You’d think that the formula that makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer a TV hit — a sly mix of Goth-pop intellect, ghoulish romance, and bone-crunching roundhouse kicks — would naturally be applied to the spin-off videogame. But in the new interactive version of Sunnydale, your prowess at wielding a wooden stake becomes far more important than your ability to engage in witty repartee with Willow and Giles. Of course, someone could make a game about maintaining friendships and falling in love with dentally impaired studs. (Imagine The Sims: Nosferatu Expansion Pack.) But it probably wouldn’t provide half the vicarious thrills of this high-flying Xbox incarnation of Buffy.

Since it’s loosely based on the series’ third season, you’ll spend much of the game (as Buffy, natch) chasing down old-school baddies Spike and The Master. Some friendly faces — Xander, Cordelia, Angel, Giles, and Willow — are on hand to chat, complain, and offer you assistance between levels. You’ll also get to wander around The Bronze and other familiar locales, vanquishing vamps with stakes, reaper blades, crossbows, rakes, shovels, and baseball bats.

Loyal viewers should be pleased with the game. Even without the voice of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy’s still capable of spouting memorable one-liners (”I hate to be the one to tell you, but you’re dead!”) while dispatching bothersome night dwellers. The rest of the cast lend their voices and look realistic enough — with the exception of Willow: Her face looks more zombie-from-the-crypt than bookish babe. A few things that might disturb Buffy buffs: When the Chosen One loses a fight she doesn’t simply die. Enemies will sometimes put Buffy’s head in their mouths and swing her body around like a rag doll. No blood, but it’s still disturbing.

Gamers who don’t know the Scooby Gang from Shaggy may find Slayer less exciting. Despite a well-balanced blend of puzzle solving, undead killing, and adventure, the combat system is flawed. In the heat of battle, the camera points anyplace but where you want it. And there’s often a lag when switching between opponents during a fight, which means that Buffy winds up doing a flying kick into oblivion instead of taking out Lost Boys. Still, as vampire videogames go, Slayer doesn’t suck.

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