Genre: 3-D Fighter
Ah Castlevania: Judgment, how you stirred up the fan boys. God forbid a company tries something new with a franchise. Of course, with Castlevania, its previous forays into 3-D gaming were well, not very good. So the combination of another 3-D CV with fighting gameplay blew the minds of a lot of people. Before the game was even playable, people had condemned it as the worst CV ever. I mean, who would want a fighting game with all the big Castlevania characters in a giant fan service style game?
Personally, my big worry is that we were in for another Ravenloft: Iron & Blood. For the unaware, this was a Saturn and PSX 3-D fighting game set in the AD&D 2nd Edition world of Ravenloft where you had a party of fighters squaring off against another party in order to gain XP, magic items and well, kill your opponents. It was not a good game. I’ll admit I purchased it because I liked the idea of an RPG fighting game (Plus having Strahd and Lord Soth as hidden characters appeals to the 13 year old in me…), but alas the closest I’ve come to that is Street Fighter Alpha 3‘s world tour mode. It was I&B that killed the idea of a fantasy/action fighting game for the past decade so long time historians of the genre were far more receptive to the idea than hardcore Castlevania fans. Trust me kids, we’ve seen the worst Judgment could have been already.
The bigger problem is the fact that we have allowed biased opinionated fanboys to pose as journalists in this, the age of the internet and the lowest common denominator for writing. Behold 1UP’s review of CV:J. Not only is it only four paragraphs long, but anyone who has played the game can tell that Mr. Richard Li has not. There is no discussion of the multiple modes, playing styles or the game at all. Even 1UP’s readers have called Li out on this, yet has 1UP printed a retraction or done an actual review? Of course not. Because it’s EGM Online, the same organization that claims to stand for the common gamer when in reality they rate games based on who gives them what (or doesn’t) and then boldface lies to their audience about what happens behind the scenes. Three words for you: Shining Force Neo. The moral here kids, is Ziff-Davies publications are about as trustworthy as your average career politician.
Unlike the aforementioned unscrupulous organization that tarnishes the very phrase, “Gaming Journalism,” we here at DHGF have put CV:J through the ringer. Of course, who better to do it than yours truly, the man whose name shows up in not one, but two characters in this game. So how does a hardened King of Fighters addict feel about Castlevania: Judgment? Did I wish Alucard and Eric LeCarde had different names and that I didn’t get royalty checks from Konami, or by some miracle from Cthulhu himself, did Judgment turn out to be…fun?
I’ll be honest with you here. There really isn’t a story to this game. Story mode? This guy named Enoch brings your character into an alternate universe where CV characters all fight each other. You fight ten battles and then, bam! That’s it. Anticlimactic scene where Enoch tells you that X number of characters have beaten this mode and he needs Y more to win. What happens when you get all twelve wins? Some stuff gets unlocked. Now granted, I don’t want to spoil what is unlocked, but it’s stuff worth getting, so there you go. But really, the story mode is non-existent with only the occasional dialogue between characters that boils down to “Hey, I beat Dracula.” “You beat Dracula? No, *I* Beat Dracula. Let’s see who is stronger.” You can only play as Simon Belmont or Alucard to begin, but with each playthrough, you unlock new characters for this mode.
Then there is arcade mode, which one would think plays out like Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat, right? WRONG. Instead of one round matches like in story mode, now you get the two out of three falls style of fighting. When you finish up here you get…nothing. No ending whatsoever. That’s right! You just get credits and the time it took you to beat the game recorded. The #1 CPU slot has the beating of this mode’s time at a whopping 13 minutes. My time the first time I played the game? 6:05 with Shanoa from Order of Ecclesia.
Next up is Versus Mode, which is just one-on-one battles with friends or the CPU.
Survival Mode is you taking on the computer with endless battles until you die. First time through? 31 straight wins. I only died because of the Clock Tower stage fatality. More on that later.
Training and Tutorial modes are just what you would expect.
Wi-Fi mode lets you take on people across the net. It also keeps track of your won-loss record and ranking on the overall tourney scene. Hurrah.
Accessories are all the nick-knacks you unlock from the various modes. Each character unlocks different things, so see what all you’ve earned and dress up Simon Belmont or Dracula however you wish.
Gallery is where you can check out the unlocked music, voice overs, art work and sound effects.
