Of all the classic gaming franchises I was exposed to during my formative years, I’m slightly embarrassed to say that Castlevania was not among them. Despite hearing nothing but great things about the series it’s been one I’ve managed to have slip through the cracks continually. It’s not like there haven’t been ample opportunities to familiarize myself with the Belmont family and its dark adventures, given that it’s been around a mere three years less than I have, debuting in 1986. However, as they say, it’s better late than never, and the latest release in the franchise, 3DS title Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate represents my first foray into the vast and storied mythology of the series.
Not knowing what to expect from Mirror of Fate has perhaps been a blessing in disguise. While others have found themselves caught up with whether or not the game is a true Castlevania adventure, I’ve been free to take the MercurySteam developed title on its own merits and, despite quite a few niggly irritants and the occasional questionable design choice, it’s a fine addition to the 3DS lineup.
If there are any of you out there who, like me, haven’t yet acquainted yourselves with the series, it’s a traditional side scrolling platform-cum-brawler affair, based around legends of vampires and dark entities. Assuming the roles of Simon and Trevor Belmont and Alucard, Mirror of Fate certainly draws quite a lot of inspiration from days gone by, with those who grew up with 8bit and 16bit titles sure to feel right at home as nostalgia takes hold.
Despite the modern day graphical sheen and swanky 3D, MoF stays close to its roots in the way the action unfolds. With the bulk of the focus being on platforming and combat, the latter of which does a fine job of feeling every bit as frenetic and fevered as more recent titles like God of War in places, MercurySteam have freed themselves up to focus on level design and exploration of the game world. Unfortunately, both fall a touch short of making this a genuinely great game.
Unlike similar titles from yesteryear, Mirror of Fate is an incredibly charitable title. From continually pointing the way on the game’s map to allowing you to restart from predetermined checkpoints in boss battles, there’s rarely any sense of accomplishment to be found here. Those who are accustomed to the more challenging games of the past will certainly struggle to come to terms with the amount of hand holding on show here, and despite encouraging the player to explore the game world as much as possible, there are all too few surprises littered around an increasingly repetitive castle.
The enemies, too, fall into a similar trap. While they’re certainly plentiful, the game is designed in such a way that makes it possible to avoid conflict with a surprisingly high percentage of foes. The traditional, and increasingly tiresome hack and slash trope of magically sealed off combat arenas that force you to slash your way through hordes of enemies is out in force here, but once you’ve dispatched a predetermined amount, you’re free to simply avoid the rest and progress through to the next progress halting event. For a sequel to a reboot, there’s really an awful lot of retreading here, which is a shame.
While this has all sounded quite negative so far, the truth is that none of these things stop Mirror of Fate from being a perfectly enjoyable handheld actioner. The strength of Nintendo’s handheld has long since been the fact that the bulk of the games are perfectly tuned for the pick-up-and-play-for-an-hour style approach, and this is no different. Given the relative lack of time we have to play games in our spare time here at Click, this is something that we welcome with open arms. Despite having a reasonably interesting storyline, there’s never the feeling that you’ll be unable to pick up from where you left off if you have to skip playing for a few days. Once you’re ready to jump into the fray again it’ll be like you never left – and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will very much depend on your own personal preference.
The combat is actually quite satisfying, despite its relative simplicity. It’s a piece of cake to grasp the basics and start building up your own unique methods of attack, stringing together the various combos and attacks you unlock as your character progresses. Button mashers will get plenty of enjoyment from the combat, while finesse players are free to string move after move together, changing the focus of their attacks with ease and dashing and rolling away from incoming attacks. Despite the repetitiveness of it at times (something which can be levelled at most games of its ilk, in truth), it succeeds at the most important thing – it’s fun.
These simplistic controls are unfortunately tainted a touch by the fact that there are some slightly out of place oddities throughout the rest of the control scheme. Opening a chest, for example, screams God of War, taking one of Santa Monica Studio’s more questionable design choices in rapidly mashing a single button to get to the goodies inside. This is far from the only instance of QTEs found in the game, with everything from cranks to pulling doors to finishing bosses relying far too heavily on what has very quickly become one of the least enjoyable things about modern gaming.
The structure of the game’s narrative, containing three protagonists as it does, allows for some minor combat and ability differences, but at their core, each of the three are perhaps too similar. The character shifts do allow for some interesting turns in the storyline, though, and it’s nice to see that we’re not limited to a single linear start to finish approach with a single character.
Overall, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a more than passable action romp with plenty of hack and slash styled combat, exploration for curious cats among you and a decent story that’ll give you some reason for destroying wave after wave of evil buggers. If you asked me if it was a good Castlevania game, I’d have to cite my ignorance of the franchise and tell you I genuinely have no idea, but taken on its own as a separate entity, it’s a blast in small doses and should keep all but the most stubborn of fanboys entertained for quite a while.