PLATFORM: Nintendo 3DS
PRICE: $29.99
DEVELOPER: Mercury Steam

Castlevania, despite one of gaming’s most venerable and longest running franchises, has sure went through some hard times during the last few console generations; while the series’ classic spirit and gameplay managed to live on through several excellent releases on portable platforms (Gameboy Advance, DS and PSP),   incursions on home consoles after the masterpiece that was  Symphony of the Night on the original Playstation were either mediocre (the N64 Castlevanias) or just good enough (Lament of Innocence, Curse of Darkness on PS2/Xbox). Lords of Shadow came out of literally nowhere, being developed by Spanish newcomers Mercury Steam, with legendary gaming master Hideo Kojima backing the project creatively through his own studio.

Fans of the franchise (like myself) were shocked and then worried to learn the game was essentially a reboot of the series, set in a more realistic dark fantasy setting, and trading the classic gameplay for what seemed to be another God of War cloning attempt, yet upon release, the gaming world was meet with a downright fantastic game, with marvelous visuals and alluring design that seemed right out of Guillermo del Toro’s personal visualization scrapbooks. The gameplay switch managed to finally make Castlevania feel right, yet classic on a 3D plane. The clincher was a grandiose storyline and gothic script, elevated sky high by a top of the line voice cast, which included Patrick Stewart, Robert Carlyle and Jason Isaacs, ending with a gut punch of an epilogue, which left fans ecstatic over a sequel. While that sequel is to hit by year’s end, Mercury Steam went ahead to make their debut on the 3DS with a bridge game of sorts, leaving everyone wondering if they could pull out such a miracle once again.

In a bold move, Mirror of Fate is both a direct sequel to Lords of Shadows and a prequel to its upcoming sequel, yet it dares expand the lore and story of this re-imagined Castlevania series with a multilayered narrative focusing on three protagonists. As revealed by the game’s introduction, Gabriel Belmont, protagonist of the first game, had fathered a son whose existence was kept secret from by both his own wife and the Brotherhood of Light to which he belonged, in order to spare the child from his father’s dark fate. Raised in secret, the child became Trevor, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, who, upon learning of his cursed lineage, leaves his own wife and son Simon, to confront his past and purge his family from the sins of his father, yet he never returned. Following the death of his mother and the razing of the Brotherhood by Dracula’s forces, Simon grows among wild mountain people, and upon reaching adulthood, leaves whip in hand to follow his father’s footsteps, avenge the loss and cleanse the curse that Dracula has enforced upon him, not knowing that a mysterious vampire known as Alucard has also set his sights on killing Dracula for his own reasons, leading to a tale were fate takes all three protagonists to dark, unavoidable destinies.

Once again Mercury Steam took a huge gamble on designing a game’s gameplay, and while not as successful as their previous effort, you can’t help admire their ambition here. While they sought to keep the traditional 2D plattforming  of the Castlevania series origins, they also decided to try and implement other elements that have been added to the series formula through its long story. The extensive castle map of Symphony of the Night, the use of character specific abilities from Dracula’s Curse, and even the combo based attack mechanics of Lords of Shadow are all here, but, unfortunately, the end result has little bite and reeks of “too many ingredients in the recipe”. Controlling three different characters through each chapter of the game is rendered a bit moot as they all share the same move set (and there’s little point or fun in using flashy combat moves in a 2D plane) and only differ in special abilities. The extensive map has few secrets or special locations, while revisiting old areas with new characters only gives access to chests that provide extensions to sub weapon capacity, life, and magic. It feels like Castlevania, but the mixture of so many different gameplay features end up making the game feel actually dated and hollow, thus ending up with just solid, classic gameplay instead of any new ideas that take advantage of the 3DS tech or capabilities. Finally, the implementation of  quick time events during boss fights ends up being a chore more than a challenge, especially with automated checkpoints at each QTE, making them feel more like padding than a way to make cinematic sequences somewhat interactive.

However, what Mirror of Fate lacks in gameplay it more than makes up in visuals and sound. The depth effect and stage design make playing with the 3D slider maxed a delight, and there’s enough visual variety in enemies and stages to make a playthrough exciting enough; the music department is right there with its predecessor in terms of quality, but the limited number of tracks makes repetition get on the nerves, especially during backtracking. The cinematics are presented in a cel shaded style. The script leaves several plotholes and unanswered questions,  but excellent vocal performances once again elevate the material, as a returning Robert Carlyle is joined by Alec Newman as Simon (from Sci-Fi’s Dune series) and Richard “King In The North” Madden as Trevor.

With little replay here, as getting every secret only nets you an extra epilogue that few will find worth of the effort, and there’s little point in replaying the game on an extra hard difficulty setting,  as it doesn’t enhance or provide any new challenges or elements to the game. This makes the game worth playing for fans of the series and those interested in expanding the lore of the Lords of Shadow universe, but the odd and uneven gameplay provides little excitement to entice casual players. Unless you need something to sate the wait for Lords of Shadow 2, there’s too little bite and not enough fresh blood  in this one.

out of 5