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Holding on to a legacy of over two decades is a tricky situation that befalls multiple Nintendo classics. Games such as the Mario series are constantly pulled between an attempt to innovate their product and staying true to what made them so popular in the first place. No matter what the decision, these titles come under heavy scrutiny by its community. Konami has the same problem with Casltevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Perhaps this adventure classic with a ridiculous double tagline gets it even worse, as it’s partially responsible for an entire genre dubbed “metroidvania” games.
With the Lords of Shadow tangent, the series has already moved away from the static side-scrolling era it once had. Instead, this series takes notes from modern classics like God of War with swift and sweeping combat and exaggerated traits. Still, Mirror of Fate tries to marry the two worlds together by going back to side-scrolling its locations. However, this Nintendo 3DS exclusive widens its scope by skewing the space into 2.5D, a genre that offers 2D platforming in a 3D environment. With angled camera shots, the play area widens out, as if the hero Belmont isn’t just moving left to right but also from front to back.
More so than the camera shots, which also snap in and out for dramatic effect, it’s the use of foreground and background elements that truly divides the space to give a sense of depth. Big cathedral settings show the breadth of their structures by having pillars in front of Belmont, arches in his back and additional walls behind those. When all these panels shift in direction in unison, the view angle offers a new background arrangement with each movement. This makes it seem as if there is a living space where the hero resides in. Stunningly, this effect is presented without even the use of the 3D slider, which merely enhances what is already there. In that aspect, Mirror of Fate has absolutely nailed its illusion of grandeur.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the dark color schemes. A somber atmosphere isn’t unfitting; rather, the lack of all contrast between different sections and characters makes it tough to maneuver in the world. Platforms are tough to spot, monsters blend in with the walls and so on. When something like a clear overview is critical in a game that supports itself on its exploration, not being able to spot a path immediately is a needless waste of time. Further issues can be found in the stiff animations of characters that clash with the fast combat pace and action sequences. Belmont is the worst offender in this notion, with sluggish movements and hampered, near broken animation cycles. For instance, when latching a chain to a grapple point, the animation shoots back to a predefined path without finding a transition cycle. One moment Belmont is there and the next he is gone. What a conflicting marriage between breathtaking art design and dreadful execution.
While any Castlevania is balanced largely on its atmosphere, there are also hordes of undead that block the player from his overall goal. Equipped with a trusty whip, Belmont can beat the undead into submission with a series of strikes. In order to survive incoming attacks, he can also block or roll out of harm’s way. Rolling is configured on the same side as movement, which makes it tricky to perform it well. Belmont will also receive additional weapons, like a throwing star, to diversify combat. Since these special items come with limited ammunition, it’s wise to keep them for where it truly counts and find more creative ways to fight foes in tough to reach places.
Sadly, there isn’t much more to it than that. Combat is straightforward most of the time, even when different enemy types appear. For instance, some foes will wear shields, but those require only waiting for their patterns to sync. There is no active participation demanded from the player. In other instances, enemies will suddenly appear in Belmont’s back, but that simply means moving from one attack button to the next for the same effect. Now, Castlevania never had intriguing combat, but as its exploration is already stunted, it needs to make up for it elsewhere. It doesn’t. There are blips when it tries with ideas that have already been driven into the ground. Boss fights follow the same phoned in patterns, even complete with prompts to evade. To win, the player has to start a quick time event and complete it successfully. This passive stance in the action doesn’t yield any satisfaction upon completion. It’s merely the next event in line that has been completed, before the other one needs to be done. Mirror of Fate feels like work, not like a pastime.
To come back to the scrutiny argument, this is partially the game’s issue. It tries to bring a new game into the present day with antiquated gameplay elements. Health shrines appear in static areas, but replenish if the area is left, so they’re highly exploitable and just waste time. Another part in an underground dungeon sees Belmont pull a switch on one part of the level to backtrack and race to a door at the other side of the area. However, with the lack of contrast and slow animations, this trial takes much longer than it needs to be, which is frustrating. It shoehorns a backtracking element that would otherwise be present in this genre organically.
Still, to be fair, there are redeeming factors that could save Mirror of Fate of oblivion. For instance, said backtracking is promoted with magical items dropped around a level that require the right gadgets to unlock. For example, an enticing chest is locked behind a door that needs to be infused with black magic, but our hero doesn’t necessarily already own this power. If he wants that additional loot, he’ll have to return with the proper tools. That’s where beating down hordes gets a glimpse of interest, since it contributes to a gain of experience that unlocks new skills and such. Hopefully it will be worth the effort down the line, because so far there isn’t a lot to enjoy about this game.
We’re breaching for impact with what we’ve seen in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate so far. Even if it has an expertly created theatrical vibe, its outdated elements and sloppy animations within will need a ton of work in order to engage its players. As said in the beginning: It’s incredibly hard to balance integrity and renewal at the same time. This adventure might teeter on the wrong side of this thin line.