Developer: Mercury Steam / Publisher: Konami / Played On: 3DS / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Mature [Suggestive Themes, Partial Nudity, Violence, Blood and Gore]
The Castlevania series has enjoyed years of success on handheld systems. The previous three games in the series on the DS were arguably some of the best in the entire series. However, a reboot of the franchise occurred on the consoles in 2010 with the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The new game retained the gothic setting and whip-based action, but replaced much of the mythos with a fresh take on the story and took a more hack-n-slash, God of War-like approach.
While this may have reinvigorated the franchise on the consoles, it has absolutely no place on the handhelds. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate is a victim of itself, trying to blend the new style of Lords of Shadow with the “Metroidvania” gameplay the DS and GBA games have perfected, but instead falls short in almost every category.
To best understand what is going on with Mirror of Fate, you have to look at the game in two lights, the first being the game on its own. Mirror of Fate brings the 3D gameplay of Lords of Shadow and translates it to a 2D side scrolling perspective on the 3DS. Lords of Shadow players will find familiar territory whipping zombies, succubae, and Dracula himself albeit in a more confined space than before. There is a greater emphasis placed on exploration, a nod to the exploration aspects of the previous DS/GBA games, harkening all the way back to the PS1’s Symphony of the Night. When in its stride the action and exploration combine effectively to make the game feel exciting and fun, but these sections are few and far between.
In concept Mirror of Fate sounds excellent but in reality it suffers from letdown after letdown. The story of the Lords of Shadow reboot takes the prior events and reworks them in an alternate universe scenario. I thought the story was a strong point, weaving together the darkness of the Belmont family and the deception it endured at the hands of the Brotherhood. Even so, the story is told in such a way that it leaves many questions unanswered and has a laughably insufficient ending. Your appreciation for the plot will be determined by how much you already know from the Castlevania storyline from previous installments, but that said if you do know anything from the past games, Mirror of Fate’s plot and climax are already spoiled. The potential is there for a cool, dark, and exciting narrative but Mirror of Fate will leave you wanting a lot more.
Slaying demons is the crux of any Castlevania game. That’s why it’s another letdown that Mirror of Fate’s combat is so boring. During each of the game’s three acts (and one short prologue) you play as a different character from the Belmont family of vampire killers. It doesn’t matter which character you’re playing as they have the exact same moves and attacks with the whip, thus missing a perfect opportunity to give each character different play styles. The only exception to this is the magic attacks and subweapons.
This superficial feeling of variety is also marred by the game’s lackluster leveling system. As you gain experience you go up in level, which automatically grants a new combo for the whip. Again, these are linked across all characters making any semblance of variation nonexistent. If there were an extra chapter at the end that let you switch between the characters the game would have been much better, as this would have allowed the player to spend more time with each character to familiarize themselves. The way the game currently works is that it forces you to play with a specific character given the chapter. Thus, as it stands Mirror of Fate’s gameplay is disappointing.
In contrast to the mediocrity of the gameplay I found the visuals to be well done. The 3D backgrounds create a moody castle setting that fits the sorrow of the story. A creepy dilapidated theater, rain soaked outer drawbridge, and dank sewers inhabited by carnivorous fish are a few of the settings you run through. The soundtrack played it safe, being composed of fittingly haunting tunes but nothing as memorable as some of the songs from past games. The visuals and sound combined did create a feeling one might recall having when playing a previous game in the series. Unfortunately this is the only instance of Mirror of Fate feeling like a Castlevania game.
Throughout the game’s nine or so hours it takes to complete you encounter around thirty enemies and bosses total. THIRTY! That’s it! The lack of variety is astonishing considering the pedigree the previous games set with dozens more enemy varieties to vanquish. There are long stretches of hallways where you don’t even encounter an enemy. Backtracking with nothing to inhibit your progress is just tedious and a waste of time. Boss fights usually punctuate each act and they are multi-tiered affairs that end on a series of quick-time events. These battles offer the greatest variety to the fighting but are so forgiving that it’s an insult to the challenge the series is known for. The lack of difficulty and enemies make Mirror of Fate feel nothing like a Castlevania game.
And that’s the second light you have to look at Mirror of Fate with: it simply isn’t the same as what we’ve come to expect from the series. As a standalone title Mirror of Fate is average. Nothing about it is broken, it’s just average, even if the game is visually well done and the sound is good to boot. But compared to past handheld Castlevanias it’s the worst one yet.
There is a certain familiarity Castlevania fans have come to expect with each new game: an exciting story, a huge castle to explore, a variety of magical powers and weapons to equip, and a well paced challenge. None of that is present with Mirror of Fate. It’s commendable that Mercury Steam attempted to fuse the Lords of Shadow gameplay with the 2D Castlevania style but it just doesn’t work. The whole time I was playing the game I was thinking, “God, I hope this stays a spinoff and we get a true Castlevania sequel soon.”
No matter how you look at it Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate is disappointing. On its own the game is mediocre with a missed opportunity in character variety, short time to completion, and only a small amount of enemies. Compared to past games this is a downright disaster. In trying to appeal to both the action focused Lords of Shadow crowd and the traditional “Metroidvania” fans, Mirror of Fate looks like a Castlevania title but feels like something else altogether. Best case scenario the Lords of Shadow brand has a long and successful life on the consoles while the 3DS continues the lineage of excellence left behind from the previous handheld Castlevanias.
+ Fittingly dark and moody visuals and sound
- Feels nothing like past Castlevania games
- Lack of variety holds the game back immensely
6 / 10