MercurySteam’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, released in 2010, played like no Castlevania game that came before it, yet it still felt like it took place in the same universe. The series’ flagship European castles, dark and moody forests, and supernatural creatures worked better than expected when mixed with God of War-esque combo-driven combat, larger-than-life set pieces, and light RPG elements, a noticeable departure from its NES and SNES ancestors and Metroidvania counterparts.
Lords of Shadow successfully straddled the line of being familiar and doing its own thing at the same time, which is why Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate (wow, what a mouthful) is somewhat maddening. Acting as a bridge between the two proper LOS games, Mirror of Fate allows players to assume the role of Alucard, Trevor Belmont, and Simon Belmont – Gabriel is also playable in an extremely brief tutorial – as they battle through Dracula’s castle, facing all manner of evil in the name of revenge.
The story’s nonlinear presentation makes the extremely simplistic narrative a bit more engrossing than it has any right to be, and stating as much even feels like a stretch. Unsurprising twist after unsurprising twist is thrown at the player and as it putters towards its inevitable and somewhat anticlimactic finale, it becomes even more evident that Mirror of Fate presents nothing crucial to the Lords of Shadow story arc. Mercury Steam’s handheld entry is, instead, pure game and an uneven one at that.
Story problems aside, the real issue with the 3DS entry is the relationship between its gameplay and presentation. Mirror of Fate’s arena-style action does not translate well onto the 2D plane, making its forced battles – in which barriers form on either side of a platform and what seems like an endless amount of creatures attack – a slog to get through.
Aside from the circle pad, only two buttons are primarily used for attacks, leaving the combat system a bit limited; chaining combos feels simplistic and unrewarding, with crowded fights more often than not being completed by simply launching enemies into the air and pulverizing them before they hit the ground. It doesn’t help that the leveling system, which caps you at 18, doesn’t allow you to pick your upgrades and strategize characters’ development. Instead, players will find themselves adding yet another X to the end of an existing combo to allow their character to make some slight variation on a learned attack.
Visually, Mirror of Fate is a treat for the most part. Cut scenes are cel-shaded and impeccably voice acted, and the in-game graphics are slightly above typical handheld expectations. The 3D, on the other hand, is atrocious and requires multiple adjustments to the 3D slider; the focus seems to change from room to room, making the 2D experience less headache inducing.
Speaking of rooms, a small quibble: whoever designed the game’s dungeons, castle, and other areas doesn’t seem to understand the concept of spatial awareness, with the areas feeling disjointed from one another; going from dungeon to roof to moat is a bit disorienting.
Even with its identity crisis and clunky combat, Mirror of Fate is addicting in a way. MercurySteam took inspiration from Symphony of the Night this time around, putting more emphasis on exploration and scroll hunting. Attaining 100% gives players an extra cut scene – woefully underwhelming as it may be – and the ride, which is of the “go from point A to point B, killing everything” variety, isn’t too shabby.
Castlevania fans looking for a rich experience will be disappointed by the series’ 3DS offering and could probably even just wiki the plot (it’s seriously that thin), but those looking to merely get their rocks off slaughtering vampires, werewolves, sea creatures, and the like will get a small kick out of what Mirror of Fate has to offer.
The Final Word: Those jonesing to vanquish creatures of the night with the Belmont clan should only bother with Mirror of Fate if that’s all they want to do. Otherwise, waiting for the twenty second recap before Lords of Shadow 2 should suffice.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is available on the Nintendo 3DS (reviewed).