Castlevania : Judgement : A fighting game comprising of assorted Castlevania characters. An odd concept, to be sure, considering that most people can only name about 2 or 3 actual Castlevania characters.
Story : Judgment uses an old cliché of Saturday morning cartoons and comics, bringing in some kind of all-powerful being from another dimension to unite characters from different fictions together for a battle. This figure in question is predictably enigmatic, but he also looks like a cross between an outcast from A Clockwork Orange and a pussy.
The game has a story mode, but it may as well not have one, since “story mode” is the same as arcade mode, except with the occasional cutscene of dialogue between fighters, which generally comprises of fighter A saying “Hey, you! Lets fight!” and fighter B saying “Yeah, okay, lets fight!” That the game has this story mode, along with an arcade mode, seems like a petty attempt to give the game more gameplay modes than it really has for the sake of the game’s press release.
Speaking of, one of the game’s most advertised points of notice, it seems, is the addition of famous manga writer Takeshi Obata as the character designer, a man most famous for the series Death Note. I know this because Wikipedia knows this. A lot of Japanese games seem to do this, bringing in a supposedly famous artist or composer to work on something in the game, just as how American games often bring in a famous celebrity to half-heartedly do voicework for a game.
For the last decade or so, Castlevania games have been slowly progressing towards a more anime-influenced direction in terms of art-style…or at least a more sexually questionable art direction. Male and female characters have become harder to tell apart. Clothing comes and goes with the tide. Style coming light years ahead of substance. The concept art for a new character will take prominence in a magazine feature over, say, actual content about the game. However, Judgment takes the cake here in terms of creating the most sexually-confused posers in all of gaming.
Once apon a time, we thought Simon Belmont looked like this.
That was the box art for the very first Castlevania. Here’s Simon on the Castlevania : Judgement boxart, which I’ve neglected to post until now for a reason you’re about to see.
Way to butcher a part of our memories, Konami. I’d like to think that going from ripping off Conan The Barbarian to ripping off Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children is a pretty jarring shift for people who have been with the series for a long time. I know that the characters in the Castlevania franchise didn’t have much integrity to begin with in order for me to proclaim that the series’ integrity has been compromised, but there’s still value in trying to be nostalgic instead of trying to be Guilty Gear. As a somewhat-longtime fan, I’ll admit that the idea of pitting Simon Belmont against Symphony of the Night’s Alucard or the little girl from Castlevania 3 is rather intriguing, but all of these characters have been redesigned to a point where no one can recognize them anymore. Look at Super Smash Bros; part of the appeal is that the series relishes in the idea that these recognizable characters are together and battling each other; that the player can have Pikachu challenge Mario, and have the two beat the shrooms out of each other. Now imagine some famous artist, say, Spawn-creator Todd McFarlane, was hired to redesign all of the Nintendo characters. As cool as it might look like to see Pikachu transformed into a grotesque, human heart-devouring monster, he just wouldn’t be Pikachu anymore.
Instead, the new art direction just leaves the player the impression that the game is ridden with Soul Calibur rejects. Considering how most of these games are set in the 1800s, it’s amazing how these “heroes” don’t get cast out as witches and burned at the stake. To avoid having to play as some kind of androgynous punk who’s more concerned about their victory pose than their fight training, I connected my DS with Castlevania : Order of Ecclesia to the Wii to unlock that game’s protagonist, [Shanoa]. While she comes off as less obnoxious than the rest of the cast, her previous “sexy but tortured” look has been replaced by some kind of stripper-nun hybrid and…
…okay I guess I should talk about the gameplay.
The game is a 3D fighting game, akin to the old Dreamcast game Power Stone. Players move around a trap-filled arena, jumping around, slashing each other and cursing at the camera. Credit should be due for not trying to clone Soul Calibur more than the game’s art direction was already doing, but too many basic elements feel flawed. There’s no punishment to blocking, and the only unblockable attacks in the game have such a long charge time that they can easily be evaded or countered, so most battles will devolve into either two people taking turns hitting each other or just straight button-mashing. It’s a shame too, being that there’s some potentially interesting ideas here, like the ability to pick up and use vintage powerups from the series, like the cross boomerang and the evil holy water of burning blue death.
Oh, and make sure you play the game with either the Gamecube controller or the Classic controller. I actually appreciate that the game gives you the option to play with traditional controllers, unlike most games that force you into using the Wiimote controls for no good reason than to continue Nintendo’s two plus year quest to justify the existence of the Wii controller as functional for anything but Wii Bowling. Apparently, the concept for Castlevania: Judgment was conceived in an attempt to create a Castlevania game with Wii controls; to let the player use their remote like a whip perhaps…and I just can’t fathom the logic in such a statement. As predicted, the Wii controls are inaccurate and tiresome.
One final point of potential wasted, the game has what looks to be a solid online play mode…or at least one by Wii standards. A lot of that friend code nonsense can be abandoned and you can befriend strangers you’ve fought online as rivals. However, I was never able to apply any of this in practice, as nobody seems to be playing this game online.
Which could be attributed to the game’s bad art style scaring away players, or that most any gamer can look at the game from a distance and think “yeah, this game can’t be good.” Castlevania: Judgment is indeed a lackluster title, one that had the potential to be something special. However, fighting games are finicky titles in nature, where milliseconds can make or break the experience, and Judgment is way off the mark. Castlevania fans have it rough sometimes, it seems.
Pros : I guess if you’re the type of gamer that freaks out over an orchestral score in video games, you’ll pop for the one here.
Cons : Even Death falls victim to the artist’s need to redesign all of the characters. Yes, someone felt the Grim Reaper needed to be envisioned as a He-Man villain.
2 ½ stars