Wii Fanboy Review: Castlevania Judgment

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Wii Fanboy Review: Castlevania Judgment
It's hard to place Castlevania Judgment in terms of an ideal audience. The wild deviation from pretty much anything characterizing Castlevania means that the series' fans are unlikely to be well-served by the game, and people who don't care about the series probably would never give it a second look. Furthermore, fighting game lovers would find Judgment too simplistic for their tastes.

That said, having given the game a chance, I slowly found myself warming to it. It took me a while to shed my expectations of what it should be, however. It's not much of a Castlevania game, and it's not much of a fighting game, but it is a decent third-person, one-on-one brawler. Like Power Stone mixed with Lament of Innocence.

I must confess that I was slightly disappointed to find the game not-terrible, because I expected to completely savage it in this review. Oh, well.

The fighting game brings together characters from across the Castlevania franchise, fighting each other because some guy has implied that they should. A new character named Aeon, who is conveniently able to manipulate time, pulls heroes and villains from the Castlevania universe into a "time rift", then tells them to fight him as their "first trial." Afterwards, he says that they are on the way to what they seek -- which is apparently all the information these characters need to fight.

The characters mostly consist of classic heroes we haven't heard from in a while, like Simon Belmont and everybody from Castlevania III, as well as a couple of nobodies (Carmilla and Golem) and the must-haves like Death and Dracula. I am suspicious of the motivation behind the heavy reliance on pre-Igarashi characters -- it's as if IGA picked only characters he didn't really care about for this game. Like he wouldn't stand to have Soma Cruz or Leon Belmont redesigned by Death Note artist Takeshi Obata. Or, perhaps even more controversially, it wasn't about the designs, and he just didn't want his characters in this game.

These designs, in fact, are one reason that Castlevania fans might not find much to like here. A fighting game would be an excellent chance to see your favorite characters with new, high-detail character models -- and, in fact, the graphics are pretty technically exceptional for the Wii -- but Obata has all but taken the joy out of it, because these people are only recognizable by name. Castlevania Bloodlines' spear-wielding dude Eric Lecarde appears as a little boy, for example, and Maria Renard is unrecognizable as an annoying kid in a ridiculous pink Gothic Lolita dress (an annoying kid who, by the way, is obsessed with breasts). Castlevania III's Grant Danasty is some kind of leather-clad mummy creature. Even Shanoa, from the very recent Order of Ecclesia, has been suitably ruined. The voice acting is similarly cringeworthy, with Konami subjecting us to repeated, overlapping clips: "Where are you looking? Where are you looking? Where are you looking? Your tricks won't work! Where are you looking? Your tricks won't work!"

I'd like to start the discussion of the gameplay by dismissing right now the idea of ever using the Wiimote and Nunchuk to play this game. If you're going to try it, get out a GameCube controller or Classic Controller first. Do not attempt to use the Wiimote. It will end in nothing but frustration.

Attacks are mapped to a single button (plus directions), and a second "charge" button adds another set of more powerful attacks. In addition, each character has a flashy finishing move that requires a full Skill Gauge. With the Wiimote configuration, the main attack button is any Wiimote motion. Even the default Classic control scheme is kind of hard to deal with, and I could really only play the game in Classic Controller scheme B, which basically puts the controls in a more Castlevania-like mode (Y is attack and B is jump).

Sadly, the simplistic fighting system is still way too complicated for the Wiimote for which it was designed. And yet, once I put it in a sensible control scheme, the game became a bit too simplistic. Basically you mash the attack button to create combos, sometimes adding the charge button. You can throw sub-weapons, but it doesn't really matter. If your enemy blocks too much, you can use an unblockable attack. The combo system feels exactly like Judgment's PS2 predecessors, Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness. Difficulty comes in the form of brutally fast enemies with super-high attack priority (in Normal and up, at least; on Easy mode, the enemies are trivial and can be button-mashed away).

This means that if you're coming into Castlevania Judgment expecting a deep fighting game, you will be as disappointed as the people who wanted to see an updated version of Sypha Belnades. But if you're up for a fairly uncomplicated, light brawler-type game, you could find a good time here. I found the "Castle" mode, a series of individual challenges similar to Soul Calibur II's Weapon Master Mode, pretty fun, actually. It starts with a map that looks like it came from Castlevania I or III, and sends your character from room to room, with each room containing a different challenge, from picking up five items to activating stage hazards to your everyday fight. For your troubles, you earn costume items for your character! The giant Golem ("ME FIGHT TO LIVE") could do with a top hat! Theoretically, you can use those items to customize your character and show off online -- but the Wi-Fi mode has a consistent lag that may dissuade you from frequent competition. In my experience, the whole game was about half a second behind my inputs, which is a really, really weird feeling.

Ultimately, I'm only a bit less conflicted about Castlevania Judgment as I was when I started. It's kind of a really terrible Castlevania, and a shallow fighting game. But for what it is (which is, um, one-on-one 3D action-adventure? Devil May Fight?) it's quick to learn and exciting to play. The good thing about a simple game like this one is that I felt pretty encouraged to play for long sessions -- after completing story mode with one character, I figured I still had the time and energy for two or three more (also known as the Pringles effect: I popped the game in and proceeded not to stop playing). Those long sessions, however, meant that I burned through the game pretty quickly, a problem that is somewhat ameliorated by the Castle Mode.

But enough talk! Have a score.

Final score: 6.5/10

Bonus: we never linked to the US Castlevania Judgment/Order of Ecclesia website, so I'm rectifying that now. In addition to Judgment screens and wallpapers and stuff, it features translated comics from the Japanese Order of Ecclesia and Dracula X Chronicles sites! I had been looking forward to reading those for a long time.

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