Vampires are just one of the many occult creatures that heavily pepper today’s pop culture. We have vampires that write diaries, vampires that sparkle when exposed to sunlight, and even vampires with a Southern drawl living in the Louisiana bayou. One thing there aren’t a lot of is stories about old timey vampire hunters with magical chain whips, and perhaps that’s a role Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate can fill. Set over 1000 years ago, it tells the story of one Simon Belmont and mysterious shadowy figures helping him as he infiltrates the castle of Dracula to learn the fate of his long lost father and avenge his death.
One trope that has been consistent in Castlevania games is a nonlinear progression through levels, and Mirror of Fate is no different. Right out of the gate, players will see areas that are not accessible with the character’s current abilities. The expectation is players will want to backtrack to earlier areas of the castle and explore the locked areas once they have the appropriate abilities. Explorers will be rewarded by getting to witness the incredibly varied locales of the castle. There are rooms with obstacles ranging from malicious merry-go-rounds to tiny, dirty nooks Simon must shimmy through as zombies clutch at his ankles. However, if you’re the type of gamer that likes to take a straight shot through a game, then that’s something you can totally do.
The intuitive way to control a game that almost exclusively calls for two dimensional movement would be to use the D-Pad, but unfortunately that is not an option. The only way to guide the protagonists’ movement is with the Circle Pad, which can feel awkward at times. While you’re guiding Simon and his cohorts as they platform their way to Dracula’s lair within the castle, hordes of undead minions will be in your way. There are typical, run-of-the mill ghouls and rabid dogs, but the developers also threw in things like harpies and magic books that conjure more enemies while sapping your life or magic just to keep things lively. Boss design was inventive as well – especially when you consider the large breasted bisexual succubus. It’s not often game designers throw in foes of that nature!
To dispatch these foes back to the depths of Hell from whence they came, you will be flailing a whip around with more fervor than Willow Smith when she whips her hair back and forth. The whip mechanic works well and makes for not only some interesting combat sequences, but also some unique exploration opportunities once the weapon is upgraded. You will also earn various secondary weapons you can equip, such as new ax to throw at flying enemies, or Molotov cocktails to clear out a crowd with fire. As you earn experience points from defeated enemies, Simon and his co-conspirator will unlock new combos with the whip, as well as other abilities. Players will not get a choice as to which abilities unlock or when they do, but this pseudo RPG element adds some welcome depth to the game.
Another cool aspect of the combat is the ability to get various spirits to aid you during your fight against Dracula and his minions. The first one is a handy shield that draws energy from Simon’s magic supply to block attacks, but each one you befriend offers a new ability. They prove to be valuable assets, and most players will probably find themselves scouring each area for refills on the magic they need to summon their spectral friends.
The visuals in the game look pretty decent, and the 3DS has no problem running the game at a full frame rate. However, there is nothing overly remarkable about Mirror of Fate’s look. The cutscenes are some of the best visual treats in the game, but the cell shading used in them is so different from styles used in the rest of the game that it is a little unsettling; almost like you are seeing scenes from a different game. During these cutscenes is the only time you should attempt to utilize the 3D function, because during standard gameplay you will probably be so frantically smashing buttons that the effect will make your eyes hurt rather than wow you. The environments are incredibly dark, and while that is understandable considering the game’s subject matter, it caused difficulties while playing. Thankfully, there is an option in the game’s settings to turn the brightness up and this helps immensely.
The music for the game is actually quite exceptional, especially when listened to with headphones. The themes are all very dramatic and some of them sound like they’d be right at home in an old horror movie starring Vincent Price or Bela Lugosi. There is quite a bit of good voice acting in the game as well, which is something a lot of gamers still probably aren’t used to when it comes to a handheld title.
Castlevania is one of those game franchises with an intensely dedicated fan base, and a lot of those fans will be vehemently opposed to any changes to their favorite series simply as a matter of principal. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a solid game with passable graphics, and combat that could only have been improved if the protagonists were actually whipping their weaves around instead of chains. However, if you have enough garlic and holy water on hand and are brave enough to insert the cartridge into your 3DS, you will be treated to a fun action platformer with a sprawling and labyrinthine Gothic castle to explore.
Pros: The combat and level design in this game are top notch, the soundtrack is something other 3DS developers need to take notice of.
Cons: The visuals aren’t the best seen on the 3DS, and playing with the 3D on is not advisable due to the amount of movement your system will be experiencing. Some people may get bored trying to explore every nook and cranny if the castle. Playing with the circle pad is pointless considering movement is almost solely up, down, left, right.
Value: Players that are really into heavily exploring the game will fund this game well worth the money. Those wanting to blow right through the story may be underwhelmed, considering the hefty $40 price tag.
Verdict: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is an excellent addition to any 3DS owner’s library, even if it is the first title they’ve played in the franchise.