No crystal ball two years ago could have predicted Castlevania’s first appearance on Nintendo Wii would be as a three-dimensional fighting game. For me, the classic series has felt most comfortable and engaging in its original 2-D side-scrolling configuration. But modern times and technology call for modern applications and Konami felt it best to use Wii’s Motion Controls and ability to render in 3-D to introduce Castlevania to a new generation of young and casual gamers.
Playing a few rounds of Judgment makes it quite clear the aging casual gamer audience will be stricken with a serious case of Wii-itis if they attempt to play through Judgment’s story mode. There is an abhorrent amount of controller shaking to inflict blows on the enemy, many of which will likely never hit their target. The non-stop shaking reminds me of desperate button-smashing for dear life. Only with that you’re only button one or two fingers at risk for soreness, not your entire arm.
Konami was wise to build in support for the GameCube or classic controller which adds familiarity and infinitely lengthens the amount of time your arm can physically sustain playing. Attacks are still harder to land than they should be with a standard controller but there’s a greater sense of control over the basic attack and defend button combinations when you aren’t trying to hit them while shaking the controller the same time. Unfortunately the buttons are not customizable so those tricky combos that make your fingers play Twister on the controller are unavoidable.
The slightly wonky control issues are compounded by one of the most spastic cameras I’ve come across in recent memory. The camera has been designed to adjust its point-of-view based on which character is physically closer to the screen. The combat is fast so quite often the camera bounces back and forth in a dizzying manner and there’s no way to slam on the breaks other than not fight at all.
To Konami’s credit, the fighters in Judgment derived from multiple games in the series are diverse and it’s fun to explore their attributes and special moves. Likewise, the environments complete with gimmicky but welcome monster surprises and traps are an unexpected surprise. You never feel like you’re playing with the same character or the same flat “ring” in a different skin. Each fighter moves at a different speed, has very different attacks and is capable of opposing their foes in very different ways.
The potential downside to the character design is when going up against human opponents, either offline or via Wii-Connect, the disparity between characters can give an unfair advantage to one side. For example, Maria uses charged-up magic attacks that can lay waste to sword and spirit fighting Alucard with little to no effort at all.
As with most fighting games, the spoils come to those willing to put in the time and completely master each character’s pros and cons. There is fun to be had in completing this and nostalgia mixed into almost every facet of the design along the way. But first, bouts with control and camera frustration will have to be won.
Castlevania Judgment is an admirable attempt to try something new whose lineage will play better to the hardcore than casual gaming crowd sure to give up on the spastic Wii Remote controls after 30 minutes. If given a second chance, I would have preferred Konami go back to the series’ roots rather than branching off in a new direction yet again. Even a 3-D Castlevania adventure designed in the spirit of Zelda on Wii would have been more appropriate and well-received.
– Dan Bradley