By: Justin Redmon
So, it’s looking like 3DS to HD ports are starting to become a thing now, with Castlevania: LoS: Mirror of Fate making the jump to Xbox Live Arcade. While I don’t consider myself a hardcore fan of the Castlevania series, I couldn’t help but take some interest in Mirror of Fate, both for its return to a side-scrolling perspective and the possibility of another Metroidvania-esque title to run through. Mercury Steam put a lot of work in taking their handheld experience and bringing it to the big screen, but the real question is whether or not is was worth the effort.
There’s a lot here that harkens back to older Castlevania titles, while the 2-D setting makes it all noticeably more reminiscent of those times. With these titles came an expectation of tight and reliable controls, and unfortunately Mirror of Fate falls short. Movement in general feels sluggish, making everything from dodging in combat to basic platforming feel unreliable — to the point that even near the end the game I was missing basic jumps due to the floaty controls.
Combat also has a serious problem with enemy’s stun attacks locking you into repeated hits, and although it’s less of a problem during basic fights, boss battles see this occurring far too often to ignore, as well as one section involving dodging objects on a spinning carousel.
In the port to the 360, a lot of the game’s looks got overhauled as well. Cut scenes look particularly impressive with a full motion cel-shaded style, and though most of the environments come off as just generic castle, there’s still a lot of detail to make exploration a little better than the standard fare.
However, Castlevania seems to drop the ball in nearly every other aspect though, from the voice acting to the character animations. Enemy variety seems to suffer greatly as well, and though there seems to be a few types to throw around, most areas never really seem to switch it up past one type, and you’ll quickly grow tired of them.
Although environments look decent enough, there seems to be something up with the lighting in game that causes areas to appear extremely dark, even with the brightness setting cranked, so visibility can sometimes be a problem.
Castlevania: Mirror of Fate acts as a side story to the events of Lords of Shadow and Lords of Shadow 2, and though it might have seemed like a good idea, it ends up making the entire adventure sort of a throwaway entry into the overarching story of the main games. Mirror of Fate plays like a hybrid of Castlevania new and old, merging sprawling, grid-based level design with the action-oriented combat and platforming of Lords of Shadow — albeit with the light and dark combat mechanic replaced with character-specific magic and usable items dependent upon which of three characters you’re playing as.
Probably the thing that most excited me from this entry was a possible return to Metroidvania style of exploration past titles had, or at the very least, a competent and worthwhile experience, but when all the mechanics and ideas presented start interacting, things quickly start to clash.
First and foremost, exploration is a tedious slog. Everything you do in this game feels so slow and drawn out. Even making something as simple as jumping a small gap feel like a leap of faith, even more so with the seemingly constant insta-death traps that show up. There’s more deliberate climbing and swinging from chains, but nothing feels particularly good about the exploration, especially when taken into account the amount of steam spewing vents and crouch walk passages you have to traverse.
While the overarching level setup seems to favor a Metroidvania style, it’s completely butchered by its implementation, as instead of one sprawling environment that you get to explore at your leisure, the castle is chopped into separated zones. And these zones ultimately end up feeling like linear straight lines above all else. This type of design is actually reinforced through the terrible rewards you get for backtracking; in past games you’d get something like an awesome weapon or equipment item, now you only get a health or magic upgrade, or at worst a bestiary entry. You won’t want anything to do with exploring, so you’ll choose instead to power through each zone, although the clunky platforming makes that a pain as well.
The only possible saving grace to this experience would be the combat, but unfortunately that falls short as well. It basically plays like the Lords of Shadow combat thrown into the 2-D plane, but it lacks the variety or finesse to make it enjoyable. That means you’ll just find yourself spamming the same attacks over and over until enemies die. There’s really not much to look forward to in this game.
Boss battles? Most are pretty terrible wars of attrition due to the horrible dodge system and stun locking problems, not to mention all the QTEs. Puzzles? Sure, hope you enjoy all two of them, both easily completed within two minutes. Switching between three characters? Each character plays exactly the same aside from their magic and sub items, and since each is feeding into the same overarching story, the experience loses a lot of the punch and drama it tries to work for since you know how it all plays out from a previous character.
Mirror of Fate takes some of the old and some of the new, and mixes them together into a conglomeration that lacks sufficient substance from either to be enjoyable.