Did you know there was a Castlevania fighting game? Weird right? Let's talk about Castlevania Judgement, the Nintendo Wii fighter from 2008.

You probably know Castlevania.

The first game on the NES in 1986 fused exploration and platforming with a charming veneer of light horror and was an enormous success for Konami. 

Screenshot of the original NES Castlevania.

Some cite 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as the franchise’s pinnacle. It’s certainly the fulcrum point on which the series evolved its identity, embracing RPG elements like inventory management and a stronger emphasis on environmental exploration over traditional platforming. 

As the franchise continued to develop over the following decades, entries grew more complex, with spin offs and variations on the core gameplay formula across multiple console generations. 

Screenshot of Castlevania Symphony of the Night

All that to say, Castlevania has embraced evolution over the decades, and that’s admirable. The thing about evolution, though, is that it often results in dead ends, in malformed descendants with mutations that aren’t compatible with life.

Enter Castlevania Judgement.

The premise is solid enough. There’s a wide roster of powerful, combat-focused characters with unique skills and distinct identities. In many ways it makes more sense than pitting Nintendo’s various mascots against each other, and Super Smash Bros. proved that formula worked almost a decade earlier.

A recognizable, beloved IP with a large following. The power of Nintendo’s latest console. A roster of fun characters to choose from. What could go wrong?

The Development of Castlevania Judgement

This story begins with Koji Igarashi.

If you’re a Castlevania fan, you likely recognize the name. It was he who helmed Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation in 1997. Igarashi went on to be involved to varying degrees with the franchise’s Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS entries over the following years.

There are few who understand the foundational DNA of Castlevania better than Igarashi. That makes his involvement with Judgement all the more puzzling. 

There isn’t a great deal of information available about the development process, but a contemporaneous IGN interview with Igarashi provides some insight and highlights the challenges of adapting the franchise to the Wii’s motion-based controller.

In that interview, which was translated from Japanese, Igarashi said,

I had been thinking about how to utilize the characteristic features of the Wii controllers. I felt that using the Wii Remote and the “swinging” motion was a must and needed to be utilized.

But the gameplay of the existing Castlevania games is designed for prolonged play and I thought it would be difficult for players to continue to swing for long periods of time. To do so, would be extremely tiring.

Then I realized, with the 3D action style, I would be able to incorporate intervals so that players can rest and this would allow players to enjoy the swinging action of the Wii Remote.

This immediately raises some red flags. There are incredible games on the Nintendo Wii, but anyone familiar with the console knows that motion controls were only occasionally additive…and often seemed like a developer obligation, not an enhancement. 

Igarashi goes on to say,

It’s a fighter, but it’s been developed as a 3D action game — It’s an extension of an action game. I have dedicated myself to creating a super exciting action game based around the simple controls of the Wii, and I feel it’s coming along very nicely.

Hmmm…sounds like he was interested in creating more of a hybrid, not a straight up fighter. Could be interesting…right?

Unfortunately, when the game was released in late 2008 in North America and early 2009 in the rest of the world, the response was quite negative. 

Most reviewers focused on the terrible camera and unintuitive controls, coupled with questionable character designs and limp characterization that failed to deliver on the promise of the concept. We’ll elaborate on all of that shortly. 

One particularly scathing review from Mitch Dyer at GameSpot said,

The unforgivable flaws drain nearly every ounce of enjoyment from the fighter, and whatever aspiration it had falls flat on its face.

The abhorrent camera, dreadful art, and cumbersome controls are for masochistic applicants only; fans of the franchise, fighting, or fun will find nothing of value in this sloppy cash-in.


Though sentiment was generally negative, not everyone was so down on Judgement. Mark Bozon of IGN gave the relatively positive score of 7.5 out of 10, saying,  

The end result is a surprisingly fun – and undeniably unique – take on one of Konami’s oldest franchises.  

There’s very little sales data available, but what is there points to remarkably low numbers.

Hauntingly Bad Sales

There’s very little sales data available, but what is there points to remarkably low numbers. Almost certainly less than a million units and by some accounts less than 100,000 globally, which would put it firmly in the flop category. Remember, this was the same year that Mario Kart Wii was lighting up sales charts and the console was selling at record levels.

These low numbers must have hurt.

Another interesting wrinkle to the story of Judgement was the release of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia on the Nintendo DS shortly before. That game was a critical success and rightfully so. It’s a fantastic title; one of the best for the console and a highlight of the franchise.

