Expectations can be troublesome. Rightly or wrongly, we have them for nearly everything. And many times we misapply them, forcing us to look at things more positively or negatively than should actually happen. When gamers here the term Castlevania there are expectations that come along with it. Be it a classic Castlevania adventure or something more akin to the genre defining Symphony of the Night, there are years of expectations shoveled into the baggage of every new release in the series.
Expectations though can be subverted, as Konami did when it released Castlevania: Lords of Shadow onto gamers in 2010. The series successfully took the franchise in a different direction with an all new art style and gameplay model. However, gamers knew from the outset that it was something different. That may not be the case with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on the Nintendo 3DS, the pseudo sequel to Lords of Shadow. Where the original Lords of Shadow looked intrinsically different from other games in the franchise, Mirror of Fate returns to a more traditional set up and with that set-up, rightly or wrongly, come expectations.
Taking place on a fractured timeline, Mirror of Fate picks up sometime after Lords of Shadow. Players will start out as classic series hero Simon Belmont as he heads to Dracula’s castle to confront the evil within and avenge his family. Simon is not the only Belmont you will play as though, with Gabriel and Trevor both making appearances in different spots as well as the mysterious Alucard. Fans of the Castlevania series will undoubtedly know who all these characters are but if you are a newcomer to the franchise, the story is well presented through 2D animated cutscenes and surprisingly well told.
Mirror of Fate is at its core a 2D action platformer. Series regulars will recognize the familiar mechanics of fighting with a whip and throwing axes at enemies, as well as a grid based map with hidden secrets to be found. However, while the game’s design and style screams old school Castlevania, expectations that this is a Symphony of the Night style of game need to be checked at the door. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some of those elements, it does, but it is very much a hybrid of classic Castlevania, Symphony of the Night, and Lords of Shadow all balled into one fairly epic adventure.
The gameplay can be broken down into two basic components, traversal and combat. Like other 2D Castlevania games, players will be making their way through environments via jumping, gliding and grappling onto and over areas of the game. Some areas will require certain equipment or powers to unlock and as such there is a modicum of backtracking in the game. However, there is not really that much of it because the game smartly has the player detour through other areas before forcing them to return to their roadblock. It keeps the environment fresh and exciting.
Less exciting though is the combat. Using a modified version of the Lords of Shadow combat model, players will be engaging in combat on a 2D plane using a 3D move set. If it sounds awkward, that is because it is. Dodging and countering in a 2D game is completely different than in a 3D environment and because of that much of combat feels really repetitive, despite the rather extensive moveset. Additionally, enemies in Mirror of Fate take a ton of damage and the game has some battles that left me gripping my 3DS in frustration. Fortunately none of these were the boss battles.
Mirror of Fate follows in its big siblings footsteps featuring boss battles against amazingly huge creatures. It also borrows heavily from classic Castlevania boss design though as each boss enemy has different stages, resulting in different patterns to remember and exploit. Some of these battles result in highly cinematic endings controlled by a quick time event. Sadly, while these QTEs are amazing to look at the 3DS is somewhat unresponsive to quick button presses and I found myself having to do some of these events multiple times over.
Still, even with its combat issues, Mirror of Fate is a great handheld experience. Rarely have I been as glued to my 3DS as I was with this game. It has a great story that fans of the series will appreciate. The environment is nicely designed and for the most part the game is well paced. There may be a few moments where you’ll shake your head and wish it was just a bit better but provided you check your expectations for another Symphony of the Night at the door, Mirror of Fate is more than worthy of baring the Castlevania moniker.
Review Note: A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.