reviews\ Jul 17, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Wrath of the Darkhul King - GBA - Review

An attractive college girl takes a midnight stroll through the dark corners of a cemetery without showing an ounce of fear or worry.  She casually comes to a stop when out of the darkness comes a creature that was once human but now a damned being, a child of the night that craves human blood.  Yet the girl doesn’t show any fear, instead she pulls out a sharp wooden stake and fights the creature until the monster is impaled and turned to dust.  This is the life of Buffy Summers, a vampire slayer whose adventures are well chronicled in a long-running television show and video games (the most recent one had been on the Xbox).  Now the Game Boy Advance puts you in the role of lovely Miss Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King.  Vampire season is officially open. 


Wrath of the Darkhul King puts Buffy somewhere during the show’s fourth season when she was still dating soldier boy Riley and her main nemesis was a deformed super soldier called Adam.  As the story unfolds, Buffy’s Watcher, Giles discovers that there is a rise in demonic activity throughout their quiet college town of Sunnydale and that there’s a dastardly source behind it.  The source of all this evil, she finds out early, is the rise of the powerful Darkhul King--a demon with enough power to resurrect slain demons to do his bidding.  To show he means business, he even kidnaps residents of Sunnydale . . . thus sending Buffy on her quest to rescue the prisoners and uncrown the Darkhul King by slaying him.  And if that wasn’t enough, she must deal with Adam and a menace known as The Gentlemen (who are featured in one of the best Buffy episodes ever).


Part of being a Slayer, though, is possessing super strength and combat skills that could put any male demon hunter to shame.  Buffy’s weapons of choice go well beyond the usual wooden stake and crossbow; Wrath of the Darkhul King offers a variety of weapons from a trusty dagger to a powerful flamethrower.  She even has a few hand-to-hand combat moves at her disposal such as kicks, punches and blocks.  This is a good thing since Buffy’s quest takes her through cemeteries, an abandoned hospital and even her campus.  There are even cut scenes done through use of actual digitized stills straight from the show (fans of the show will love that Buffy and the Scooby gang are all present).   In short, this is a side-scrolling platform game with all the right elements in place.


Yet even with these things, the game is flawed down to its very core.  To begin with, the controls are utterly dreadful.  Buffy’s hand-to-hand moves are limited to just a few variations of punches and kicks but what makes this bad is the fact that on several occasions her kicks and punches are delayed.  Push the kick button and a few seconds later Buffy responds with a swift kick--a little too late if an enemy is already upon you.  This delay also proves to be frustrating when Buffy needs to jump a few gaps here and there.  Just about the only good thing about the combat is that the new weapons, such as the laser rifle, work in her favor.  Using the powerful Glove of Myhnegon, for instance, is much more fun than knocking an enemy down and having to squat over them to stake them in the chest.  


My other major gripe with this game is the poor level design that hardly offers anything new the farther you go.  While there are a number of locations and familiar beasties to battle, all you’ll ever do is flip switches and push boxes.  The biggest challenge is jumping gaps.  Oddly enough, you’ll encounter these large gaps almost everywhere, including some unlikely places like in the middle of a museum.  Secondly, the story does try to keep things witty and fun--just like in the show.  While it manages to be somewhat faithful in terms of how each character talks, the game over does it (the excessive use of the word “thingy” is used way too much here).


While the rest of the game fails to impress, the visuals are surprisingly nicely detailed to the point that you’ll appreciate the environments and all the little details.  Watching Buffy break objects you’d never image would break in other games is something of a neat treat.  The special effects are also quite beautiful to watch, especially when lighting up a demon or dusting a vampire.  The stills are also wonderfully clear so fans will definitely enjoy them.


Whether it was intentional or on purpose, the game’s soundtrack is old school and will most likely bring to mind those classic NES game tunes.  This is not to say that the score is cheesy, it’s actually not bad at all, although it’s nowhere near the score you’d normally find on the show.  Even the opening theme is all wrong, but gamers won’t mind it at all.  And while there are some nicely done sound effects, the game would have benefited from some small sound samples for flipping switches or dragging crates.


Children of the night, hear me now.  Wrath of the Darkhul King has all the right Buffy the Vampire Slayer elements but, ultimately, its blood is tainted by its impossible-to-ignore faults.  For fans of the show, this game doesn’t have much to offer in terms of story.  For fans of platform action games, the fun is buried by poor controls and uneventful levels.  If you’re looking for a supernatural action title, I suggest you skip this one and purchase Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 5.0
Sluggish controls keep gamers from truly unleashing the inner slayer in all of us and it actually becomes really trying in times when Buffy is required to jump huge gaps.  Yet Buffy the Vampire Slayer has always been about martial arts and weapons combat, something the game doesn’t pull off successfully.  Sure there are weapons galore but her hand-to-hand combat skills, which she uses often in this game, are limited to the same few kicks and punches.  To make matters worse, Buffy’s movements are sometimes delayed (e.g. push the punch button and Buffy responds with a punch two seconds too late).


As for the level design, pushing (or smashing) crates and flipping switches is okay but that’s about all there is to this game puzzle-wise.  You’ll experience the same thing over and over again with nothing new added to the level except for the requisite level boss fight. 


Graphics: 7.5
Surprisingly, the game’s graphics are easy on the eyes and the plentiful details throughout the levels won’t fail to impress.  Graveyards are filled with various tombstones and gothic mausoleums while the old abandoned hospital looks creepy in the moonlight.  Aside from the wonderful detail found in each area, the great visual effects of vampires getting dusted will pleasantly surprise gamers and the way baddies catch on fire when Buffy lights them up with her flamethrower.


To top it all off, the characters look good out there, especially Buffy and a majority of the evil minions she encounters.  The still-photos used during the cut scenes are also nice and clear and are used cleverly to tell the story (despite the weak dialogue).


Sound: 7.2
While the game wasn’t able to fully recreate the show’s rocking opening theme, the music found in this game will bring to mind those old NES days when game music was not as impressive as it is now but still good enough to be memorable (I still hum the old Super Mario jingle--I can’t help it).  Aside from the decent number of tunes found here, the sound effects could have used a variety of other sounds aside from the sounds of kicks connecting with bad guys.  It would have been nice to hear the crate scrape the ground as Buffy moves it or the enemy make different sounds when they die.  Just about the only sound effect that really stands out is the sound of a vampire getting a stake to the chest. 


Difficulty: Hard
You would expect a game with this kind of difficulty rating to be difficult because of the challenges encountered in this game.  The truth is that the game is difficult because the horrible controls make it hard for gamers to really respond to the challenges the game throws at you.  There are a few boss battles that pits Buffy against show favorites like Adam or the Gentlemen, but the controls will suck the life (no pun intended) out of these encounters that will have you yanking your hair out each time you die from the Slayer’s dawdling response time. 


Concept: 5.0
Not much thought was placed on adding variety to this side-scrolling platform game and that’s a shame considering the potential the Slayer universe offers.  There are certainly recognizable characters and monsters fans of the show will instantly recognize and the story does attempt to stay within the show’s beloved supernatural action theme.  With all the right elements, though, the game hardly added unique Slayer moves or added more depth to the level like Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow does.


Overall: 5.9
Wrath of the Darkhul King has its shining moments of fun, but these precious moments are overshadowed by a far greater evil--terrible level design and slow-as-molasses controls.  This is very unfortunate considering that the graphics are nicely detailed and the sound is equally good, yet the beat-them-up action in this platformer will leave fans of the series and action games looking elsewhere for a taste of fresher blood.


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