I think the Belmonts might be the only people to look awesome while fighting anyone with a whip (Correction: The Belmonts and Indiana Jones).
Konami, with developer Mercurysteam has put out the 3DS entry of their Castlevania reboot, Lords of Shadow, and it’s a solid entry, even if it only feels like half a game.
Traditionally, the three dimensional versions of Castlevania have been lackluster: Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness were clunky action games that lived in a time when the third person action game hadn’t really taken off its training wheels. The game really shined on the two-dimensional plane, crafting the mutant term Metroidvania, describing the exploratory elements along with the slow procurement of items and abilities that led up to the inevitable fight with Dracula.
This is the first and arguably most important departure from the other two-dimensional games in the series. While Mirror of Fate maintains the sense of advancement, it feels oddly less natural than the other games. Rather than checking a giant map of a whole castle to move through, the game divides itself into three major chapters, each with a different lead character, all of which are separated into smaller areas that present themselves as bite-sized sections of a whole unit. This compartmentalization of the castle makes keeping track of missed map sections ridiculously easy. Couple this with a note system that lets the player keep track of any currently impassible doors and the like, and you’ve got all the necessary tools to navigate a larger map, but the level design has been greatly simplified, rendering a lot of the thought that used to go into navigation moot. The second chapter contains a few larger puzzles, but most of the game is a strict platforming affair.
The combat is responsive and satisfying, if not particularly complicated. Where Lords of Shadow had plenty of grimace-worthy moments of brutality, Mirror of Fate struggles to emulate the visceral feel of the combat on a smaller screen. Combat consists of strings of direct, high damage attacks and area attacks that can hit many enemies, but deal less damage. The player can also block incoming attacks (as is rewarded with powerful counters when those blocks are well timed), and dodge the more powerful, telegraphed unblockable attacks. As experience is gained, new abilities are slowly added, but bread-and-butter chain whipping gets the ob done in most encounters. There is a fair variety of sub weapons to gather, though the player can switch between any acquired sub weapons or spells at any given moment (rather than stick with one at a time) and ammo is shared among all sub weapons.
Platforming is rarely overly taxing (there are a few exceptions) and even when a jump goes awry, the hefty checkpoint system keeps you in the game, though it does feel like it might be holding your hand a bit too much – most boss fights have two or so checkpoints within the fight, in case you should stumble.
The titular Mirror of Fate feels like it takes a sort of backseat to the more shallow motivation of each of the three major characters of the game, and even then, the story feels like it couldn’t stand alone, almost requiring past knowledge of Lords of Shadow to fully embrace the ins-and-outs of who people are and why they do what they do. There are brief callbacks to several characters from Lords of Shadow that would be completely lost on those that hadn’t partaken of it, and the dialogue is almost face-meltingly cheesy. Despite this, however, I found the relationship between the three playable characters (and the antagonist) totally rad, even if it was pumped full of fate-and-vengeance talk. This is game is definitely a bridge, prior knowledge is almost a requirement for entry, as well as a burning desire to get to Lords of Shadow 2.
The game looks good for a mobile title, capturing the look and feel of Lords of Shadow with surprising accuracy, though the frame rate leaves plenty to be desired. the 3D effects in the game are well utilized, rarely used as a gimmick, and instead supplementing an already well-fleshed out world. Even if you can’t move into or out of the screen, watching your whip subtly shift around the character is awesome to see, and watching enemies crawl up from behind the scenery never got old.
Overall, Mirror of Fate is a solid game that suffers from a kind of sequelitis. It doesn’t feel like its own game, instead trying to adapt the new take on the formula presented by Lords of Shadow and cramming it into a tiny box. The result is a game that looks good and plays great, but only really grips you if you liked its predecessor. If your 3DS needs some lovin’, it might be worth your time to pick up.