• Presentation
  • Graphics
  • Story
  • Gameplay
  • Yawns Induced

One of the most challenging aspects of reviewing a game that is part of a beloved series is coming at it with a clean slate – attempting to look at it as it’s own separate entity and judge it based on its own faults and merits, not how it stacks up versus previous franchise iterations. When I give a score for a game, I want the score to reflect how I felt about the game, not on how I feel it ranks compared to the other games in the series.

That being said, I’m a huge Castlevania fan. I’ve played most of the games in the series (including some of the horrible Game Boy iterations) and I’m more than fond of the majority of them. Some of Konami’s best work. I like the earlier, more linear, get from point A to point B, platforming, painfully difficult titles of generations past. I also enjoy the more recent, exploratory, story driven with more RPG elements, bright and colourful Castlevania games that followed suit – when I hear the term “metroid-vania” used to describe a game, I pay attention.

Let me get this out of the way right now. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate does not feel like or look like either of these types of Castlevania games. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, that developer MercurySteam were going for or from where they got their inspiration, but I think they missed the mark in whatever it was they were going for (unless what they were going for was bland, boring, overly-simplistic and not Castlevania).

At first glace, it would seem like you were playing one of the metroid-vania style games because the bottom touch screen is populated with a map. However, you quickly learn that on said map, the location of your next objective is clearly indicated by a bright, red arrow that leads to a bright red orb. There is no real need for exploration because you always know where you’re going. If the red arrow is above you, make your way up and if it’s below you, well, you make your way down.

map

Hmm… where should I go next?

Along the way to the red orb, you’ll likely encounter a few crossroads, most of which will be blocked, but don’t you fret, the game will tell you straight out that you do not currently posses the item needed to proceed and that you should come back when you have it. The mind-blowing part is that when you get the item needed to proceed, there is a very strong chance that the red orb will appear behind you, indicating you need to backtrack to the earlier location and use your new power.

There are a few odd moments where your way is blocked with a puzzle, but these are normally pretty simple and if you can’t solve them with a bit of brain power, a small amount of trial and error will help you quickly overcome the problem. If brain power combined with trial and error aren’t enough, there will normally be the corpse of a deceased soldier nearby, holding a scroll containing¬† hints that you can receive in return for giving up some of the experience you would have gained for solving the puzzle. Why you don’t simply read the hints off the scroll is beyond me, but seeing as experience means almost nothing in this game, don’t worry about sacrificing it too much. I’d be more concerned with the fact that you were unable to deduce the simple puzzle in the first place.

The combat is really repetitive and boring. You knock an enemy into the air and then you jump up and kill it. I can count on one hand the number of times I used my block button in enemy combat and while the bosses may prove a slightly larger challenge, they have check points. That’s right, the bosses have check points. If you get their energy down by about a third and then you die, you’ll restart with more strength and they’ll still have a third of their energy depleted. Gone are the days of the nearly impossible Castlevania boss fights that required lighting-fast reflexes and quick wits – this time around, you just grind the boss down little by little, die, and continue on with more power until you finally beat him. It’s simple and completely unsatisfying. It also drives me nuts that in a platformer, I’m forced to use the circle pad with no option to switch. Circle pad and platformers do not mix.

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Whoops… looks like you missed, Belmont. Maybe if the enemy were a bit closer?

The leveling system, as I hinted at earlier, is essentially useless. You never feel like your character is getting any stronger, and all gaining a level seems to do is unlock another move you’ll never bother to incorporate into battle unless it happens accidentally while button mashing.

To story doesn’t add anything to the game either. There are four acts in which you control various members of the Belmont clan in each one. The problem with this is once you get used to controlling one of them and actually start enjoying it, you’ll be sent to the next act where you control a different Belmont and have to learn a whole new set of moves. The story seems to start in the middle, go to the end, come back to the middle and then the beginning. This story telling technique works when utilized properly, however this time, by the time you’re done the second act, it’s impossible to not know where the story is going. You slog through the next two acts essentially knowing what is going to happen and it makes wanting to complete the game not overly desirable.

The graphics are bland. If you know me or have read any of my previous reviews, you’re likely aware that one of my biggest pet peeves in gaming today is how rarely games are bright and colourful – every thing is always blacks and browns and greys and dismal. The castle layout makes no sense whatsoever and you’ll get bored quickly with the scenery as it never really changes a whole heck of a lot.

e3-2012-castlevania3ds1

Lovely shades of black, brown and orange’ish brown.

Conclusion:

As I stated earlier in my article, I always attempt to look at a franchise installment as it’s own separate entity and judge it based on its own faults and merits, not how it stacks up versus previous franchise iterations – but there in lies the problem with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate – is not a good Castlevania game, nor is it really a good game had it not had Castlevania in the title. My suggestion would be to avoid this one, it’s not worth the money. But, if like you, you’re a hardcore fan of the series and need to play every installment, wait a few months and you should be able to get this one on the cheap in a bargain bin or on Amazon. This game gets a great big “meh” from me.