It was at E3 2012 that I had my first experience of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, yet, having been so enamoured by MercurySteam’s prior work, I left the stand feeling dejected.
In their tireless pursuit of re-imagining Konami’s highly regarded series, something was missing. It proved a concern in all honesty, and whilst I couldn’t really place my finger on precisely what that missing ingredient was, I wondered whether the full release would deliver. Worry not, as it’s delivered in spades.
Aimed toward being a spiritual successor to Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, MercurySteam, lead by stalwart Konami producer Dave Cox, masterfully create a vampire-hunting behemoth that gravitates itself toward being the first handheld blockbuster of the year.
Mirror of Fate can perhaps be seen as a hybrid of sorts, MercurySteam intricately weaving together elements of Castlevania’s legacy whilst retaining the opportunity for their own careful reinterpretation of the series to shine through.
Console predecessor Castlevania: Lords of Shadow saw players witness Gabriel Belmont’s descent into darkness, his quest to vanquish the Lords of Shadow ultimately leading to him succumbing to the power of the Forgotten One to become Dracula.
Within this second entry within the Lords of Shadow canon, we pick up such narrative some 25 years later. Dracula’s forces cast a shadow across the lands, waging war against the Brotherhood of Light who betrayed him during his time of need.
It is the descendants of his own bloodline that are destined to stand against him, exemplified through Trevor, a son he never knew existed, and grandson Simon. With the game structured between separate acts, progression will see the player assume the the role of each character and therefore discovering the what cruel fate their destiny has in store.
Narrative is broken up by your traversal of Dracula’s castle, comic-inspired cut scenes interspersed with equally dynamic in-game sequences that serve to breathe life into MercurySteam’s painstakingly crafted world.
Exploration remains key to the experience, players shoving boxes to reach previously inaccessible ledges or swinging across broad expanses as they continue their ascent – abilities unlocked later in the game such as the Shadow Claws and Demonic Wings opening up entirely new areas to explore.
Insurmountable sections that temporarily retain their secrets can be marked on your map through use of a built-in memo system, ensuring that every corner of Dracula’s darkened home is explored.
It is Mirror of Fate’s relentless whip-dominated combat that proves a particularly meaty affair, players using a flurry of direct and broader area attacks to neutralise the supernatural forces that walk the castle’s halls. As with Lords of Shadow, players can also parry incoming attacks by blocking at the last possible moment, immediately opening a larger window of attack.
When enemy health nears depletion, players can also employ use of a rather gratuitous grab mechanic – scripted finishing moves that see you gruesomely decapitate foes, and sever limbs among others.
Felled foes, including monstrous boss battles that introduce more intricate combat challenges, drop experience points that aid you in levelling your character assortment, granting access to an ever increasing skill set that deepens battle scenarios as the game progresses.
Each character has their own allocation of unique skills at their disposal too, with Simon enlisting the aid of the Spirit of Schneider and Belnades, providing offensive support and automatically blocking attacks respectively. Meanwhile Dracula’s “son,” Alucard, has access to Mist Form, allowing him to pass through enemies and certain doors, and an aggressive Wolf Form, whilst Trevor makes use of Light and Dark Magic, much in the same way as his father before him.
With items also at hand – throwing axes, oil flasks, bat swarms, and boomerangs but a few – there is an enviable level of depth here, rarely having been implemented so effectively. Players will surely find their preferred approach to whipping enemies into shape, but there’s certainly plenty of ways to do so.
Collectibles also adorn Dracula’s home, with ornate chests granting immediate increases to your health, magic and ammunition capacity, scrolls left upon fallen Knight’s corpses that grant additional experience points, and bestiary entries which add 3D models of monsters for you to peruse through the main menu.
This is easily the strongest third-party effort in utilising Nintendo’s hardware to its fullest potential, the Spanish developer reaping the benefits of their specially created MercuryEngine Mobile. Production values astound from the outset, werewolves scurry along the foreground and the engine churning out particularly luscious environmental visuals that impress throughout.
The sprite-based outings on Nintendo DS pale in comparison to MercurySteam at their best, and with the 3D Slider firmly flipped upward you’ll be repeatedly amazed at the visual depth. You’ll marvel at the game’s dynamic action sequences, which see weapons and enemies alike thrusting toward the screen at you, and wonder why other developers haven’t quite taken the time to grasp the hardware’s potential as demonstrated so deftly here.