The Belmont clan has been a video game mainstay since the NES, and they’ve provided more than a few memories for gamers throughout the years. Even as a kid, I could lose weekends at a time trying to tackle Dracula. And as big of an overhaul as it was, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a monumental game, taking bits and pieces from other blockbuster titles to create a Frankenstein-esque mishmash packed full of epic moments.
More than a few gamers were disheartened to hear that the sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, would be a 3DS exclusive, extremely limiting its audience. Luckily, those stubborn few who have been waiting for an HD port can finally get their hands on the second chapter of the new series with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD.
Although the plot has been altered from past entries in the series, diehard fans will know the routine by now: a handful of Belmonts storm Dracula’s castle in a quest for vengeance. Throughout the game, players will step into the boots of three generations of Belmonts: Gabriel, son Trevor and grandson Simon. Familiar names all, and fans will most likely have a blast playing through the revamped plot as classic characters from the series. Broken up into three acts, each section follows one of the three characters, providing slight difference in play style but carrying over upgrades earned by levelling up.
Since Mirror of Fate began as a 3DS exclusive, the scope of the game is severely limited compared to Lords of Shadow, but it’s still a lengthy experience. The three acts that make up the story offer a surprising amount of content, rewarding exploration and backtracking with secrets and upgrades. Mirror of Fate plays like older handheld Castlevania titles, which is a compliment of the highest order, but even so, it’s still steeped in the Lords of Shadow style, meaning combat is more visceral and combo-based.
I should give full disclosure before I continue: I never played Mirror of Fate when it was on the 3DS, so this is my first experience with the title. Based on videos of the original title, it’s easy to see that the HD overhaul makes the graphics shine, with gothic settings and colorful enemies popping off the screen. Cutscenes don’t fair too well, though, as they remain fidgety and generally unappealing. The epic nature of Lords of Shadow is still retained in the sequel, with huge baddies, brain-busting puzzles and a huge collection of hidden secrets keeping the game interesting.
However, the downgrade to a 2D side-scroller doesn’t carry over to consoles too well. The HD visuals give the settings a feeling of depth that demands to be explored, but being stuck to a set path keeps you from feeling fully involved. Many of the levels, while big, are cluttered with areas that aren’t accessible until after you reach the end of the section, meaning each of the three acts is based around finding the one power/weapon that you need to backtrack through each level, scouring for upgrades that are necessary to stand a chance against inconsistently difficult creatures. It feels rewarding to finally access an area that taunted you as you ran past it the first few times, but this style of exploration hardly feels organic.
The map system works well, separating each level into blocks that are surprisingly easy to navigate. Furthermore, there’s an additional feature where you can leave notes at any point of the map, reminding yourself to come back for secrets that can’t be reached yet, but it’s such a tedious process trying to type with an Xbox controller. Plus, many of the levels are made up of blocked off sections, cluttering your map with notes. It’s a nice feature that I imagine worked much better on the 3DS, but it doesn’t translate to consoles too well.
Combat flows smoothly, with new combos and attacks unlocked linearly that carry over to each character. It’s not a deep levelling system, and it feels tacked on for the sake of having players gather experience points. It seems like most games these day are finding ways to shoo in an upgrade system, and the combos that you unlock hardly feel worth the effort. Mashing X and Y until enemies stop moving works perfectly fine, as long as you remember to dodge those pesky unblockable attacks.
The move to 2D hampers the combat greatly because you can only face left or right, and when you’re trying to take on a room of baddies, it severely limits your freedom. It’s nice that the fights feel familiar to Lords of Shadow, but putting them in a 2D game just doesn’t work. Boss fights are made unnecessarily difficult because of your limited mobility, and even regular encounters can reduce you to controller throwing if you get surrounded.
The word that best describes Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD is inconsistent. The difficulty curve fluctuates throughout the game, with peaks of extreme difficulty breaking up walks through a slightly haunted park. Hit detection is iffy at best, meaning that enemies sometimes get credit for hits even when they’ve missed by a couple of feet, which leads to some questionable deaths on the normal difficulty level. The whip feels significantly shorter as well, meaning you need to get up close and personal to take out baddies despite having an array of ranged weapons and magic at your disposal. Environment traps are extremely temperamental too, taking small chunks of health in one instance and then one-hit killing you the next. Checkpoints are fairly placed, but they reset any progress made, meaning any puzzles that involve pushing boxes quickly become laborious chores.
As beautiful as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD looks, it doesn’t feel like a worthy addition to the series as a whole. There have been a slew of handheld games done much better, offering deeper exploration and a more rewarding experience, and the console series it seeks to emulate is just plain better. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it constantly reminded me of Lords of Shadow, and at the end of the day I was left with a desire to play that instead. Longtime fans of Castlevania will find something to enjoy here, but newcomers would be better off waiting for Lords of Shadow 2 to scratch their itch for epic journeys.
This review is based on an XBLA copy of the game that was provided to us.
Although the updated graphics shine and parts of the game are fun, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD is too inconsistent to be enjoyable for long.