The console Castlevania games have taken a peculiar path since the polygonal transition, with various experiments on the N64 and PS2 garnering mixed reception. The handheld titles, on the other hand, have shown a consistent brilliance on the GBA and DS, adhering to a formula that works while focusing on combat precision and varied boss battles. On the 3DS, the series has taken just a bit of a nod toward the console style, while still maintaining something resembling the classic gameplay.
This makes sense, after all, given that development of Mirror of Fate was handled by Spanish developer MercurySteam, the team responsible for the console Lords of Shadow titles. The game adheres to the reboot’s aesthetic and universe, so fans of the older games should be prepared for that.
Inevitably, there’s an attempt to make the 3D part of the game look impressive, as has been the trend on the system. The entire game is played on a 2D plane, but in 3D environments, and there are many areas in the castle designed to have you run across them for a few seconds and look at the decor or scenery behind you. Unfortunately, there are times when this does slow the action down a bit, as some stuttering issues come into play. It’s more pronounced in cinematic scenes and only sparingly a part of action, but those moments can often be crucial.
Lords of Shadow followed Gabriel Belmont’s quest to collect pieces of a mysterious mask that is said to hold the power to revive the dead (specifically, his lost wife, Marie). With the help of a man named Zobek, Gabriel is able to defeat these warriors of darkness and reclaim the mask, only to find that Zobek had manipulated him. The mask’s power is used to bring back an even more powerful foe, but he is quickly defeated. The epilogue picks up centuries later, with Gabriel, in hiding after having gained immortality and vampiric powers, going by the name of Dracula. - Andrew Passafiume
So how’s that action itself? Well, fans of God of War will be right at home here, as the slashing action is very much made to be combo-reliant. There’s less of the DS games’ weapon switching and more of unlocking extra moves for the weapon you do have. This makes for a slow beginning, as you don’t have a lot of variety to what you can do beyond vertical and horizontal swipes, but if you stick with the game, you’ll be able to make things more interesting.
Also unlocked as the game progresses are traversal abilities, a nod to the past and something that will be sure to add hours of backtracking fun to your adventure. A particularly gimmicky feature of Mirror of Fate allows you to place markers on the map and write notes in them for your future self. To do this, you pause the game, flip over a tab, drag a dot onto the spot you’re occupying at the moment and then start typing. This is… inefficient, especially when all you want to do is tell yourself that there’s a shiny red spot you need an upgrade to use. But it’s what the game wants you do to.
Otherwise, the platforming itself has some very similar elements to those who have played an Uncharted game. You’ll jump up on ledges and lean as you reach for the opposite side, and you’ll also do some swinging, because… it’s Castlevania. You have a whip. Anyway, some of it just seems a bit overdone, as the moving around environments isn’t so exciting in two dimensions, and it also doesn’t seem that cool when all the little ledges are shiny and super-obvious.
The largest issue with Mirror of Fate tends to lie in its cutscenes. First, these are fully-voiced, which is nice, but the characters randomly open mouths sometimes and don’t in others, and these most certainly aren’t close to lining up with the dialogue. Sometimes the camera will linger on a character saying full sentences without any movement on his face at all, despite previous scenes showing that it’s something he does.
Also in these scenes? Quick-time events! Everyone loves those! From what we could tell, failure just restarts the segment of the scene, so there’s no real tension there, and it keeps you from enjoying what are really quite nice backgrounds and interesting (if strangely-accented) voice work. There are some quick-time events in the regular game too, like pressing B a lot to open a chest. That one seems like it really shouldn’t be there, because it’s just obnoxious (and not interesting, as the game occasionally pulls off with pulling-levers-while-enemies-swarm sequences).
As a game that focuses quite a bit on battles, be prepared for more instanced combat than just bosses. Walking into a big room? Yeah, you’re going to fight a scripted sequence of enemies. These are really not as fun as the bosses themselves, which seem to live up to the series standard.
They’re better, though, than the other scripted sequences, which play a lot like minigames. There’s a moment early in the game when you have to jump and roll as a carnival ride thing keeps going back and forth and hitting you. You’re stuck there between two damaging barriers (a weird scenario with 3D environments), and you just have to make the right jumps for a few minutes.
In a way, Mirror of Fate feels like three games, with its peculiar structure. Each of the game’s acts has you controlling a different character: first Simon Belmont, then Alucard, then Trevor Belmont. It’s sequence that takes you back in time, living through previous segments of the story. What that means, though, is a complete wipe of skills and upgrades, making you endure the boring part of the curve each time. Still, it does add some variety to the combat, even if each is still essentially using a whip.
Mirror of Fate may not be the portable Castlevania you were expecting. There are certainly issues throughout, and it doesn’t have quite the formula that the series had perfected over the years. As a more generic 2D action-platformer, though, it’s not bad, and could be worth it for those who need a little more excitement in their portable lives.
Pros: Nice environments, varied combat, fun puzzles
Cons: Quick-time events, some stuttering, unsettling mouth movement