Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is memorable for many reasons, even if most of them aren’t positive. It was a critical and commercial step down from the first game in the series. Adding insult to injury, Lords of Shadow 2 is the last original Castlevania game to date. The fact that Konami has largely abandoned console gaming aside from ports of classic games doesn’t make it less of a bitter pill to swallow for Castlevania fans.
Lords of Shadow 2 does have some positive things going for it, including its main character. Instead of playing as a vampire hunter, players take on the role of Castlevania’s recurring antagonist, Dracula. While Lords of Shadow 2 is the only Castlevania game to focus on Dracula as a protagonist, it isn’t the first time gamers were able to play as him. That honor goes to a game that’s an even bigger departure from series tradition than Lords of Shadow: Castlevania Judgment.
Released in 2008, Castlevania Judgment is the first and only Castlevania fighting game. It features a roster of 14 playable characters from across the Castlevania franchise, including Dracula and his rebellious son, Symphony of the Night protagonist, Alucard. Judgment‘s centuries-spanning cast is brought together via a time travel plot, with original creation Aeon looking to find a champion who can defeat an entity called the Time Reaper.
The game’s subgenre is an odd choice, given that a 3D Castlevania fighting game could have taken its cues from the weapons-based fighting of Soul Calibur instead. The fact that it’s a Wii exclusive explains why Konami went with a more simplistic fighting system, but making a Wii-exclusive fighting game is another baffling choice. Aside from the Wii installment of Nintendo staple Super Smash Bros. and cult favorite Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, the system wasn’t known for its stand-out fighting games.
Judgment‘s producer and lead designer, Koji Igarashi, decided that a traditional Castlevania game that used the Wii’s motion controls would be too physically arduous, given all the whipping and swinging that would involve. Igarashi instead chose Judgment‘s one-on-one battles as the best way to use the Wii’s unique controller without placing too much strain on the player. Konami dubbed this “Versus Action” instead of calling it a fighting game.
Critics didn’t agree, with Judgment earning a 49% on Metacritic. The game’s motion controls were cited as an issue in many of the game’s negative reviews, along with its camera controls, and poor balancing. Its over-the-top character designs, from manga artist Takeshi Obata, were also a source of contention for many, especially in the case of Carmilla. They do at least give the game some appeal for Death Note fans, who can see similarities between Obata’s work there and his reinvention of classic Castlevania characters.
Castlevania Judgment did have its fans. IGN even nominated it for the award for the Wii’s Best Fighting Game in 2008, although it lost to Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While many found the execution lacking, Judgment wasn’t a bare-bones cash grab. It had a full story mode and a Castle Mode, which replicated traditional Castlevania games by tasking players with clearing rooms of monsters before fighting other playable characters. Judgment also had a solid online mode when that was rare on Nintendo consoles.
Castlevania Judgment is a footnote in the series’ history. It’s one of many attempts at a 3D Castlevania that didn’t take. It’s hard to believe Konami would go to the trouble of porting Judgment to modern consoles, given its failed past. There is a possibility that Igarashi might want to revisit the idea of a fighting game set in the universe of his spiritual successor to Castlevania, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. If so, hopefully, he looks to Persona 4 Arena Ultimax.