It's tempting to assume that a new handheld Castlevania game bridging the gap between Lords of Shadow and its home-console sequel should be little more than a stopgap, something to remind you that the sub-franchise exists if not a real attempt to make something engaging.
But Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate comes from Mercury Steam themselves, makers of the "main games," and what we get in it is a fully featured Castlevania experience more in the vein of series entries of old than Lords of Shadow itself. It is, it turns out, a real game.
Whereas the hero of Lords of Shadow was Gabriel Belmont, Mirror of Fate reveals to us an epic tale of his son and grandson and the great Alucard himself -- how that works out, you'll have to find out on your own -- and while storytelling is rather minimal in this approximate dungeon-crawling experience, it gets to the point when it needs to.
Like its predecessor, Mirror of Fate is a hack-and-slasher, but it exists on a two-dimensional plane rather than in 3D. Mercury Steam, however, would refer to this title as 2.5D. As a 3DS game, that means it has a foreground and a background that you can perceive, even if you can only move left and right.
Even as a side-scroller, you'd be hard pressed to say that many other games have made as good use of the 3DS screen as Mercury Steam has here. You won't mistake Mirror of Fate for an HD game, but it is still quite beautiful on the small screen, and the 3D effects are robust. It was a pleasure to stare at this game for hours upon hours.
Mirror of Fate takes place in vertical dungeon segments in a castle, and it feels more like a true successor to the Castlevania name than Lords of Shadow because of that. You'll climb up and down and retrace your steps to new areas you could only examine before, and it almost ends up feeling like an open-world experience, even of it turns out to be fairly linear. The bottom 3DS screen is home to a map of sorts of the castle section you are currently in, and a red arrow always points to your exit point. Still, getting to that arrow is always an adventure, and platforming your way to those doors is as fun as it should be. Making your way through an area is never a cakewalk, and sometimes it can be downright difficult.
As you progress, of course, you'll face enemies that get in your way. Fighting is a standard button-mashing affair, but with some items, like axes, that you can throw to mix things up a bit. Each playable character, too, is unique from each other in their magical abilities. It's likely, though, that you won't find yourself having too much trouble with most encounters unless you crank up the difficulty to hard mode.
Boss battles, on the other hand, are a different story. These are uniformly fun and inventive, even if they can sometimes drag on for a bit longer than I would like. And some feature quick-time events, which are never fun when used sparingly like they are here. That said, I would usually get excited when I began a boss fight, because I knew they would challenge me. But they never become overwhelming. You may fail, but you'll know that victory is always within your grasp.
Mirror of Fate is no slouch, certainly, and those who thought Lords of Shadow perhaps strayed a bit further from the Castlevania path than it should have will be happier with this experience. This game melds old and new concepts into a game that is ultimately set apart from its peers, and if we have to grind through a stopgap between major franchise entries, I'm happy Mercury Steam put us through this experience. It was well worth the time I put into i
For the purposes of this review, I was provided with a physical copy of the game by the publisher's external PR agency.