Castlevania is one of those lasting game franchises which never ceases to inspire and claw its hooks of pure addiction into our very being. Every instalment has had something good to offer (Legends and judgement wont make this list for some but lets allow a small amount of nostalgia shall we) but with such a long list of entries the timeline has become somewhat blurred for many.
This is where Mercury Steam entered the fray, delivering Castlevania The Lords of Shadow. A complete reboot, delivering a clear story of the Belmont clan long before Dracula's awakening ever occurred. LOS was a bold step and some much needed fresh blood into the series, but after such an epic story with twists and turns right up until its un foreseen climax, Mercury Steam made the decision to release the games continuation as a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Taking the 3D action/platformer into a much more familiar 2D-esque affair.
Luckily for us, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - The Mirror of Fate is now ready to grace our home consoles, with a brand new lick of HD paint and sparkle. How though, does it hold up as the first sequel to the massively successful Lords of Shadow?
While it doesn't ever quite gather enough steam to reach the dizzying heights of its predecessor, Mirror of Fate is a beautifully dark experience, with gothic highlights dotted at every corner along with some stunningly cel shaded cut scenes. Add to that some great demon slaughtering action and intelligent platforming and you cant really miss.
The game opens with a short run as Gabriel Belmont, giving you a chance to relive a small part of his story before then being thrown into the tormented shoes of Simon Belmont. During this outing you’ll be cast as a handful of different characters from the Belmont clan and beyond, giving you an interesting pallet of perspectives to play through. Perhaps the boldest move within Mirror of Fate however is Mercury Steams option to deliver so much character back story that it certainly tips the cart when looking back over original Castlevania cannon, it works really well though and by unfolding the story pretty much in reverse order, it definitely makes for some interesting narrative as a back drop to your endless demon slaying.
As you would expect each character offers a unique set of skills and weapons, while the classic whip doesn't change form too much, which offers a nice mix of satisfying ways to tear apart anyone in your path, its a shame then that this plethora of magical abilities and secondary weapons feel more of an afterthought than a boon to your arsenal, with most of your magic relegated to a few moments of forced use. You’ll spend most of your time using your whip and battle cross, thankfully the combat system is a solid beast, challenging you to mix up a variety of attacks to create the perfect combo for each enemy. Your reward for cracking the code is a fine display of power in a blur of colour (always awesome).
While traversing the Castlevania universe, your cross becomes even more useful to rappel down mighty heights and swing like a medieval Indiana Jones across bottomless pits, offering up some extremely satisfying and increasingly more challenging platforming elements, pushing your timing and instincts into some dark places. This is where Mirror of Fate feels most at home, often throwing some pretty tricky demons your way while simultaneously throwing precarious platforms and jumps in your path. It never feels too overwhelming however, as the fear of death can of course be frustrating and highly tense but is somewhat weakened by a hugely forgiving respawn system.
At the end of each chapter or short excursion you’ll find some form of big bad boss standing in your way and , as with LOS, each one is a joyous confrontation, pushing you to work out a system to remain unscratched as you do battle. While Mirror of Fates boss encounters cant hope to match the size of what its predessor had to offer, the noodle scratching that will ensue more than makes up for it. QTEs unfortunately marr the final moments, meaning all that hard work you put into working out your enemies weakness is traded off for a short sequence of buttons which simply repeat if you should fumble those commands.This fairly annoying addition of QTEs also spreads over to the main gameplay, often popping up out of nowhere, undermining all that progress you've made with those fighting abilities. Lets not even begin to talk about opening chests and doors with rapid bashes of the A button.
Of course Castlevania isn't all about demon slaying and jumping from left to right, when not battling hordes of demon spawn you’ll encounter some tricky puzzles to hinder your journey. Its a refreshing change to your main quest when encountered, but while often tricky, these aren't the worlds most complex challenges, this isn't Portal after all, and often task you with moving this box over there or arrange this object to face this way. The old adage less is more applies here for sure.
With the flip from 3D to 2D side scrolling, you’d imagine that exploration would have been all but eliminated but Mercury Steam have obviously thought hard and fought to keep you guessing. Don't worry, you’ll still find hidden treats in barrels and plenty of scrolls to collect, offering some rather interesting clues to the story as well as valuable hints on what to do next, but you’ll find a lot of hidden pathways and passages (the map will even elude to their presence in caseyouir eye isn't quite so keen) which means returning to previous haunts is always worth the effort.
A rather nifty little addition, one which id hope to see many other games take on, is the map notation tool. When you find an area you cant quite reach with the tools at hand (yes Zelda style hinderance) simply pop a note onto the map reminding you to run back at a later date. Who said having a diary isn't useful! If collecting scrolls and upgrades to your mana and health isn't enouhg, you could always spend your time filling out that pesky Beastiary (think Pokemon but more evil).