I realize that most of you turned around and ran when you read that title. It’s understandable. Why, after all, would anyone want to play a licensed game based on a goofy TV show from a decade ago? Just, you know, bear with me for a second.
Licensed games are so rarely worth playing, but they don’t all have to be awful. The problem is that most people in charge of licensed games are just there for the money they bring. They rarely attempt to understand the source material, to really pick apart what they’re based on and see what makes it work, why people get excited about it in the first place. If they started with that and worked their way outward and stayed true to it, I think we’d end up with some more worthwhile licensed titles.
Now, assuming (correctly) that the second and third seasons of Buffy are the best, let’s look at what made them interesting. One notable factor was their duality – Buffy and friends are high schoolers by day and demon killers by night. Playing off of this dynamic alone could result in an interesting game. By day, make it a Bully-esque school sim. Go to classes, perform varied mini-games, pick up some new skills. Maybe add a Bully-esque social element as well, letting the player interact with the school’s different social groups, form alliances and rivalries. I know this has all been done before, but there are plenty of great games out there that are unrepentant thieves.
By night, don’t just take Bully’s janky, GTA-cribbed combat. Make it a full-fledged, badass action game with hordes of vampires, trips to the depths of hell and boss battles all over the damn place. There are lots of opportunities here – lots of fun, close combat without the boring guns that permeate every game released between 1999 and now. If ever there were a game made for combo chains, it would be this one.
One of Buffy’s other strengths is its revolving cast of strong characters. Even if you just kept it to the principal cast, you’ve got some interesting people with some widely different play styles. Buffy would be the classic brawler, Willow’s your wizard (perhaps not in constant need of food), Xander is the token goofy character who you only play with on a bet. Each character offers a completely different narrative perspective and play style – don’t just make them all reskinned versions of the same characters.
The real heart of the game would be the ties between your parallel lives, making things you do during the day really matter at night and vice versa. Make trips to the library necessary to gain moves and information vital to defeating enemies during that night, and subsequent nights. Learn things from fighting foes at night that you can take back and learn more from. Look, I don’t know how you’d code it, or the particulars of how you’d make it work. I’m just idly speculating!
While we’re talking about pies in the sky, let’s make this multiplayer. Work together during the day to crack bosses’ weak points, and then go out at night and use your characters’ different skills in tandem to take them down. Don’t make the players stick together in a clump, though – let them play individually sometimes too, all the while knowing that their teammates are doing the same thing elsewhere.
So these are my ideas. Take a bunch of ideas from a bunch of different games, and use them to make a varied, dynamic licensed title that doesn’t totally blow. Buffy might actually be the ideal sort of license to develop like this – something equal parts action and problem solving and humor, not really an established gaming franchise but one with enough loyalty among its fans that sales could be decent. I’m not saying anyone should make this game, but if you really wanted to you sure as hell could.