Mixing gloomy castles with darkened exteriors and things that go bump in the night, Konami’s Castlevania franchise has been a mainstay since the early days of gaming. In its infancy, the series helped make Nintendo’s inaugural console a hit, thanks to its genre-defining style and challenge – two things that have helped it remain noteworthy decades later.
Approximately two and a half years have passed since Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, MercurySteam’s well-received reboot of the famous action-platforming franchise, whipped its way onto store shelves. Now, that venture serves as a starting point, as its canon has been furthered by the recent release of a direct sequel known as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. However, instead of making its way onto today’s high-definition devices, the developer’s latest effort was earmarked for Nintendo’s visually noteworthy 3DS handheld.
With part of its action set approximately twenty-five years after the events of its predecessor, Mirror of Fate continues the tale of the Belmont family and its plight against Dracula, though there’s a twist. You see, instead of tasking players with battling the forces of darkness as merely one member of the whip-loving clan, the game jumps through time in an effort to tell a larger story. The result, a seven hour-long campaign that is separated into a historical retread and three following acts, enlists the services of those from the past and the present.
Those who’ve spent countless hours within gloomy castles as chain-whipping heroes will surely appreciate this narrative take, as it truly is interesting. That is, when it comes to the overarching storyline. Unfortunately, the dialogue leaves a bit to be desired, and ends up falling into soap opera territory. The voice acting doesn’t help, because the actors’ portrayals accentuate that feel, taking away from the Belmont family’s interesting plight.
On the gameplay front, this most recent entry in the Lords of Shadow series is notably different from its predecessor, but that’s to be expected. Although the first game employed more modern mechanics in the vein of God of War, Mirror of Fate harkens back to Castlevania‘s roots with an old-school 2D platforming design. This change in style may deter folks who only checked out the 2010 reboot because of its new gameplay direction, but it won’t bother true fans of the fiction. After all, this is the intellectual property that helped coin the term ‘Metroidvania,’ because of its stark adherence to labyrinthine environments and backtracking.
Even though different protagonists are made available to players throughout the adventure, all of the action takes place on the grounds of a familiar castle. Many will remember the gothic architectural feat from the final portion of Lords of Shadow, though it’s been given a two-dimensional makeover. Platforms, electric rail lines, climbing grips and grapple points have all been added in, and players must adhere to their principles in order to succeed. Sure, combat mastery is also important, but learning the lay of the land and following the red direction arrows is more of a key to success.
The iconic design that has worked so well in the past continues to work well here. For the most part, the gameplay is fluid and accessible, with added challenge made available to hardcore adventurers through a hard difficulty level and an even tougher unlockable option. The overall experience is also more cohesive than its predecessor – a game that I felt was artificially lengthened, because its second chapter dragged on and on for no good reason.
Eschewing throwable crosses for electric grenades, summoned bats and throwing axes, the included combat system mixes classic elements with a bit of modern flourish. There are still hints of God of War here, although they’re more basic than before, and are presented in the form of quicktime events and close-up finishers. Generally speaking, the addition of both mechanics fits into the game’s overall style, but the timed button presses were often too demanding for their own good. In order to open a chest or finish off an enemy, I had to be right on the ball, because being just a second or two late almost always lead to a retry.
While I believe that MercurySteam deserves credit for taking a classic design and infusing a bit of creative personality into it, the studio’s development team members could’ve taken things a bit further. Sure, what’s included works, but it doesn’t push any boundaries or truly stand out. The combat and traversal are both relatively engaging, and there are some neat boss battles, but the sequel doesn’t show a ton of evolution. Remove its quicktime events and helpful, character-specific magic abilities, and you have a basic combat system that limits its characters’ whipping directions. Furthermore, while the platforming is rather tight and well implemented, it’s also missing a wow factor.
On the presentation side of things, it’s tough to really complain. The featured environments are impressively detailed and the action is rather fluid. However, it’s the developer’s use of 3D that stands out the most. I didn’t expect a lot from the cartridge’s three-dimensional presentation, due to its two-dimensional focus, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Foreground items added depth, gore flew towards the screen and the decision to utilize animated motion comics as storytelling scenes further accentuated things.
Longtime fans of the iconic brand will find quite a bit to like within Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, but those who make the purchase should go in knowing that it is not a revolutionary or unforgettable experience. There’s a good and rather entertaining base here, but there’s also room for improvement within the design.
This review is based on a 3DS game, which we were provided with.
Harkening back to its series' iconic sidescrolling roots, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate offers gamers an enjoyable action-platforming experience. However, its adherence to the past and lack of a wow factor prevents it from becoming an unforgettable adventure.