In every console generation, there is a chosen one. Well, there should be, but Sunnydale’s resident slayer of all things dead and deadly has had a disappointingly brief run in the world of video games.
Just two home console titles and four handheld over the first decade of the 21st Century remain Buffy’s digital legacy some 12 years later. Given the almost brutally obvious match between a vampire-slaying teenager and her wisecracking entourage with the world of video games, it’s genuinely surprising we didn’t get more adaptations. Still, as the show was effectively done and dusted by the time the more prominent examples released, perhaps it was a case of too soon or not soon enough.
The first shot at bringing Buffy to gaming was a rather understated (putting it kindly) effort on GameBoy Color and was simply dubbed ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘. This side-scrolling beat ’em up saw Buffy Summers plodding through eight levels of hell, fighting off all manner of vamps. Well, six kinds of vamps, and only one at a time. It was a typically bare-bones beat ’em up with very little to distinguish itself as a Buffy game. THQ could have slapped Mad About You on the box and been as connected to the contents (A Paul Reiser beat ’em up when?). It was also just a bit rubbish.
In 2002, Fox Interactive took up the publishing duty, and forged a deal with real-life malevolent demon Bill Gates to produce a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer game for the hulking monolith known as Xbox. The game (once again imaginatively titled ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘) was developed by The Collective, who had already tried its hand at adaptations with games for Men in Black and Deep Space Nine. They’d go on to do a Star Wars game, get renamed Double Helix Games, make a Silent Hill game, and eventually led to the developer being snapped up by a real-life malevolent demon.
Using the talents of Buffy novel writer Christopher Golden and his Buffyverse comic book collaborator Thomas E. Sniegoski to pen a script, The Collective brought the spooky goings-on of Sunnydale and the Hellmouth life. This tale sees Buffy up against a powerful vampire and a necromancer (plus Spike) who are out to resurrect The Master. This leads to third-person action-adventure fighting against vampires, zombies, hellhounds, and more in a surprisingly typical Buffy storyline.
While it was far from essential as a game, the Xbox Buffy did a lot right in recreating what made the show so memorable for so many. When TV show adaptations were notoriously poor, this felt like a genuine effort to change that perception. It’s a shame it was restricted to a single console that, relatively speaking, didn’t have that much of an audience. I’d imagine licensing issues prevented it from getting a backward-compatible release on Xbone One.
2003 was a record year for Buffy games, with a whopping two whole vampire-slaying epics to get your grubby mitts on. First up was Natsume’s GameBoy Advance platformer Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King. It was undeniably better than the previous GameBoy outing, with the Advance’s superior power and color palette making this game look a lot more like it might actually be about Buffy. Alas, it was about as enjoyable as being stuck in an elevator with Riley Finn, and added just as much to the series’ legacy as that slab of blandness.
The second was Chaos Bleeds, the last Buffy console game to date, releasing on Gamecube and PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It centers on Season 5 Buffy and the rest of the Scooby Gang tackling the source of all evil and alternate realities bleeding into theirs, which allows for the return of a few vanquished friends and foes (Sid the Dummy, for example). It was similar to the previous console-only game in gameplay terms, but also featured a selection of multiplayer modes (all of which let you play as characters other than Buffy). If you ever wanted to batter the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Willow Rosenberg, then this is very much the Buffy game for you.
Chaos Bleeds managed to be a good Buffy fan experience and an okay game as with its predecessor. Swapping between Spike, Sid, Xander, Faith, Willow, and Buffy over the course of the game’s story added some much-needed variety with each character having their own traits and abilities, even if the utilization of them was rather unimaginative. The aforementioned multiplayer modes weren’t much of a bonus, but the behind-the-scenes features and comic book tie-ins added more to the package.
Still, this was the peak of Buffy the Vampire Slayer video games. The following year saw a first (and last) mobile entry, with The Quest for Oz. This non-canonical platformer sees Buffy searching for Willow’s wolfy squeeze Oz, who has seemingly been kidnapped by the dippy but dangerous vampire Drusilla. By punching vampires, bats, and other baddies, Buffy collects several magical keys, which will lead her to a final encounter with Drusilla and SPOILERS rescue Oz. Given how the whole Oz and Willow thing ends up going, it might have been better to let Drusilla alone this once. The game (which you can seek out on the internet if you so wish) is slightly better than the previous two platformers, but that’s not an especially high bar.
After five Buffy games in just four years, the gaming franchise was temporarily laid to rest until 2009 where it made its comeback. Unfortunately, that comeback was Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Sacrifice.
Back on a Nintendo handheld once more, Buffy hit the 2DS with a 3D adventure that sat somewhere between the console outings and the handheld ones. The problem was that it didn’t work as either. Aside from some interesting magic casting with the stylus and decent first-person crossbow action, Sacrifice was arguably the worst Buffy game to play when it came to the act of vampire-slaying. A fiddly, unenjoyable mess that, to this day, acts as a rather sad epitaph for video games based on the Slayer.
It’s been over a decade since that demoralizing final outing, and we’re coming up to 25 years since Buffy first staked our hearts through our TV screens. For a variety of reasons, it seems unlikely we’d get a new Buffy game, but a part of me hopes we get one more trip to Sunnydale to kick the face off some undead creepazoids.