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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate review

AT A GLANCE
  • Clever use of 3D
  • Foreboding atmosphere
  • Adds intriguing concepts to the series’ lore
  • Combat is inconsistent
  • Minimal exploration
  • Loaded with cheap deaths

In the continuity between Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its upcoming sequel, the bloodline must not be broken. Mirror of Fate is that link, offering a handheld run-and-whip that maintains MercurySteam's decidedly Western aesthetic. Whether you think that departure from the traditional Castlevania template is a blessing or a curse, one unfortunate fact remains: Mirror of Fate feels like a missed opportunity that moves the Belmont clan’s gameplay back instead of forward.

That’s not to say that this reimagining is a complete wash--stylistically, Mirror of Fate shines. The story presents an intriguing new take on established characters, and builds on the Lords of Shadow narrative nicely. Though the character designs are a far cry from the typical anime-esque fare of previous Castlevania titles, you’ll appreciate the rugged look of your vampire-killing protagonists, as well as the classical monster bestiary full of ghoulish imps and gruesome mermen. The exposition-heavy cutscenes are equally easy on the eyes, evoking the look of a gothic Saturday morning cartoon.

"...stylistically, Mirror of Fate shines."

Mirror of Fate owes its most stunning visual tricks to the namesake of the 3DS, with stage designs that utilize 3D parallax scrolling to make it look as though you’re holding a living diorama of Dracula’s castle in the palm of your hands. Though all the action takes place on a 2D plane, there’s a palpable depth to the baroque backdrops that makes each room feel much bigger than it actually is. You’ll often be enchanted by some of the small details hiding in some of the more elaborate settings, like dense graveyards and unnerving Victorian vampire portraits. The only adverse effect to all these depth of field illusions is that it can make the less ornate backgrounds (like caves and sewers) feel empty, seeing as you can never truly explore past the foreground path. Complementing the nifty graphics is some very atmospheric music, with sorrowful melodies and invigorating compositions (even if they're far less catchy than the tunes from previous installments).

But style can only take enjoyment so far, and the gameplay, both in terms of combat and platforming, is where Mirror of Fate stumbles. Though the main story puts you in the boots of three characters (Simon Belmont, his dad Trevor, and Dracula’s righteous son Alucard), you won’t be switching between these heroes at will, as the game is divided into three chapters that aren’t truly interconnected (save for some nifty cutscenes). Each hero plays pretty much the same, utilizing identical whip (also read: Combat Cross) combos, with their own suite of magical abilities that don’t drastically affect how you approach enemies.

"Combat and platforming is where Mirror of Fate stumbles."

The result is a castle that feels incredibly fragmented, with no way to backtrack for secrets between characters as you plow through the 9 to 10 hours of single-player content. It’s a shame, too, because the series that helped coin the phrase "Metroidvania" now seems content to spoon-feed all its secrets to you. There are collectibles aplenty scattered throughout the halls of Drac’s chateau, but they’re so close to the beaten path that they could barely be considered hidden. You’ll never be stuck during your quest, either, because every time you enter a room, a go-this-way-you-idiot camera pan will direct you to your next straightforward objective.

In stark contrast to the simplified exploration is the combat, which struggles to strike a happy medium between wanton button-mashing and reactive, defense-focused play. While the combos are flashy and satisfying to pull off against multiple baddies, Mirror of Fate puts too much emphasis on dodging incoming attacks. This wouldn't be so bad, except for the fact that your dodge abilities feel finicky, and incoming blockable attacks are nearly impossible to discern from a distant vantage point. Further, the platforming physics feel stiff and heavy, and there are a plethora of levels littered with instant-death pitfalls that punish any errant jump. Mirror of Fate also treats quick-time events like they’re a hip new thing in gaming, forcing them into mechanics in an oftentimes groan-worthy fashion.

"[Secrets are] so close to the beaten path that they could barely be considered hidden."

For all the risks Mirror of Fate takes in terms of story and aesthetic, its core gameplay feels mired in antiquated design that just doesn’t feel that relevant anymore. This castle may look elaborate and multilayered, but the foundations it rests on are shaky. What could’ve been an entirely new avenue for the franchise feels more like a dead end.

More Info

Release date: Mar 05 2013 - 3DS (US)
Mar 08 2013 - 3DS (UK)
Available Platforms: 3DS
Genre: Action
Published by: Konami
Developed by: MercurySteam
Franchise: Castlevania
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence

17 comments

  • fullmetallegend - March 6, 2013 10:22 a.m.

    There's just no trusting reviews for this game. Every review I have read has said something different about the same thing. This reviewer thinks the combat and platforming are the stumbling points, while a couple others I read think those are the only highlights. This game has also gotten anywhere from a 4.5/10 to a 9.2/10. Seems like a game everyone should rent.
  • TristanPR77 - March 5, 2013 7:05 a.m.

