to use. If you spray holy water on a vamps arm, his arm will catch fire and he’ll run around until either it’s out, or until you douse him with enough to where he goes up in smoke.
The storyline itself isn’t bad, slightly above average, but the fun is infectious and continuous. Whether running through train yards (throwing vamps in front of moving trains is a big plus), underground caverns, or the halls of Sunnydale High School, you pursue an ancient order of vampires who want to resurrect the Master, the first season’s Big Bad whom Buffy dispatched in the season finale. This order wants to bring him back so he can kill Buffy and bring about Hell on Earth. Typical villain type stuff.
The interactivity with the maps is tremendous, but there are a lot of cases where doors won’t open until you reach a certain point, and there were times where I was genuinely confused as to where to go. The answers on what your next move should be are always around you, but they can be hidden very shrewdly. If you can see it, usually it can be used, be it a weapon like a rake or a table that can be smashed when you bounce a vampire off it.
I do have a serious complaint with the jumping puzzles though. Usually when I run into jumping puzzles I curse the developers but slog through them anyway. But in BTVS, specifically in the later stage “Dreamer’s Realm”, there are jumping puzzles so fiendishly devious I was throwing my controller across the room. It took me a week to get through that one blasted stage, and right when I was about to beat it the first time they throw in what looks like the floor but isn’t and you have to make a jump instead. Well, silly me for seeing the floor and not realizing until I’d stepped over the ledge the mistake I’d made. The controller almost went through the TV that night.
In spite of the random frustrating-beyond-all-comprehension jumping puzzles, BTVS is a standout title and one I’m proud to have in my collection. Everything works to make sure this is an extremely fun fighting/action game and I love it.The graphics are simply killer in BTVS as they perfectly capture the aesthetic of the show and Buffy’s world. The animations of the models is great, as bodies go flying and smashing into things (or through them), and none of the infamous “hunt for the pixel” of games gone by. The interiors mesh seamlessly with the exteriors and a lot of the boards are massive. I love the look of this game- it really makes you feel like you’re playing inside the series. I can’t wait for the next one. The music is good for what’s there, but there isn’t a whole lot to go on. Some boards have their own creepy tunes playing the background, but they really don’t enhance the boards or detract from them. The score is higher than it normally would be because I’m a sucker for the opening bars of the theme song, and hearing them whenever I strung together a great combo of hits made me smile every time. I used the default control scheme and it worked perfectly for me. The one thing I hate about the Xbox is there are so many buttons to press you can get lost in the middle of the action of some games when you’re supposed to hit the white button but you keep hitting the yellow one instead. BTVS gets around this by making the control scheme balanced to where your hands would naturally fall. All the combat buttons are right where your thumbs are by default, and the inventory items you can easily access. For fear of losing the reader, I will not describe again how wickedly cool the fights in this game are. Or how great it is to throw a vamp through a boarded window so he bursts into flames outside, then spin around grab a second vampire, and throw them into the light that’s just fallen across the floor, and watch them catch fire and try to get out of it. Or how nifty it is to stake a vampire in mid-air. Not at all. What I will continue to heap praise on is the interactivity of the environments, the “feel” of the game world, and the fun that can be had just by walking around. Except for those blasted jumping puzzles, this is a stellar title and I cannot wait to see what else this engine is used for in the future. As I noted at the beginning, this is a one-player game, unless you enable a cheat code that drops you in an arena type area where you can face off against the various monsters in the game. At that point, a second player can come in and play as the monster Buffy is facing. Look around online and you’ll find the code. This game was worth every cent I paid for it. By now, it’s at an affordable price and should thus be picked up by anyone who likes both fighting games and games that are just plan fun. I’d say there are about 15-20 hours of play here, but I’d probably double that just for me as I kept replaying so many of the boards due to the fights I got in (and that next to last mission that I so vehemently despise). BTVS should be in every Xbox owner’s library. It’s too much fun to just leave sitting on store shelves. Get ye hence to thine game store and pick it up, pronto.