When Lords of Shadow was released, it took a few people by surprise. Not only by how brilliant it was, but by how atypical it was from the normal Castlevania blueprint, and with Lords of Shadow 2 set to continue down the “God of War” route, the old-school ‘Vania titles are represented on the 3DS with Mirror of Fate, and boy, are they ever represented well.
Mercury Steam could have put together a side scrolling video game, slapped Castlevania on the box and been done with it. Instead, it seems they’ve incorporated everything from the old series, added a sackful of modern ideas and thus, we have Mirror of Fate.
It’s worth mentioning that Mirror of Fate is a sequel to Lords of Shadow, with the twist ending of that game playing into this one. This means that the canon used is Mercury Steam’s own. The story will allow you to play as Gabriel, his son Trevor, and Trevor’s son Simon, each of whom have different skills to use. The story of each Belmont ties into their individual tale, it’s rather cleverly done.
Starting with the combat though, you’ll still use the weapons known and loved from the series (read: Whips, etc), but combos are introduced very early on, and as you progress, killing all manner of beasties and ghouls, you will gain experience, which in turn levels up your combat skills. For example, Simon – grandson of Gabriel, and the first main character you get to play as after the tutorial prologue – starts out with a fairly basic move-set; an area-attack and a simple direct whip attack. After progressing through the map and hitting about level 5-6, he can fling enemies into the air, juggle them for a bit, then smash them back down to the ground.
In fact, thanks to the combat, at times it feels like the 3D playground of Lords of Shadow condensed into a 2D plane. Enemies will attack you without hesitation, spawning on both your left and right, forcing you to make use of the blocking system. Some attacks simply require the player to hold the block button and, much like the Castlevania games of old, utilise patience to get the better of the enemy. However, some attacks are unblockable, meaning you’ll need to use the dodge button (left trigger) to roll away. Things get more complicated when one of the first magical powers are revealed, a ghostly female spirit that auto-blocks, but uses magic every time she does so. An over-reliance on this power means that you’ll struggle with the first boss fight, because once it runs out you’re left on your own, one-on-one. It’s about skill here, not some magical power.
As you’d expect, secondary weapons like axes are also available for ranged combat, with enemies dropping these pickups, which is a nice nod to the past. In truth though, I didn’t find the axes useful in the slightest, but as you progress, more secondary weapons are revealed, and are far more useful.
It was during the first boss battle that I noticed something that may not appeal to fans of the original style of games. The checkpoints are fairly generous, and that’s not a bad thing, as you will die now and again even in the early stages, but checkpointing mid-boss fight may be taken in some quarters as a dumbing down of the game for a wider audience, especially as when you retry, you’ll have more health than when you died. To an extent it may be true that it’s easier than past games, there are plenty of areas that allow you to get health, but overall Mirror of Fate retains the ethos of some of the finest games, if you die, it’s almost always your fault. You may have lost your patience and gone gung-ho into a battle, when it required a calm mind. As you progress, the boss battles get harder, and even the standard enemies also grow in difficulty.
The level design is classic Castlevania, sprawling castles with plenty of areas you can see, but can’t reach the first time you encounter them. Though I loathe to use the term, this is Metroid-Vania at its finest, and the ability to make notes on the map using the stylus is the modern day solution to printing out a massive map, or using graph paper to map an area out (yes, I’m that old).
Visually, Mirror of Fate is quite clever. Despite the game being very much a 2D game, the illusion that it’s a 3D environment is rather nice, especially with the 3D setting turned up to maximum. As you pass across a large bridge, you’ll see a castle formation in the background, and it looks as though you’ll explore it at some point. Cutscenes are gorgeous too, and opting for a more cartoon-y style works well. The 3D itself works well, with an enemy’s claws protruding out of the screen at the player during one particular cutscene.
The highest compliment I can pay to Mirror of Fate is that I was sad when my time with it came to an end; despite playing for four hours, I wanted more. The story is good enough that you’ll want to follow the Belmont’s tales, there’s plenty of depth to the combat, and the exploratory nature is such that you always feel a new area is just around the corner, feeling like a reward each time you gain a new power or combat skill. A mixture of new and old, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here, and I know I’ll be playing it when it’s released in March.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate will be released on March 8 for Nintendo 3DS.