Konami’s Castlevania franchise is one of the longest-running videogame series around, having made its debut twenty-seven years ago in 1986. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a direct sequel to the excellent series reboot released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2010, and returns to the side-scrolling roots of Castlevania as players explore Dracula’s castle in pursuit of this most evil of entities.
Just like the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate is developed by Spanish studio Mercury Steam which has drawn on its considerable expertise to create an exclusive title for 3DS that is impressively ambitious, featuring three intersecting storylines that see returning characters Trevor Belmont, Simon Belmont and Alucard exploring Dracula’s castle in their individual quests to seek vengeance against the fortress’ vampiric guardian.
In Mirror of Fate you play through each character’s story sequentially, with the action ramping up significantly for the final act starring Gabriel Belmont’s son, Trevor. The campaign takes around eight hours to complete, and there’s an incentive for getting 100% completion in the form of a special cut-scene that builds on the narrative established in the main game. Besides this bonus, the game’s replay value is curtailed by the fact that there are no multiplayer modes or online leaderboards to separate expert players from everyone else.
Mirror of Fate’s gameplay is a mixture of exploration, combat and puzzle-solving. The action takes place on a 2D plane but each environment has plenty of visual depth thanks to the game’s 3D graphics and the 3DS’ stereoscopic functionality, which presents the levels in cross section. If you’re not familiar with the gameplay in previous Castlevania games, Mirror of Fate feels a lot like a Metroid title with a firm emphasis placed on exploring your surroundings while discovering power-ups that allow you to overcome environmental obstacles, and thus continue on your adventure.
Each character in Mirror of Fate explores different sections of Dracula’s castle and has their own unique set of power-ups and equipment to acquire. For example, one character discovers ‘speed boots’ which allow him to perform a turbo dash that makes jumping across wide gaps a breeze.
Exploration is made easier by a map constantly being displayed on the 3DS’ bottom screen. Your next objective or where you should exit the level to progress is displayed by a red circle and arrow respectively. If there’s a section of the level that requires a certain power-up to access, then you can mark the map for when you have obtained the necessary item. Mirror of Fate is not like a simple 2D side-scroller where your next objective always lies to the right – in this game you’ll need to explore in all manner of horizontal and vertical directions to progress. Thankfully your map also takes verticality into account so it’s not too difficult to work out how to reach the designated area marked on it.
Of course, Mirror of Fate wouldn’t be a Castlevania game without combat and there are plenty of possessed puppets, electric merman, skeleton warriors and wraiths (to name just a few) to dispose of during your journey. Each character carries a ‘combat cross’ which can dish out horizontal or vertical attacks by pressing the ‘Y’ or ‘X’ button respectively. You can also throw a projectile of limited supply by pressing ‘A’ or switch between alternate forms (such as ‘mist form’ or ‘wolf form’) by pressing ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ on the D-pad.
The two different projectiles you can carry and two alternate forms you can switch between are easily accessible by pressing their corresponding icons on the 3DS’ touch screen – very handy when you’re in the middle of a boss battle that requires you to select a certain projectile or alternate form to inflict maximum damage.
Each character has a wide selection of combat moves that can be increased by levelling up through obtaining purple orbs dropped by defeated enemies. Aside from these techniques, every so often an enemy will be stunned which allows you to perform a God of War-inspired finishing move on them. While there are no Quick-Time Events (QTEs) accompanying these flashy finishers, the camera zooms up on and rotates around the action making for a welcome spectacle (especially when viewed in 3D).
You can change Mirror of Fate’s difficulty setting on-the-fly and run away from most battles so if combat is not your thing, you can always choose to rather focus on exploration. The game has a very generous checkpoint system that allows you to continue platforming sections, cinematic QTEs and boss battles from just before you died meaning that you never have to experience the same section of gameplay over and over again.
What’s more, solving the game’s few challenging puzzles on your own yields XP, but you can also choose to have any one of these conundrums solved for you, although you won’t earn any XP by doing so. There is one fairly difficult platforming section in Mirror of Fate that reminded me of the later levels in Rayman Origins or New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and some of the bosses may take a few tries to defeat, but overall I can’t imagine this game posing much of a challenge to Castlevania veterans.
While it’s true that Mirror of Fate has a dull colour palette given its setting, the game makes excellent use of 3D and has some of the best production values we’ve seen in a 3DS exclusive thus far. Fully voiced cut-scenes help to engage players in the game’s intriguing plot and orchestral music is used during certain sections of the narrative to tug at the heartstrings, or alternatively get the adrenaline pumping during QTE-infused set-pieces that take place in full 3D.
Mirror of Fate’s environments run the gamut from belfries to courtyards to chapels, and each level is well-designed and impressively detailed. This game stands as a great testament to how stereoscopic 3D can enhance your sense of immersion by allowing you to ‘see’ the depth of an environment. I get the sense that the team behind the game really tried to take advantage of this unique feature of the 3DS, as some of the QTE-based set-pieces in Mirror of Fate see you holding onto the back of monstrous beasts as they fly directly away from or towards the camera.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is another thoughtfully designed game from Mercury Steam that successfully pays homage to the side-scrolling heritage of the Castlevania series, while also adding a few new ideas and stereoscopic 3D to the equation. After playing through Mirror of Fate’s compelling campaign you won’t be blamed for harbouring a deep desire to feed on the upcoming third entry in the Lords of Shadow sub-series – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2!