Order of Ecclesia was also produced by Igarashi. It’s fascinating that these very different games were so intrinsically connected. So tied together, in fact, that you could actually connect them wirelessly to unlock special features in both. They were meant to be two parts of a whole it seems, which is wild given the vast variation in quality between the two. 

While Castlevania Judgement didn’t kill the franchise outright, it did usher it into a new era, an era where Konami seemed unsure of how to proceed with the license. There were sequels in various genres and across consoles in the following decade, but Order Of Ecclesia is the last of the so called “Iggivanias” and it’s not unreasonable to assume that Castlevania Judgement had something to do with that.

Konami’s unpredictable business choices have left the future of Castlevania unclear, but the excellent Netflix animated series and recent re-releases of classic titles hint at a potential resurrection of the beloved franchise.

Like Dracula, Castlevania may be temporarily laid low…but it always returns.

Castlevania Judgement Review

So, what’s it like to play Castlevania Judgement now?

On one hand, Castlevania Judgement is ambitious and successful in carving out a unique identity, both as a fighting game and as an artistic product. Nothing looks or plays quite like it. On the other hand, that unique identity mostly sucks. 

Let’s start with the controls. 

Screenshot of the training mode of Castlevania Judgement.

To be clear, I did not use the Wii motion controls when revisiting Judgement. I have in the past, but opted out this time around. I’ll refrain from commenting on them for that reason, but it’s fair to assume they wouldn’t elevate the experience in a way that would invalidate the coming criticisms. If the reviews and general feedback from the time are any indication, as with many Wii games, the motion controls added little outside of fleeting novelty and considerable inconvenience.

The developers of Castlevania Judgement knew this, it seems, and wisely allowed you to use a GameCube controller instead. Very much appreciated.

Even when using a controller though, many of the inputs are excessively convoluted. It’s functional, but I would have preferred something closer to Soul Calibur II, which had been out for six years when Judgment was released and makes excellent use of the GameCube controller.

Castlevania Judgement's roster.

An Impressive Roster

The unintuitive controls are the least of the game’s problems however. I’m not an expert in the genre by any means, but even I could tell there are some profound balancing issues in this game. 

First, a positive: Judgment has a fairly impressive roster, with 13 characters from across Castlevania’s storied history, and a new character, Aeon, for a total of 14 to choose from.

Each character looks and plays quite differently and though that dedication to variety should be commended, it’s undermined by poor balance. One character should not be blatantly more powerful than another. Each should have strengths and weaknesses offset by others, assuming the player has the skills to properly utilize those advantages.

That’s not the case in Castlevania Judgement. It’s a fundamental flaw that violates a well established bedrock of fighting game design.

Maria from Castlevania Judgement using her Hyper Attack.

Hyper Allergic

Another example of poor balance is the hyper attack system. When your meter is charged, you’ll have the opportunity to execute a hyper attack. If it connects, you’ll unleash a torrent of pain that annihilates roughly half your opponent’s health.

These hyper attacks are fun to watch; they’re super flashy, and usually tied to a character’s unique thematic characteristics. They’re an entertaining spectacle…the first time you see them. By the second, it becomes clear that these cinematics fundamentally undercut the tension of a match.

Cinematic flair has been a part of fighting games for a long time and can absolutely be additive, but the key is the length of the interruption. They have to be short, and if you’ll forgive the pun, punchy, or any momentum and excitement built up during the match is immediately extinguished…like a candle flame destroyed by a drop of holy water.

A fighting arena filled with lava from Castlevania Judgement.

Sub-Weapons and Arenas

And speaking of holy water, sub-weapons successfully add some strategy to matches. You can choose from a familiar selection prior to each match; holy water, knives, axes, a clock to stop time. All throwbacks to previous titles.

To use them, though, you have to break objects in the level for hearts, which means running around the arena and not…you know…fighting. This feels like an effort to embrace the legacy of item management and exploration the franchise has done so well in the past, but again, forcing these concepts into a fighting game undercuts what makes the genre compelling in the first place. 

Many of the arenas feature integrated obstacles as well; giant swinging blades, or molten lava that will damage you if you touch it. Even in the game’s tutorial, these features are referred to as stage “gimmicks”…so do with that what you will.

