Night falls. A jack-o-lantern flickers in the darkness. A bitter wind shakes the branches of trees. I close the front door and go back inside because today is the day of days, the most wonderful time of the year - it's Halloween, and where else would I want to be but here, serving up one final spooky videogame treat? Out at a party or something? Don't be daft, I'd just end up cursing my decision to wear a costume that makes it difficult to drink and arguing with the DJ about how many times you can play "Nightmare on My Street" in an hour before it totally kills the mood of the party. Trick question, pal - it can never kill a party. So, yeah, Halloween. I hope you're all having a nice time. I know I am, because I played one of the most Halloween-y games of all time and then wrote a bunch of words about it, and here it is - Capcom's 1997 arcade monster-mash-em-up Vampire Savior, AKA Darkstalkers 3!

I've always thought that thing in the middle of the logo looked like a CD. Also, despite the "savior" and the subtitle "the Lord of Vampire," Vampire Savior is not about Jesus coming back to Earth as a vampire, which is a pity. I think he'd make a decent vampire. He's got practise at rising from the tomb, he's already made the connection between blood and wine and he's probably terrified of crosses.
Vampire Savior, then. It's the third full game in Capcom's monstrous fighting game franchise, which began in 1994 with the release of Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors. That was followed in 1995 by Night Warriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge, which in turn was followed by this game. There are also some upgraded and remixed version of the various games in the series, but for the sake of simplicity I'm just going to call this one Vampire Savior.

As most of you probably know, Vampire Savior is a one-on-one fighting game in the Street Fighter II mode, which is hardly surprising considering it was developed by Capcom. Or maybe you didn't know that: I've always had a hard time judging the popularity of the Darkstalkers series. I suspect it's one of those franchises that is well-known by people who play videogames but, unlike something like Super Mario or Mortal Kombat, has almost no penetration outside of that group.
As Vampire Savior is a fighting game, I have to apologise but I won't be providing an exhaustive run-down of all its gameplay features, because I don't know enough about them to do so. Not the really deep stuff, anyhow - as much as I love fighting games, and I really, really do, I'm never good enough at them to master the more esoteric components of their combat engines. I put this down to wanting to play so many different fighting games that I never have time to really hone my skills in one particular system. I love too much, that's my curse. So, if you're looking for comprehensive guide to Vampire Savior's deeper workings then I'm sure there are people out there who can do a much better job at explaining it than I can.

I can give you the basics, though. Vampire Savior features a six-button control system, with weak, medium and hard punches and kicks. Special moves are mostly executed by inputting the familiar fighting game joystick motions - quarter-circles, half-circles, charge attacks, that kind of thing. There's a Super bar that fills with power as you fight, and you can use this super power to do a variety of things: there are the usual Super Moves - bigger, more powerful and usually ostentatiously flashy attacks - and you can use ES moves. Activated by inputting the appropriate motion and pressing two attack buttons, an ES move takes one of your regular special moves and improves it at the cost of some super bar. Fireballs are bigger and do more damage, that kind of thing. If you've never played Darkstalkers, the concept might be familiar to you via Street Fighter IV's EX specials, which work in essentially the same way.

You can also use super power to activate Dark Force mode. Each character's Dark Force mode has its own specific effect, which lasts until a timer runs out. A Dark Force mode might summon a helper character, or make you faster. Hell, it might even give you a ruddy great chainsaw or let you fire unlimited missiles out from under your skirt. That's something that can happen in Vampire Savior, which brings me to the game's unique selling point, the thing that makes me love the game and the reason I'm writing about it on Halloween - the horror-themed, monster-packed setting and character roster.

Yes, the Darkstalkers series is the premier vehicle for seeing terrifying freaks of nature batter each other to death, outside of Rotherham town centre on a Saturday night. It's as though all the classic Universal monster were doused in toxic anime sludge, and then each one was told in turn that the previous monster had spilled their pint. You've got vampires, Frankensteins, mummies, werewolves, zombies, insect mutants, another kind of vampire and many, many more, and it is wonderful, just wonderful. I think the only major Halloween spook-groups not represented are the witch and the skeleton, and even then the zombie is relatively skeletal. They are all perfect and precious, and it should come as no surprise to you that I am writing about Vampire Savior almost solely for the chance to ramble on about all the characters. I will get to that soon, but first a little scene-setting.

This is Jedah. Jedah is a demon, and he likes traditional demonic pastimes such as carnage, death and extreme eyebrow maintenance. If he furrows his brow fast enough, those things will allow Jedah to achieve vertical take-off. Something he's not a fan of is the current state of the demon dimension, so he figures rather than trying to clean it up he'll just destroy it and create a new one in its place. To do this, he needs souls, and because B&Q can't meet your soul needs when it comes to building entire new dimensions, Jedah brings together the most powerful souls he can find. These souls belong to the playable characters of Vampire Savior, meaning that every character's motivation is to defeat Jedah before he can use their immortal essence as the demon equivalent of plasterboard and grout. Everyone's got their own separate agendas, too, and the endings mostly show the resolutions of these plots.

