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IGN: Castlevania Judgment Hands-On
November 4, 2008 - Konami has proven a major third-party contributor to Nintendo's popular DS handheld, consistently supplying the hardcore fan base with traditional Castlevania titles. Now, the vampire-filled franchise is making its way to Wii, but it's an altogether different beast. This latest effort, called Castlevania Judgment, is a free-running 3D fighter clearly inspired by such brawlers as Power Stone. Judgment features 14 unique fighters, a variety of new and recognizable backdrops from the series, a story that "spans the depths of time," and even friend and rival head-to-head play over Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. In addition to everything else, the title connects with the DS project Order of Ecclesia, at which point bonus content becomes unlocked.
Despite all of these features, Judgment made a poor first impression when Konami unveiled it a few weeks prior to the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2008. This is partly true because sleuthing fans had previously discovered DS Order of Ecclesia screens which suggested connectivity to the unannounced Wii game and has presumed the best case scenario -- specifically, a Symphonia of the Night fashioned console game for Nintendo fans. When Judgment proved to be something entirely different, followers were naturally disappointed, fair or not. More importantly, the fighter premiered in very early form and simply didn't play or look that good.
A few months can definitely make a difference. We're pleased to report that the latest build of the game shows several additions and improvements both mechanically and aesthetically that combine for a more enjoyable experience. There's also considerably more to the package than we initially thought -- it's a deeper fighter and it's there are many previously unseen gameplay modes. We remain as skeptical as ever of the arena-style fight environments and some of the free-roaming gameplay controls, but there's undeniable potential here, even if Judgment will never be the game that the die-hard user base really wants.
Judgment includes several gameplay modes. There's the story in which you progress in linear fashion through a series of battles surrounded by brief in-game cinematics. The only pre-rendered cut-scene we've seen so far takes place upon booting the title. It's pretty, but we can't show it to you because it reveals a coupe of plot points that Konami doesn't want us talking about just yet. There is good replay value to be had in the storyline alone because you can explore the component again with each of the characters, all sporting different story arcs. There's the arcade option, a test to complete the game as quickly as possible. The versus mode enables you to play against friends. And there's a training area and tutorial mode to learn to fight.
Then the selection becomes a little more interesting. You've got the castle mode, which travels you through each floor of the castle as you battle against the entire cast of characters, but also the secondary players like zombies. This component is a lot like the Weapon Master Mode from Soulcalibur II, as you will encounter both enemies and standalone challenges (for example, performing a five-hit combo) as you advance across a map system. The deeper your progress through the mode, the more unlockables, like a wide assortment of costume pieces for your characters, you gain. There is a separate accessories mode that enables you to customize the appearance of your fighters with your retrieved items. There are at least 45 costume pieces that can be distributed on the face, left arm, right arm, head and body of your brawlers. We wasted no time adding a pair of sunglasses to Belmont in our initial playtime with the game. The synergy between the castle and accessories modes is excellent, and all the unlockables great fan service for Castlevania junkies.
There's the survival mode, a very traditional component in which you advance as far as you can through the battles without dying. Your life meter carries over from stage to stage so you better know what you're doing or you want make it very far. There's a gallery mode that houses all sorts of art and music and finally, there's the DS connection mode, which we sadly could not test with our pre-release hardware.
Castlevania fans will recognize many of the characters in the game. Obviously, Simon Belmont and Dracula return, but you will also find Alucard, Shanoa, Eric, Sypha, Trevor, Maria, Cornell, Carmilla and Golem. At one point, you even face off against the Voldo-like Grant, who debuted in Castlevania 3 for NES. In addition, you'll battle to the backdrops of cathedrals, crystal caverns, torture chambers, throne rooms and clock towers, to name a few. All of the environments are in full 3D and you can, as we noted, run around in any direction. Random crates and crystals drop into the foreground and these can be broken or picked up and hurled at opponents. You can also crash enemies through windows for ring-outs, but for the most part the stages themselves aren't very interactive.
Each of the 14 playable characters in the game can wear up to four wear different costumes selected pre-match. They can also utilize unique sub-weapons -- in Belmont's case, daggers, axes, holy water and crosses. Once the fights begin, Judgment feels like a modern day Power Stone sans all the destructible objects and environments. In some ways, this is a good thing and in others less so. We like that we're able to freely maneuver our fighters in any direction using the nunchuk's analog stick, but are also sometimes frustrated that there is no adequate lock-on system in place. As you near a character, the game tries to auto-center you on him or her, a mechanic that usually works but occasionally fails. When you have either multiple foes nearby or when an enemy wanders near a destructible object, you will find that as you engage them you might accidentally lock onto a barrel or candleholder instead. Whoops. Worse, though, is that the camera shoots the action from whatever viewpoint its chooses, usually picking the middle ground between you and your opponent. Perhaps a good idea conceptually, but in practice, you will often find that your enemy completely blocks the viewpoint of your character.
There's much more to the fight system than previously exposed. Take, for example, Belmont's general moves and combo list. You can deal out quick whip lashings with the waggle of your Wii remote or link together a four-hit combo by waggling in any direction four times. Throw your sub-weapons by tapping the A button. Block with the Z button. Jump and double-jump with the C button. And flick the nunchuk in any direction to dodge incoming attacks. Basic stuff, we know, but there's more. If you hold down B-trigger and gesture in any direction, you will deal forth more powerful special attacks that can also be combo-linked with your sub-weapons and even air-maneuvers. Double-jump into the air, hold B-trigger and gesture in any direction to make Simon spin downward at opponents. Hold A button for a charged sub-weapon attack. Hold Z and waggle for an unblockable charged attack. It all works pretty well, even if the character is a little slow on his feet. You can break guards, inflict reversals and rebound from knock-downs in an instant with a well-timed waggle. And, naturally, Simon has his vampire killer. When his meter is fully charged, a simple downward tap on the D-pad will trigger a cinematic in which he unleashes his deadliest attack. All of the characters in the game have one of these super specials.
The good news is that if you just don't want to play with the Wii remote, the game also supports the classic controller. We toyed around with this setup and generally found it to be preferable. Here, you control the characters with the left analog stick, dodge with the right, guard with the L button, jump with the R button, wield your standard whip attack with the B button, throw projectiles with B, and deal out specials with the X button.
Konami has definitely taken certain liberties with its re-imagining of characters in 3D -- some of the fighters only barely resemble their 2D counterparts -- but that's okay. The models themselves are still detailed and stylish, even in some of the run animations still appear very stiff. The developer has brought together a host of advanced particle and lighting effects to complement the wide-open arenas and of course, everything runs in 16:9 and progressive scan modes on Nintendo's hardware, all with a steady framerate.
The verdict is still out on whether or not Judgment will ultimately live up to its full potential. It still has some camera and control issues to overcome. But one thing is for certain: it's definitely not the dog of a game that it appeared to be prior to to E3 2008. In fact, Castlevania fans may just enjoy what Konami has cooked up for them, even if the end result is a 3D fighter and not an action title. We've posted five new videos in our media section so don't hesitate to check them out for a closer look at the game.
Click source to see Videos and Screens.