Van Helsing Review

If you're looking for a horrifically bad game that takes less than two hours to finish, then, by all means, give Van Helsing a shot.

There are too many bad things to say about Van Helsing for the Game Boy Advance, and very few good things. One good thing about it is that it follows the story from the film closely. You play as a monster hunter named Van Helsing who has been sent on a mission by the church to stop Dracula from unleashing an army of vampires--and you're using Frankenstein's electricity, no less. Throughout the game, you'll encounter numerous characters from the film, including Anna Valerious, Top Hat, Carl, and monsters like the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula.

Van Helsing can use his crossbow to attack from a distance.
Van Helsing can use his crossbow to attack from a distance.

Another nice thing about Van Helsing is that, unlike most movie tie-ins, it isn't a side-scroller put together in the traditional run-jump-punch formula. Instead, it's an isometric beat-'em-up with a dash of exploration thrown in for good measure. You've no doubt seen this same graphical style used in other big-name games, like Legend of Zelda, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Sadly, however, the viewpoint is the only positive similarity that Van Helsing shares with these other games.

Graphically, it's completely devoid of artistic or technical competency. The backgrounds are dull and lifeless and nothing moves in them--ever. The characters don't show much in the way of animation either. Van Helsing and the monsters wave their arms around and jut out their weapons, but that's about it. The worst part is that the developers seem to have used about 16 colors in total to color the entire game, backgrounds and characters included. Van Helsing is a purple and black smudge, the monsters are brown, gray, or blue smudges, and the structures in the background resemble buildings from old NES or Game Boy Color games. GBA games could get away with looking this lame in 2001, but this is 2004 and we've seen better from just about everything else that has come out so far this year.

The audio is equally terrible, but thankfully there's less to say about it since there honestly isn't much of it. There are a few different screams for the different enemies, and Van Helsing's weapons elicit popping sounds or "whoosh whoosh" noises depending on whether you're using his guns or his swords. As for music, the same organ and drum riff play in the background during every level.

It is said that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. To be fair, there are some great GBA games out there that don't look or sound all that hot. But Van Helsing plays as bad as it looks (and sounds), and there's nothing to it except for constant button-mashing. If you can tap the A and B buttons very fast--which control Van Helsing's guns and swords--you'll have no trouble dealing with the dozen or so cookie-cutter monsters that come at you when one screen shifts to the next. All told, Van Helsing has five different weapons: his swords, which are useless, a pistol (also useless), a grappling hook, a crossbow, and a lightning gun. Ironically, there are also only five or six different monsters xeroxed countless times into every level. The vampire skeleton is the most common enemy, which is funny since there weren't any skeletons shown anywhere in the film. The boss fights at the end of each level are borderline interesting--partly because you're going up against large renditions of Mr. Hyde, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula--and partly because they're the only times during the game when you actually need to jump to get out of the way or use a particular weapon to beat an enemy.

These skeletons comprise forty percent of the game's monsters.
These skeletons comprise forty percent of the game's monsters.

There just isn't much fun to be had playing this game. The weapons are boring, and the only other upgrades you get are the extra lives and life extensions that come about from collecting the green and red crucifixes that are scattered all over the place. Once in a while, monsters will gang up around you and knock you around like a pinball--thanks to the poor collision detection--and the few side paths that do exist always lead back to the main route. About two-thirds of the way through the game, Carl, Anna, and Frankenstein join up to help Van Helsing--but they never actually fight alongside him onscreen. Time after time, something happens that you think may turn out to be an interesting moment, but it never pays off. Mercifully, that feeling of disappointment only recurs for about 90 minutes, since that's approximately how long it takes to blow through all 12 levels.

If you're looking for a horrifically bad game that takes less than two hours to finish--but arguably does follow the plot of the film--then, by all means, give Van Helsing a shot. Just remember to hold onto the receipt.

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Van Helsing More Info

  • First Released May 6, 2004
    • Game Boy Advance
    • Mobile
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 2
    • Xbox
    Van Helsing, the game, can make for a pretty entertaining time if you don't go in expecting too much and just want a few hours of gothic-styled action.
    Average Rating1146 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Saffire, Lavastorm
    Published by:
    Sierra Entertainment, VU Games, Superscape
    Third-Person, 3D, Action, Shooter
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Blood and Gore, Violence