2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadows brought Konami’s classic franchise back to the masses with its God of War-style gameplay, gorgeous visuals and a Hollywood-style production. Sure, it wasn’t a masterpiece but it did accomplish the impossible by proving the series could actually produce a decent 3D adventure. It also proved that Castlevania was no longer the domain of Japanese developers anymore, as Spanish-set MercurySteam took the reins and crcrafted one of the most successful entries in the 20+ year old series yet.
Fans can rejoice as Konami’s rebooted franchise returns in the semi-sequel Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, which serves as a bridge between the first game and its upcoming sequel. 3DS fans can now enjoy a mobile adventure made specifically for them in this 3D-enhanced, side-scrolling thriller that showcases just why the the Belmont clan is forever entwined with those of blood-sucking demons and the need for endless sequels, sequels, and more sequels still. Like the villanous Dracula, it’s an undying cycle that doesn’t seem to bother fans that much.
In Mirrors of Fate you’ll discover the family ties between Simon, Trevor (Alucard), and Gabriel “Dracula” Belmont while exploring a castle that houses underground mines, a theatre, and of all things an old-fashioned toy factory. You’ll see all of this while quickly getting acquainted with the dramatic and button-mashing flair that made the first Lords of Shadow so accessible, despite the gameplay being tailored to replicate the familiar 2D Castlevania titles of yore. Only it never feels as deep or developed as classic titles, as the execution of fending off werewolves and mermen with long range whip attacks isn’t as rewarding as it should be, despite a leveling system that adds new abilities such as guard breakers, juggling combos, and defensive/offensive parrying techniques.
As you might imagine from the switch back to side-scrolling, Mirror of Fate borrows heavily from the critically-acclaimed Symphony of the Night, though the sense of exploration feels even more linear as you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of the estate but seldom get the opportunity as there’s no real deviation from the predetermined path. The pacing can also feel a bit disjointed when you finally do switch between characters as the game spans over three acts and solving puzzles only occurs during the middle portion. Those who detest quick-time events won’t be pleased as there are plenty of them here, just as they were in the original game. Faster pacing and a better mix of gameplay styles interspersed throughout would have helped break up the monotony somewhat.
From the look of the Belmont clan (and/or vampires) to the grim gothic furnishings seen throughout Mercury Stream has done a great job compressing the finer details of the original game’s high-definition assets into handheld form on the 3DS. While I’ll always prefer the crispness of hand-drawn artwork from past games to these rendered visuals (sorry, it’s true) at least we’ve got detailed polygons to play with. I did notice a certain lack of fluidity when issuing massive attacks and jumping (there are several glitches in hit detection) but the gameplay more often than not keeps up.
There’s also neat 3D effects that add immersion, such as the creepy silhouettes of enemies ominously spying on you from the foreground, or when watching the inevitable cutscenes that help piece together the story. The “3D” effect is great but for those who either can’t tolerate or care about the “pop-up” effect the game is just as good without the enhancements. The game also benefits from a tremendous sound design that recalls its console predecessor, as the voice acting and orchestral tunes that sound great – especially through headphones. Again, there isn’t anything here that remotely touches the classic Castlevania tracks but at least the mood is faithful to them.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a decent foray back into the more traditional side-scrolling games in the series past, though much of its appeal lay with having played (and enjoyed) the original Lords of Shadow game. There’s still plenty for longtime Castlevania fans to sink their fangs into, however, as the Belmon clan craps whips and weapons like few families can, just as long as you don’t alittle mind button-mashing. The visuals are great, as is the sound design, with some of the better use of 3D on the console. It’s definitely a solid affair that borrows elements from past Castlevania gems, but feels too linear to warrant playing again after the credits roll, especially if you’re expecting a proper spiritual follow-up to Symphony of the Night. Nevertheless, it appears that Konami’s reboot has found it’s groove.