Hello all! Last week’s game was Dishonored, a game with near-perfect level design and a commitment to its world that you don’t often see. It’s one of my favorites.
This week’s game is also a game I love, even though I readily admit it’s not really that good.
Castlevania Judgment is the sole Nintendo Wii entry in the long running Dracula-whipping simulator series. Here, though, instead of playing in the familiar Metroid-style, Judgment is a one-on-one fighter, set in three-dimensional areas. If you’ve played Power Stone on Dreamcast or the hysterically awful Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, you’ll be familiar with this style of play. If you haven’t, Judgment is a fighter that lets you free roam inside an arena rather than confine your movements to two dimensions. Fighting is simplistic compared to something like Guilty Gear or Street Fighter; it’s a pick-up-and-play kind of game, devoid of super long combos and move memorization. Instead, you have a couple of attack buttons, a block, a jump, and supers are launched by pressing just one button.
Being a Castlevania title, Judgment features a healthy selection of characters spanning the entire series, from the first entry’s Simon Belmont, to Alucard from Symphony of the Night, to Shanoa from Order of Ecclesia, which was the most recent ‘Vania title at the time. If you’re not familiar with the series, Judgment won’t help you learn about them; as is the case with most fighting games, the plot is threadbare at best, involving a time traveling character who brings characters from different eras to blah blah blah. It’s not important, and even the game itself doesn’t seem to think so, either. Nevertheless, one could still have fun with the game without knowing the ins and outs of Castlevania (not that it’s super complicated, anyway—all these characters fight Dracula. You’re up to speed).
Judgment isn’t a complicated game, and it’s sort of wonky—the fighting engine certainly works, and each character feels different enough to warrant at least some experimentation. But one hits a wall pretty early in Judgment; a couple of hours with it, and you’ll see everything it has to offer. And once you master the fighting engine, you’ll be unbeatable even on the hardest difficulty. In short...it’s not all that good, if you were to sit down and really dissect and review it. But I still think it’s fun.
I’m a fan of Castlevania. Not a rabid one, but I like the series. Judgment, while certainly enjoyable by a non-Castlevania fan, is chock-full of references, music, and environments from the entire series. Characters play like they should, if that makes any sense—Simon Belmont is a kind of all around brute-force character, while Grant crawls around and throws spinning blades at foes (Grant in this game looks like Voldo from SoulCalibur and sounds like Bruce Campbell and is basically The Best). Dracula is a slow moving tank, and so on. Most of the characters don’t really look like who they’re supposed to be (more on that in a bit), but they certainly feel like them, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a kind of low-key, clunky game. It’s all very fan-servicey, which is great—while, again, I maintain that the game is kind of fun without prior knowledge of Castlevania, I feel like one would certainly get more mileage out of it knowing the series, at least a bit.
All the fan service and stuff ties into the game’s heart. I have a weird soft spot for clunky, wonky games that made a clear effort—it’s why I like games like Dark Void and Murdered: Soul Suspect. Games like them aren’t the best things in the world, but the effort on the developers’ side is obvious. Those games have heart. Judgment does, too, with its great selection of characters (they didn’t overload the game with Belmonts), music (heavy remixes of classic ‘Vania tunes that retain their spirit), and just the overall feel of it all. Rather than just throw Castlevania characters into a random fighter, the devs tried to make something kind of fun. That’s where my thought process on this game comes from; it’s not really good, but I love it. That, right there, is subjectivity for you; something you think is terrible might be something I love, and vice versa.
Judgment’s art style bugs me, though. Takeshi Obata is the head artist for the game; he’s the artist behind Death Note, which you should go watch again. His style works for Death Note, but not so much here, as every character looks...odd. For example, despite knowing Castlevania, I had absolutely no clue who was on the cover of this game until I bought it and played a match. “Oh, it’s Simon, I guess,” I remember saying. I mean what even is that costume he’s wearing? Things don’t fare much better for the rest of the cast, either, save for Grant (Grant is awesome). Everything looks derivative, as if it should be a forgettable anime.
If you were to tell me that Castlevania Judgment wasn’t good, I’d probably agree with you. But I think it’s still fun, and isn’t that really what matters? It’s not Game of the Century, and I don’t exactly put Smash Bros. kinds of hours into it, but hey, it’s a riot and I like it.
Thanks always for reading this possibly too-long series of goofy, rambling articles. I have Twitter and I like talking to people, so follow me!
Next week brings us time manipulation and 2 hours of live action cutscenes featuring Iceman and Littlefinger. Not quite the Xbox One’s “killer app,” but still something unique.