Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate
The latest Castlevania adventure is a 3DS exclusive, and part two of the Lords of Shadow trilogy being created by MercurySteam and Konami.
The Castlevania franchise began a very long time ago, but I only recently got into it. In the last couple of weeks, I went back to 2010's Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (LoS) and played through the main campaign (I have yet to play the two DLC packs). This was in anticipation of reviewing Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate, the sequel that features the infamous Belmont family and continues the story of the first adventure.
I found Mirror of Fate's story a little bit hard to follow, but it acts as a appetizer for the "full blown" sequel to LoS coming out this Fall. In Mirror of Fate, we're shown early on that Marie, the deceased wife of Gabriel, had a son that Gabriel never knew about. Some elders of the Brotherhood of Light advised Marie to keep this child's existence hidden from Gabriel, or he too would succumb to the darkness. The story jumps back and forth a few times while players traverse Dracula's enormous castle as three different playable characters. Several, if not most, areas are re-visited with the different characters. Each character plays similarly to the others, but they have unique secondary weapons and magic abilities. Without trying to give away too much, each has some form of defensive and offensive magic, i.e., light and shadow magic. Secondary weapons are all projectile or ranged, and include a bladed boomerang, explosive jars, electric shock "grenades," and throwing axes. Magic abilities include an auto-blocking spirit, the ability to shift through walls and enemies (stealing some of their health), and being able to turn into a powerful wolf, amongst other abilities.
Seeing the stories of the three characters intertwine is pretty cool, and in one case you actually have two characters battling Gabriel at the same time (although at this point the CPU controls one of them). Besides sharing the same goal -- killing Dracula -- you also maintain a common Level and skill set, as well as health and magic meter. In other words, you begin the game with Trevor at Level 1, and when the second and third Acts begin, your current Level and upgrades are carried across to the next playable character. Hidden chests located across the castle contain upgrades to the length of your health and magic meters, as well as the total amount of secondary ammo you can carry. Multiple play-throughs are advisable as one character's abilities can open a path for another character, but during the course of the story you cannot switch between them at will.
One cool feature to help you keep track of your progress and to help you locate where things are when you revisit an area is the map. The map, displayed in the lower screen, has icons for teleporters, health and magic fonts, and objective and exit arrows. However, players can, at their discretion, drop in an icon that represents a note. When you drop a note icon into the map, a text box pops up so that you can write yourself a reminder. For example, while playing as Trevor, I would note that certain areas need the "CX" -- my abbreviation for the Combat Cross, which Trevor does not use (he has a whip instead). Other times I would note "SD" for "strange door," that I didn't know what I needed to get before I could open it. Still other times, "LJ" for "long jump," one of the last abilities that you unlock. I appreciate that MercurySteam made it not only worthwhile to revisit areas after your first play-through, but also made it much more efficient and less frustrating to find those specific points you are trying to get to, thanks to the note system. By finding all of the secrets, a special bonus cutscene is unlocked, too.
As far as gameplay goes, if you have played Lords of Shadow, you will feel right at home. Mirror of Fate is a 2D (with 3D backgrounds) action platformer with puzzles. There aren't as many combos, special moves, monsters, or puzzles, but there are still a good number of them. Unlocking additional abilities is also done in a near-scripted manner too, as when you level up, a single new ability is unlocked. You do not choose what abilities to purchase. As far as the monsters, a few of them make a return from the original game, and the Bestiary is as cool as ever. Accessible from the main menu, the Bestiary is your encyclopedia of the monsters whose Bestiary Entry icon you have discovered (finding this is pretty easy and generally just requires a minor platforming feat). The monsters are all viewable in 3D, including the ability to rotate them, which I thought was neat. Other similarities include quick time events on bosses, finding travel logs of fallen Brotherhood of Light warriors, and puzzles that require some noggin scratching.
One pretty interesting difference in gameplay I noted with Mirror of Fate is that there are some underwater sequences requiring you to swim. I don't remember any underwater gameplay in Lords of Shadow, but I may be mistaken. Regardless, it's a nice plus to Mirror of Fate and gives areas like the Abandoned Mines more intrigue. Other minor notes: there are no more "You can't carry any more x" messages that I saw too often in LoS, and you do not have to hold down a button to pull in the orbs (magic, XP) around you. This is probably more of a platform-specific difference due to the controls of the 3DS rather than a change to what we'll see in LoS 2 this Fall, though. They did however also drop the 'concentric white circles' quick time event cue, which may be again a design decision since this is on 3DS, or it could be something that we'll also no longer see in LoS 2. Oh, and one goofy design that I noted was the inclusion of these massive, pushable yet indestructible crates that help you traverse areas at times (such as the caverns at the start). I just found it really odd -- and frankly lazy in terms of creative design -- that the developers decided to drop in these massive, awkward crates every now and then that you have to grab a hold of and shove around. You use these to hop onto so that you can reach higher areas, but, what the heck is a mint condition, gigantic crate doing in the middle of some underground caves?
The presentation quality of Mirror of Fate is excellent. While the character's mouths do not move in cutscenes, the voice acting is really good. The music chimes in nicely, and effects are also good. I was actually a bit relieved not to hear Gabriel's grunts from LoS that were especially apparent during climbing scenes. The 3D effects are really great -- the first several levels showcase these very well. I played probably eighty percent of the game in 3D, but some puzzles and during some tougher combat parts, I turned the 3D off. For the puzzles, it was a matter of having to stare at the same screen for a while that made me turn it off. For the tougher combat scenes, I turned 3D off because I found myself moving my 3DS just enough during the intense combat that I was distorting the 3D effect.
With that, let's get to the summary...