On the one hand, Igarashi's presiding guidance of the series—serving as the series' producer since shortly after 1997's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night—has brought about some of my favorite Castlevania games, including the DS entries Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin.
On the other hand, Castlevania Judgment is not a Castlevania game.
The names and faces may be familiar, but shoehorning the traditionally 2D action-adventure series into a fighting game appears to have brought a bit of an identity crisis unto the 3D fighter... action... thing. A Konami representative noted that the developers prefer to refer to the title as a "3D versus action game," which is perhaps better suited to prepare loyal fans for what to expect.
Prior to kicking off a match, you select a character—Alucard, Simon Belmont, and Rondo of Blood's Maria were playable selections among an eventual roster of 14 characters—color and weapon sets, and finally a subweapon. I chose Simon, equipping him with the trusty knife subweapon, and away we went.
In terms of gameplay, it's not Namco Bandai's Soul Calibur, and it's not Capcom's Power Stone— it's sort of the middle ground between the two. The action is very one-on-one focused, but the title gives you a consistent eight-way freedom of movement, allowing you to get acrobatic or easily run circles around your opponent if you so choose.
But what would a Wii fighter (sorry, 3D versus action game) be without a little waggle? With movement mapped to the Nunchuk analog stick, basic attacks are performed with a swing of the controller, while heavier attacks come with a swing while holding the B button. Subweapons can be deployed at any time provided that your character has enough hearts, provided in the traditional Castlevania fashion by destroying surrounding objects.
The troubling prognosis of Castlevania Judgment isn't contained in a single element, but rather springs out of the sum of various parts of the game. The camera, set at character level, becomes problematic when combined with the game's eight-way movement element—targeting your foe isn't as easy as it ought to be, particularly when one character is directly in front of another.
Judgment's environments are interesting, pulling various locales from a number of Castlevania games. The music is familiar, as are the faces, names, and attacks. But the obvious question is why Konami and Koji Igarashi pursued the versus fighting genre as opposed to virtually any other reimagining—certainly, Castlevania characters fight. But just because you can combine gemstones in Diablo II's Horadric Cube doesn't mean that Deckard Cain belongs in a cooking game.
Fans who clamored for a Wii rendition of the classic vampire-slaying franchise may be disappointed with Castlevania Judgment. While the developers have previously admitted that the series doesn't translate well to a 3D experience, I would've preferred no Wii Castlevania title at all to Judgment, which feels more like a consolation prize than a natural extension of the series.
The aforementioned identity crisis is at the heart of what plagues the nearly-completed fighter. Rather than splice together different spins on the fighting genre, a traditional and direct attempt at one or the other—Power Stone or Soul Calibur—could bring the Castlevania series out swingin' in an enjoyable, worthwhile way.