Like much of Judgement, this isn’t an inherently bad idea. At their best, the arenas are vaguely fun shaped, and reminiscent of something like Power Stone. There’s certainly fun to be had here…when you can see what’s happening. 

A shot of Dracula from Castlevania Judgement.

Camera Woes

And that brings us to the final nail in the proverbial coffin of Castlevania Judgement as a fighting game: the abysmal camera. Having wide open arenas is all well and good if you have a camera capable of adapting to the new perspectives required to make that work.

As it is though, this game has serious legibility issues. It’s far too easy to not know what direction you’re facing, if you’re properly blocking, or if your attacks are connecting. Pair this with unforgiving AI that obviously doesn’t have to deal with these limitations and you’re left with a very irritating experience. 

Image of Golem from Castlevania Judgement.

There’s a bigger problem though, literally. The enormous variation in character model size paired with the wonky camera means sometimes you can’t see your fighter, and that’s as big a problem as you’d imagine.

A hulking character like Dracula is a perfect example. If you’re battling the Lord of Darkness and run away from the camera, say to pick up hearts for your sub-weapon, the camera will often linger behind your opponent and the character model will block a huge portion of the screen. Multiple times I lost to Dracula not because the game is poorly balanced mechanically (though it is) but because I could not see my character at all and was killed by AOE attacks I literally never saw coming.

This woefully inadequate camera makes the game challenging in ways I’m sure the developers did not intend.

Image of Castle mode from Castlevania Judgement.

Game Modes

If, somehow, you did find the gameplay satisfying enough to master, there are multiple modes to explore. That’s a plus. 

There’s a standard versus mode and a survival mode where you take on as many fights as you can without the opportunity to heal. There’s also an arcade mode, where you compete to eliminate foes as quickly as possible. Perfectly serviceable offerings. 

There are only two modes that are interesting, though, the first being the story mode. As is tradition for the genre, you’ll get short bursts of narrative between matches by way of the characters saying profoundly ridiculous things to each other and a little ending cinematic when you’ve completed your gauntlet.

Nothing about these matches are particularly engaging, but seeing what insane thing the characters are going to say to each other next did keep me going longer than I expected.

Alucard from Castlevania Judgement, with subtitles that read, I have no choice, I will fight.

The other standout mode is the Castle mode. Clearly influenced by Soul Calibur II’s Conquest game variant, this mode has you unlocking “rooms” in Dracula’s castle, represented by matches with a twist, for example, kill all the zombies, or collect a certain number of hearts.

I’m always in favor of experimenting with modes like these in fighting games, but many of the activities are profoundly arbitrary, such as “break four objects” or “finish the fight with a certain attack.” Not exactly riveting stuff, but better than not including it all. 

Is Castlevania Judgement a Good Fighting Game?

Not really.

It’s an awkward fusion of three superior series: Soul Calibur, Power Stone, and Super Smash Bros. All great in their own way, but Judgement has little of the technical and mechanical polish of Soul Calibur, and not enough playful charm to compete with the latter two.

This is Castlevania though, so perhaps it can be at least partially redeemed by its aesthetic sensibilities. 

A clocktower against a huge moon.

The Art of Castlevania Judgement

As far as art direction, Castlevania Judgement is deeply uneven, with some minor successes and more than a few missteps.

The character designs are a perfect example of these wide swings in quality. 

Castlevania has had many different visual identities over the years. Whether you prefer the chunky sprites of the 8 bit era, the anime style of the DS Castlevania games or the more painterly, wispy style of Symphony of the Night is obviously a matter of personal taste.

Castlevania Judgement leans HEAVILY into the anime aesthetic, going so far as to hire Takeshi Obata of Death Note fame to redesign the characters. 

Some of these redesigns work. Shanoa, for example, the very cool protagonist of Order of Ecclesia, with her tall, almost gaunt, nun-inspired look that still emphasizes her iconic back tattoo. Or Maria’s owl in a cage that she uses as a weapon. Or Eric’s enormous lance that’s nearly twice his size. There’s some cool stuff in here. 

Many fare far worse however. The vampire Carmilla, who was clearly modeled after the eccentric and divisive design of Ivy from the Soul Calibur series, is probably the most glaring example of this game’s artistic missteps. 

Carmilla and Grant from Castlevania Judgement engaged in battle.

They all share one thing in common: a deep love of belts and buckles.

The Story of Castlevania Judgement

You might be wondering… what summoned all these delightful pop-goths from their local Hot Topic in the first place?

