Release Date: July 2, 2003
Buy 'BtVS: Wrath of the Darkhul King': Game Boy Advance
Well, it should come as no surprise to anyone that this Game Boy Advance game, like so many other movie/TV licensed games for the handheld, stinks to high hell. There must be a package that game developers can buy, a side-scrolling GBA game creation set, where simple sprites are replaced in order to portray the desired personalities, because I swear I’ve played this game many times before. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King is based on the TV show of the same name (obviously), but even fans of the recently departed UPN series will be hard pressed to find many resemblances between the show and the game. The biggest difference lies in the fact that the show kicks ass, whereas the game, erm, doesn’t. This budget-priced title will appeal to no one, Buffy buff or no.
Natsume handled the development of Wrath of the Darkhul King and while they have churned out a few worthy games in the past, their reputation will certainly suffer more than a few blemishes after this rudimentary side-scrolling platformer. The 16 included levels consist of nothing more than a few easily avoidable undead baddies, a gaggle of overlooked and unused power-ups, and running from one end of the screen to the other. Buffy comes equipped with a double-jump, which is fortunate because it’s quite handy for jumping over annoying enemies as you make your way to the opposite side of any given level. Sure, you can hang around and bash monsters using standard punch and kick moves before stabbing them with a stake, but why? Why meander about in boring stage after boring stage when you can complete all but a couple levels just by avoiding the opposition altogether. Logical game design is definitely not one of this game’s strong points, make no mistake about that.
Between every two-minute long level you’ll be treated to digitized portraits of the show’s cast. These celebrity slideshows are about the only notable aspect of the game for fans of the show, but even this aspect of the game will bore players after realizing that every still image simply repeats from stage to stage. The 8-bit style music found in the game verges on being mute-worthy, sounding like a first-generation third-party NES game from beginning to end. But as has been proven many times before in games long past; even technical inadequacy can be forgiven if the gameplay is up to par. The gameplay in Wrath of the Darkhul King however, is on par only with the game’s piss-poor technical presentation.
While it is rarely ever necessary to utilize the so-called combat system in Wrath of the Darkhul King, I still feel obligated to mention it. Aside from your standard issue punch and kick moves Buffy also comes equipped with an all-but-useless throw and a just-for-giggles block move. There are also a dozen or so weapons which can be found and used in the game, ranging from wooden stakes, axes, crossbows, flame throwers, and a high-tech laser rifle. Switching between these weapons requires that you pause the game to enter the inventory window, select the weapon you wish to use and confirm your selection – you have to do this every time you want to switch weapons. Sound fun? On top of the needlessly intricate weapon-switching system, you might also be annoyed by the fact that you’ll rarely have more than one or two allocations of ammunition per weapon at any given time. So, to sum up the combat experience: you first have to spend an annoying amount of time choosing your weapon, and then spend a fun-filled two-seconds unleashing said weapon’s payload. Sound fun yet? Didn’t think so.
Occasionally, the game will present you with a puzzle type activity before you are able to progress. As most likely expected, these puzzles consist of such things as pushing a crate off a ledge, activating switches in sequential order, or matching up a set of four pictures in the right order – oh yes, the fun in Wrath of the Darkhul King knows no bounds. (Sarcasm, look into it.) But even these “puzzles” can’t rescue the game from utter and complete mediocrity, if anything they serve no other purpose but to extend the game’s “lasting appeal” from 40-minutes to an excruciating hour. Yes, that’s right, you can blast through the game’s 16 levels in just under an hour. The shortest movie imaginable lasts longer than that! Plus you’d undoubtedly have a lot more fun watching Kangeroo Jack than you would playing this game, it’d be cheaper, too.
Don’t expect Natsume to get a single iota of proper game design right in this title, hear me now. Background objects that look like platforms will do nothing but trick you into jumping into a bottomless pit, and platforms that blend into the background are sometimes the only key to progression. To say that Buffy is unresponsive would be the understatement of the week as she often runs right into harmful spikes instead of jumping over them like you commanded her to do. The list goes on and on, I won’t bore you any more than my legally enforced quota demands.
All in all, you just can’t find a more shoddy, uninteresting, and pointless game on which to spend a couple dozen bucks on. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great franchise, sure, and it has spawned a couple note-worthy console games in its seven-year long run, but Moore’s Law dictates that for every fun licensed game released there are a hundred more waiting in the wings that will suck like no one’s business. Wait, Moore’s Law dictates technology will advance two-fold every 18-months. Oh well, makes no difference, the only people reading this are potential Wrath of the Darkhul King buyers, and they’ll believe anything.