For 13 years, Konami’s Castlevania was defined by Symphony of the Night and its handheld sequels, a series of sprawling, open-world platformers produced by Koji Igarashi. From 1997 on, Castlevania produced several entries in this style, with a few diversions into 3D that were met with lukewarm reception. This changed in 2010, when developer Mercurysteam rebooted the series with the 3D brawler Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which dropped Belmont patriarch Gabriel into a God of War-esque game that finally achieved success with transplanting Castlevania to the third dimension.
Mercurysteam is now attempting another transplant: to take their 3D handling of the series and rework it as a 2D platformer like the IGA-produced games of the past, while peeling back more layers of the tragic Belmont legacy. The result is (deep breath) Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on the Nintendo 3DS.
The mixture of the two play styles works surprisingly well, with Combat Cross-based fighting adding a slightly less spastic edge to the traditional side-scrolling mechanic. Grapples and finishers are folded into the mix, although the white glow from monsters telegraphing these moments can be a little difficult to discern. There’s a certain “heavyweight” feeling that comes into play, with the game’s gravity feeling a little stronger than in the previous entries, which makes the feel less acrobatic, but it works well for what Mirror of Fate is trying to achieve: the dimensional flattening of Lords of Shadow.
There are some things that don’t work very well, however. The earthy color palette feels a little mundane after the garish candy-colored visuals of Symphony of the Night and its offspring, although the gorgeously rendered backdrops do provide some luscious eye candy, with hellish carnivals (complete with murderous merry-go-round!), cannibalistic kitchens, and rickety scaffolding fleshing out the appropriately gothic backdrops. Characters are equally well-designed and animated, looking almost as good as a full-fledged console title despite the more meager horsepower of the 3DS. Turning the 3D all the way up adds immensely to the sense of scale, making the game’s hallways yawn hungrily behind you…just prepare yourself for the inevitable cross-eyed headache. It all looks really, really good…just brown. Very, very brown.
Finally, there’s the loading time. The IGA-designed games were one massive, sprawling environment where the varied rooms in the castle were all stitched together as a cohesive whole. Mirror of Fate divvies Castlevania into memory-appropriate nuggets with some painfully long load times in between. The game feels slightly disjointed and disorienting as a result, making the new abilities that your character gains—and the inevitable backtracking that’s typical of Castlevania games—a somewhat frustrating affair. There’s more guesswork involved than there should be, which makes the game far less addicting than it could have been.
All of these complaints are only minor detractions from a game that is still polished and fun. Mercurysteam loves and understands Castlevania, and deliver enough tasty fan service to appease long time followers of the series. Merging together the stories of Simon, Trevor, and Gabriel Belmont (and Alucard! Yes!) is a beautifully tragic epic that reworks the mythology in an effective, respectful fashion. It may not capture quite the same magic as Symphony of the Night or Lords of Shadow did in their respective fashions, but it’s a damn fine hybrid that deserves a playthrough.