| PC | PS2 | Xbox | GameCube | News | Cheats | ForumsPlanet Sites | Action | RPG | Sports | StrategyFilePlanetShop GameSpy Game Boy Advance GameSpy Game Boy Advance
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King (GBA)
Publisher:  THQ Developer:  Natsume
Genre:  Action Release Date:  06/11/2003
ESRB:  Teen More Info on this Game
By Zach Meston | July 9, 2003
A painfully slow and entirely unoriginal side-scrolling platformer.
Reader Rating:

 » How Our Ratings Work
Rate This Game
» Discuss this Game in the Forums
Pros Cons
Amusing digitized portraits of Buffy and the Scooby Gang; very 8-bit soundtrack. Awful gameplay, graphics, and level design; sluggish controls.

Having recently ended its seven-year run as one of the most unappreciated shows on the vast wasteland that is network television, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has already inspired an excellent game from EA and an upcoming game from Sierra. In between, unfortunately, there is this budget-priced GBA release, the latest entry on the infinitely long list of gawd-awful tie-in games (more than a few of which were published by THQ back in the 16-bit days -- a decade after playing it, Wayne's World continues to gnaw at my soul).

Developed by Natsume, an odd choice for such a quintessentially American license, Wrath of the Darkhul King is as rudimentary a side-scrolling platformer as I've encountered in my illustrious 14-year career of getting paid to tear apart other people's hard work. There isn't a single original or inspired moment in any of the game's 16 levels. The soundtrack could be the lost score to an NES game, which is cool in a retro sort of way, and the digitized-from-video pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar and her castmates are a nice touch, but the gameplay is excruciatingly bad.

Let's start with the staggeringly awful combat system. While the game has almost a dozen weapons from which to choose, ranging from lowly stakes to a high-tech laser rifle, you don't really need to use any of them to advance through the game; in most cases, the best "strategy" is to punch or kick an attacking vampire until it drops to the ground, then jump over his prone body and proceed forward before it gets up again. Way to deal with the vampire menace, Buffy! The game can't be bothered to offer multiple punches and kicks, or even multiple punch and kick animations, so you'll see the same four-frame sequence a hundred times or more before the end of the first level.

And then there's the puzzle design, which involves the age-old platform-game activities of pressing buttons and pushing or smashing crates. If this was quite literally the first video game you've ever played, and only if, you wouldn't find these activities clichd. You and I, Gentle Reader, have played hundreds of platformers between us, and so we find these activities more tiresome than your grandparents' slideshow of their driving tour of Wisconsin. ("Oh, look another cheese factory!")

The level design is so pathetic that the game first recycles a background tile set from Level 1 in Level 3! There's very little up-and-down movement within most levels; it's all marching left or right, kicking vampires, and leaping chasms, the last of which is made more difficult by Buffy's sluggish movements. (Why she moves so slowly when she's unusually small even for a GBA protagonist, is usually the only moving object on the screen, and has a handful of animation frames, is a question that only Natsume's programmers can answer.)

Natsume can't even get the very basics of platform design right. In the second level, you can safely jump onto the skull of a dinosaur skeleton, but you can't jump onto its neck, and there's no visual clue as to the difference. In the third level, there's an electrified puddle of water beneath a flickering neon sign, but it looks like a shadow until you step onto (into) it. In the fourth level, there's a park bench that Buffy is clearly standing beneath, but the game forces you to jump up and over it. What the hell is this? Has anyone at Natsume played a side-scroller during the past two decades?

Buffy is quite possibly the worst platformer for the GBA.
Then again, maybe Natsume is simply following the advice of Chris Crawford, one of the legends of computer-game design. In his new book, Chris Crawford on Game Design, he writes what all publishers and developers know, and what some of them refuse to admit: "The one thing you don't want to do (with a licensed game) is waste time and energy trying to get creative with the game design. This will only cost money and cause you grief. Consider the economic realities: Nobody is going to purchase a (licensed) game for the creativity of the game itself; they are buying it solely because of the brand Moreover, the licensor retains veto power over your design. Licensing people have no sense of good game design; all they know and care about is maintaining the value of their brand." (Too bad the licensor didn't catch the atrocious writing that passes for witty banter during the still-screen Scooby Gang intermissions.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a wonderful TV show that explored the emotional lives of its cast of characters to a degree rarely seen in any form of visual entertainment, while cleverly disguising those explorations beneath chop-socky action sequences; Wrath of the Darkhul King is a horrible side-scroller that can't even compare to such licensed-game "classics" as Yo! Noid and Wayne's World.

Reviewer System Specifications
Game Boy Advance, Labtec® Earbuds.