Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Castlevania Judgment (Wii)

While it seems like an odd change of pace for the series, Castlevania Judgment on the Wii offers a fairly decent fighting game, though it's not up to the level of other titles. The game allows you to play one of many legendary Castlevania characters as you battle an array of bad guys in somewhat interesting 3D levels. There are numerous power-ups to collect and other items as well which makes things somewhat more interesting. Awkward camera angles and one-button combos make the gameplay unbalanced and frustrating at times, but those who persevere will find some enjoyment here. It's not as bad as it could have been, but Castlevania Judgment isn't particularly memorable either.

This release in Konami's long-running franchise marks a bit of a detour for the Castlevania series. Judgment on Wii isn't a traditional 2D side scrolling adventure title but a kind of open-ended 3D fighting game starring many of the familiar characters. Players can choose to play as one of 14 different characters and battle against each other. These include well-known faces Simon and Trevor Belmont, Alucard, and Maria along with newer characters like Eric Lecarde and Shanoa from the recent DS games. Two main modes of play are offered in single player mode - arcade and story. These allow you to play through the game with a single character. The game also includes practice and training modes. You can choose to battle against a friend locally in verus mode, and can also connect via wi-fi to fight online. This gives you plenty of options, though no matter which way you play, there are some similarities. Players fight against another character until their life bars are depleted. There are an array of standard attacks that can be used, most of which are intrinsic to that character, such as the Belmonts' iconic whip attacks. There are two basic attacks, ones that can be used at close range and others where you can inflict damage from a distance. As you fight the other characters, you can move around the stage in full 3D, which allows you to dodge attacks and take cover as well, which makes this a bit more elaborate than most fighting games. In addition to the fighting, players can collect a variety of items, such as hearts and other weapons by running over them. Collecting these before your opponents can gives you a big advantage in battle. You also need to be careful when running around the game's environments, because they have traps that you can fall off, which will end the game immediately. This can be somewhat frustrating at times, since you can lose when you're far ahead of your opponent. However, the other side is you can win when it looks like defeat looms. Most of the levels see you fighting one of the standard characters, but you'll also face other sections where you have to battle against waves of zombies or face off against a usually much larger and more powerful boss character. This style of play is modestly entertaining for single players, though generally underwhelming in terms of challenge and depth.

In the one-on-one mode, you face off against a succession of enemies until you defeat the final boss, but the game also includes a deeper castle mode. It's a kind of a quest styled mode, where you travel through a castle that's been divided into stages. In order to clear each stage, you have to meet certain conditions before you can proceed. Some of this is fairly standard, such as defeating a character while others require more skill, such as using only certain attacks or collecting a number of items. The Castle mode's structure makes it quite difficult, because you have to defeat several stages before you reach a checkpoint. Failing to do so means you have to go back to the last checkpoint, or the beginning of the stage, where replaying the same stages again is mandatory. Adding to the frustration of this is the fact that you can only use Simon in these stages initially, with the other characters unlocked solely by defeating all the stages. This is a tedious process that isn't really enjoyable and makes the game much harder than it needs to be. It could have been a lot more entertaining, but the developers have instead opted to make it excessively hard, which is a shame because there was definitely potential here.

The other big problem with Castlevania Judgment lies in its controls. Trying to play the game with the nunchuck and wiimote is an exercise in frustration and tedium. You wave the controller around and sway with only sporadic success. It makes the game almost unplayable in this mode. However, things improve dramatically when you use the classic controller, which makes movement and special attacks much better. However, this also shows the game's unbalanced nature as special attacks, which can cause massive damage to opponents, can be triggered with a single button press, significantly reducing the challenge. Moving around the levels is much easier, though the game still feels a bit choppy despite the improvements. Visually, the game doesn't look that great even by Wii standards. The most problematic elements in Castlevania Judgment are its annoying camera angles which get in the way of the action. This isn't helped by its dark levels make it hard to know what's going on at first. The game's music and soundtrack are decent with many familiar Castlevania themes scattered throughout its levels. This is undermined by sub-par voice acting and a hard-to-follow plot that's more distracting than interesting. Finally, the numerous special attack sequences are repeated frequently during the battles, which makes for an extremely repetitive experience. Overall, these production values lack the polish and style Castlevania fans have come to expect, making for a flat, uninspired experience overall.

Despite its numerous design flaws, Castlevania Judgment doesn't end up being as bad as it could have. As stated earlier, trying to play with the wii-mote and nunchuck is an exercise in frustration, but using the classic controller for more standard play makes for a big improvement. The game's awkward camera angles and trap filled levels make for some frustrating battles and it's overall feel is choppy. Visually, the game's design is average at best, with some nice character renderings of classic Castlevania characters. While it's not as bad as you might think, Castlevania Judgment isn't a great game by any means. It's fighting is too unbalanced and simplistic to hold your interest for very long, it's lack of playable characters in its needlessly difficult quest mode make you work harder than you should. There are a few elements that might please Castlevania die-hards, but the overall production values are marred by poor voice-acting and an incoherent plot that makes it hard to get into. Overall, this diversion from the Castlevania saga isn't horrible, but it's many problems makes for an unappealing that won't please either fans of either fighting games or Castlevania.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: C-

> Related Reviews

Ultimate Shooting Collection (Wii)
Geometry Wars Galaxies (Wii) 
Blast Works (Wii) 
Castle of Shikigami III