Quickie Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate HD
Few franchises have had the staying power of Konami’s brilliant Castlevania, some 3D atrocities be damned. In fact, it was not until 2010′s apparent series reboot Lords of Shadow that a Castlevania game felt like it belonged outside of 2D gameplay at all. Of course, it had a host of its own issues as well, but the promise it showed and its amazing plot were more than enough to sell this jaded 2D aficionado.
When Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate (longest damn title ever) hit the 3DS in 2013 with a supposed return to “classic” Castlevania gameplay, I was a little put off. After playing what was apparently just a terrible demo full of QTEs and sluggish controls, I wrote the game off entirely as yet another shoddy modern attempt at classic gameplay. Now, with its big boy console HD port, I’m happy to say how wrong I was about the rest of the package.
It’s really quite amazing just how much removing QTEs and tightening up your control scheme can completely change your game. QTEs really have no place in gaming anymore, having worn out their welcome about halfway through God of War 8 years ago. With those annoying traits out of the way, Mirror of Fate was finally able to impress me with its cool 2.5D landscapes and fun whip-centric combat. It felt great to lash out at the game’s varying pack of skeletons, monsters, and excellent bosses and, true to its promise, it really brought me back to the days of Super Castlevania IV on the SNES.
Exploration feels similarly rewarding, with lots of upgrades and secret rooms scattered about the map for players to return to when new abilities are earned. As with its older peers and Metroid-Vania predecessors, Mirror of Fate constantly rewards backtracking with your new toys to see what you can find, which may actually be off-putting to some. All the same, the game never felt too punishing to make it through without these upgrades and more than enough were very obviously hidden, so casual approaches won’t be punished too severely. Rounding off the fun are some very well executed, fun puzzles that players will need to think their way through before progressing. A hint system is available for when you’re stuck, but thinking your way through it is of course the more rewarding route.
The game is split up into chapters, with each featuring a new member of the Belmont clan making their way to the inevitable confrontation with Dracula. It’s a pretty cool way to frame the game and tell its story, but I can’t help but feel like more focus on an individual character instead would have served the game much better, especially as some environments repeated themselves too often. Another gripe with this game is in its absolutely superfluous levelling system. It serves no real purpose aside from marking progress and teaching new skills (that it never bothers to point out to you), making it feel like a tacked on feature for the sake of a bullet point. All other character upgrades, including health and mana upgrades, are scattered throughout Drac’s castle in chests and carried over from character to character, so I’m really not sure why Mercury Steam felt the need to include this mechanic in the game.
Finally, while Mirror of Fate HD obviously doesn’t quite stack up to other HD games, it’s served very well with an amazing gothic art style and well executed animated cutscenes. Sound effects and music pack enough punch to satisfy, but it’s more than obvious at times that this soundtrack comes straight from the 3DS’ tinny speakers.
Even with a couple of nagging flaws and its status as yet another HD port, Mirror of Fate HD is easy to recommend to both long-time Castlevania nuts and new comers to the Lords of Shadow universe. It’s plenty fun and long enough to justify its $15 asking price.