Game: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate
Publisher: Konami / Nintendo
Available on: Nintendo 3DS Only
With a line-up already jam-packed with salivating prospects, it’s safe to say 2013 is going to be a big year for Nintendo’s 3DS. The first major release of the year is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, a side-scrolling action-adventure game that sets a high precedent for all those games on the horizon.
Originally planned for consoles, its transition to the 3DS has been a little problematic. This is a big franchise enjoying a renaissance of sorts since its reboot in 2010, so understandably its follow-up needed to be handled with the utmost care.
STORY: Set 25 years after the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate follows the descendants of Gabriel, the previous game’s lead protagonist. You play as Trevor Belmont, his son Simon and Alucard, a name familiar to fans of the series.
Having since turned into the powerful vampire Dracula, Gabriel is unaware that his bloodline had continued. Knowing that a descendent would be the only one capable of defeating him, the Brotherhood of Light take Trevor away from his mother not long after his birth.
Years later Simon, Trevor’s son and Gabriel’s grandson, joins the mix, seeking revenge against Dracula for an attack that killed his mother. Controlling a different character in each act and seeing a story from three perspectives is novel, but the good-feeling is dampened once the credits roll. The game’s end is disappointingly abrupt. The final boss is challenging but the game ends suddenly after and there’s a very real sense that this was merely set-up for Lords of Shadow 2, expected later this year.
GRAPHICS: Mirror of Fate looks nothing short of amazing. The design work is top notch too, never feeling like sacrifices had to be made due to the limitations of the system.
Enemy designs are wonderfully varied and some of the areas that aren’t the standard castles that ‘Vania is famous for are a welcome and eye-soothing sight. The 3D is implemented well also, with the only bug-bear born out of frantic gameplay causing the screen to shake, which messes with the effect. Hardly the fault of the developers. When the camera zooms out, however, spotting the attacks of smaller enemies before they hit can prove difficult.
SOUND: Dialogue is delivered well with the Scottish accents of the Belmonts making a welcome change from the American voices that dominate so many video games. It works for the game as well, particular as it tells a Shakespearian tale of tragedy and a family at war.
Sound design within the gameplay is a largely standard affair with battle cries all good and proper, and weapon sounds satisfying. The only jarring moment comes late in the game when an enemy of clear feminine design starts grunting in a distinctly male way.
GAMEPLAY: Mirror of Fate is instantly familiar to anybody who has played God of War, Bayonetta or, of course, Castlevanias past. Evolving over the years, many of the design choices made famous in more modern hack and slash titles are implemented here – chiefly the use QTEs. They do have a place in game design, and they do largely work here, but there is an issue with timing. When opening a chest or operating a crank the player is often not given enough time and must try again. It’s not a major grievance, save in moments of battle when QTEs bring with them instant-fails – a bugbear of all gamers.
In the moments that you control yourself, the face buttons master horizontal and vertical attacks as well as jumping and the throwing of projectiles. The left bumper blocks when held, can provide the opportunity to counter when well-timed and is used for dodging when used with movement. The controls are representative of the game as a whole; they feel like those you would expect of a console but work perfectly on the smaller scale. Consequently they also feel natural, which lends itself nicely to the flowing combat.
With each act played with a different character there’s a satisfying sense of progression as you unlock new abilities at a fairly rapid pace. These vary from ranged attacks to abilities that improve attack, defence and allow you to move through enemy defences. XP is gained by killing enemies and collecting scrolls which delve into the rich backstory or give clues about nearby puzzles. Said puzzles are few and far between, however with only two large scale ones, their brilliance only makes their scarcity all the more disappointing. This being a Castlevania game there is also plenty of exploration and backtracking. It would be all too easy to get lost, so your objective is always lit up with a red orb or arrow on the game’s map.
For a campaign that clocks in at seven to eight hours, there is an impressive array of enemy types, and boss battles are plentiful and challenging. Checkpoints are well-placed throughout these encounters also, a welcome relief given the challenge the game presents.
LONGEVITY: As mentioned the game clocks in around the eight hour mark but there is plenty of challenge, even on the normal difficulty setting. Finding all the game’s secrets and achieving that 100% is one for completionists only however, and despite a bonus ending is little more than a prize for grinding the game out.
You can restart the story with all your collected items and abilities, but it’s not a new game + in the traditional sense, with more difficult or plentiful enemies etc.
VERDICT: Considering Konami have already brought Castlevania to consoles and with a follow-up in the works, it’s no wonder that Mirror of Fate is every bit a match for its grander brothers. It still works as a handheld game though, with plenty of checkpoints and auto-saves to ensure progress without fuss.
Mirror of Fate is a grandiose game only let down by its story being little more than the set-up for another game. That’s only the story however – it remains an incredibly fun and moreish experience, both stunning to look at and addictive to play. If it only it lasted longer.