Why Galamoth of course.

Here’s a quick summary of the story from Wikipedia,

Galamoth plots to send his servant, the Time Reaper, from ten millennia in the future into the past to destroy his rival Dracula and change history. A man named Aeon discovers this and pulls together champions from different eras of history into a time rift, in order to find a chosen one capable of destroying the Time Reaper.

Eat your heart out James Joyce. I don’t remember any time reapers in Finnegans Wake.

It may seem silly to criticize a fighting game for having a bad story, it is, after all, just an excuse to bring people together to hit each other. Not a scenario that provides a lot of opportunities for character development. 

Image of Aeon from Castlevania Judgement.

Where franchises like Mortal Kombat or BlazBlue succeed is through doubling down on style and tone, by leaning into the excesses and unique identity of the series. Castlevania Judgement fails to do that and instead reduces each fighter to a quippy, deeply shallow version of already pretty basic character archetypes that are at best funny, and at worst, pretty troubling.

I’d heard tell of a character arc in this game that exemplifies the level of writing we’re dealing with here. It was so bizarre I always assumed what I’d heard was hyperbolic or exaggerated.

Sadly, it was not. 

Image of Maria from Castlevania Judgement.

The young sorceress Maria’s character arc consists of fixating on the size of other female characters’ chests and repeatedly expressing jealousy and frustration at her own design. 


Even the most charitable interpretation of this, that the developers are making fun of the ridiculously proportioned character designs of this era falls flat when you remember THEY designed them this way. It can’t be a subversive indictment if you’re guilty of the trope and one look at Carmilla throws the subversion argument out the window. 

Having absurdly proportioned character designs is fine as an artistic choice. Having a young woman’s primary character motivation be dissatisfaction at her own body that YOU designed is also a choice…and not a good one.   

Most of the character interactions aren’t this unsettling, or this memorable. It’s clear Soul Calibur was an inspiration here too, though Soul Calibur’s nonsense dialogue is bolstered by the enormously lush production values this game lacks. 

The Music

The music, as expected, is a strong point. Castlevania has an extensive legacy of fantastic music dating all the way back to the very first game. Because Judgement is an amalgamation of thematic directions explored by the franchise thus far, many of the best songs are here.

It may just be a greatest hits collection, but these hits are, indeed, great.

Should You Play Castlevania Judgement?

If you don’t have any attachment to the Castlevania franchise, this is an easy no. 

I can’t imagine a worse game to recommend as someone’s first Castlevania, but even those who have dabbled in the franchise over the years would likely not be invested enough to get anything out of the thematic window dressing and fan service.

They would find only a substandard Wii fighting game with hilariously bad dialogue and killer music.

They would find only a substandard Wii fighting game with hilariously bad dialogue and killer music. The excellent Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth would be a MUCH better entry point if you’re interested in exploring the legacy of Castlevania and only have access to a Wii for some reason. 

If you are a fan of the franchise, Castlevania Judgement might be worth an hour or two of your time, if only to see the very strange take on the characters and the off the wall things they say to each other.

Even if you are a fan and intent on exploring the depths of Judgement, there are some caveats. Unlocking all the characters would be a tedious bore, as most require you to complete the story mode with other characters, resulting in a long string of uninteresting and often frustrating fights just to see glimpses of very poorly written cutscenes.

That’s a hard sell, especially in a world where YouTube exists. 

I’d recommend downloading a save with everything unlocked, and treating it like a museum. A very weird museum where everything is recognizable, but nothing is quite right. Try out a few fights, do a few stages of the Castle mode, listen to some music. 

Then go play Order of Ecclesia and watch the Netflix show. The depictions of Carmella and Maria are far less off putting.

This game brings to mind Frankenstein, a story that not only inspired Judgement’s Golem, but seems allegorically in line with the development of Judgement.

Golem from Castlevania Judgement.

Like Dr. Frankenstein’s doomed creation, assembled from the superior parts of others; Judgement inelegantly harvested and sewed together Soul Calibur, Power Stone, and Super Smash Bros. while failing to imbue the creative spark that sets those games apart.

And like Frankenstein’s monster, the end result is a mostly sad thing…but one worth remembering as a warning against thoughtless experimentation. 

Thanks for reading. Hope you’ll check back for the next one.

A contributor to the Forgotten Code collective.

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