Hindsight : Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Cart: Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Coin: The Collective
There were two franchises that defined my smutty love affair with the Xbox: Project Gotham Racing and Halo. Between these two respectable pillars of gaming history, I was kept happy (quite literally) for several years. Other games came and went but these two and their respective sequels kept me as happy as a clam at high water.
Well that’s the ‘official’ story that I tell people, should they ask. Truth be told, there was a third way: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Look, seriously, just hear me out. I’m no Buffy aficionado and I don’t have some weird fetish for Sarah Michelle Geller, it just was, and remains, a damned fine arcade game.
One of the game’s greatest strengths (and it has many) is the homage it pays to its rich and playful source material. Apparently the plot fits in between episode 45 and 46 of series 19 and was penned by its script writers. Means very little to me either but how it does help is by ensuring that the whole game has that genuine Buffy feel to it from the dialogue to the folklore, atmosphere and irreverent humour. And whether you’re a fan or not of the franchise, you can’t deny that Sunnydale is a rich playground for a creative imagination. All of the actors from the series lend their considerable voice acting talents and deliver superb performances, which goes a long way towards calming any cynicism that you initially harbour.
I’ll stick my neck out now and say that next to ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’, this is the best direct use of a licence that I’ve ever seen in a game, period. Yes, the Lego games are amazing but so much liberty is taken with the source material, I’m not sure that they’re quite in the same ballpark. We don’t see very many licensed games today for good reason: most are a steaming pile of dung that rely purely on their name to sell a few copies. Buffy, like Riddick, understood that its role was that of a parent: to make itself gradually redundant. By the time you’ve learnt the basic mechanics you’re simply enjoying it for what it is, not what it’s supposed to represent. Buffy’s officially my favourite mother.
I’m not even a big fan of fighters, well not since I was about twelve, so I was rather amused to find myself so engrossed in an arcade fighter closely based on a cheesy, teen fantasy drama that I never particularly liked. But here’s the hook: the controls in Buffy are simple to pick up but evolve quite dramatically through a series of power-ups and a bit of experimentation into a very deep combat system. With basic buttons for punch and kick, Buffy can string together sequences of beautifully animated moves that reward careful and deliberate choices rather than mindless button mashing. Throw in the odd bit of bullet-time, a wide variety of enemies ranging from mindless zombies to hard-as-nails demons (whose attack patterns are akin to the enigma machine) and you’ve got a winning combination. It just never gets old. And the real genius move? You can’t kill anything apart from the low-level minions, no matter how much you beat it to a pulp. The only way you can finish something off is if you stake it or cut off its head. Similarly, you can’t be killed, even on zero health, unless you’re bitten by a vamp or your skull is squashed under the foot of one the juggernauts (a strangely satisfying experience).
This inspired design decision transforms the game from a fairly standard and predictable affair to one that has you literally on the edge of your seat, fending off vampires, desperately struggling to whip out a stake in time or to put yourself in a position to grab one and throw it onto a rather pointy part of the environment. You just never quite know which way things are going to go. It’s like FIFA meets Street Fighter. In fact the sheer wonder of it all is brought into even sharper focus when you play Indiana Jones, the game that The Collective developed on the back of the Buffy engine. It had all the bells and whistles and franchise sensibilities but it didn’t have the unpredictability in combat and, as such, had no soul whatsoever.
Graphically, the game still looks reasonably good and the sound design is superbly atmospheric and timeless. The story is lengthy and varied and there are a few unlockables to keep you going back for more. The geometry and level design are a bit flat and stale but to be honest, when I’m performing Jacky Chan whirlwinds with a mop handle, driving it into the head of the vamp behind me, ever conscious of the three in front and not quite sure how things are going to pan out, the lack of contour in the environment is not really an issue that’s plaguing my mind.
For the sake of a fiver and a quick look on Amazon, I dare you to have a slay.
Now, where’s my hair bobble?
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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.