Ask anyone that knows me, I am a Castlevania junkie; did you see my moniker? This successful and deep franchise has been around for decades and it shows no signs of slowing down. Sure the games have not all been critical hits, but the name seems to survive. Castlevania games have appeared on every conceivable platform known to man, even recently making a showing on some of the smartphones out there today.
I love old school hand drawn art in glorious 2D side scrolling action games, and this is why I love to play any Castlevania title, especially those of yesteryear. When Sony introduced the original PlayStation and revealed polygons to the gaming masses, parallax side-scrolling gaming fell by the wayside. All the developers, including Konami, decided this was the way of the future and began developing first or third person 3D-loke games across all platforms and unfortunately all franchises.
In recent years handheld consoles have resurrected the 2D gaming style with all the beautiful art and side-scrolling anyone could handle. There are now numerous Castlevania games on Nintendo’s DS handheld and for the first time on the 3DS. This brings me to latest offering from Konami and developer Mercury Steam, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. The game is set 25 years after the events of its’ predecessor, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (Xbox 360, PS3). Mirror of Fate expands on Gabriel Belmont’s descendants and history leading up to their what becomes their eventual stunning fate.
Trevor Belmont, a knight of the Brotherhood of Light, sets out to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of his own father, who has now returned from years of exile to take up residence in a mysterious castle. Once a great knight, Gabriel Belmont now stands a powerful vampire called Dracula. Dracula has declared war upon the Brotherhood and thus the scene is set for a cataclysmic showdown between Father and Son. Purists here will call foul, myself included, as this does not match old history.
The Castlevania timeline is littered with games that resurrect the Count every 100 years or so. Mirror of Fate explores the history of the Belmont bloodline and boarders on defying the franchise’s history. The gameplay is pretty straightforward and classic Castlevania. While later in the game you will access many other characters that use different weapons or magic, your main character uses his whip for most of the game. The whip is a highly effective weapon, but I did find in certain areas there were some collision detection issues. My whip would be off the mark by just a hair but still hit my enemy. Not really a big deal, but the issue does crop up in times where you are jumping off platforms or stairs, and as the mark is just tad off it was enough to make the third attempt teeth mashing. Fortunately the game has plenty of checkpoints and save areas that can make life easier.
As I played there were certain areas where I found my button combinations tough to pull off. Almost immediately I thought the shoulder buttons on 3DS XL are positioned a little high, forcing you to stretch your fingers while using the circle pad. With a little practice and adjustment this does become a bit easier but it never feels comfortable. To make a comparison I did play the game on my original and smaller 3DS and found it easier to play on.
To me Mirror of Fate feels much like the classic Castlevania games that I have come to love. I am referring to pre-Symphony of The Night era that has much more in terms of RPG elements. With Mirror of Fate you have a cleaner simple style mixed with some cool upgrades. The maps are divided into stages again, but show up as areas on the map. Your whip in previous games would only have an extended length or a grapple feature, now your character has many different moves that you can combine.
You’ll find that every character possesses different skills and secondary items but with their main weapon they can conquer pretty much anything they come across. Secondary items and magic are somewhat underutilized as your primary weapon is often the most effective tool in battle, and like any good battle system, some attacks are better than others. You will need to discover the right formula for a quick and painless kill of those enemies you come across. Mind you some of the moves do get fairly repetitive almost numbing you into wanting to button mash, but it is effective nonetheless.
Your weapon is also quite useful as a tool to traverse the games levels, often helping you progress deeper into the castle, using it to grapple and cross chasms. These areas are plenty and provide some the most tense and best moments Mirror of Fate has to offer. It builds a ton of tension and plenty of deaths; luckily the aforementioned frequent checkpoints will cool off too much heat.
The games level design is quite intuitive and much better than most of the recent handheld Castlevania titles. There are sections where platforming comes to the forefront. These are scattered throughout the game, some which can be extremely easy, but there are others that defy logic as well. Be ready for those “turn-a-mirror-before-flipping-a-switch-after-stepping-on-a-plate” sequences where patience is required. The puzzles in the game are generally well designed, but they primarily task you with finding the appropriate arrangement for a series of objects. They’re enjoyable to a point.
Right away I thought Mirror of Fate looked fantastic, definitely the best Castlevania title on any handheld system to date. The game looks a bit like a throwback to the Super NES and Castlevania 4 days. It is full of that rich warm graphic style with plenty of layers and beautiful parallax scrolling. The 3D effect really makes the game pop with amazing amounts of detail, which can be distracting during gameplay, but not overly so. I found myself walking back and forth in order to fully take in the graphical splendor, of course getting hammered by the numerous enemies along the way. I must say Mercury Steam’s use of 3D and 3DS’s prowess really shines throughout the game.
This is the first Castlevania in 3D and it looks rather fantastic. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it looked even while standing still. The amount of depth varies from outside, to underground, to the inner workings of the castle. My eyes began to tire a bit from the effect around the 2-hour mark, but after a short break I was good to go. I quite like playing the game on the larger 3DS XL as it does have a much smoother feel and look to it. I found on my smaller 3DS the screen was tough look at after 45 minutes or so. Since the game is so dark I think the XL handles the graphic details of the game more efficiently.
The many stylized cutscenes not only keep the story moving, but also look very good. The tone is dark and gothic just the way Castlevania titles should be. The 3DS keeps up with the full motion video with little issue, but with the beauty comes a little trouble. The game does have some occasional framerate issues, most notably during hectic combat sequences. Most gamers will probably not notice these and overall there is nothing too off putting.
Similarly the voice and soundtrack work for Mirror of Fate is excellent throughout the game. The entire orchestral score is quite memorable from beginning to end. It has dark richness to it that plays well into the games theme and storyline. I am keeping my eyes open for yet another Castlevania soundtrack. The games dialogue provides another level of immersion too. I found the voice driven story parts a bit confusing and a tad cheesy, but intimidating and dark at the same time. Well worth the price of admission. On the flipside, I found the games sound effects a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong everything is here and well accounted for, from the clash of swords to the crack of whips, but I felt like perhaps they sounded a little compressed and slightly dulled as opposed to the music and voice work. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, other than my small observation the sounds of in Mirror of Fate are quite exemplary.
Castlevania: Lord of Shadows – Mirror of Fate is as enjoyable reboot, if you will, to an age-old franchise. The game has all the right elements to make it fun and enjoyable. Sure, it has a few issues but fans of the series, and genre as a whole, will most likely love it even if it does bristle with the liberties in the storyline. That being said, the casual fan may have trouble with the sometimes-tough control and dark undertones of the subject material. I for one have found a new interest in the Castlevania series again; although I must admit after playing this game I felt a strong need to pull out Dracula-X or Shadow of the Night. At the end of the day Mirror of Fate is a fairly good addition to the historic Castlevania series.