The underworld’s lust for power and mortal domination continues its tradition on Big N’s newest handheld. This glass-less 3D experience comes with some delightful moments within gameplay and story, but that’s not to say that it was all whips and demons.
You’re cast as the Belmonts, Gabriel, Trevor and Simon; as well as Alucard, though, Gabriel is short lived, leaving three main acts for the latter trio. Fate, it would seem, doesn’t quite favor our protagonists as the story paints a twisted and cyclical tale that doesn’t go beyond the surface of the folklore. Unfortunately, while the story remained engaging, it left me desiring more, this is large in part due being an ardent fan of Dracula mythology. As for the essence of Castlevania’s narrative, LOSMOF sticks to the core elements with solid voice acting, despite the awkward wonky-to-zero mouth articulation. It threw me off so much that early on I thought, “are they speaking telepathically?”
Though the plot is easily deciphered, with a predictable ending to boot, CLOSMOF still delivers an interesting tale that certainly has it’s place in Castlevania lore.
Mirror of Fate detracts from previous Castlevania handheld entries and harkens back to older titles. This is good and bad, which I’ll explain later. Direct attacks (Y button) hone in on single foes, while area attacks (X button) prove conducive to multiple enemies. Coupled with this is blocking and synchronized blocking (L button), the latter resulting in counter-attack opportunities. LOSMOF also implements magic and projectiles, granting each character their own set.
Basic attacks along with magic and throwing weapons can all be strung together - or in the case of magic, overlapped - for a series of offensive combos and defense. Outside of the fundamental combat instructions, you’re free to mix and match these skills in anyway you can think of, granted if the skill is unlocked. This open ended system requires no complicated understanding in execution and is all a bit too cinchy. That’s not to say you can button mash your way through the campaign, because enemies do strike back, though spend more time in stationary animations.
There is player progression throughout the game that unlocks more moves and abilities; the good part is this carries over to each character you undertake, the bad part is magic and projectiles (remember each hero has their own set) don’t. Just when the shock-bomb and electric boomerang become staples in your arsenal, you begin a new act in the story arc, which means a new character - thus you no longer have these items. Between projectiles and magic alone, you cough up 4 skills with each character transition. This for me not only depreciates the depth of skills normally found within Castlevania titles, even handheld iterations, but proved counter productive to player progression. Yes, your offensive repertoire transfers over, but they’re the same moves across the board, including animations - which diminished any individualization between each hero.
The aforementioned shortcomings did at times take a backseat to the game’s positives. For instance, stunning enemies opens them up for grabs (R button) or finishers. Each character and enemy have their own style of enders. Some involve breaking necks, or in Alucard’s case, ripping into their necks. It’s very satisfying to pull off and the game is generous with these opportunities. Also fun were boss battles. Their attack patterns were a breeze, but every dark lord when nearing defeat comes with a series of QTE (quick time events), which I’ve been a fan of since Shenmue. They vary in difficulty and present some impressive cinematic moments. The only demerit on boss battles was the final boss, who for me, was the easiest to thwart.
Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia all suffered from clone syndrome, while gameplay mechanics and story set them apart, one couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance in graphical fidelity. Castlevania Lord of Shadow Mirror of Fate houses no such hindrance. To be blunt, the game looks fantastic on 3DS. Animations are groovy and cutscenes have a smooth cel shaded look that doesn’t take away from the ingame art style.
Dracula’s castle boasts some detailed rooms with debris, gargoyles and statues, but where LOS’s visuals really shine is within 3DS’s 3D functionality. I had it turned on throughout the entirety of my playthrough and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The rooms come alive with the extra pop in depth. Cinematics and QTE battles all benefit from this ocular treat and never disappoint.
Enemy models were cloned a few times, but bosses had a distinct look with a commanding presence on screen. Who doesn’t love an all powerful boss that appears larger than life? If your eyes can handle glassless 3D then do yourself a favor and turn the slider up when playing this game.
Audio is superb with an orchestrated prowess that is very fitting during down moments and action. It all hits and adds to mood, atmosphere and overall pacing.
Castlevania: Lord of Shadow Mirror of Fate is far from perfect, but has some honorable nods in its corner. Its daring design choices don’t always pan out, and unfortunately the gameplay suffers from this, but it does have strong visuals and if you’re a fan of the series and in need of a fresh take on the franchise, albeit handheld style, then CLOSMOF may be your cup of tea. As for me, I hope the next entry learns from this title, granting something with more depth and refinement. A Castlevania that promotes player progression, without unnecessary hurdles. The narrative does its part, but expansions wouldn’t hurt it either. Boss brawls are a delight, even if different from what you’re used to on a Nintendo handheld. While this game is not a total failure or success, there’s still something left to be desired. Here’s to the future.
Final Score: 6.5