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CONSOLE: PlayStation DEVELOPER: VU Games PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 30, 1999 GENRE: Action
// review by Jeff

Making me Xenaphobic.

Who doesn't want to be Xena? She's a strong-willed character with sharp wit, striking good looks, and the ability to break a man apart if he even gives her a slightly shifty look, all while fighting for the weak and the meek in the name of justice. Alongside Gabrielle, a farmhand girl that grows over time to be a competent warrior and Xena's partner in crime (if the crime is aiding the innocent), Xena: Warrior Princess charmed the hearts of millions as the syndicated show thrived for six years, gaining its own ground and certifying itself as more than just "that Hercules spinoff".

So, I ask again: who doesn't want to be Xena? Me, after playing Xena: Warrior Princess on the PlayStation.

The game plunks you in the role of Xena, the warrior princess. Now who would have expected THAT? Though it takes a good chunk of the game before it's actually revealed, the storyline involves the scheming Kalabrax, a sorceress formerly imprisoned for her crimes now broken free and looking for revenge. In order to expand her powers, Kalabrax (which I swear is a pill people take for psoriasis) must sacrifice a queen: Gabrielle, who, by this time in the series, is an Amazon Queen. Gabrielle is kidnapped (twice), and Xena must travel the countryside to rescue her. Along the way, every knight, every zombie, every overgrown mutant spider, and every giant fire-breathing dragon wants her murdered. But Xena'll have none of that!

Most of Xena's missions involve basically getting from one point to another, with some awkward platforming and hand-to-hand combat thrown in for good measure. Occasionally you'll have to defeat a boss, which isn't all that difficult, or guard Gabrielle from being beaten to a pulp, which is less fun. The levels aren't very long, and you'll get a total score at the end to bring that dopamine rush you've been craving. Beyond this, you can also grab health potions on the ground that will automatically fill your sword-shaped health bar when it gets a bit low, scrolls that give very valuable and often direct hints, and orbs that give Xena supernatural but temporary powers.

There's one thing that the television show and this video game adaptation have in common: they're both rampant with Lawless-ness. Xena does whatever she feels like doing, rather than following the whim of whichever hapless player is in charge. Really, my biggest gripe with the game is that it feels like I'm only partially in control of my character; other times, she'll move to wherever she would rather be, including lava pits that burn her skin, her shoes, and indeed her soul.

Right out of the gate, when you ARE in control, our pal Xena controls like an oily pancake. At first, you think you'll get used to her slightly erratic movement style — a feather tap on the D-Pad send her moving several steps, for example — but that never ends up happening. It's one of those PlayStation games where analog support would be far preferable, but you're left to cope with the D-Pad. This was probably done to support the original PlayStation controller, which only had a D-Pad, but with the Dual Analog Controller, the first PlayStation controller with two analog sticks, having been released two years prior, the development team should have at least recognized it. Xena: Warrior Princess SORELY needs it. Xena's a tad sluggish in this, but it's nothing overly jarring.

As the great Xena once said, "Ayyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi!"

Xena can also jump, which sounds banal, but for whatever reason, at a standstill she actually moves forward with her jump, rather than simply going straight up like any other sane video game character would. This makes for some blunder-filled platforming where you think you push her forward while jumping, when in reality she will leap forward regardless. So making her move forward WHILE jumping gives her an extra boost... right off the edge of where you were planning to land and into, oh, I don't know... a lava-filled abyss of Hadesian terror!

But you didn't come here to watching Xena jump up and down, did you? ...Well, maybe you did. The real Xena draw, however, is clearly in watching her take down hordes of angry men in pathetic armor, and yep, that's definitely a key element here. Combat is clunky but still within the acceptable range. With Xena's standard sword in her hand at all times, she's able to slash throats at a moment's notice, with the square button designed for kicking objects or groins as needed. She can pick up additional weapons off the ground, such as a stave, but they are usually inferior to her tried-and-true blade.

Early in the game, Xena also gets use of her signature chakram, a golden sharp circular disc that can be tossed at enemies and other objects instead of approaching them at close range. Holding down the R1 puts you in "Chakram Mode", and pressing X while holding R1 will make you throw the chakram in whatever direction you're facing. The angle the camera is pointed in also affects where that thing will go, and it's extremely difficult to toss that thing with much accuracy. At least you can somewhat guide the chakram even after it's been tossed. And that puppy will go REALLY far away. Draw distance is no impediment for your discus of doom. There is a major drawback: when you throw it, your camera will follow the chakram and not, y'know, Xena. Meanwhile, Xena is still vulnerable to any attacks in her midst and unable to really defend herself since her spirit guide (see also: the player) is too busy watching a flying circle clink against a cliffside and bounce back, leading to some cheap stabs in the abdomen.

One positive: every once in a while, after successfully slaying a soldier, she'll belt out her legendary battle cry. It's a tad goofy, but at least it adds a bit of levity to the game, which doesn't take itself too seriously anyhow.

There are 21 levels in all, and their designs range from certainly sufferable (usually the flat ones where you have to walk a fair distance) to deviously concocted and unbearable, most notably any stage that involves leaping between tall platforms with deadly lava below that'll eat away at your leather boots. And that final boss battle... I don't think I can groan hard enough at how rough it was.

The camera doesn't help, considering your cameraman is actually a one-armed gorilla on codeine. You can easily lose sight of whatever the heck you're fighting during times of battle, and the platforming couldn't be more irritating as when the camera decides to pull a 180° and look at something random in the distance. The L2 and R2 buttons serve as a way to move the camera around Xena, but it would've been much nicer to allocate one button to just getting the camera directly behind her. Again, analog support would have been perfect for the camera.

For a 3D game on the PlayStation, this one isn't horribly offensive to the eyes. It's not the bitter cornea shatterer that Spawn: The Eternal is. In fact, it's pretty decent to look at. They did skimp in one respect: actually portraying the main characters. The faces of Lucy Lawless and Renée O'Connor, who portray Xena and Gabrielle respectively, were apparently captured and super-imposed onto the in-game models. N-no, no, they weren't...

If that's Lucy Lawless, I'm the Grand Canyon. The environments won't astound, but they do seem to pair well with the visuals from the show: dank and Medieval.

The game's soundtrack also borders on the Medieval, with heavy use of tribal drumming and symphonic tones to help set the time period. You'll recognize the theme song at the beginning, but beyond that, there's nothing really to remember. They could easily have been ripped from Primal Rage for all I know. Most characters have a voice, even the minor ones. I love hearing townsfolk cry for help, not because I'm perverse, but because the voice actors clearly had another engagement and just gave it their campiest try before running out to meet their friends at the nearest Wienerschnitzel. I can tell you right now: that's not Lucy Lawless doing the voice of Xena, though... or any of the original cast. Nope, that deal must have fallen through because instead, we get someone with as much passion for the script as I have for devouring large armoires. (In other words, not much.)

Xena: Warrior Princess was a game that started out with some potential but quickly threw that in the nearby dumpster, then set the internals on fire. It's basically Tomb Raider if somehow Tomb Raider's controls were made worse. Xena herself would be disappointed. And you don't want to mess with Xena. She'll cut your head off... then walk off a cliff and burn, apparently.

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