Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate feels like an amalgamation of Castlevania's history. It's got the exploration and RPG-lite elements of older instalments, letting players wander around the titular castle, beating bosses and finding magical powers that allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas. Players can jump between time periods and characters, and each one has their own unique abilities which can open routes others cannot, but also leaves them open when you return to one of the others.
So far, so Symphony of The Night. But Mirror of Fate also takes its cues from more modern instalments. Not just in narrative - it is set between Lords of Shadow and its upcoming sequel, and features Simon Belmont squaring off against Gabriel Belmont - but also in mechanical terms.
The result is a game that balances 'classic' Castlevania with direct action, emphasised by the permanent waypoint marker on the touchscreen map. It makes for a much more focused game, channelling you from setpiece to boss fight to new location. The combat system has been lifted from Lords of Shadow almost wholesale, with a few tweaks to ensure it works on the 2D plane. It is all about knowing when to block, parry, dodge and when you have the opportunity to deliver a massive whip combo chain. Every enemy telegraphs their attacks like you're watching Hulk Hogan in slow motion, and the window for successfully dodging or parrying an attack is quite generous. Forgiving, but also a big part of why having this fast-paced action on a portable console is rad, not utterly frustrating.
It is also lovely looking game, right up there with the very best on the 3DS. It appears that the biggest influence here is the SNES' Super Castlevania IV, a game full of rich backgrounds, layers of parallax scrolling and other graphical tricks here and there. The way that MercurySteam uses the 3DS' 3D to create some of the nicest environments on the system, reaching well into the background and foreground, is almost like the Spanish firm is finally realising the ideas Konami had way back in 1991.
There's also some particularly nice-looking stylized cutscenes to keep the story ticking over, which make fantastic, subtle use of the console's hardware. Unfortunately, such beauty comes at a price. There are occasional framerate issues in some of the more open areas, and also during hectic combat sequences. Nothing too off putting, mercifully, but definitely noticeable from time to time.
That Mirror of Fate uses the 3DS hardware-specific tricks to its advantage is obvious within minutes, but there is also a strong understanding here of what makes a great handheld title in general. Checkpoints are regular and never leave you having to repeat long sections after a misplaced jump when some idiot nudges you on a crowded commute. Each location is bite-sized, allowing for some natural end points when gaming on the move. Even the aforementioned waypoint marker, despite dialling back on the trademark exploration, means that you're rarely wasting game time lost and looking at a map screen.
Much like its long-serving antagonist, the Castlevania series has seen a few rebirths in 25 years. Some great, such as the time it was reborn as a Super Metroid-style sprawling action RPG, spawning several top drawer games and the godawful term 'Metroidvania' in the process. Some rebirths weren't so good. The 3D resurrection was a rough one, with some pretty forgettable N64 outings before it started to find its feet on the PS2. It even once came back as a 3D fighting game, but I understand if you have repressed that one completely. Awful.
Mirror Of Fate comfortably sits in the first category. Its mixture older-style exploration with LoS' combat results in not only a truly great Castlevania game, but also a great action title and one of the best offerings on Nintendo's console.
Played to completion of the main story in 8h14m.
82% of all secrets found