Like I say, I'm definitely not an expert, and being possibly the least competitive person who has ever lived I've never paid attention to tier lists or the concept of having a "main," but despite it's large roster of varied characters Vampire Savior feels remarkably balanced. I'm sure someone can and will tell me that certain characters do, in fact, blow goats, but from my casual perspective no-one really stands out as being bad. I suppose I don't get on that well with Victor, which is unusual because the big power-hitters are usually my thing, but on the whole everyone is fun to play as. Let's meet them all now, shall we?

Morrigan - Succubus

The most famous of all the Darkstalkers characters - probably because she's the one Capcom always picks to represent the series in their crossover games - is Morrigan the succubus. Just like Ryu, she's possibly the least interesting character in the series she has come to represent, and also like Ryu her main special moves are a fireball and a dragon punch. But, you know, sexy. Morrigan's main succubus power seems to be the ability to make any sentence into a sexual innuendo, unless that's just what happens when you dress like you get all your clothes from the bins behind Ann Summers once their Halloween sale is over.
Okay, so maybe that's a bit harsh on Morrigan. She at least has some personality, which is more than you can say for Ryu, and with a familiar, easy-to-use moveset she's a good choice for beginners. Plus, she's got bat wings growing out of her head. Pros: looks appropriately spooky, allows for delicate adjustments when she's flying. Cons: difficult to buy hats, bats keep trying to mate with the back of your head.

Demitri - Vampire

I've written about Demitri before, so let's just hit the main points again: he's a vampire, he wears a skin-tight tuxedo and his hair takes the form of soft-serve chocolate ice cream. I say he's a vampire but really he's a dracula, my own mental subset of vampires that are cruel, aloof, live in a mountaintop castle, dress like a mad person who expects to be invited to the Oscars at any moment and probably spend a lot of time practising their evil laughter in front of a mirror. They can't see themselves in the mirror, mind you, but it's the thought that counts. Also it's the Count that counts.

Demitri's most famous move is the Midnight Bliss, in which he uses his super bar to turn his opponent into a more palatable form - usually an attractive woman of some kind - before draining their blood. You wouldn't think there'd be enough super power in the entire demon universe to turn Victor into something that might pass for an attractive woman, but here we are. I've got to say, it's a power I would personally love to have. Not the shape-shifting of ladies part, but the ability to make sustenance more appetizing. Many's the time I've ordered a cup of tea at a football match and then wished I had the power to change it into something less reminiscent of liquid diarrhoea squirted from Satan's suppurating rectum.

Victor - Frankenstein

Victor is your typical Frankenstein / The Creature / flesh golem, a lumbering, powerful, not-especially-bright mound of necrotic flesh stitched together in the vague shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger and given blasphemous life by the power of electricity. Victor has electricity to spare, using it in many of his attacks, as well as being able to inflate his body parts to much larger sizes. Victor also gets a lot of use out of his backside. He slaps people with it, he wiggles it around as part of his taunt, and best of all he can use his firm, muscular cheeks to grab his opponents and hold them in place while the ghost of a mad scientist shoots electricity at them.

I don't think anything will be able to top that. Not in Vampire Savior, and possibly not in any media ever. You have to wonder how Victor realised he could even do this: did he notice the astounding flexibility of his buttcheeks when he was testing out his new body, leading him to wrap his buttocks around his foes, upon which the scientist that created him leapt up from his seat in Hell and shouted "mein gott, Victor's caught them in the Flying Butt Pliers and now it's my time to shine!" before forcing his ectoplasmic form back into our world just to zap them? Or was this the Doctor's insane plan all along, and when he was building Victor he trawled the strip clubs of the world in an attempt to locate only the most powerful, most agile backsides for use in his diabolical schemes? I cannot answer these questions, and I'm kind of relieved I cannot answer these questions. There is some knowledge mankind was not meant to possess.

Anakaris - Mummy

An ancient pharaoh summoned from the afterlife, Anakaris is a very large mummy. He's also a very clean mummy - look at those bandages, there's not a speck of dirt on them, pretty impressive for someone who spent thousands of years mouldering in a sarcophagus. What I'm saying is that if the monster-fighting business dries up, Anakaris would be the ideal spokesman for a brand of laundry detergent. That's MummySuds - keeps your death-wrappings as clean and fresh as the day you were buried along with all your possessions and one thousand still-living slaves!
As a mummy is basically just a zombie in a bandage onesie, Capcom had to do something to differentiate Anakaris from the brain-munching horde, and they did this by making him really weird. Like, weird even for Vampire Savior. His abilities to summon sarcophagi that fall from the sky and to teleport his hands across the screen for a grab attack are fair enough, but he also floats rather than jumping and he can split into two, which reveals that a smaller entity exists inside his legs that controls the bottom half of his body.

Anakaris can also turn his arms into this big thing that I always saw as a slightly put-upon dolphin. Apparently it's a cobra. It makes more sense for a mummy to turn into a cobra than a dolphin, a sentence that is making me wonder what the heck I'm doing with my life, but I'll never be able to see it as anything other than some kind of aquatic creature. We'll split the difference and say it's a sea-snake, how about that?

