Van Helsing (Game Boy Advance) - Review by Andrew



Van Helsing is quite a unique game from a personal point of view. Firstly, I actually had the game when the film was released and not months afterwards and secondly, I've actually seen the movie. The first point is quite an interesting one as it does appear that a growing number of publishers are rolling out their movie tie-in when the video/DVD is released and not at the film?s premier. I can only assume this is seen as less risky, allowing you to gauge the films popularity (or Box Office take) before investing money and man-hours into creating a product. The good news for Vivendi Universal is that after a multi-country release Van Helsing took well over $100 Million in its opening weekend. Even so we have been bombarded by adverts for the $150 million blockbuster for the past month or so. So it's done well and is no doubt going to be the first summer hit but what about the game? Also released on PS2 and X-BOX, is this the movie miniaturized or just another disappointing tie-in? Read on and see...


Van Helsing follows the plot of the movie very closely so if you saw it on the big screen there's a good chance you're going to experience the same thing on your GBA. Just like in the movie this mostly involves killing things in a variety of different ways but it's the weapons that will appeal to most fans. They're all here, from the Tojo Blade (at your side at all times) to the rather cool Automatic Crossbow. You'll also quickly discover that whilst your Blades are great for cutting down the less aggressive Fell Spirits you'll have to resort to other means to deal with Dracula's Brides who appear very early on in the game. It's not always advisable to battle it out though as some enemies can simply be ignored. I couldn't leave this section without a mention of the Grapple, which is possibly the best gadget you have in that big coat of yours. You don't get nearly enough opportunity to use it but it's essential for getting to those out of reach places. Our advice is to try it everywhere. You never know.

Collecting items, or Glyphs, is incredibly important in Van Helsing and not just for the sake of your health. These come in four different varieties, of which arguably the most important is the Red Life Glyph. There are only four of these on each level but locating all of them extends your health bar. Once you see the size of some of the nasties you'll have to battle it out with during the game; trust us you'll need 'em. Gather up 40 green ones in the mean time to give you an extra life and while the Gold ones are listed in the manual as ?collect as many as you can? we are reliably informed that this opens up a secret level. Finally there is the Blue variety, generally found after you've destroyed an enemy, which unlike the rather fantastic properties the other Glyphs give you, simply top up your health. Oh dear, we almost forgot about the password. How could we since this was clearly a late solution with the nine-digit code clearly meant for a battery back-up? It's a shame really as the rest of the title is so polished, this aspect alone really lets the whole package down.


Things can get pretty complicated in Van Helsing where the main character is a little like a 100 year old James Bond with just as many gadgets. Fortunately help is at hand with the occasional on screen pop ups, which not only tell you what things are for but also will also occasionally point you in the right direction if you find yourself completely lost. This feature is available whenever you rejoin the game so if you haven't picked it up in a while you'll get an instant refresher course, which if you play as many games as I do you'll always need. In addition, the main character is a joy to control although I personally would have preferred the weapon change to be allocated to one of the shoulder buttons as opposed to the 'select'. This is a minor quibble though as everything else is in easy reach and reasonably intuitive, which is always a plus when a rather irate Wolf Man is about to have you for lunch.


Visually the game is very polished and the isometric environments mixed with the rendered characters do a wonderful job of creating just the right atmosphere. Unusually for a licensed game you also get the true likenesses of all the main characters making the whole thing that much closer to the movie. This is a rarity (usually because of licensing fees) but it does make the whole thing that much more authentic. There are also some stills lifted from the movie to link the levels though you simply get a collection of static images, which were no doubt sourced when the movie itself was in mid production. The animation is also well above average with the main characters moving very fluidly regardless of what you require them to do.


As soon as you start up Van Helsing you know you're in for an audio treat when a perfectly pitched scream accompanies the title screen. This standard of sound effects is evident throughout the game and it's been some time since I've encountered a GBA title that sounded this good. The soundtrack is just as good with subtle and suitably creepy music playing throughout the various levels. These can be changed, via the options menu, to your preference but rather than having to choose between one and the other you can simply alter the volumes. We went for shrieking sound effects and background music, which we can highly recommend.

Final comments

If you enjoyed the movie then there's a very good chance you'll get just as much entertainment from this game. What first strikes you is the attention to detail and in all the years I've been playing GBA movie games this is just about as close as you can get to a game that deserves the 'tie-in' label. Everything has been carefully sourced from the movie including plot, characters and even scripted dialogue. This really does allow you to play the movie. On the downside the gameplay can become a incredibly repetitive, as constant battling is the only thing Van Helsing has to offer. A few more puzzle elements or changes of pace would have been a wise addition to the cart. There's also the rather irritating password system which really should have been a battery backup judging by the amount of data it has to save. I don't need to tell you that this makes the whole thing a lot less portable but as movie games go this is certainly one of the better ones.

Pro: Follows The Film's Storyline.
Con: Repetitive Gameplay
Final score: 4.5


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Boxart of Van Helsing (Game Boy Advance)
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Arcade / Adventure
Developer: Saffire
Publisher: Vivendi Universal