    All I need from this game is to read the story, I don't need to play it, just know what happened prior to Los 2
  • TheDudeFromNowhere - March 5, 2013 9:30 a.m.

    Lol same here. But I'll probably get it when the cost goes under $20 on Amazon. Its a important piece of plot for LOS.
  • Unoriginal - March 6, 2013 3:01 p.m.

    I'll probably just end up having youtube or tvtropes explain the plot to me and jump straight into LOS2
  • BladedFalcon - March 5, 2013 6:25 a.m.

    Oh dear... Not gonna lie, this is disappointing, what I played from the demo was enjoyable... but yeah, it felt kinda empty and like something was missing, and it's sad to hear taht the game suffers from that all thorough, and the whole thing with the characters seems like a gravely missed opportunity. That being said, as a raging Castlevania Fanboy, I'm still gonna get it, if nothing else for the story and knowing what happens between LoS1 and LoS2... Here's just hoping that this marks just a slight misstep in MercurySteam's efforts, and that it won't foreshadow any wrong things for the main plate that will be LoS2.
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - March 5, 2013 8:09 a.m.

    I'm in the same boat. Probably gonna play it still, if only to prep for LoS2
  • BladedFalcon - March 5, 2013 10:16 a.m.

    That, and you actually sounded genuinely excited for this game back when you did the preview :P At any case, I'll reserve my final opinion for after I finish the game, but I WILL say that after this, I seriously hope Konami can consider bringing IGA back to return the series portable entries to their good ol' metroivdania glory. It's a long-shot, i know, but one can dream...
  • Tjwoods18 - March 5, 2013 6:07 a.m.

    More interested in Lord of Shadows 2
  • taokaka - March 5, 2013 4:50 a.m.

    I had my eye on this because I've been desperate for something to play on my 3ds which hasn't been used since I finished professor layton last year (I regret not importing a US 3ds), sadly I'll probably pass and just hope that my huge indifference to SRPGs turns to love once fire emblem and devil survivor overclocked release here in April. (woot! We finally get DS:O only 19 months after US) A bit unrelated but does anybody have any recommendations, physical or eshop?
  • shawksta - March 5, 2013 5:57 a.m.

    Really depends on what your tastes allow. The Eshop has tons of things ranging from DSi to 3DS, Pushmo being a New IP popular Puzzle Platformer where your shifting 3D Model puzzle blocks to get to the top. Its Sequel, Crashmo shook the concept and made it better, and both games let you create your own puzzles and share with QR codes. You have great platformers like Shantae and this new Western style 2D Shoot and plat that was suprisingly good despite its shortness. You got Mighty Switch Force;a 2D Puzzle Platformer, Dillons Rolling Western; an action/adventure Tower Defence Game, The Dempamen:They came by wave; a weird RPG revolving around capturing people with the Camera. Sakura Samurai; A Samurai Themed Brawler requiring skill,Timing and has RPG Elements that stop it from being generic. and allot more, you gotta look through the store for gems, and we have the Virtual Console for good ol classic handheld games. Physical, well there's allot, as i said, it depends on your taste.
  • taokaka - March 5, 2013 7:06 a.m.

    I've been looking into pushmo but kept deciding against trying it because it looked like the type of game that I'd pay a couple of dollars for as an mobile game or a mini, however I can't ignore the insane amount of positive feedback its got so I'll give crashmo a shot. And sakura samurai sounds pretty good. Thanks
  • shawksta - March 5, 2013 11:18 a.m.

    Well, Pushmo/Crashmo IS made by Intelligent Systems, there's a reason it got positive Feedback. Go ahead, i do suggest looking into the first game thought, not like physically buying it, but look at it, watch it ect. Only because of just how WOW it was when they shook up the way you do the puzzles in Crashmo.
  • taokaka - March 7, 2013 12:38 a.m.

    I've bought crashmo and got to say I love it, it definitely deserves the praise its received. I've been playing crashmo whenever I've had a free moment all throughout the day. Thanks for pushing me into finally trying it out.
  • shawksta - March 5, 2013 3:32 a.m.

    To be frank, the fact that it spawns from the Lords of Shadows series, i didnt expect it to even come close to the ones before in terms of 2D Castlevania However you did give it a fair review and point out the Positives very good unlike others that just kept ripping on it.
  • sternparez - March 5, 2013 2:19 a.m.

    Shame, I was considering getting a 3DS for this game. Maybe not now.
  • WINNER: Dark Souls - March 5, 2013 2:28 a.m.

    I'm seriously considering buying one for Fire Emblem: Awakening. Too bad times are tough at the moment though :/
  • animerobot - March 5, 2013 1:16 a.m.

    thanks for getting this up quick, playing it right now and while it does have some flaws it is a great game, thanks for pointing out good parts in ur review, unlike some other sites (IG_.com) that only call out it's flaws and caled it crap. so thanks again for showing both sides of the coin

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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