Rikuo (Aulbath in Japan) - Merman

You know, there's always been something about Rikuo that bothered me but I've only just realised what it is: he's a gill-monster with a handsome face. That just doesn't seem right, so here's my pitch - leave the rest of Rikuo's design as it is, but give him a massive down-turned fish mouth and big goggly trout eyes on the side of his head. That would improve Rikuo roughly one thousand fold, especially if they left all his story about looking for his lost son and finding another pocket of survivors from his almost-extinct race exactly as it was before. He's so happy to discover members of his own species! But you can't tell because of his sad fish-mouth. Wonderful.
I don't have that much to say about Rikuo. Every frame of animation is packed with the same amount of care and attention to detail as every other character - and that's a lot of care and attention - but something about Rikuo leaves me a little cold. Maybe it's because his moves aren't that interesting, apart from the one where he opens up a bunch of holes in his torso and squirts out poison gas. That one's interesting, but also weirdly unsettling.

The best thing about Rikuo is his taunt: he yanks on his own tongue and a jet of water squirts out of the top of his head. That's great, but he does it with a completely straight face, which makes it even better. Maybe's it's a deathly serious insult in his weird fish-person society, but out here in the real world it's just going to earn you the nickname "Super Soaker."

Sasquatch - Erm, Sasquatch

Abominable Snowman? More like Adorable-able Snowman! Sasquatch is definitely the cutest character in the game, an impressive feat considering his huge fangs and hairy, muscular frame. He's the most innocent of the characters, which helps his cuteness - he's just out to find his missing friends and possibly cram as many bananas into his gaping maw as possible. Sasquatches love bananas, something which I'm surprised never came up on an episode of The X Files. In fact, it turns out that Sasquatch's friends went along with Jedah of their own free will because Jedah offered them lots of bananas. I long for the day when Sasquatch and Donkey Kong team up to raid the fertile banana plantations of Ecuador, but until the I will have to content myself with seeing Sasquatch beat up other monsters. He's another power character, but one I enjoy using more than Victor, and his hard-hitting attacks are paired with a variety of ice-based specials that can freeze his enemies in place. On top of that, Sasquatch's light punch is just him flicking his opponent with his finger. Can you imagine how annoying that must be for his opponent? It was bad enough when your kid brother used to do it to you during long car trips.

Felicia - Cat-Woman

All-singing, all-dancing, all rending the flesh of her enemies with her razor-sharp claws, it's Felicia the cat-woman! A woman who's part cat, I mean, not an elderly spinster with more cats in her house than she can look after properly. Another of Vampire Savior's more famous characters, Felicia's dream is to break into showbiz, even though she fears the world will shun her as a monster. Has she never seen King Kong? Being a monster is a one-way ticket to stardom, and she can sing, too! I think it's more her refusal to wear clothes that's going to keep her away from the prime-time than anything. Remember how people lost their minds after Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"? Imagine if Felicia did the Superbowl half-time show with nothing but fur protecting her modesty, it might well usher in the End Times.

As well as being an indecently-dressed Broadway star and hell-beast, Felicia is also a nun. A nun. In the Darkstalkers universe the Catholic church's recruitment criteria are more relaxed than the baggy old t-shirt you wear on lazy Sunday afternoons. To be fair, I don't think Felicia is actually associated with the church, she simply starts her own orphanage and dresses as a nun because she was raised by nuns in an orphanage herself. There is no word on how God feels about this appropriation of the ways of his Earthly representatives. You'd hope he'd be cool with it. I mean, she's looking after orphans, that's got to earn you some slack.

Jon Talbain (Gallon in Japan) - Werewolf

From cats to dogs now with Jon Talbain, Vampire Savior's resident werewolf. Not just any werewolf, either, but a kung fu werewolf. I've mentioned before that videogame werewolves being good at kung fu is something that pops up almost often enough for it to be a thing, but Jon Talbain takes it one step further than most by being a kung fu werewolf who uses nunchakus.

If you want an image to shatter even the most jaded player's cynical world-view, it's a werewolf using nunchakus. It is an image to which the only appropriate response is love, or possibly some applause. I'd assumed the werewolf / kung fu connection is down to werewolves being fast and agile - which Talbain is, and he's a lot of fun to play as when you're zipping around the screen like a fury, snarling comet - but I've now realised that it might also be because the howls and yelps of a wolfman are a good match for Bruce Lee-style kung fu screams. Yeah, I really like Talbain. He's a good dog, yes he is. I'd offer him a biscuit if I didn't think he'd one-inch-punch me across the room for my impertinence.

Hsien-Ko (Lei-Lei in Japan) - Jiang Shi / Chinese Vampire

Capcom's take on the "stiff corpse" Chinese hopping vampire, Hsien-Ko's main form of offence is the bewildering assortment of knives, sawblades, giant metal claws and other assorted projectiles she has stuffed up her sleeves. From my knowledge of the ways of the Jiang Shi - knowledge gleaned almost entirely from watching Mr. Vampire - this is not the standard skill-set of the Chinese vampires. Chinese vampire have to hop everywhere because rigor mortis has set into their limbs, and their main method of attack is using their nails in a sort of cat-fight-y fashion. They're more like zombies than vampires, but Hsien-Ko isn't much like either of those things aside from being dead. She's agile and more importantly lucid, with enough brainpower to put her plans into action thanks to the calming influence of her sister Mei-Ling. When Hsien-Ko transformed herself into a Jiang Shi to fight monsters, Mei-Ling became a small paper talisman that hangs from Hsien-Ko's hat and prevents her from going bonkers. You might think Mei-Ling got the short end of the stick on that deal, but just think of all the money she can save on rail fares by simply posting herself to her destination. If the trains in China are anything like they are here in Britain, being sent as mail would probably be quicker.

