If the arcade beat-em-up genre was still around today, this would be their greatest competition!
Like many before it, Guilty Gear Judgment pits the main characters from the series in your standard level-boss-level-boss layout, with each level increasing in difficulty and challenge. The game’s 6 areas are split into a total of 19 stages, each with their own unique character and ambiance. The settings take you everywhere from a village, a factory, a tower, a spanning castle, and even the depths of hell (dig it). A great deal of variety has been applied the each stage, so the backgrounds always entice. You even have a few levels where you will ride upon a 4-legged friend, much like that of games like Golden Axe. Expect to violate barrels and chests for dumpster meat, points, and other various items along the way.
While Guilty Gear Isuka’s Boost mode imported the same fighting engine of the previous games into the beat-em-up mold, Judgment adopts the simplicity of the old-school arcade genre, while maintaining many of the things that make Guilty Gear unique. The face buttons control weak, middle, hard-slash and jump, while the shoulder buttons command burst and back-attack (for sticking it to an onslaught from behind). The d-pad or analog nub controls character movement. There is no need for a turn button like that of Isuka’s Boost Mode.
While anyone could button-mash their way through the game like days of old, many of the standard Guilty Gear conventions remain intact to add a layer of depth to the otherwise basic, yet cathartic formula. The “Gattling combo” system is still here, where certain normal moves cancel into each other, forming longer strings of punishing mayhem and goodness. Every character maintains many of their signature special moves (though sometimes performed differently), and “Tension” supers. The “Roman Cancel” is a huge element in Judgment, though slightly modified. In this case, for a small bit of your tension meter, you can easily cancel one special move into another by simply following up one into the next. Not all specials can Roman cancel, so it is up to the player to experiment and find out for themselves the best combinations for each character.
The “Burst” attack is still present, throwing enemies into both sides of the screen, giving the player a moment to breath. However, if you are to max out your tension and burst meter, you are given a timed period where you are allowed the use of your supers to disperse the hellions around you without draining your tension meter. Very handy for rooms where the baddies pile up in great numbers. Plus it’s just simply fun to carry out sweet retribution on your adversaries.
Speaking of adversaries, enemies range form mutants to mannequins, with a few demons, monsters, and ghosts thrown in for good beatings. The bosses are all unique in their own way. One is a giant monolith with 4 faces perched upon all sides, exacting their own brand of revenge, while another is a giant hell-hound who pounces and spits flames upon your poor-behind of righteous indignation. Of course your final test will be a new character to the series, Judgment (hence the title), who simply has absolutely no love for you at all. Prepare to have terrible, terrible things done to you, until you figure out what needs to be done to avoid his slaughter.
At the onset, you start with 5 characters: Sol, Ky, I-No, Millia and May. Other characters will unlock as you meet them in the game. For example, Sol will run into Chip and Faust during the course of the game. They will then be playable, and this works with other characters until everyone is available. Judgment becomes available after certain criteria are met, but I’ll leave that to you for discovery. Since each character has a unique style and attributes, the way in which you play will differ depending on who you pick for your romp of bashing baddies. Also, you can select any stage a character has played up till, allowing you to continue where you left off, but if you want a higher-score, go for the no-continue run.
Control and game-play wise, the game is a charm. While many have had problems with the PSP d-pad, Arc System Works has done a fine job yet again of making sure that every press is accurate. Combos and specials are pulled off with relative ease, and destroying hoards upon hoards of fodder is met with perfect hit detection and indication. This of course is paramount, as each level and boss battle grows in difficulty. This too, is done with a degree of beauty, and don’t expect an easy game: you will be challenged, yet the game almost never feels unfair. There are times when boss attacks seem impossible to avoid, but a little practice makes perfect. The game features a standard arcade mode (Main Game), survival mode, and Ad-Hoc co-op play.
To no surprise, Guilty Gear delights us yet again with wonderful high-resolution 2-D hand-drawn art. The characters look as great as ever, with every bit of animation intact. Same can be said for the boss characters, some of which are rather large and intimidating. The backgrounds feature layers of parallax scrolling, and each looks as if a Bob Ross oil painting has come to life. The presentation is crisp, and the art style is consistent, yet each level holds its own unique look and feel.
As always, Guilty Gear is known for its venture into Instrumental Melodic Metal scores, and this game is no different. 35 brand-new tracks evoke the intensity that a game such as this needs, and it indeed succeeds in this department. While many of the tracks may not be as thematic as those from the previous titles, Judgment’s soundtrack still manages to become more than a functional score, adding a great deal of ambiance and excitement to each moment. Great guitar work and excellent overall compositional quality help to elevate each level and boss battle beyond many from this rusty but trusty genre.
Sound effects are also an important part of any beat-em-up. You really want to feel that poor man’s jaw snap under a well-placed punch, or skin split from a sword slash. In Judgment, most of the sound effects are lifted from the already appropriate library of sounds from previous titles. While this may seem cheap, it still does a fine job and sounds like you would hope, especially if you have tasted the other titles in the series. New sounds are also here, and they are up to the same quality you would expect from Arc System Works’ sound team: crisp, clean, and brutal.
As an added bonus, the Japanese version of Judgment includes the newest revision of the Guilty Gear Vs. series: Guilty Gear XX: Slash. Previously released in the arcades and on the Japanese PS2 (see my review), the hand-held version carries over everything from the PS2 version, re-formatted for 16x9 (not stretched) without a single frame or sound missing. Again, the control is surprisingly fantastic like that of #Reload for the PSP (also see my review). The game may also be played in its original 4:3 ratio. Ad-Hoc in vs. mode is indeed featured here as well.
Note: The US version will include #Reload, not Slash.
If you have the insatiable urge for old-school beat-em-up goodness with a twist, or just want a new Guilty Gear fix, then this game may be for you. Loading time is brief, and it’s a great pick-up-and play experience. Throw in Ad-Hoc co-op, and the complete Guilty Gear Slash game for your traditional fighting-game needs, and you have a title that’s full of quality content for your buck.