Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate
After a rocky reboot of the Castlevania franchise, Konami have given the fans a Castlevania experience truer to its roots in this first 3DS outing, Mirror of Fate. Compared to the previous outing, there’s a stab at making a continuity as strange and sprawling as the older games, which I guess is the perfect homage. All it needs to get more Castlevania-esque is those damned medusa heads. Actually no, screw those guys.
The Castlevania games of old were classics, platformers where you would run back and forth amongst levels collecting items and powers to help you continue. There was as much exploration as there was stabbing monsters in the face, and led to the term, “Metroidvania” to refer to the sub-genre of platformer. Metroid has eschewed the platforming of old, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow went into the generic third person hack & slash territory. It’s a great revelation then, that Castlevania: Mirror of Fate goes back to those Metroidvania roots. There are some modern mechanics which have crept in, some of which are unwelcome (yes, QTE’s) but as a whole it’s still an exploratory platformer just like the games of old.
You play as Gabriel Belmont (briefly), then his son Simon, and Alucard who is… well, I’ll avoid spoilers, but don’t worry; it’s not Dracula trying to hide his name by spelling it backwards. You infiltrate Dracula’s castle and its winding hallways, hunting big D himself down. You have your trusty Belmont whip and powers which include protective spirits, flaming bottles or thrown axes. The controls are simple enough, allowing jumping, whipping and grappling. Quick Time Events take over when the game wants Simon to do anything complex, mainly in boss fights and with certain enemies. A lot of the game involves learning the tactics of the enemies, big and small, then countering, dodging and killing them at their weakest.
The enemies themselves range from good fun to downright fiendish. Skeletons when hacked apart turn into bouncing piles of bones you must destroy, phantom limbs grab you in tunnels, snake-men dart at you and strange marionettes flail about. They’re fun, but will rip your face off if you’re not careful. Despite a frustratingly short health bar at the start of the game, a bit of backtracking and exploration will earn you boosts, making you almost tolerably healthy. Levelling up by picking up scrolls of dead adventurers and killing things will earn you new moves. When you switch characters to Alucard you even gain vampire powers such as mist and wolf forms as well as the ability to throw bats at your enemy.
It’s a little simpler than previous outings, but that’s not a bad thing. The quicksave kicking in constantly has been bemoaned by purists, but on a portable machine you need to be able to quit at any time and not lose your progress. You run and jump, clamber over things like a 2D Assassin’s Creed – but then comes the problems…. the boss fights, mainly. They’re interesting, but they tend to end up being more of a chore. Each boss has attack patterns you can memorise and fight against, but each one feels about twice as long as it should be. More interesting are the puzzle areas where you’ve got to push and pull blocks to make machines burn the hands of a giant puppet.
Finally, the graphics are lovely for a 2D platformer. The camera zooms in and out to follow the action, like when you’re punching your way out of a rat or viewing the whole level before having to work out the puzzle. The voices are as campy and awful as the villains, but this may be considered a good thing. Castlevania: Mirror of Fate is stupid in a good way and robust enough to be an enjoyable challenge. While the boss battles go on a bit too long and the plot is bonkers, it’s a good use of a platforming style often forgotten.
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