Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

The Castlevania series is coming up on a thirty-year anniversary.  The franchise has had such an impact on gaming that many 2D action/exploration games are succinctly described as “It’s like Castlevania”.  Despite the knock-offs, the series has maintained a strong presence through every console generation since the 8-Bit days  A few of the more recent installments tried to venture into 3D, with mixed results, but the latest game Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate takes things back to the old ways of 2D.  Or rather 2.5 D.

Mirror of Fate is a sequel to the console game Lords of Shadow, and follows the descendents of Gabriel Belmont, the protagonist of Lords of Shadow.  This places it in the rebooted Castlevania continuity established in that game.  For old fans this might be annoying but, after dozens of games, the Belmont family had experienced so many adventures that new players would be lost trying to keep track of the millennia-long storyline of the old games.

Mirror of Fate follows the quest for vengeance of several generations of the Belmont clan as they hunt vampires and other monsters.  Players will control three of them, each of which plays slightly differently although they all use the traditional whip that has become a trademark of the series.

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The actual combat is less like the classic games, and more akin to modern hyper-action games.  The Belmonts swing their whips in a fierce combo system very similar to what Kratos does with his chains in the God of War series.  There are finishing moves and button-hammering QTE that make Mirror of Fate feel even more like a mash-up of the two franchises.

Although the combat is different from the previous games, it is still exciting and challenging, especially as the characters level up and gain a wider variety of moves to use against the increasingly powerful foes.  Even though players will control three different characters, they carry over their Experience Points from each character and maintain the same unlocked combat moves.

Each of the characters still has to go about acquiring his own set of secondary weapons and magical supporting powers, though. These support weapons and magic help differentiate the characters, as do slight changes to gameplay (Vampires don’t need to breath under water).

Players who like to explore and backtrack might find themselves getting bored with the repetitive nature of the combat, but just when one character begins to wear out his welcome a new one takes over the narrative. This is a direct sequel to a game that appeared on another platform three years ago, so many 3DS players are likely to find that narrative hard to follow.  The cutscenes telling that story still look gorgeous, even when players aren’t quite sure about the significance of the events.

Even when the custscenes end Mirror of Fate looks fantastic.  It usually plays from a sidescrolling perspective, but it is running on a 3D engine, so the camera angle will rotate and zoom in during finishing moves.  A few cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine, so the camera will change to a more dynamic angle that shows the details in the character models and the 3D effects as well.

The trend of 2.5 D games is a natural fit for the 3DS.  This is when a game runs on a 3D engine, but player movement is restricted as in a 2D game. In Castlevania this creates a sense that objects and enemies in the background really are off in the distance.  It is especially effective in the boss encounters when enemies will retreat out of range to transform, or recharge their powers.

Mirror of Fate makes the franchise more accessible to gamers who haven’t discovered it yet, while pulling away from many of the classic mechanics of the series.  While its quality isn’t on the same level as legendary installments like Symphony of the Night, Mirror of Fate does have high action and a (Relatively) simple story.  It isn’t the best action game on the 3DS but its visually striking and certainly and a good choice for fans who were displeased with the franchises recent console games.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is out now exclusively for the 3DS.  A demo is available for wary Castlevania fans.