When franchises undergo drastic changes in order to attract a new audience it often comes at the expense of the loyal fanbase that supported it. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate faces an identity crisis as the developers have attempted to retain some of the classic ‘Metroidvania’ free-roaming and platforming, while bringing in the aesthetic of the recent Lord of Shadow console release.
Taking place between Lord of Shadows and the upcoming sequel on consoles, Mirror of Fate tells the familiar story of the Belmont family seeking to kill Dracula. The cutscenes feature some nice, stylised cel-shaded visuals that differ quite drastically from the muted aesthetic of the core game. Spanning the story of four characters the narrative can get a little mixed up thanks to the minimal, obtuse dialogue within the cutscenes.
The general gameplay will feel familiar to those who have played any of the previous 2D Castlevania titles. Much like a conventional platformer players will traverse the environments while taking on enemies and finding hidden items. Each area is kept interesting thanks to the obstacles and verticality of the locations. The player can jump across platforms, climb up walls and swing across chasms in a fluid manner in a similar fashion to an Assassin’s Creed game.
Combat is quick and responsive as the Belmonts’ use the series’ trademark whip to slash their way through opponents. The player has two directional attacks as well as the ability to block attacks and dodge or counter unblockable attacks. As with general movement the combat feels very good thanks to the excellent character animations giving the action a real sense of weight which is often lost on side-scrolling titles.
Unlike classic Castlevania titles, Mirror of Fate has much less opportunity for exploring the levels. There are the occasional hidden areas but are generally very clearly telegraphed to the player. The bottom screen displays a map of the area that can be annotated allowing players to find their way back to areas that may have proved inaccessible to them before. Most of the time rewards aren’t usually worth the effort.
Enemy encounters are relatively sparse in comparison to previous entries in the series, abandoning much of the challenge, atmosphere and sense of danger that was present before in games such as Symphony of the Night. When enemies do show up the game frequently locks the player into an area until they defeat every enemy present. There is frequent button mashing to be had as players need to keep hammering away to do even simple tasks such as pulling a switch. Quick time events are also present in boss battles and are just as forgiving as the rest of the game and don’t really add much beyond tedium to the experience.
Defeating enemies rewards the player with experience points that eventually level up the playable character. Each new level unlocks new moves and combo attacks for the player to use. The lack of any other benefit in a statistical or actual ability strengthening makes the process of levelling up feel shallow and unnecessary, especially when much of the time you’ll probably just hammer away on the attack buttons without much thought anyway.
Each of the four different playable characters also have their own secondary weapons and abilities exclusive to themselves. Had the game offered the option to replay chapters with another character it could have been an interesting mechanic to revisit areas with other characters and use their items to access new areas, but instead each different member of the Belmont family is confined to their own part of the story. The difference in each character is marginal as for the most part players won’t feel the need to use any secondary weapons or spells unique to their character apart from when they have first been unlocked for use.
Fans of the series’ older aesthetic stylings are likely going to be disappointed with a more generic artwork. Technically the game does look solid although not featuring the fidelity of what the likes of Resident Evil Revelations have been able to squeeze out of the 3DS hardware. The framerate is generally smooth with only occasional hitches when enemies swarm the screen but it’s never anything too distracting. Although the 3D effect is visually quite pleasing it occasionally creates a strange effect by compressing the scale of some of the larger environments and objects within the game. Like New Super Mario Bros. 2 the 3D doesn’t really add much to the gaming experience as it simply makes the foreground elements stand out a little more. The musical score is also not as atmospheric as previous Castlevania titles but still does a decent job of setting the mood for each of the four acts. Sound effects are well done and in combination with the smooth animation work greatly improves the sense of physicality as players climb and swing through the environments. The limited voice acting is usually quite reserved but does occasionally explode into some overacting which sometimes does look at odds with the character animations in cutscenes.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate is a game that tries to take the best of both new and old Castlevania but ultimately comes up short all round. The segmented exploration and redundant levelling up won’t please fans of the older titles and the combat isn’t deep enough to learn all of the combos for how rarely you may want to attempt something beyond mashing buttons. Ignoring the staples of the series however the game is quite enjoyable throughout its eight-hour campaign, but doesn’t offer any compelling reason to return to the game once completed.