Bishamon - Cursed Armour

Okay, so technically Bishamon is the guy inside the armour, and the evil armour Hanya merely possesses him and makes him do traditional bushido murders. He'll bow before he disembowels you, that sort of thing. It looks like the accursed armour also turns your legs into craggy rocks, far beyond the powers of moisturising cream to heal and completely free of hair. A big part of Bishamon's moveset revolves around trapping your opponent's soul to stun them and then following up with a sword strike. Did I mention the sword is also cursed? Bishamon bought them both from an antiques shop that was clearly running a "buy one cursed item, get one free" promotion. Bishamon puts on the armour, grabs the sword and is overwhelmed by their evil aura, which feels like a coded message about how you should always thoroughly wash any clothes you buy second hand. Just as you don't know how much innocent blood the previous owner of your samurai armour has spilled, you don't know what the previous own of those shorts you bought from the charity shop did while wearing them. It probably wasn't "spilling innocent blood" but still, it doesn't hurt to send 'em through the machine on a high temperature.

Lord Raptor (Zabel Zarock in Japan) - Zombie

It will come as no surprise to long-time VGJunk readers that Lord Raptor, a heavy-metal zombie who attained ghoulhood by taking hundred of lives and who can turn his limbs into chainsaws, is one of my very favourite Vampire Savior characters. He's also the game's comic relief, which impressive given what I said about him in the previous sentence. He's kind of a dope, really - he yearns to attain power, but his efforts always backfire. He should stick to the music, because supposedly he was really good at it. Good enough to become a worldwide heavy metal star despite being born in 1889. He must have spent his first century trying to master all the solos from "Hangar 18," but eventually he became a demon by using his songs to drain the blood of one hundred people during his final concert, presumably by playing a metal cover of "Gangnam Style" before enough time had passed for it to move from "terrible and overplayed" to "ironically terrible and therefore acceptable."

I really like that one of Raptor's win poses shows that he can turn into a muscular, handsome (if a rather Skeletor-hued) man whenever he feels like it. It's just that most of the time, he doesn't feel like it. He loves being zombie, he loves kicking people with his chainsaw legs, he loves having his abdomen replaced with a chittering devil mouth that I would love to believe exchanges insults with Bishamon's abdominal demon mouth whenever they fight. It's always nice to see someone who really loves their job, you know? Unless it's a dentist. A very enthusiastic dentist would probably creep me out.

Lilith - Succubus / Morrigan's Soul Fragment

Born from a fragment of Morrigan's soul that was split up to reduce her power, Lilith is, well, Morrigan. She's usually referred to as Morrigan's younger sister, and they share a near-identical sprite and a similar moveset. This means that when they sat down to develop some new Darkstalkers characters, someone said "what if we had another succubus, but a little girl?" I know there are different cultural norms and all, but I don't think I'd want to sit next to that guy at the lunch table, you know?

Obviously Lilith's best move is the one where she makes her opponent climb on stage and perform a tap dance, top hat and all. Bishamon here is taking damage out of pure embarrassment, and the only way to avoid that kind of damage is to have consumed a large amount of alcohol previously.

Q-Bee - Insect-Person / Soul Bee

Q-Bee wants to eat everyone. That's all she cares about. Eating, and then breeding to expand the influence of her hideous race. This isn't even Q-Bee's real form, she has merely taken on this appearance so she can lure you in and get you with her most upsetting attack - the one where she grabs her opponents and slams her stinger into them over and over again, stabbing with a ferocity that even Jason Voorhees would balk at. Of all the characters in Vampire Savior, Q-Bee is definitely the one I would least like to encounter in the real world. Half of them are decent enough sorts, the evil ones can still be bargained or reasoned with and Lord Raptor is probably dumb enough to fall for the old "hey, what's that behind you?" trick, but Q-Bee? No such luck. She's a remorseless, single-minded killing machine. She can't be bargained with. She can't be reasoned with. She doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and she absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. No, wait, that's the Terminator. It still applies, though. Just imagine if the underneath the Terminator's fleshy exterior there was not a metal death-robot but instead a swarm of bees. Now stop imagining that because I don't want you to have nightmares even if it is Halloween.

Baby Bonnie Hood (Bulleta in Japan) - Human

My personal favourite character in the game is Baby Bonnie Hood, and no, I didn't make a mistake in the description above, she really is human. A terrifying, bloodthirsty human, death itself incarnated in the form of a young woman who seems, at first glance, to be innocent and unthreatening. Sadly for all the other monsters and happily for us, the players, B. B. Hood is really the most deadly demon hunter in existence, slaughtering freaks and monsters in exchange for fat stacks of cash. She's so good at her job that she's the Darkstalker equivalent of the bogeyman. Being a human, B. B. Hood doesn't have access to magical powers, but she doesn't need them when there's an uzi tucked into her picnic basket next to the flamethrowers disguised as champagne bottles, and she can drop landmines from under her skirt like a bizarro Princess Diana.

