It's really hard to believe that we're just three years away from the 30th anniversary of the Castlevania franchise. The series had humble beginnings back on the NES, with a simply designed – yet highly unforgettable – presentation and classic gameplay that would open up a new era for the folks at Konami, which would also include Contra, Gradius and several other favorites.
Over the years, the series has seen substantial growth in both gameplay and tone, with deeper storylines woven into the overall battle with the evil Dracula, the introduction of various new heroes (and not-so-expected characters, like Drac's own son Alucard), higher presentation standards (especially in the PS1 classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) and, eventually, a transition from 2D to 3D, which was a little rough at first (we're looking at you, Castlevania 64 on Nintendo 64), but eventually found its groove when MercurySteam and Kojima Productions teamed up for Castlevania: Lord of Shadow in 2010.
While we await the long-anticipated sequel, Lords of Shadow 2, for arrival sometime later this year on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Konami has something to keep us busy in the meantime with the spin-off chapter Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. First announced in May 2012, Mirror was intended to be a high-definition game for consoles, before producer David Cox and his team opted to bring it to Nintendo's handheld. It looks like it was a rough decision, but one owners of the 3DS have come to appreciate since the game's release.
And Mirror of Fate is really something special in the lexicon, as it manages to merge together the best of both worlds – something new for current fans of the franchise to embrace, while also possessing the kind of "retro" content that many have grown up with from the NES, SNES and Sega Genesis days. Here now are just a few things that should help you take notice of this fun little off-shoot…
It's Got Action, But Also Smarts
Like some of the better Castlevania games out there, Mirror of Fate requires a bit of puzzle solving along with its action. There are times that you'll need to figure out how to get somewhere (mostly by swinging on hooks or backtracking), and though it's not painstakingly hard to figure it out, you'll need to do a little bit of thinking. Exploration has become a vital part of certain Castlevania games, ever since Symphony of the Night perfected it back in 1997. (However, some games, like Castlevania the Adventure on the Wii Virtual Console, rely on old-fashioned action.)
The Return of the Epic Bosses
One big part of Castlevania games over the years have been the showdowns with particular boss characters, whether it was a giant bat looming in the hallways in the original Castlevania, the Grim Reaper trying to deliver his business in Symphony, or, as of late, a giant ice beast attempting to pummel you in Lords of Shadow. Mirror of Fate has no shortage of big boss characters that require taking down. And, like in Lords of Shadow, you have to wear them down then finish them by hitting a precision hit to deliver the final blow. Anything less, and they could get back up and put pressure on you.
Though we would've liked to have seen more classic characters come back into the fold, Mirror of Fate has enough great bosses to go around.
Back To 2D
Though Lords of Shadow (and its forthcoming sequel) manage to get the "Castlevania in 3D" process right (where the N64 games and, to some extent, the PS2/Xbox games have slightly faltered), there's something about playing a game in the 2D realm that's just right. After all, we grew up with that style between the NES Castlevania games, Super Castlevania IV, Symphony and so forth.
But with Mirror of Fate, the developers pull off a nice trick. It's 2D, but it's also 3D. Think of it as a 2.5-D layout, similar to Namco's Klonoa games, where you're going through what appears to be a 3D world, but you're primarily moving around from left to right, hitting enemies and occasionally exploring an off area. There is some 3D-ness to the gameplay in terms of the combos you put together and going from platform time to time, but to see the series return to its traditional 2D roots – even with fancy 3D imagery – is a nice touch that everyone can appreciate. Also, the game doesn't look bad with the 3D on the 3DS turned on, although the regular visuals are just fine as well.
Faces From the Past
Finally, in spite of the new Lords of Shadow whip-combo gameplay and puzzle solving, Mirror of Fate definitely has the old-school in mind when it comes to the heroes you get to play as. Simon Belmont, who was introduced wayyyyyy back in the original Castlevania (he holds up well for his age), makes his return here. In addition, Trevor Belmont (Simon's dad, and the son of Lords of Shadow hero-soon-to-be-villain Gabriel) also returns here, fresh from Castlevania III and other games. And, finally, you've got Alucard, who, if you recall, tore up plenty of his father's demons in Symphony of the Night.
Though we won't spoil too much of the story behind the game just yet (we're saving that for a future Spoiler Alert), we will say that each man plays his part in the story tremendously, and MercurySteam has done a good job maintaining the tone of each hero, so that they represent themselves in a similar manner as they have in prior games. So Simon acts like Simon – whip and all – and so forth.
Mirror of Fate manages to carry over some of the modern touches from Lords of Shadow, but does so in a 2D environment with characters we can relate to. And do we even need to mention how good the music is? Vintage Castlevania, all the way. Now if only we could get that sequel to Symphony of the Night…
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is available now.