Tech News on G4
Mar 20, 2013
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
It seems as if Spanish developer Mercurysteam is cursed to face something even more terrifying than Dracula himself, and that is the wrath of devotees of the storied Castlevania series.
Mercurysteam has taken the reigns of a reboot of sorts for Castlevania, creating a trilogy represented by the "Lords of Shadow" subtitle. The first entry was released for home consoles in 2010, and a sequel to that title is set to come out later in 2013. The game that connects those two is the new Nintendo 3DS exclusive, "Mirror of Fate."
The Lords of Shadows games prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Konami is eager to open a new chapter in the Castlevania franchise, and leave the games of the past ... in the past. The focus on games these days, generally speaking, is on more action, and you can be sure that's what's on display in the new games. To compare Lords of Shadow to the God of War series would not be unfair.
Mirror of Fate does hearken back to old Castlevania games in that it is a 2D side scrolling adventure set in a castle, with plenty of werewolves, skeletons, and other beasts at every turn.
That said, there's much less focus on finding secrets, which has always been a big part of those old titles in the series. The unfortunate thing is, while the game starts and ends wonderfully, the meat in this game is more pre-packaged bologna, and less delicious pot roast.
Mirror of Fate is split up into three acts, with the player controlling a different character in each. Despite featuring different protagonists in the vampire-hunting Belmont clan, the game plays essentially the same regardless of who is on screen.
It's a smart move by Mercurysteam, for reasons that are twofold: first, it would become frustrating powering up a character over several hours, only to have all his powers taken away, and it makes playing the game easier, as the list of moves and combos become quite numerous by the time the end credits start rolling.
That said, each act does see the player finding new items to help set the protagonists apart, whether it's a new magic spell, or a secondary item that can be used as support in the heat of battle.
Speaking of which, there are plenty of beasts you'll take on as you traverse Dracula's castle. You'll be attacked by everything from lowly hunchbacks, to minibosses such as the executioner, to bosses such as the Daemon Lord and of course, Dracula.
While combat feels good, there are moments when the character being controlled just doesn't seem to move fast enough to avoid attacks that can be seen coming a mile away. As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of moves that open up as you increase levels by killing enemies and earning the XP they leave behind, but learning a couple of moves and sticking with them throughout the game should suffice for most enemies.
Many of the more imposing enemies can and often must be finished by pulling off quick time events - another clear influence from the God of War series. Some people certainly hate QTE's, but in Mirror of Fate, they usually only pop up after a long battle that takes some strategy to complete, so it doesn't feel cheap.
These QTE's also fit well with Mirror of Fate's top-notch production values. The game may technically be a side-scroller, but the environments are often presented in 3D as they move around, making it look like the camera itself is turning at an angle. The views are often pulled back for the sake of viewing a sweeping vista such as the entrance to the castle, while things become much more intimate and close-up when taking on a single enemy.
The 3D effects only add to the stunning graphics; they're used well, managing to somehow blend into the background except at certain moments, for example, during a cut scene where the player's whip seemingly comes flying toward their face.
Add in a truly grand score and some great voice work, and you have yourself a game on a handheld that has production values that far exceed those of many titles on home consoles. Certainly no small feat.
As easy as it is to be blinded by how gorgeous Mirror of Fate is, the game does leave something to be desired. By the second act, enemies begin to feel far too similar, not in how they look, but in how they act, and how easily they can be defeated. Yes, there are some new minibosses that are introduced later on, but it's not enough to forget about the whip fodder that respawns every time you re-enter a room.
And that's another glaring issue with Mirror of Fate - the wait time while moving from one room on the map to another becomes quite grating. Loading takes just long enough that it could easily make you want to avoid backtracking for secret items.
There's also a note-writing mechanic that allows you to scribble messages to yourself at points on the map where you find an item you clearly won't be able to acquire until you earn a new power. It's a neat little gimmick, but unfortunately, it's not fully realized. The main issue is that the majority of secret items you spot behind a locked door or at an unreachable vertical distance are automatically marked on the map with a question mark, making writing a note at the same spot moot. Interestingly, the keyboard offered up when writing a note doesn't even allow symbols - such as question marks.
Beyond the combat, there are a few puzzles added into the mix - the majority of them during the second act - that feel forced in. They slow the pace of the game down, and don't feel as organic - or as interesting - as they do in a series like God of War.
Of course, there's platforming, but that too starts off feeling wonderfully tight, but falls off the rails as the levels become more abstract. Even by game's end, it's not easy telling just how far your character can fall without dying, and like the load screens that pop up as you travel from room to room, having to wait for the game to load after repeatedly failing at a particular platforming section will test the nerves of even the most patient gamer.
Still, checkpoints are added in very liberally throughout the game, including during the multi-stage boss fights. It's a fine line a developer has to tread between making a title that's annoyingly difficult, and one that's embarrassingly easy, and Mercurysteam seems to sway between the former and the latter, rarely finding the proper balance.
Mirror of Fate has the unenviable task of being the second chapter in a trilogy, which many people often consider the one that has no real beginning or end. The story doesn't feel that way though. It intersperses two characters' plotlines, showing both vantage points within the castle, as well as a third act that delves deeper into the history of the Belmont family.
It's difficult to live up to a series as storied as Castlevania's, but Mirror of Fate does a very good job of setting itself apart from its predecessors, even if it's a predecessor mostly in name.
Mirror of Fate is an above average Castlevania adventure for the 21st century. Although it's part of a trilogy, here's hoping for another handheld game somewhere down the line, one that offers more compelling gameplay to go along with spectacular production values.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate
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