If that's not enough, she can call on these two giant soldiers to help her out with the shooting. I guess I lied about her not having magical powers, because these clearly aren't normal soldiers. They barely fit on the screen even when they're kneeling down; if soldiers really were that big no country would ever go to war because the cost of manufacturing the army's trousers alone would bankrupt the nation.

One of my favourite things about B. B. Hood is her portrait on the versus screen, because her pose and expression makes it look like she's sarcastically mocking her rival. "Oh no, a bee!" it seems to say, "I'm sooo scared! However will I manage to kill a bee with only my guns and my rocket launchers and my freakishly oversized soldier friends to protect me?!"

Jedah - Demon

Lastly there's Jedah, the game's final boss and a very sharply-dressed demon, although those belts holding the bottom of his jacket together speak to a certain lack of foresight during the tailoring process. Unless he specifically asked for a jacket that's open, but not too open, I guess. Jedah's hobbies are creating his own universes, the screams of others and blood, while his turn-offs include rude people and narrow doorways. For the final boss in an arcade fighting game he's surprisingly fair - more of a challenge than the regular characters without ever sinking into the depths of dickery you might associate with an SNK villain. He's got a very tricky fighting style, much of it revolving around setting traps for his opponents to blunder into, which feels nicely in keeping with his status as an evil mastermind.

One of his super moves has him summoning a demonic contract before slapping his opponent onto it as a bloody signature. Congratulations on reaching the bare minimum amount of evil required to be a lawyer, Jedah.

So, clearly Vampire Savior has a fantastic cast of characters, but that doesn't mean much if the gameplay isn't any good. But it is good! Very good, in fact. A lot of people reading this are already going to know Vampire Savior is good, but if you've never played it it comes with my hearty recommendation. The gameplay hasn't aged at all, and if you've played Street Fighter IV you'll be able to get straight into it. The action is fast and relentless, everything is super smooth and responsive and it plays like, to steal a phrase from F-Zero GX, a speed crazy dream extravaganza.

Whenever I play Vampire Savior, the thing about it that strikes me the most is the sheer amount of craft that went into it. The graphics are beautiful, featuring some of Capcom's very finest sprite work, and every single frame of animation has had such a huge amount of care and attention lavished on it that it's impossible not to be impressed. For example, look at Victor taking one in the gut in the screenshot above - it's a tiny sliver of animation, but his face captures the woes of a cartoonish Frankenstein getting hit in the ol' breadbasket impeccably.

On the subject of graphics, I can't neglect to mention the backgrounds, which are just as good as the character sprites, and I definitely can't neglect the enormous foetus that's lolling around in the back of Jedah's stage. I wonder if H. R. Giger ever saw this? He would appreciate it, I'm sure. I know I appreciate it, and I'm always kind of amazed it made it into the non-Japanese releases of the game, especially as the stage's name is "Fetus of God." When I was younger I thought those polyp-mushroom things in the foreground were supposed to be tastebuds, but that doesn't make sense because, unless I wildly misunderstood my high school biology lessons, you don't carry foetuses to term in your mouth. So this stage must be a womb, right? Then it follows that glowing opening in the background must be a... oh. Wow. Wow.

I'm struggling to think of anything negative to say about Vampire Savior, honestly. Lilith skeeves me out a bit sometimes, and it's a shame that some of the characters from the previous Darkstalkers games - namely Donovan, Pryron and Huitzil - were excised from this third installment. Other than that, I don't have a bad word to say about it. That's not to say it's perfect, because no game can be all things to all people and if you prefer your fighting games to be more realistic and less utterly insane then Vampire Savior might not be for you. Hell, some people don't like fighting games at all, no matter how many nunchaku werewolves they include.

In conclusion, Vampire Savior is a fantastic game, showcasing a series at its finest point and a developer at the top of their game. It's long overdue for a modern-day remake, and a next-gen upgrade of the Darkstalkers franchise is something I'd love to see. Maybe after Capcom finish Street Fighter V, eh? Until then, I recommend you all grab your favourite monster, drag them to the nearest haunted mansion or ghost train and beat up whatever creature of the night you find lurking there. By playing Vampire Savior, I mean. Do not do that in real life. The carnival employees who run the ghost train will not be pleased, and the police aren't too keen on it either. I know I will be spending the rest of my Halloween evening playing Vampire Savior, but before I go we must take one last trip to the Halloween-O-Meter!

If there was a an award for being the Most Halloween-y, a Pumpkin Prize, a Golden Gourd or what-have-you, then Vampire Savior would easily walk away with it and possibly use it as part of a special attack. Ten out of ten is the only reasonable score for a game that perfectly fuses the Halloween traits of spookiness and goofiness into one package that drips with the spirit of the season. If you go to a Halloween party and it's too boring, find a way to set up a Vampire Savior tournament while you're there. Everyone will love you and applaud your party-saving skills, I guarantee it.
That's it for the 2015 VGJunk Halloween Spooktacular, then. It was fun! Tiring, but fun. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it, and I'll be back some time in November with an article that will probably be distinctly less spooky. Happy Halloween!



In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She also appears in a few videogames, which range in quality from "semi-decent" to "insert cartoon fart sound effect." Which end of that spectrum do you think today's game falls on? Here's a hint: it was released for mobile phones in 2004. It's Indiagames' surprisingly-little-slaying-em-up Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Quest for Oz!

