Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate – Review
The 3DS’s library of hot exclusive games is beginning to bulge to envious levels. Mario, Kid Icarus, Resi, and now you can confidently add Castlevania to that ever-growing list of glorious 3D goodness. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is not only a mouthful to say but also a rip-roaring throwback to classic Metroidvania with the modern day action game trimmings of MercurySteam’s blazing series reboot, Lords of Shadow. It’s everything you loved and missed from that game, retaining the ace whip-whooping combat but very much bringing exploration to the forefront. Fans of Symphony of the Night rejoice.
It’s not quite the same Metroidvania format you’re so familiar with though, for Mirror of Fate is played from the perspective of multiple generations of Belmont with their own individual skillsets, even if some of the changes are only cosmetic ones, rather than a single protagonist who acquires all the tools needed to explore every nook and cranny in Dracula’s castle. Even though each act neatly foreshadows or overlaps with one another, characters are mostly allocated their own specific areas of the castle to pilfer. Splitting the campaign up into manageable chunks means gear-gating is never quite as complex as you might expect, nor the castle’s layout as labyrinthine, but there’s still a sense of satisfaction in straying from the beaten track and uncovering all of the map’s blanked out blocks on the 3DS’s lower screen, straying upon most of what there is to offer in the process. If you’re thorough, you’ll seldom need to backtrack to find all the extras.
When the switch in character comes it comes at just the right moment to prevent things from growing stale, but finding you’ve been stripped of abilities and items and have to reacquaint yourself with new ones for the third (and, by then, thankfully final) time lends a sense that you’ve just been going through the motions. If it wasn’t for exploration being such a pleasure it could grow rather tiresome, and at the same time the constant trickle of new powers and gear ensure that your quest feels fresh all the way through.
So characters’ skillsets reset every time you step into new shoes, but levelling up remains consistent across the board. You start out as you’d expect, with an area and direct attack (i.e. light and heavy) as well as a parry ability, but through story progression, discovering fallen explorer’s scrolls and defeating monsters you’ll gain XP and gradually level up, every tier bringing with it a single new combo that enhances your combat prowess, preparing you to take on even nastier beasties and illuminating small intricacies in the system. Fighting becomes a matter of observation, timing, and knowledge of your own attacks, and once you learn to master your toolset and you’ll be wiping the castle’s stone-cold floor with your opponents’ faces.
For a handheld, combat feels considerably meaty, every hitting blow feeling impactful, and as the smooth difficulty curve unfolds a varied bestiary in need of pulverisation reveals itself to be lurking in the Prince of Darkness’s fort. It’s a hugely varied game overall, cramming in inventive puzzles, huge bosses and the odd set-piece over the ten hour running time. That Mirror of Fate looks as good as it does for most of its duration is testament to the magic hidden within Nintendo’s charming device and the penchant for art design on show at MercurySteam.
Now we’re not talking Resident Evil: Revelations good-looking here, and by virtue of lacking the horsepower of the home consoles and a smaller screen the Guillermo Del Toro-inspired styling of the original Lords of Shadow isn’t as strong in scale here. All the same, visuals and animation remain impressive throughout, as does the 3D, and the dark and dank depths of the castle ooze intrigue, tempting you to journey further and discover the hidden secrets in order to attain that elusive 100% completion stat, while a theatre, funfair and toy workshop show off some environmental creativity and diversity, proving that it’s not just bloodsucking and hibernation that interests old Drac, the former two areas playing host to the game’s top puzzles.
If anything, there aren’t enough puzzles. Really there are only two to speak of, and they take place almost directly one after the other. It may be because Mirror of Fate doesn’t want to bog you down too much – it’s always whisking you away to see what’s next – but an extra puzzle of similar ilk in the first and third act wouldn’t go amiss. Scratch that, some more challenge wouldn’t go amiss. With checkpoints so frequent, sometimes death can be the easy way out of the mostly-excellent boss fights, just so you can respawn with a health top-up.
Where Mirror of Fate truly falls short is in its platforming. The controls don’t feel as tight as the whip-smart combat (ho ho), sometimes leaving you to fall to your doom, while the climbing predicaments, barring one or maybe two, never reach the creative or challenging heights of the puzzles. But the biggest pitfall resides in the story. It’s not that it’s badly told or overly convoluted (well, maybe just little bit jumbled), but the arrangement it’s delivered in means you’ll have figured out the big revelation long before the curtain is lifted, whether you’re familiar with Castlevania lore or not. It’s so heavily implied in fact that it’s unclear whether it was intended to be a big twist at the climax or just confirmation. Either way, after the totally unexpected WTF bombshell at the close of the original Lords of Shadow, MercurySteam certainly blew it with this one.Pros
- A successful blend of modern Castlevania and classic Metroidvania
- Bags of variety
- Strong, chunky-feeling combat, especially for a handheld
- One of the 3DS’s better looking games
- Platforming needs tightening up
- Oh, we knew [REDACTED] was actually [REDACTED] ages ago. Got another twist?
Mirror of Fate may start out in simple fashion but soon develops to become a strong contender to being the 3DS’s best action game. Yes, the plot twist could have been handled better, the platforming finer tuned, and there are tougher challenges to be found elsewhere, but the amalgamation of Castlevania old and new makes this worth a look, whether you’ve been a series loyalist from the NES days or Lords of Shadow was your first Vania venture. Either way, the wait for Lords of Shadow 2 just got that little bit harder.
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