When you first fire up your copy of Castlevania Judgment – if you’ve been perverse enough to buy it after reading all we’re about to say about this ill-advised brawler – you’ll find there’s hardly anything to do. Only two fighters will be available – Simon Belmont and Alucard. All of the other 12 must be unlocked. Most of them you can obtain by finishing the game’s Story mode, but then you’ll find you need to beat a different Story mode with a specific character to get the last fighter on the roster. Oh, and the people you’ve unlocked in Story mode aren’t necessarily available in Versus mode – at least, not until you’ve beaten the super-secret Story mode a few more times.
The problem with Judgment’s manic insistence on making you play and replay it is that regardless of what difficulty you set the AI on, the actual gameplay is puddle-deep. Judgment fighters don’t have even half the abilities of their counterparts in the average 3D fighter, and quite a few of each character’s moves are going to be hilariously imbalanced in some way.
Fighting against the AI rapidly degenerates into figuring out which combo string or individual move is most broken, and then spamming it until it’s time to use your Hyper Finisher – an elaborate, showy and above all lengthy way to drain an opponent’s health. These moves trap enemies in static cinema sequences for big damage. This is the one area where Judgment really shines graphically – elaborate cutscenes kick in if you connect a set-up move which can be quite risky to attempt. Unfortunately, although seeing your Hyper Finisher is quite spectacular the first time you pull it off and lop away half your enemy’s health, the cutscenes can be over 30 seconds long and there’s no way to skip them.
The game offers three different types of controller input: default remote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller and GameCube controller. The default scheme sees you waggling the controllers to perform your basic attacks and is completely abominable. The Classic and GameCube schemes are better, but both of the default button layouts map vital functions such as jumping and dodging to utterly stupid parts of the controller, often the shoulder buttons or right analogue stick. Playing Judgment is never going to feel comfortable or even natural, which is a huge barrier to having any fun with it.
Just to get a full roster of characters, you must beat the game’s story and sit through its insipid cutscenes approximately 17 times. Do you want bonuses such as sound test data and art? Now you can go and spend hours fighting the same limited array of opponents in the Arcade mode time trial, Survival and Castle mode (don’t get excited, it’s just the old Soul Calibur Mission mode). Between these and the initial Story mode trudge, expect to have to beat the game roughly 70 times if you want full completion. We were bored out of our skulls by roughly the 25th playthrough, even though some of the unlockable features are really quite fun once you’ve got your hands on them.
Probably the best of these bonus features are the Accessories – little customisation parts that you can add to alter the appearance of the 1P and 2P character skins. Feel free to plop a top hat and eye patch on Dracula, or send Alucard into battle with a pretty fairy sitting on his shoulder and a butterfly in his hair. The idea is clearly to use the Accessories in the game’s online play to help you personalise your favourite character. This would be quite brilliant if Castlevania Judgment’s online mode was in any way worth playing.
The basic concept of Judgment’s online play is also one of its few good ideas. In addition to the usual options to fight randoms or friends in ranked or unranked matches, there’s a Rivals option. In theory, this enables you to add people who gave you particularly strong matches online and then seek out more bouts with them later to help sharpen up your skills. This would be truly marvellous in a game where online play worked at all.
To say Judgment’s online play is painfully laggy would be an understatement on par with saying that the Titanic was a bit sinky. Typically, gameplay proceeds in five- to ten-second bursts, followed by five to ten seconds of the screen freezing up. Blocking and dodging correctly just isn’t possible, which makes ranked play meaningless. You can rapidly gain points simply by spamming moves that you know your opponent won’t be able to dodge or block due to the lag issues.
The only limited praise we can offer Castlevania Judgment is for its soundtrack, and for having thought up a few new concepts that really should have been in other fighters already. Of course, the soundtrack is mostly remixes of songs from other games and all of the good ideas are betrayed by the game’s basic shoddiness. Castlevania Judgment is not in any way fun to play – at best it’s just inoffensive. That’s a miserably low standard of quality, and there’s no excuse for a game created by a publisher of Konami’s stature to be aiming so low.
Dec 10, 2008