Even though I am sure it's going to be terrible, I'm tentatively excited about playing Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Quest for Oz. This is because I am an unabashedly huge fan of Buffy, a fact that I have mentioned before and which is only going to mean that this game is even more of a crushing disappointment than it would have been based on its gameplay alone.
I'm not sure about the title, though. "Quest for Oz" makes it sound as though Buffy has been tasked with a holy errand, one where she seeks out a Grail analogue called Oz. For those of you not familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Oz is one of Buffy's friends. She's not on a quest to claim Australia for herself or anything. No, Oz is a mostly-human person who only turns into a wolf  on a couple of nights each month, on account of him being a werewolf.

Getting The Quest for Oz to work in any playable form was a real pain in the arse, so you'll have to excuse the odd emulation error. They're mostly confined to these text screens, however, so if you can ignore a bit of cropped-off text then you're still going to get just about the full experience.
Storypwise, the set up is simple: Oz has been kidnapped by the evil vampire Drusilla, and it's up to Buffy to infiltrate Drusilla's trap-filled mansion and get Oz back. You might wonder why Drusilla didn't kidnap one of Buffy's friends who doesn't sometimes turn into a slavering, bestial engine of carnage, but that's probably because Drusilla is actually insane. It's strange that Buffy thinks Drusilla would have better taste than to live in an old mansion because, as mentioned, Drusilla is insane and she also spent part of the show living in a derelict factory. I'd say "old mansion" is definitely a step up from "abandoned factory with only the lingering odour of hobo urine to distract you from the lack of heating and lighting."

"Demon-butt" looks really weird when it's hyphenated. A mastery of grammar is not included in the Slayer skill set, it seems, but never fear: Buffy has her good friend Willow, witch and borderline genius, to guide her through her quest.

Given that Buffy was known as much for the snappy, quippy quality of its writing as for anything else, it's a shame that (predictably) the developers of this mobile spin-off couldn't be bothered to make even the smallest effort to capture that spirit in the game's dialogue. Thus, Willow sounds less like a slightly dorky teenager and more like an NES manual. Look out for spikes, Buffy. No, not your vampiric sworn enemy / love interest Spike, actual sharp bits of metal. The cursed statue holds a mystery. Join the Nintendo Fun Club today!

The adventure begins, and Buffy is immediately attacked by a swarm of cyan bats that thirst for the blood of the Slayer. Bats should not be a problem for the Slayer, I thought to myself as I pressed the attack button - which, as this is a mobile game, was originally the number 5 on the phone's keypad. Buffy flicked out a half-hearted punch, followed by an equally unimpressive kick. One bat broke free of the pack and fluttered downwards, bumbling into our heroine in an almost apologetic manner and costing her some health. More punches and kicks followed - inaccurate, lethargic attacks more at home in the first lesson of an over-sixty's karate class than in the arsenal of a legendary warrior - before the bat became so overwhelmed with ennui that it flew into Buffy's fist just to bring an end to the whole sad charade. Then the second bat flapped down, right into Buffy's foot. Poof, another bat eliminated. The third and final bat, the sensible, pragmatic bat, the bat who realised he's not getting paid enough for this, made a hasty retreat. Buffy emerges triumphant and only lightly nibbled, giving me all the information I need to surmise that the hand-to-fang combat is not going to be The Quest for Oz's strongest suit. At least I bloody well hope it's not, if the rest of the action is somehow less fun than fighting bats then I'm in for an extremely rough ride.

Now for some platforming, which makes up ninety percent of the game and, I'm happy to report, is much better than the fisticuffs. It's not good, especially when compared to a "proper" console game, and you're never likely to mistake it for for such, but it's simple to understand and designed at such a scale that the tiny mobile screen doesn't hamper the action too much. Here, Buffy has encountered one of Drusilla's moving saw-blade traps, a jagged blade that moves back and forth at neck height. One of the things that outright kills vampires in the Buffy universe is decapitation. Drusilla is a vampire, and a terrible interior designer.
Getting past the blade trap is easy, because Buffy can curl into a ball and roll under it. This move has two frames of animation, looks utterly goofy and I was so enamoured with it that I spent a lot of the game rolling around when walking would have been more than sufficient.

Another enemy shambles into view, and this time it's a zombie, weakest of all the foes Buffy will face on her quest. I know it's supposed to be the tattered remnants of their clothes, but all I can see is a zombie wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Anyway, killing zombies is best accomplished by standing still and whirling your limbs around like a lunatic. Eventually the zombie will walk into said limbs and die. I wish every enemy in the game was a zombie. A radical surfer zombie.

Time for some honest-to-god platforming, with real platforms and everything, and it becomes clear that the game Quest for Oz most wants to be is Prince of Persia. There's a lot of hanging from ledges to be done and lethal traps to be cautiously sidled past, with precision very much being the skill most needed to progress. It mostly works okay - better than I was anticipating, anyway - because while the controls are often unresponsive, the game is kind enough that it doesn't get too frustrating for the most part. Ledge-grabbing hitboxes are generously sized and Buffy has infinite lives, spawning from the last checkpoint activated when the controls inevitably throw a strop and ignore you for long enough to see Buffy swan-dive into a spike-lined chasm. So, very much like Prince of Persia, then, although with the gloomy castle setting I suppose it'd be more appropriate to compare it to Nosferatu.

