Friday, January 3, 2014

BLTN Reviews: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate (3DS) Review

Our second review of 2014 is for a game that released back in March of last year for the Nintendo 3DS. Hence why our special review segment called "Better Late Than Never Reviews" is back. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate recently released on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners respectively. If that HD version is supposedly better than what is found on the 3DS, then Lords of Shadow fans will find a lot to love about it! Here's our review of the stereoscopic 3D version of Mirror of Fate!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,
Does Mirror of Fate Have It All?

With Castlevania: Lords of Shadow last generation, it was apparent that the developers at MercurySteam wished to separate their vision of Castlevania with the reputation the 20+ year-old series created for itself. With the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate (short titles be damned!), MercurySteam seems to be trying to piece their vision and the gameplay of the original Lords of Shadow in 2D for a more classic feeling. Does Mirror of Fate shine brightly, or does it have a crack or two in it?

You know the name, but this
isn't the same Simon Belmont.
Mirror of Fate is split up between three chapters, each featuring a different character to play as-- Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, and Alucard. While each character has a few unique abilities that are already available to them at the beginning of their respective chapters, you will be efficient in the art of whip-snapping quickly. Using the X and Y buttons, one for overhead attacks for enemies in the air and one for regular attacks for grounded foes. You'll be using these buttons and various combinations to create combos, as well as because many of the enemies in Mirror of Fate are a bit of the damage sponge variety. They generally take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.

Whip it! Whip it good!
Of course, an enemy won't just stand there, crawl there, or lie there taking your punishment. No, an enemy will give you comeuppance in the form of its own attacks. Light attacks from enemies can always be guarded, and with a well timed block you can use it to your advantage to deal a counter blow. However, when a part of a foe shines, that means they are about to use an attack that can't be guarded. Instead, you need to evade using the same shoulder button to shield yourself and either pushing the Circle Pad to the left or to the right. While one can simply mash the attack buttons to get their way through some encounters, using a combination of attacks, well timed blocks, and great evasion skills really enhance the experience and make battles feel more engaging and worthwhile. MercurySteam has successfully brought the combo-heavy combat system of Lords of Shadow on home consoles and made a fully realized version in 2D form with Mirror of Fate.

What comes in threes gets roughed up in threes.
Bosses are in healthy supply in Mirror of Fate. From hulking executioners to revived demons, there is little subtlety in the designs and confrontations here. Each boss has its own attack pattern to learn. However, what separates Mirror of Fate from classic Castlevania games is that these encounters need not be mastered. That's because there are multiple checkpoints in battles. Each time a boss' health meter lowers to a certain point, the game saves your progress. Upon death (and a subsequent loading screen), you are revived with a good helping of health to continue the battle.

I prefer classic times when mace wasn't a
thing that annoyed women sprayed in your face.
That's an issue that makes the latest Castlevania a breeze to play. There is an overabundance of checkpoints within the game. There's no real sense of consequence for death. While this might seem great at first, it severely lowers the overall difficulty. Fall off a cliff? That's okay. You'll just respawn a few feet away after a relatively brief loading screen. That's the extent of Mirror of Fate's fury. It basically follows the modern game design approach of making the game more accessible to as many players as possible, yet it is not for the better in this case. It basically feels like a dumbed down version of Castlevania, even having tutorial messages pop up for the umpteenth time, as if the player could forget how to evade after doing it 600 times already. That said, that doesn't detract totally from the game. It's still a rather good time.

Mirror of Fate doesn't offer the same level of Metroid-style exploration as some of the more popular games in the series possess (i.e. the Eastern ones). There are multiple areas to embark in throughout Dracula's castle grounds, and there are abilities to earn that unlock new areas and secrets to reach. The difference is that there isn't as much in the way of backtracking and that Mirror of Fate's game world is much more fragmented, as there are three characters to play as throughout the game. The characters do share some common ground in Dracula's castle to explore, but most characters journey through uncharted territory.

Areas really are well designed in the artistic sense.
That isn't to say that Mirror of Fate's sense of exploration is much worse than post Symphony of the Night games-- it's just different. Learning new abilities like being able to swing from grapple points with a character's whip, double jumping, and dashing are enjoyable and open up the game world to satisfactory levels. This is important in acquiring optional content such as bestiary pages, scrolls from fallen past heroes, and treasures containing upgrades to health, magic, and ammunition for sub-weapons such as chucking holy crosses at baddies. Other exploration consists of careful precision jumping and climbing specially highlighted ledges.

I think the body is supposed to be detached if
you're trying to do that Hamlet/Yorick scene...
The camera in Mirror of Fate is rather dynamic. Occasionally moving slightly behind the shoulder of a Belmont or Alucard in battle or zooming out to present a sense of scale, such as when Trevor Belmont approaches the drawbridge of Dracula's castle. There were a few times where the camera would be focused on an enemy encounter when instead I simply wanted to retreat or simply pass by them. I would be on the extreme left or right side of the screen, not knowing what was ahead until the camera fixed itself.

A behind the shoulder view presents
a cool perspective for some encounters.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate is definitely one of the most ambitious Nintendo 3DS games currently on the market. It features some breathtaking views, highly detailed characters and backgrounds, and a fully orchestrated soundtrack-- though the latter holds no candle to classic Castlevania tunes. Lovely cel-shaded cutscenes appear throughout the game, complete with proper voice acting to go along with them. It's really hard to say that MercurySteam didn't do a terrific job with the presentation of Mirror of Fate, so I'm not even going to try to say it!

At first glance it might seem that MercurySteam made a Castlevania game that seriously attempted to merge the 3D style of Lords of Shadow with classic 2D Castlevania games to one incredibly satisfying end product. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate isn't exactly that, but it's not horrible by any means. In fact, I would dare argue that it's a very capable 2D hack-and-slash action game with some well done platforming elements to it. Those wanting a rebirth of Symphony of the Night or Dawn of Sorrow should look elsewhere, but those who enjoyed what MercurySteam had to offer on consoles with the original Lords of Shadow and like 2D side-scrollers with great production values will find Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate a nice proposition.

[SPC Says: 7.5/10]

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