Don’t call it a port, and definitely don’t call it a remake. Though the 3DS follow-up to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow harkens back to the classic two-dimensional Castlevania entries, it’s forging a decidedly-Western-style path for itself – and that’s not at all a bad thing. Ever since it was revealed in Nintendo Power, we’ve been wondering at just how it would play. Now that we’ve gotten the chance to play through the entire E3 demo and talk to the game’s developers, we’ve got high hopes for this 2.5D whipper’s delight.
Trevor Belmont serves as the game’s brooding protagonist – the story this time around focuses mainly on the Belmont bloodline, and the trials they’ve faced trying to keep Dracula in his coffin. The star of Castlevania III packs the chain-whip hybrid Combat Cross (that Gabriel Belmont wielded in LoS), but he’s got a few moves up his sleeve that feel reminiscent of the classic Prince of Persia. When you’re not cracking your whip into the eye sockets of giant bats, you’ll be double-jumping and ledge grabbing to scale vertical areas, or dodge-rolling to slip past doors just in the nick of time. We didn’t get hands-on time with Simon Belmont, but we imagine he’ll have a slightly different fighting style, with his ordinary whip and elemental magic.
Player feedback to MercurySteam’s Castlevania on consoles was quite favorable; Mirror of Fate looks to capture that same fresh approach to the age-old franchise, and is sure to please fans of Lords of Shadow while still controlling like a classic sidescroller. Think of Mirror of Fate as an expansion to Lords of Shadow – plot-wise, it’s a direct sequel, we’ll see the return of the God Mask and Devil Mask, and the whip-and-dodge combat feels ported straight out of LoS, albeit on a 2D plane.
In fact, everything about the game that doesn’t involve the graphics plays just like a 2D Castlevania, though at a much quicker pace that the 8- or 16-bit installments. During our time with the game, we found ourselves strategically plotting out our offensive assaults against the enormous bosses, making sure to dodge or double-jump past telegraphed attacks. It felt as though the developers wanted to balance actual thought into each fight – mashing enemies with whip attacks will only suffice for the weakest of skeletal warriors. Needing to assess our options during battle made each downed enemy or split-second counterattack feel that much more satisfying. You’ve also got more flashy grab-kills to bust out on weakened enemies; we relished choking the undeath out of a zombie during our demo.
The visuals make great use of the vivid 3DS screen, no matter how pronounced you want the 3D effect – Dave Cox, producer on LoS and MoF, assured us that care was taken with the visuals so that viewpoints could shift during cutscenes without making us nauseous. As was to be expected, the gothic backdrop felt like it had real depth, and the 3D was used to nifty effect during some whipping-a-bat-in-our-faces cinematics. Cox noted that each time they’ve shown the game, people always opted to play with some degree of 3D enabled – a good sign that it’s more immersive than distracting or disorienting.
Though it’s true that Alucard will be a playable character in MoF, Cox asserted that the team isn’t looking to remake Symphony of the Night – or any previous Castlevania, for that matter. Though “Metroidvania” has been the default format for Castlevanias of late, making previously-challenging encounters trivial with the addition of new power-ups and items, MoF will get progressively more difficult the further you delve into the map. That’s not to say that Trevor won’t be getting upgrades – we got to slice some face with the Glaive, a chargeable blade boomerang that could one-shot smaller baddies and stun larger ones for combo setups. But you won’t be getting new pieces of armor every ten minutes, or sifting through dozens of spells; Trevor’s fighting style feels decidedly old-school in all the right ways.
We’ve got high hopes for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate, even if the game’s full title is unnecessarily wordy. As the first Castlevania that’s been built with the 3DS in mind, this could lay the foundation for a decidedly different style of handheld Dracula slaying. With Konami’s guidance and MercurySteam’s willingness to break out of series conventions, MoF might be the first Castlevania to appeal to diehard fans and first-timers alike.