castlevania judgment

a review of Castlevania Judgment
a videogame developed by konami
and published by konami
for the nintendo wii
text by Ario Barzan

1 star

Bottom line: Castlevania Judgment is “one of those NES cartridges you might’ve asked your mom to buy from a garage sale when you were six because it starred a favorite cartoon character – when you played it, you found out all it shared with the cartoon was the stage music being based on the product’s main theme.”

Why was this game made? It’s a little admirable, the “branching out” thing, though I’m not sure what the worth of it is if the result isn’t going to be halfway decent, at least. I mean, this is not a good game. It is destined for the bargain bin in a couple months, on top of a sprawling heap of Mario Partys. The main thing Castlevania Judgment was hinging on wasn’t a “deep, rewarding fighting system ™”, or an “epic storyline,” but the fact that most of the people who would buy it would buy it because it was a Castlevania game. From the get-go, it was dependent on the mythos the series has been building up for the past couple of decades – how, oh my god you remember Grant DaNasty from Castlevania 3 well now he is totally going to be able to fight against Maria dude that little girl from Rondo of Blood.

In short, Judgment’s foundation (supposedly) was the element that half-makes a series like Super Smash Bros. be a hit with millions of people, and leaves someone completely unacquainted with video games unsure of what to appreciate besides the bumbling chaos, if that. It’s the idea of, hey, here’s Mario fighting Donkey Kong fighting Link fighting Pikachu in a map inspired by Mother 3. Brand recognition. It’s how our brains click when seeing Captain Falcon, from F-Zero, kneeing Ganondorf, oft-appearing Zelda villain, sending him flying off a platform to explode beyond our sight. Let the knowing giggles begin.

I don’t understand why Castlevania Judgment was made because I don’t see how it appeals to Castlevania fans or the totally naïve person. I want to almost give Konami a hand for taking the risk of presenting very different designs for all of the characters. Fundamentally, it was kind of a gutsy kick in the balls to everyone – the thing is, it could’ve been a kick in the balls we might’ve been willing to get over if the designs weren’t radically &^#$#ed. I’m hesitant to put the issue of character design under a universal law, like, “A good design is not one which would not not initiate giggles when applied to the cinema treatment,” since there are wonderful characters (Cave Story’s, for example) whose form is intended for the medium, and who succeed. So I’ll say that Judgment’s character designs are bad not because they don’t resemble the original characters, not because they are bad re-inventions of characters under the aesthetic context of Castlevania, nor because their clothing isn’t “historically accurate,” but because they are bad in and of themselves.

I am not super familiar with Takeshi Obata’s resume. I read Death Note, and I liked how the people were drawn. Maybe, then, I should’ve given more attention to the super-natural figures – maybe, had I done so, I would’ve been, er, properly worried about Judgment’s visuals. Ryuk, a “god of death” in Death Note, has an awful character design, as do the rest of his kind. The only reason Ryuk’s design transcends his design isn’t that it transcends it – the momentum of the plot compensates for his dumb hideousness, since we’re devouring the pages like blueberries in a carton. Usually, anyway.

There is no immaculate momentum to compensate for Takeshi’s art in Judgment. And it’s not even the supernatural figures that make me groan; there are no good designs, human or otherwise, to be gleaned from the line-up. Takeshi’s Simon Belmont (read: Light Yagami after a year of weight-lifting and sexual exploration) is tolerable only because he’s relatively Not-As-Atrocious. Then you have Maria, who could be an accidentally unveiled character for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3, combined with Death Note’s Misa. I can’t describe what’s been clumped onto her body, because none of it makes any sense. Dracula has been fitted into gold tubing with an array of nipple cannons. Death is built out of fishing hooks and ball joints from discarded, metallic toys.



And, like Soul Calibur 4, here’s another game subtly, or not so subtly, pandering to particular fetishes to secure extra sales. Or maybe it’s trying to be funny. I can’t tell. Eric Lecarde has been transformed into a little pretty boy, checking off the “shotacon” prerequisite on the list. Carmilla takes care of the big-breasted, cool-headed “mature” type. Maria’s single-player plot has her lamenting about her flat chest. Of course, then, this is brought into play when she’s pitted against other female characters (and their breast-sizes). It’s criminally venomous, the pathetic harem anime situation – a winner, for sure, when it comes to erecting pedophiles’ genitalia because of the sexual contrast between small and big mammaries. No doubt, Maria’s storyline will inspire a handful of doujin artists to pen hentai manga showing a progression from nursing, to magical penis-growing, to little-girl-plumbing-the-depths-of-the-originally-dominant-character action. Yee-haw!!

Also: I like Castlevania music, usually. I don’t like Judgment’s music. If you care, go watch the official trailer and hear the original track that plays in the beginning. That’s the instrumentation for every song. I’m tired of hearing Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears; the arrangements here don’t do a single thing to change my attitude that no one can, or has been able to, make a case for their reappearance. It’s as disappointing as Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s score, which sounded more like an O.C. Remix project than the result of “legendary” and “professional” composers. It was the musicians taking the day off to eat at a restaurant and letting the janitor compile a play-list from his iTunes. Judgment’s music is the similarly tired outcome of a couple guys sitting down, one of them saying, with a straight mouth, “Gee, rock sure is awesome”, both high-fiving with the arms and hands of century-old men, and then setting out to do about the most joyless, literal reproductions imaginable.

There are some extra modes, though, really, who gives a stuff? The game just isn’t fun to play. It’s an unwitting addition to the unremarkable Bloody Roar series. Characters bumble and flop around, and there’s no punch to the violence. Sometimes, the camera gets behind a foreground fighter and obscures the other player. If you couldn’t get enough of the summon animations in Final Fantasy, you won’t have a problem with the superfluous Special Attack cutscenes, here (personality hint: you probably also enjoy clearing the winter snow out of your driveway with a garden shovel – even though you own a snowblower). Everyone else will make it a point to never use a Special Attack unless it is absolutely necessary.

So, yeah. I guess this about wraps up the recent Castlevania ‘splosion that’s been happening around these parts, and we can rest in peace, for a while. I’m still on-and-off playing Order of Ecclesia. It’s a swell game; I stand by my three stars. You should probably try it out! There’s been a bit of an itchy, finger-wagging hubbub, actually, surrounding its difficulty, which is too bad. We just hope all the complaints don’t get to Igarashi’s head. Dear Mr. Igarashi: Please stand firm in your conviction that Castlevania should pursue the path of Frantic Action Feeling. Also, yeah, Judgment sucks. Thank you.

–Ario Barzan


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