Mirror of Fate invites a fair comparison to older Castlevania games like Aria of Sorrow, which made light of a somber premise with whip-smart heroes, Michiru Yamane's upbeat score and a crisp, unfurling map of interconnected rooms. Dracula's dire abode was buoyed by brisk exploration, by coloring in each room on the diagram and expanding your navigational knowledge as you went about the business of slaying monsters. The combat found complexity in a large variety of swords, lances, axes, maces and daggers, each of which offered simple, easily decipherable changes.
This trip through the horror catalogue curtails the equipment to the chain-whip "Combat Cross," brandished by Gabriel Belmont in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, as well as a small but powerful set of exhaustible sub-weapons. There's more interest in ferocious fighting than traversal, and a far greater demand for concentration and finger gymnastics than you might expect.
The basics of attack and defense are consistent across all four separately playable characters: Gabriel, Trevor and Simon of the Belmonts, and Alucard, the key figure connecting this game to the upcoming Lords of Shadow 2.
Mirror of Fate effectively flattens the fighting from Lords of Shadow to match the 2D perspective, making it a gripping game of attacking, blocking and rapid repositioning. A well-timed block connects to a counter-attack, while an evasive dash – on the ground or in the air – is crucial in guarding your health. The re-imagined creatures from Castlevania's creepy menagerie don't demand more than a mastery of the essentials, but they do punish lazy flailing.
Developer MercurySteam has done a tremendous job in bringing its technology to the 3DS. The color scheme may be too drab too often, and the polygonal presentation will age in an instant compared to the Dorian Gray of sprite-based Castlevania games, but push up the 3D slider and you suddenly feel very small in a big hall. The immense separation between foreground and background is worth it, provided your eyes don't mind the effect.
Unfortunately, it feels like the engine's accomplishments also undermine other, crucial aspects of the game. The game as a whole feels sluggish and leaden at times, with jumping and climbing seemingly weighed down by extra, inescapable gravity. Even when he transforms into a mist, Alucard is more chunk than hunk. The feeling dissipates whenever the framerate speeds up, but it must be tolerated for the most part.
Though the jumping, climbing and swinging may feel awkwardly moored by the engine and the dark atmosphere, this batch of Belmonts brings an appropriate heft to combat. As a challenging companion to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate is just about worth its weight in subtitles.
This review is based on a final downloadable version of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate for 3DS, provided by Konami.
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