Game Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I’d give a spoiler warning, but since this game is coming up to its 20th birthday next month, that’s probably unnecessary.

Yep, it was August 2002 that everyone’s favourite Californian Nemesis of the Undead made her games console debut on XBox. As detailed at a certain BarCamp many moons ago, then written up as an early blogpost, The Buffster was my first introduction to console gaming, and I have never looked back!

Fast forward to a rainy weekend a few weeks ago where Terry and I decide to have an attic clear out. Terry likes to hang on to old tech, and buried at the bottom of a crate was none other than our orginal XBox in all its black plastic and lime green glory! So we dusted it off, plugged it in & established to my surprise it actually still functioned. Terry then spent a happy few days figuring out how to get it to talk to our TV given that the original XBox predated HDMI.

I was a huge fan of the show. But as allegations emerged of the showrunner’s character, re-watching it just doesn’t bring me the same pleasure it used to. But, by way of justifying to myself the fact that I really, really wanted to replay the game, I don’t think JW had a great deal to do with the game’s production.

By some minor miracle the hard disk still had all the old saved games on it. But games were much slimmer beasts back then, and we have disk space aplenty so I went ahead and started a brand new playthrough. I vividly remembered having got completely stuck and rage quitting previously, but I’ve had nearly two decades to improve. Could I actually beat the game this time round?

As it booted up, I got chills hearing the dulcet tones of one Mr Steward-Head giving the potted history of slayer-lore. Half a dozen of the original actors have re-inhabited their TV roles, which definitely enriches the game as a fan experience. While SMG declined to be involved, Giselle Loren does a terrific job of emulating the Valley Girl heroine.

The plot consists of a standalone story which seems to occur at some point just prior to the episode Lovers’ Walk in Season 3. Willow is developing as a witch, Giles is still Watcher, Xander and Cordelia are still together, Angel appears to have recovered from his stint in hell, and Spike is on a fleeting visit to Sunnydale. We start with Buffy undertaking a training exercise, a neat enough conceit for a tutorial level, allowing the player to master (pun intended) the basics of running, jumping, kicking, punching & staking.

The tutorial wraps up by having the slayer unexpectedly encounter the spirit form of the Season 1 Big Bad, at which point Buffy wakes from her nightmare, and the game starts in earnest. As you progress you learn various new button-mashing combos to better pummel your foes & gain weaponry which is useful, if not always logical. ‘Who knew hellfire didn’t melt plastic?’

The challenge comes almost entirely from defeating baddies interspersed with some really quite frustrating jumping puzzles, and a rather punishing sparcity of check points. Many was the occasion I succesfully battled through a level only to miss a jump by a fraction, plumet to my death, and restart back at the beginning of said level. I started to get flashbacks of the various points where previously I had got stuck, to the point I could remember bits of dialouge verbatim: ‘Guess I’m hitching a ride on a freight crane’. Amazingly I managed to complete that on attempt 2 this time round. Some bits were trickier than others, but my hand eye coordination had indeed got better over the years. Was I going to be able to complete the game this time? Things were looking hopeful!

Until I got to the sodding Dreamer Islands level. And then I was 23 again, screeching in frustration every time I mis-timed the rotating platform jump. To my credit, I did get further all by myself than I had before, even managing the bit when you cross the hall with the spinning blades, pick up the stone key and then the floor drops away so you have to cross back by jumping from ledge to ledge whilst still avoiding the blades. But try as I might, I just couldn’t get any further.

Reader, I cheated. That miracle whereby all the old saved games were still there? I loaded up the one complete game which was the result of me, many years prior, having tearfully handed my then-boyfriend the controller and asking if he would do the jumping puzzle for me. His fine motor skills were always superior to mine. And to his everlasting credit he did manage it!

This meant I could at least continue on, but without the benefit of the cool gear I’d saved up (15 hellfore bolts! 15!). The stage after the Island, the Dreamer’s maze, is the most puzzle-solvey level in the game, but by then fatigue was setting in. And of course knowing I was playing an old save meant it didn’t really count anymore. Gamer logic – what can you do? So I found a walkthrough, got to the final boss, dispatched the Master in short order (turns out I had half a dozen hellfire bolts on that save, which was sufficient), and finished the game.

Approximatly 10 hours of fun, frustration and pure nostalgia!