DS Connection lets you synch up Judgment with OOE. Doing this unlocks Shanoa and Enoch for CV:J along with some accessories and Shanoa’s story mode from the very beginning of the game, giving you a third person to play as. In OOE it unlocks Hard Mode level 255…which you can earn normally by playing the game anyway.
That’s ten modes so far, all of which are a bit lackluster. Sure they all unlock accessories, but not too many people will care about that. Out of all ten of these modes my favorite was the DS Connection as I unlocked Shanoa. If only there was an 11th mode that was pretty outside the box, was pretty innovative and captured the feel of a normal Castlevania game.
Oh wait. There is.
Castle Mode is the main reason to buy this game, and it’s a lot of fun. The gist of this mode is that you must navigate through the labyrinth that is Dracula’s castle. Each room contains a battle, and these battles include more than just player characters. You could find yourself fighting zombies, mermen or even a giant iron guardian. As well, each room has their own specific requirements, and bonuses and/or handicaps for you and your opponent(s). For example, one room might give you a 20% bonus to your damage but also not let use block or dodge for the battle. Some rooms also contain boss battles. After beating one of these , the boss room becomes a save area where you can refresh your health and save your progress. These rooms are far and few between, so you’ll do a lot of backtracking. Be careful though, as cleared rooms may no longer offer challenges, you can still encounter RANDOM BATTLES. This makes the game a little tougher for those that feel the need to save after ever battle.
Honestly, I had a lot more fun with Castle Mode than I had ever expected. It felt more like an action game then a fighter and the different requirements, power ups and penalties kept the whole thing fresh and exciting for me. I know I’ll never bother with any of the other modes again, but Castle? That alone is worth keeping the game for.
So there are eleven modes, three of which aren’t playable persay and another two that are training. I was pretty disappointing with the lack of substance in story mode and the lack of ENDINGS in Arcade mode. Both of these are pretty big no-no’s for a fighting game. Castle Mode though? One of the coolest things I’ve dealt with in a fighter for a while. It reminded me of the special challenges in SNK’s The King of Fighters; The Orochi Saga which also unlocked characters and music for that game. Alas, CV:J’s modes are quantity over quality, but at least there is one mode that everyone will enjoy, even though there’s no story.
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
I’ll admit it. That opening cut scene that plays when you let the game sit for a bit before hitting start? Easily the most beautiful visual montage I have ever seen on the Wii. All the cut scenes, no matter how few and brief they are, are gorgeous. The in game visuals aren’t AS stunning, but they’re still pretty impressive.
Character designs are by Takeshi Obata and you can definitely feel the Death Note influence, especially with Aeon. There are several character redesigns I really don’t like, such as Grant Danasty who now looks like a mummy instead of a pirate, Carmilla who now looks like a wanna-be Morrigan, Eric LeCarde who looks NOTHING like he did in Portrait of Ruin or Bloodlines and appears to now be a woman in drag. I do like Shanoa’s redesign, if only because the ending hideous graphic of Order of Ecclesia was so bad this somewhat redeems her visually. I also like the use of Trevor Belmont, post CVIII where he is now missing an eye and has a Sagat-like scar. Personally, if Trevor had a Fireball or a Tiger Uppercut, I’d use him and only him forever. I’m neutral of the redesigns of Death and Cornell, the latter of which I never thought we’d see again. Alucard, Simon, and Maria all look like they always have. Same with Dracula.
The in game graphics are quite nice. There is little to no slow down, even with 4 characters on the screen at once. That’s pretty impressive for a fighter. But what’s really impressive are the level designs. Not only are the battlefields both huge and beautiful, they are amongst the most elaborate stages for any fighting game I’ve ever seen.
Remember Eternal Champions? Remember the stage fatalities? Well, CV:J has something similar. Here, each level has a trap of sort. This could range from a never ending supply of zombies coming at you, to a Kraken attacking the boat you are fighting on to my favorite and yet most dreaded – the clock tower which is slowly crumbling around you and where parts of the stage will fall away if you aren’t careful. There are poison traps and lava pits and so many ways to die other than in battle. Again, with these traps there are no slowdowns, and this makes for some of the most innovative and interesting backgrounds out of any fighting game. After all, how often do you have to battle the scenery?