Holy water will reveal the secret of the cursed statue, says Willow. And what is that secret? I have no idea. To un-curse the statue and get a piece of a sacred key, in each stage you have to find a bottle of holy water and cart it back to the statue. I played through this game twice and each time there was a stage where I forgot to do this, and so the secret of the statues will remain (here at VGJunk, at least) undiscovered. Maybe that's the curse of the statue - forgetfulness. If you're really curious, you'll have to play through the game yourself because there's no way in hell I'm going through it a third time.

At the end of each stage is a locked door, for which you need to find the key before you can leave. The locked doors feel a bit pointless, and not just in the usual videogame "why do you care about the door being locked when you have superpowers / a chainsaw" way but because smashing through the door without unlocking it is something Buffy would do. It is very much in her character to kick the shit out of that door and leave the key resting unmolested on a nearby plinth. So far the only elements of Buffy the character that have made it into the game are that she's got blonde hair and she fights monsters, which also describes about fifty percent of all videogame protagonists.

I hate to break this to you, Willow, but this magical key is not getting reassembled. We'll just have to hope it's not important.

Stage two begins, and it looks identical to stage one There's no changes of scenery in this game, no trips to the local trendy teen hang-out or the school library or anything - it's all spooky trap-filled mansion, all the time. There are new monsters now and then, however, and here's the Familiar. It's the same as a zombie, except it can launch hadokens at Buffy. To even the odds, Buffy can also launch hadokens if you find the right power-up, and the ability to attack from a distance changes the fights from "awkward and frustrating" to "pointlessly simple". I am more than happy with "pointlessly simple" having experienced the melee combat.  Speaking of pointless, do you know what Buffy doesn't do in this game? Kill anything with a wooden stake. She didn't even bring any stakes to this, the lair of a known vampire. That feels like an oversight.

I wasn't kidding about rolling everywhere.
That thing on the wall - close inspection leads me to believe it's some kind of winged cross with a heart in the centre, although I'll admit it's open to interpretation - is a checkpoint. The thing is, it doesn't register your progress if you just walk past it, you have to press attack in front of it. Do not forget to do this. I am speaking from bitter experience here. The Quest for Oz is not afraid to kill the player in an instant for the smallest mistake, and even the enemy grunts can overwhelm Buffy if she decides, as she sometimes does, to ignore your fevered hammering on the attack button. The infinite lives make this less annoying than it sounds, but if you've neglected to activate the checkpoints then you'll be sent back to the start of the stage, where you will face the toughest challenge in the entire game - giving enough of a damn to try again.

Buffy swings from a pole, and here's where the controls totally shit the bed. For starters you have to constantly be pressing left or right to swing, otherwise Buffy's gnat-like attention span means she forgets what she's doing and lets go of the pole, which is almost always fatal. Swinging is the easy part, though: it's the dismount that's the problem. You have to press attack while you're swinging to leap off the pole. Personally, I'd have mapped this jumping motion to the jump button, but what the hell do I know, I'm not a games developer. Okay then, the attack button it is... except Buffy really doesn't want to let go of the pole once she's swinging, and on average I had to press the button six or seven times before she'd make her move. Sometimes it was many, many more than six or seven times, Buffy swinging and swinging and swinging like a trapeze artist with a jet engine rammed up their backside. Maybe there's a really tight time-frame in which you can press the button successfully, but if there is it seems to change every time you grab a pole. The thing is, it's not even game-breakingly bad - when you're swinging on a pole you're always safe, so you can just keep tapping the buttons until Buffy gets her act together - but the fact that it wastes so much time makes it feel worse, somehow.
Oh, and swinging from poles made me realise that hey, I've been comparing this to Prince of Persia but it's most like that horrendous Zorro game I played. Whatever flaws it may have, this game is vastly superior to The Mask of Zorro. The Quest for Oz is just bad, it doesn't make me question whether mankind deserves its continued existence.

"Beware of the vampire's fangs!" cries Willow, who has apparently forgotten who she's talking to.

Buffy will have to give Willow a stern talking-to when she gets back, because it's not the vampire's fangs she needs to worry about - although they can grab Buffy and drain her health - but rather their ability to shoot magical blasts of energy. I'd be more annoyed about the lack of a heads-up if you couldn't roll under their projectiles. I am already way ahead of the game on that one.

I'd have had more trouble with the vampire if I hadn't picked up a crossbow somewhere along the way. It has limited ammunition, sure, but it's useful for both long-distance vampire perforation and activating switches, like this one that unlocks the door above and allows Buffy to reach this stage's key. I'm not entirely sure whether the game's attempts to force some exploration and puzzle-solving on the player is a good thing or not. I'm sort of glad this isn't just a linear left-to-right hop-n-slap adventure, but on the other hand the stubborn controls mean that traversing each stage just isn't much fun, especially if you pick the wrong direction and reach the locked door before finding the key, leading to the joyless trudge of retracting your steps.

