It has been a while since we last saw a Castlevania game grace a handheld device. Since the undervalued Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia on the Nintendo DS, the mantle has been given to MercurySteam who subsequently made the mildly disappointing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. While it was clear the new direction was popular, it lacked that spark that the series was known for, the character behind the game which came from it, and introduced very few fresh ideas beyond its blatant copying of God of War and Shadow of the Colossus. With a sequel on the way to consoles, a brand new handheld game in the series – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate (hereby known as Mirror of Fate) attempts to bridge the gap between old and new. Sadly, for fans of the Metroidvania style of the series, this is a hugely disappointing game.
Mirror of Fate boldly attempts to bring in familiar faces to the retro fans by reintroducing famous vampire hunters Simon and Trevor Belmont, together with the vampire protagonist of Symphony of the Night – Alucard. In this cross-generational romp, all are trying to stop Dracula from unleashing his reign of terror. It seems sound enough based on such a basic premise, but the problem is that the story is trying to rely on one plot twist that ends up derailing the experience. Being able to guess the big ending reveal halfway through the first chapter almost deals a crushing blow before the game even gets started.
In order to judge it fairly, it needs to convey the spirit of Castlevania. While the low resolution of the 3DS does hurt the impact of the striking design, it does manage to show off some character. Of course, not everything is created equal, and the cut scenes look dreadful. It’s an interesting design, but the execution of the characters actions and melodramatic regionalised voice acting transforms it into a badly animated cartoon. What’s worse is the sound design. You know that the game lacks the character of its ancestors when even the music – usually the highlight to any Castlevania game – is horrifyingly generic.
Those expecting this to closely follow the Metroidvania template will be disappointed to find that instead of a huge sprawling castle with tons of diversity from the enemies and plenty of loot, they will find three very small castles that are largely linear with very little variety on offer. The backgrounds and small touches are there to an extent, but aside from one or two unique areas there isn’t very much beyond the same drab medieval template. Beyond that, there is also very little reason to explore, unless you are looking to 100% compete the game by collecting bestiary pages and scrolls from dead soldiers of the brotherhood, or upgrades from chests.
You might care more about the bestiary pages if the combat was any fun. Granted, there are plenty of moves in your arsenal that are unlocked as you level up. While Castlevania is renowned for palette switches, Mirror of Fate has such a small roster of foes that it almost seems laughably bad that the developers needed to resort to this. To their credit though, there are some noticeable differences between the likes of Mermen and Zombies, making combat an overall average experience, but the kicker is the fact that each character uses a version of the Combat Cross (read: whip). Also, you’ll easily plow through the game by merely learning a combo or two, which takes out a lot of the initially perceived challenge.
When Mirror of Fate begins, you might get the feeling that it will become one big slugfest. For the most-part, that is the case until you progress beyond the opening sequence. You’ll come across upgrades, magical items, and powers that help you traverse the various locales. Puzzle sections are confined to one chapter though, with the game becoming one big Quick Time Event (QTE) towards the game’s twilight hours. Boss fights too are riddled with QTEs, but are the prime example of the game’s biggest flaw: generous checkpoints.
Perishing to either a trap, monster, or one of the games’ few if unique bosses; is but a mild inconvenience. Usually, you’ll respawn just before tackling that very same hazard, or at that particular stage in the boss encounter. This makes this game way too easy, especially when certain games in the franchise have been known for rock hard, yet fair challenge. Not even the conclusion was much of a challenge, when in reality it should have been an exhilarating bout. Instead, it was merely a bit wet.
It’s fitting that this particular vampire game doesn’t sparkle – as vampires should never sparkle – but Mirror of Fate is almost decomposing in comparison to its forefathers. With a plot that can be deduced in a mere hour, sub-par exploration and combat mechanics, and music that is well below the standard we come to expect from the series; it’s baffling that the biggest issue is to do with difficulty. By no means is it a complete train wreck as there are glimmers of a good game present, but to call this a spiritual successor to this classic franchise is flat-out wrong. There’s a fine line between honouring and soiling a great legacy. Regrettably it seems that this game leans on the side of walking on sacred ground and painting satanic imagery all over the walls.