I hate saying, “For a Wii game…” when it comes to visuals, but in this case it’s very true. The Wii doesn’t have a lot of graphical powerhouses. There’s NiGHTS and Endless Ocean when you’re underwater, but there aren’t a lot of games that wow todays gamers in this high-def visual generation of ours. That being said, Castlevania: Judgment is arguably the best looking game on the system. I just went through all 8 of the Wii games I have reviewed before this one and only Umbrella Chronicles and NiGHTS come close visually
2. Graphics Rating: Unparalleled
CV: J boasts one of the best soundtracks EVER. Yes, you read that right. Why? Because it’s a collection of the best Castlevania tracks of all time. Much like how Super Smash Bros. Brawl boasted an all-star music selection, CV:J gave me songs I haven’t heard outside of their original MIDI form. There are some new tracks for the game as well, as even they are superb. If Konami had released a pre-order soundtrack for this game, I’d have swooped that up too. Come on Konami, you did it for OOE!
The voice acting is excellent as well. I like all the voices, with Grant Danasty, Trevor Belmont and Shanoa coming out as the best overall actors. There is a great cast here, and although the vocals get pretty repetitive as you go through Castle or Survival modes, they’re all well acted and worth listening to.
CV: J might not be most people’s pick list when the best of the year comes at the end, but when it comes to the musical selection, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better game this year, save for OOE.
Sound Rating: Unparalleled
4. Control and Gameplay
Now for the crux. KoF, this ain’t. Hell, it’s not even Mortal Kombat Vs. DCU. In truth, if not for the one on one nature of the game, I wouldn’t even call this a fighting game. I’d consider the controls to me more akin to a beat ’em up, action RPG, or a Super Smash Bros. than a true fighting game. Of course, all those controls vary based on which control scheme you use…
There are three sets of controls. The first is the wiimote and numchuk set up. Granted, I am the type of guy who insists on playing my KoF on my trusty and venerable Neo*Geo so I may be a bit of a fighting game snob. With that in mind…HOLY HELL IS THIS THE WORST FIGHTING GAME CONTROL SCHEME I HAVE EVER DEALT WITH!!! It’s so unintuitive. Shaking the Wiimote while pressing B is my finisher? Pressing down on the D pad is my Super Finisher? Do you know how hard it is to do that while holding the two controllers in the heat of battle? There’s so much shaking! Normally I love this with a Wii title, but the controls are practically Escape From Bug Island here!
Thankfully, for those of us who prefer a more traditional control scheme, you can use either the classic controller or the Game Cube controller. Both are actually well laid out and function perfectly with some of the best button detection I’ve seen outside of a Naomi board based fighting game. Due to the use of both sticks on each joystick, you’ll find the classic controller is the better of the two options.
As I mentioned earlier, button detection is amazing. Not once did I go, “I pressed that ^&%&* button!” and watched my character do the wrong move. This is mainly because D-Pad input is nonexistent with the moves of CV:J. Each button or combination of buttons is a move, so no F, D, F+P type movements. Yes, even the finishers and super finishers are their own one hit buttons here, and god help me, it actually is kind of nice when you first give it a whirl.
Some of the neat control ideas. Guarding is pretty unstoppable save for the guard crush control which always breaks through. If you use this, it also depletes your opponent’s Skill Gauge, which is used to power the Super Finisher. This makes Guard Crush fun (or evil) to use even when your opponent ISN’T blocking.
The aforementioned Super Finisher is pretty interesting. The first time I did one with Shanoa? 70 Hit Combo! Mother of God! It’s like I was Cable in Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 for a second. Although these moves are practically one hit KO’s, they are telegraphed and thus really easy to prevent. Of course, that means yours are too. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Finishers here can take on several different forms, but they will all be the same two button combination (buttons vary on control scheme). You can also rapidly hit these buttons for combos. Attacks are the same way, where you use only one button for your normal attack. Again, this is both refreshing and unsettling at first, but it’s kind of unique when you get used to it. Yes it’s easier to play the game, but it also means I can sit down with any of my friends and have a match. This is in contrast to say, Vampire Chronicles where the only people I know that can play that decently are rather creepy, have a bit of Morrigan on Lilith slash fetish and take what should be a silly game as SERIOUS BUSINESS.
The most interesting thing that has transferred from the classic CV games to here are the existence of sub weapons. These weapons are powered by hearts just like in the other games. You collect hearts by breaking items or killing the occasional monster. Each sub weapon has two effects and can be anything from daggers, whips, axes, holy water and swarms of bats. You can also interact with items on the stage by throwing them at your opponent or setting up a trap inside that springs when your enemy draws near.
