Castlevania Judgment «

After so many excellent side-scrolling platforming games, and a handful of disappointing attempts at 3D reinvention, it’s hard to imagine that a one-on-one fighting game would sit high on any Castlevania devotee’s wish list. Still, a long-time fan could easily get excited about the prospect of forcing their favorite heroes and villains into arena-style combat, and the Wii’s unique motion-sensitive controls could’ve jacked up the adrenaline factor. Unfortunately, Castlevania Judgment’s few bright spots sputter and drown in an unpalatable soup of amateurish mistakes.

The Foot Fist Way

The digital nature of button-mashing has long tied down fighting games, but there are almost countless ways one can swing a Wii Remote around the living room. Luckily, a short sequence of tutorials succinctly introduces you to most of the controls and concepts you’ll need to know to keep from shaming yourself in a public bout. The specifics are intuitive enough, mainly because most offensive options are tied to manipulation of the Wii Remote, while defensive stuff like evasion and blocking rely on the Nunchuk. With a bit of practice, this division of labor helps you get into a rhythm by translating the ebb and flow of any showdown into a kind of punch-and-fade couch dance.

The actual mechanics of the fighting system will be familiar to any armchair pugilist: block an attack and you’ll open up a slice of time you can use to deliver a counter blow. Evade a ground attack with a jump and you can rain the pain on your foe from above. Tap a button or move with the appropriate timing and you can roll out of a tumble, or chain together moves in simple but creative ways. There’s a more pronounced ability to trade between speed and power than in many brawlers, since you can hold the B trigger to alter an attack, or risk a lengthier charge-up interval, but the give and take of the battlefield is traditional enough to be comfortingly familiar, if also free of any meaningful innovation or true depth.

Grinding Gears

Unfortunately, the basic machinery of combat comes apart more often than not, thanks mainly to the lack of any semblance of balance. This troubling core problem pervades the entirety of Castlevania Judgment, from individual character ability to aesthetic appeal. On the one hand, for instance, you have Maria, a unique and beautiful young woman with an unlikely avian staff and the power to unleash appealing and devastating magical displays of streaking fire and undulating waves. On the other, you have a hopeless Dracula who can barely defend himself and moves with all the supernatural speed of a cement mixer. This is not a simple matter of coaxing potential from quirky characters with prolonged training and creative thinking: Some of these guys are just plain hopeless.

Meanwhile, the vitally important rhythm of battle is torn to shreds at the hands of hyper-attacks that are too easily unleashed. These snazzy and imaginative displays of special effects and style are a surprising treat the first couple of times you see Sypha open a grimoire of whup-ass or watch Cornell zig-zag across the sky in an animalistic fury, but interrupting play for ten seconds of unskippable Final Fantasy-style pyrotechnics kills the pace, while the outlandish levels of damage done render just about any other tactic moot.


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