"Yes, yes, I like the wooden pole jutting out of the wall, it really brings the room together, but it just doesn't have quite enough pop, you know? I've got it, we should frame the pole. There, perfect. Oh, and chuck in a few more spiked rollers that shoot in and out of the walls at regularly-timed intervals, they go great with the random hodge-podge of brickwork that makes up our walls."

Willow, you're great at many things but guiding me through this monster-infested death-trap is not one of them. I think I could have figured "be careful" out on my own, especially now we're getting towards the end of the game and any misplaced button press results in Buffy getting a spike in an uncomfortable place. Again, I mean a real metal spike, not the character Spike.

There are a couple of points where Quest for Oz thinks about including a block-pushing puzzle but chickens out at the last moment, leaving Buffy with the task of pushing a brick or two off a ledge and, erm, that's it. Not exactly a lot of deep thought required to succeed in this one, folks, although now I've reached this specific point I might need some kind of gumshield to stop me grinding my teeth down into dust through pure frustration. I didn't get a screenshot of it, possibly an attempt by my subconscious to help me forget I ever experienced it, but just below these blocks is the one point in the game so hateful that it made me, however briefly, recant my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You have to make a jump and grab on to a chain hanging above a spike pit. Sounds simple, and it would be if Buffy's normal jump was enough to cover the distance. It is not. Instead, you have to use a somersault jump. Bear in mind that this is the only place in the entire game where you have to use the somersault jump. Willow - dear, sweet, useless Willow - tells you that to perform a somersault jump, you press jump while running. Funnily enough, I had already tried a running jump thanks. It didn't work, and pressing jump while Buffy was running either caused her to do her normal jump (straight onto the spikes) or to ignore my command entirely and keep running (straight onto the spikes). After some time spent practising the jump in a less-deadly area of the level, I came to the conclusion that the somersault jump was activated one out of every, ooh, fifty or so attempts - unless I was running towards the spikes, in which case the odds were a flat zero. I tried every timing possible, every combination of button presses, every remapped control scheme but nothing worked until eventually I had to open the emulator's virtual keypad, use the keyboard to start running and then click jump on the virtual keypad using the mouse. That eventually worked after another ten attempts, and the moral of this story is that I now know what it means to suffer for your art.

On the lighter side of things, it's charming that Drusilla decorated her mansion with that famous picture of Einstein sticking his tongue out.

Just out of curiosity, what would my back-up plan be if I didn't have the magical key? Please say it's punching.

Thankfully the final stage contains nothing so intensely unpleasant as that somersault jump bit. All the threats are by now very familiar to the player, and to get this far you'll have had to get used to the game's many quirks, such as Buffy's extremely horizontal motion when leaping from chains and the tendency for moving platforms to forget about the whole "being solid" thing, amongst others. As always, my advice to you is to roll under as many hazards as possible. Vampire fireballs, saw traps, protruding wall maces that look like something from a cross between Saw and Total Wipeout, Buffy's ability to emulate the humble hedgehog has them all beat.

After much rolling, it is time for the climactic final battle with Drusilla, and I have two observations. One, even if you take into account the very limited number of pixels the developers were working with, that looks nothing like Drusilla and two, they used quite a lot of their scant pixel resources to give her a weirdly prominent bosom. As for the fight itself, Drusilla stands there while Buffy throws the stack of fireballs and crossbow bolts she's managed to accumulate at her. Somewhere, Blade watches on, both his human and vampire sides feeling vaguely embarrassed.

But wait! After taking some damage, Drusilla transforms into a swarm of bats! Which work exactly the same as all the other bats Buffy has already fought. It's like if Bowser turned into a Goomba for five seconds at the end of a Super Mario game, except I'm sure Nintendo could make that charming somehow and not have it be as disappointing as it is here. Also, ahem, let me adjust my oversized nerd glasses and bow-tie for a second here, okay, vampires in the Buffy universe can't turn into bats. Well, Dracula can, but he's a special case because, y'know, he's Dracula. All right, I'm done. And so is Drusilla - she goes through the vampire-to-bats-back-to-vampire shuffle a couple of times, but she's not much of a threat in either form and soon The Quest for Oz is over!

Here's your "ending," now get out and don't come back. I was going to mention that "Destructo-girl! That's me" is a line taken directly from an early episode of the show but it's too late, I've already taken off my novelty nerd apparel. Looks like the magic key was, in fact, completely irrelevant.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Quest for Oz is a victory for low expectations. Being a mobile phone game from 2004, I had assumed it was going to be so bad that playing it would be an experience somewhere between "having dead spiders injected into your nasal cavity" and "having live spiders injected into your nasal cavity" on the scale of not-fun-osity, but instead it just turned out to not be very good. It's dull, repetitive, has nothing to do with the source material and the controls are very poor, but it works, I guess? I did extract some fun from it, even if it was only a little, so I'm going to chalk this one up as a win. That is in no way an endorsement, however. Don't play this game. Didn't you just read the bit where I said it's not very good?
Now that's over, I'm off to figure out exactly where this game fits into the Buffy timeline, but first let's check in on the Halloween-O-Meter!

It's a game where you can beat a zombie to death with your bare hands, so anything less than a seven out of ten wouldn't feel right. That said, it's just barely a seven out of ten, which is a sad thing to say of a game about fighting vampires in a spooky mansion. C'mon, developers of decade-old mobile crap, it's time to step up your game!

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