Overall, we have a very solid game here in CV:J. Yes, it’s nothing like a “real” fighter, but it’s some good old fashioned button mashing akin to Double Dragon or River City Ransom. It’s a retro throwback in terms of play style, but the controls are easy enough for anyone to pick up and master, and you have absolutely no control detection issues, freeze-ups, slowdown or even hit detection issues that plague most other 2-D and 3-D fighters.
Very high marks here that are only brought down by the default control scheme of the wiimote/numchuk tandem. For Cthulhu’s sake, if you don’t have a CC or GCN controller, do not play this game. If you do, you might actually be surprised by how tight it is.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Oh hey! 14 characters to play as. Oh wait, that’s actually…not very many. Oh hey! Story mode…that doesn’t really give you an ending. Yay! Good old classic Arcade Mode…that doesn’t really give you an ending. That leaves just mindless battles and the awesome Castle Mode, which you can get a good amount of use from.
Still, there’s online mode and a great deal of unlockables for you to earn. For completists, there actually is a lot to unlock and do here. It’s just the rewards are underwhelming. Still, most fighting games only over one or two unlockable characters and a bunch of music. When you keep that in mind, CV:J is on par with other games of its nature. It’s just the lack of endings and the small character roster ends up hurting the replay value a lot.
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
Here now is the biggest flaw of the game. Without exaggeration, Castlevania: Judgement is the easiest game I have ever beaten. The AI of the computer is either comatose or retarded – I haven’t decided which yet. The game is crazy easy and the one, and I do mean ONE time I lost a match, it was a ring out because I was listless after winning so many battles in Survival mode. The only mode that will give you ANY challenge is Castle Mode, and that’s because some of the latter rooms really stack the odds against you. If you are looking for a cakewalk, just give Story and Arcade mode a try. Seriously. Dracula just STANDS THERE most of the time except for the 2-3 occasionally he casts a fireball or teleports.
Really the only opponent that will give you a challenge is Maria. She’s actually got some fight in here. Other than that, expect to perfect a lot of your opponents who you can kill by doing a juggling finisher combo followed up by another juggling finisher combo followed by a super finisher that you press just as they start to rise up. Congrats, your fight is over and you win. Flawless Victory.
I will say that online mode offers a lot more for you in the way of challenge. Instead of finishing of an AI controlled opponent in 10-15 seconds with one move done repeatedly, you’ll find people who are quite defensive, who run around destroying objects and collecting hearts, who play on stages where there is the most danger of getting a Ring Out and players who will just block block block until you try a guard crush and then hit you with a charged move.
So it’s not that the game is truly wildly unbalanced, it’s that the AI just sucks. Put two humans against each other and you have a weak version of Power Stone
Characters are pretty balanced too. The best characters in the game are Shanoa, Trevor, Simon, and Maria. The next tier would be Alucard, Grant, Aeon and Sypha. The lower tier (which may just be characters who need a better strategy for use) are Carmilla, Cornell, Death, and Golem. Eric and Dracula are pretty worthless in terms of overall use. Yes, DRACULA. In CV:J you want a good mix of power, speed and reach and I’ve found the Belmont whips, Shanoa’s glyphs and Maria attacks are your best bet.
Of course, this is like any fighting game. You have characters like Geese Howard and Nightmare Rugal that are just nigh unstoppable and characters like Dan or Sodom who are just well…not that good. It’s the nature of the beast.
Matches are quick, the computer is retarded, and you’ll find most people using the same four characters online. There is the spark of balance here, but you’ll only find it with other humans or when Castle Mode really decides to try and punish you.
Balance Rating: Dreadful
Surprise! This isn’t the first fighting game to feature Vampires and Werewolves. Hello, Night Stalkers. This isn’t even the first fighting game to have Simon Belmont. Japanese only DreamMix TV: World Fighters has him and Optimus Prime! This is the first CV fighter though and it is amusing to see characters like Grant and Cornell get used again. Hell, I’m just happy to see all of the characters from Dracula’s Curse show up. It’s also an interesting take on the fighter genre with some unique controls for the genre. Castle Mode is also a pretty unique fighter as well as it’s not quite SFA3’s World Tour or MK’s Konquest mode, but it’s definitely something more appealing to the average Castlevania fan.
I love the stages most of all, as that’s the real breath of fresh air here.
The game’s a bit of a throwback in terms of no endings, weak plots in story mode and an alarming lack of characters, but it’s a pretty out there game in a lot of ways.
