Published on March 11th, 2013 | by Shawn Long, Features Editor
Games That Could Have Been Great: Episode Three – Castlevania Judgment
In light of the latest offering of Castlevania, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, I thought it would be fun to look at the opposite end of the spectrum — a game that had initial promise on paper, but just fell apart at the seams.
Castlevania Judgment (2008) sounded like an interesting concept, pitting Castlevania characters of the past in a 3D fighting game. But the game ended up being a let down for most Castlevania fans.
What it Did Right:
Castlevania has primarily been a 2D action franchise right up until the release of the Nintendo 64. The whole premise of the Nintendo 64 was its 3D capability, and games like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time showcased its ability to create an immersive 3D environment.
During its life, it seemed that for every good game, there were also terrible ones (Quest 64 anyone?). Castlevania 64 can easily be grouped in the ‘Do Not Play’ list. It was a blurry, confusing and boring mess of the game. And the sequel wasn’t much better. Honestly, I feel all 3D Castlevania games suck or just don’t feel right, but I know that some people enjoy them. The Wii was the king of franchises with strange offspring, and Konami got into the mix with Castlevania Judgment, a fighting game.
The game had an excellent mix of characters from past Castlevania franchises, ranging from the NES library to the Nintendo DS releases. Each character had his or her own moves and catchphrases, and it was fun to see characters such as Carmilla from Castlevania II in full 3D form. The graphics were pretty decent, with a nice Gothic feel to stages. All the characters looked rather good, the frame rate was solid and the game even had an online mode that was serviceable. So far, so good right? Well, not exactly.
What it Did Wrong:
For starters, let’s look at the history of the game. Koji Igarashi was the lead developer on the game, and he was hellbent on utilizing the Wii’s motion controls.
As he was mapping out the game, he must have thought, “Hey, if the whole game has motion controls, then people will get tired from flailing around like an idiot and won’t be able to complete a full adventure!” So, instead of, oh, I don’t know, just making a classic Castlevania game and include motion-controlled mini-games or side quests, he scratches the original idea and makes it a fighting game as stated in his pre-E3 interview in 2008. Strike 1.
One of the most important things in a game — besides controls — is being able to see everything clearly. Castlevania 64 had one of the worst camera schemes in video game history (as do most 3D Castlevania games) but Igarashi loved it so much he decided to put a bastardized version of the camera into the Wii. One stage takes place on a ship, and I swear you could puke all over yourself from the sea sickness this game causes with the camera. Strike 2.
If I haven’t made it clear enough, let me finally drive it home: The whole game is motion controlled. Everything. You want to do your special moves? DO STUPID ARM FLAILS, THEN! Everyone knows that while the Wii was somewhat solid with motion controls, doing precision movements was a bit taxing to say the least. So, instead of allowing the Classic Controller or Wii Remote with a different control scheme, the game forces you to do these asinine motions in order to preform moves.
Imagine doing these things with something like Street Fighter II. Let’s say for a move such as the ‘Dragon Punch’ that you have to hold ‘B’ on the Wii Remote, do your motion on Nunchuck, then spin your remote around while releasing ‘B’ to complete the move. Does that sound fun? Does that sound like something you want to do over and over? Yeah, me either.
Motion controls do not belong in fighting games, and still to this day, no one has made a fighting game with motion controls worth talking about. It wasn’t cool on the Sega Genesis, and it’s not cool in the 21st century. Strike 3, you’re OUT!
Rounding out the problems, even though graphics were good, Konami took way too many liberties with the character designs and instead of the characters looking like they originally were, they are instead turned into almost manga-like characters. The game strays away from traditional Castlevania designs. The stages were lifeless, boring and just kind of indistinct.
While the characters spanned from NES to the Nintendo DS, there weren’t enough characters — just 14 overall. Games of similar variety (comic book fighting games, Super Smash Brothers series, Fighters Megamix) had elaborate character selections. Why wouldn’t this one? Add classic characters such as Mermen or Medusa Heads. I mean, you have a whole selection of characters and enemies yet you just chose 14?!
That’s not to say I didn’t like the game; It was OK. I’m pretty sure I bought it on launch because I enjoy Castlevania games. I had high hopes, but realistically, it was a game that never had a chance to be taken seriously. The game was rushed and was really made just to say that there is a Castlevania game on the Wii and that Konami supported the system. Could it have been great? Maybe with a solid camera, a larger roster of characters, multiple control schemes and more Castlevania fan service. As it stands, it’s just a game that will get lost in the echos of time.