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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate

Score: 65%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Konami
Developer: MercurySteam
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Platformer (2D)

Graphics & Sound:

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate attempts to merge two very different versions of Castlevania with little success. There’s exploration for fans of previous handheld incarnations and the combat-and-timing elements found in Lords of Shadow. Neither is handled particularly well, resulting in a game that will only appeal to fans with an invested interest in the series.

Mirror of Fate does manage to put on a decent show. Much to the detriment of the combat system, there are noticeable framerate issues when more than two enemies appear on-screen. These moments are uncommon, however, and are likely a result of the insane amount of detail found on characters. It is not a one-to-one translation from the consoles, but it is pretty close.

Unfortunately, much of the detail is lost due to the pulled-back in-game camera. At the same time, the camera’s position sets up some incredibly cool 3D mise-en-scène. Levels have a diorama-like look and are a good argument for keeping the 3D slider flipped up. Outdoor areas actually feel open and some areas are surprisingly grand in scope.

Audio is, well, Castlevania audio. Whip slashes hit with rewarding "pop," and everything just sounds like it should. Music isn’t as catchy or memorable as other games in the series, though it still fits the overall mood of each area.


Gameplay:

Rather than giving itself over to one gameplay style, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate tries to please everyone. I’m sure there’s a way to marry combo-and-timing heavy combat and exploration, but this isn’t the way to accomplish that lofty goal.

Exploration elements are largely an illusion. Most of the "hidden" areas of the castle are so close to the beaten path, they barely qualify as "hidden." Sections of the castle are clustered into boxy areas connected by load screens, killing the feeling you’re exploring a giant castle. Rather than discovering new paths to get around the castle faster, you’re stuck running through linear areas until you either find the right path or stumble across a color-coded portal. Neither is all that quick or efficient.

The translation from a 3D plane to a 2D sidescroller doesn’t work well. All of the elements are present, but seem unnecessary. The large whip strikes and air combos are better when surrounded by mobs of enemies, not one or two with limited movement options. I’m not saying it can’t work, but it would require a complete rethinking of the system, not the rectangle peg in a square hole Mirror of Fate presents.

The narrative places you in control of three different protagonists: Simon Belmont, Alucard, and Trevor Belmont. The underlying story is rather thin – kill Dracula – though I did enjoy seeing characters cross paths during their respective plotlines. For example, Simon will spy a mysterious figure during one of his sequences, only to later reveal that figure was Alucard, who is off on his own concurrent mission.

The concepts behind the story are strong, but the actual storytelling is insufficient. Stuff happens, but I’d be hard-pressed to translate what actually happens into a concrete plotline. The ending is hollow and you’re left with more questions than answers. I assume this is meant as a setup for Lords of Shadow 2, which is fine. At the same time, it isn’t satisfying unless you are already plugged into the Castlevania mythos.


Difficulty:

Traveling through levels and boss battles present two very different contexts of the word "difficulty." Death isn’t uncommon during normal gameplay. You only fight one or two enemies at a time, but they are still fairly powerful and incredibly block-happy. Most enemies go down with a few hits, but getting those hits takes far more patience then I was sometimes able to muster. Late game enemies come equipped with one-hit kill moves. Thankfully, some are attached to QTE button prompts, offering a very slim hope of survival.

Bosses are an outright pain. They’re incredibly powerful and a handful come with some sort of health-regeneration mechanic. Others have nearly unlockable special attacks or some sort of ability requiring expert timing to bypass. There’s also no way to regain health during battles. About the only positive is bosses are multi-stage affairs with a quick save between stages. Sadly, this reduces boss battles to a race to the next stage where you can quickly die and get a health boost.


Game Mechanics:

All three characters handle exactly the same. There are a few minor differences between the three (Simon is a ground-and-pound guy while Alucard features more aerial attacks), though each uses the same main weapon and uses the same move list. The only real differences between the three are their subweapons and abilities, though even these function in largely the same way. This is incredibly disappointing and seems like a missed opportunity to differentiate the three characters and introduce some neat gameplay elements.

The trio of heroes share a common experience meter, though the system borders on meaningless. As far as I can tell, leveling doesn’t serve any meaningful purpose during gameplay. There may be some damage and defensive upgrades associated with character level, but neither is immediately noticeable. The upgrades that actually matter – health, magic, and subweapon uses – are found in the not-so-hidden areas of the castle. The two mechanics never coalesce into a meaningful system and serve as a further example of disjointed design decisions.

The only mechanic that seems to work is item upgrades. True to the Metroid-vania style games of the past, new items allow passage to new areas of the castle. I loved this aspect of the game and was excited about the prospects it presented to gameplay. Even more promising is the option to drop labeled markers on the map to help reduce aimless backtracking once you find new items. Neither element is pushed far enough to matter. Secret areas are hidden in plain sight and usually require little thought to reach. The markers are useful until you realize how linear levels actually are.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a game for fans and fans alone. There are a few neat ideas scattered throughout, but the approach to design feels more like a shotgun blast than concentrated fire.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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