December 21, 2008

Written by Koriayn Christensen

Oh, Konami, you’ve done it again; you’ve made another Castlevania game. I should have known right from the start that there was going to be trouble, even though I am a long-time fan of the franchise.

Castlevania is a beloved institution in gaming, a ridiculously self-absorbed game that is more concerned with character and set design than it is with actually game play. Several things are constant: good graphics, macabre imagery, side-scrolling progress, complex controls, and just oodles of the Undead. Castlevania games are typically hellishly hard to beat and usually contain a plot… somewhere. It is, however, usually the same plot in every single game.

The basic premise revolves around the Belmont Clan and their continued efforts to defeat Lord Dracula. That said, the Belmont Clan -statistically speaking- should have been able to defeat Lord Dracula by now but no, they haven’t. Konami, you should give another generations-old, vampire-slaying Clan a try because I just don’t think the Belmonts are quite cutting it in that department these days.

What has been true of its predecessors is, once more, true in the case of Castlevania Judgment. There’s a plot in this game but it’s as hard to find as the finishing combination (really, guys, I’m supposed to do what exactly?). It would have been better to let the franchise go without this sort of predictable, head-to-head combat game but, no, Konami had to go and let this little creature of a game loose into the world.

There are several modes in this game: Versus, Arcade, Castle, Survival, Training, and (heaven preserve us) Story. The term “Story” might be a little bit of a stretch for what transpires in the game, but we’ll get to that a little bit later.

Everything about the game is visually stunning, as is usually the case with Castlevania: the opening sequence had me drooling and I was continually intrigued by how things looked long after I’d resorted to button mashing to beat Alucard.

The character designs are flawless and show great continuity between games and while there is much crossover from the other Castlevania games, more than a little something is lost in translation. The combat is beautifully rendered but the controls are almost incomprehensibly difficult and the maneuvers just as much so. This is one of those games that I’d recommend you read the manual. Seriously, do it. The complicated controls paired with the fact that the Computer’s characters actually can fight make for very difficult game play even on the first levels.

As a sort of disclaimer, I was using the standard Wii controller with the necessary attachment of the Nunchuck and this may have been part of my difficulty with the controls. With that said, left-handed gamers are rather out of luck as there is no way (that I have found) to invert the controls, which made for some very awkward moments in Versus mode. The game menu button is unfortunately placed so while one is trying for that ultimate combination move, it’s incredibly easy to hit on the standard Wii controller thereby interrupting game play and whatever combos one had amassed by that point. There’s the typical catch phrases said by the characters that are, predictably, incredibly annoying and I suggest just hitting mute after the first few minutes (especially if you’re playing with the character Grant).

Castle mode has some interesting ideas but I find it otherwise lacking. The player progresses through a series of rooms (typical) but not in the way one has come to know and love (?) from other Castlevania games: the rooms are all 3D rather than the 2D, side scrolling we’ve all adapted to, making the controls all the more complicated, but the passageways between rooms is nothing more than a screen with pictures of lots and lots of doors on them, including the infamous save rooms. There were some nice surprises: one’s character could be ambushed between rooms and the rooms weren’t insanely hard in the beginning, if a little repetitive. Again, the controls are lacking somewhat here as well because the game is not POV in any real sense and, sometimes, the camera just doesn’t move with you as it should, causing you to run one way when you meant to run the other. As a result of this fixed camera position, it is actually difficult to classify this game as 3D: it is, but the character is forced to interact with the rooms like an old N64 game where where, unlike Zelda and other games like it, there is no targeting and no means to move the camera to where you actually need it.

And “Story Mode” is just a series of fights with different characters with no discernable story anywhere in sight. It’s just one player fighting a computer. The same goes for Arcade mode only there’s a faster time limit. Basically, pick a mode, any mode, and it’s the same exact process as any other… some creativity might have been nice, Konami.

In time and with practice, a lot of the mentioned frustrations could easily be overcome and by hardcore fans, they will be. But for casual gamers, this game will prove to be immensely frustrating. Unlike many of the Wii’s other titles, this game isn’t just a pick-up-and-play sort of game and actually requires some knowledge and dexterity. This is precisely what I’d been hoping for when I found out about the new Castlevania release but I wish that the game had maintained some scrap of the Wii’s user-friendly capabilities.

Basically, this game is just like the opening sequence: beautiful but as soon as it gets to the start screen (and anyone who has played this game will soon find out) everything falls apart.

C+/B minus

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