Originality Rating: Good
I can’t believe how much I was sucked into this game. Even though it was crazy easy and offered no rewards besides unlockable hats and pins, I just kept playing story mode. I knew nothing major would happen, but I wanted to see that clock strike twelve! Castle Mode was also quite good at keeping me riveted to my screen. I kept wanting to see what was in the next room and what the next challenge would be. I guess I just kind of passed of the easiness of the game in the same way I was able to beat Soul Calibur II with Link while only using one button. I’m a bit of a fighting game addict, so in my mind while exploring the modes of this game I was thinking, “I can perfect Shin Akuma. No wonder this game is easy.” As the game wore on and I realized it wasn’t that I was just that experienced at fighting games and that it was just the game’s AI is that dysfunctional that I started to get bored. I should point out that it was only Survival mode that broke me.
CV: Judgment has a lot to offer the curious gamer or those that like strange surprises and “challenges.” As long as you don’t mind the lack of difficulty, you’ll probably enjoy trying all the characters, seeing all the stages and unlocking stuff left and right. I had fun with the game and spent several hours with it each night before going “Okay, too easy. Let’s go get Captain Marvel’s ending in MK Vs. DC now.” And I’m a frame rate counting life bar percentage damage dealing calculating sort of fighting gamer.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
A lot of fighting game fans will eschew the game because it plays more like an action game and because SNK End Boss Syndrome is utterly absent from the game. A lot of Castlevania fans will hate this game because it’s not in the exact same freakin’ format that 95% of CV games have been in for 25 years. That’s a silly reason to hate a game, but you’ll find this pervading attitude on message boards and in blog posts about this game across the net. Hell it was out there since the game was first announced, which is again a disheartening revelation about today’s average gamer’s mindset.
Wii owners looking for something that is both pretty and unique, will quite enjoy this game. This will also make a great gateway for people who are new to fighting games or just not very good at them. I know a lot of people who love Street Fighter 2 but could never handle the controls. This is a game for people like that.
For those that like some innovation with their Castlevania, you’ll be astonished to learn that this is one of the better 3-D CV game out there. It’s much better than the N64 fiascos and I preferred this to Curse of Darkness monotony and bland levels. It’s not as good as Lament of Innocence but the lack of plot here is still better than the sucktastic story of LoI that should have never been scribed. It will just take some time to get used to the outside the box gameplay and nature of the title.
Will it be a success? Alas, probably not. It is a fun button masher that is worth picking up when the price eventually drops? Actually, yes. Plus the connectivity between this and Order of Ecclesia which is the best CV since Symphony of the Night makes this AT LEAST worth a rental if you own that game. Who knows, you might even find yourself really liking this due to going in with utterly no expectations.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
So here’s the thing. After all the pre-release hate poured on this game, and after the scorn from people who haven’t even actually played the game like 1UP, it turns out Castlevania: Judgment…is fun. It’s not amazing by any means, nor will it ever be considered one of the greatest fighters of all time, but it’s got one of the best soundtracks ever, it’s the best looking game yet released for the Wii and if you accept the game plays like a 3-D beat ’em up instead of a traditional fighting game, you might find yourself playing this through to completion.
Honestly, when Konami sent me this, my first thought was, “This’ll last a week before I trade it in.” After a few days I can say without shame or embarrassment that CV:J is probably staying in my collection for some time. It’s a solid, well made title (As long as you use a different controller) that I can play with my casual gaming friends without them having to hear, “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Tiger Knee! Tiger Uppercut! Tiger Genocide!” repeatedly while they just mash buttons hopping to deck me.
A mediocre game for the hardcore fighting fan, but an enjoyable game for the casual gamer, the younger gamer, or those that want a fighter but lack the skill needed for those titles. So let’s be honest, the game is by no means great, but the fun is undeniable. Count me as one of those wanting and looking forward to a more finely tuned sequel.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Castlevania: Judgment is definitely a game that has polarized fans. I found it to be a fun, addictive little game. Yes the game is far too easy for my liking, but the graphics in 480i rival some of the high def games I have played in 1080i/p for the Xbox and PS3. The soundtrack is an amazing collection of Castlevania “Best Of’s” and the controls are very tight, even if they are better suited to a button mashing beat ’em up than a traditional fighter. My overall assessment of CV:J is that it’s worth playing, if not worth buying and that as the Wii has become the system of choice for the casual gamer, I won’t be surprised if CV:J becomes the casual gamer’s equivalent to the hardcore fighting fan’s KoF ’98/’02.