For the longest time, players of the Castlevania series always felt that the 2D games eclipsed the 3D ones. They were mostly right, save for the release of MercurySteam's Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in 2010, which managed to mold the series around a God of War-style set-up with remarkable results. Now while we wait for the next chapter in the series to hit Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sometime this year, Konami has an interesting side chapter to keep Nintendo 3DS owners entertained – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate.
But unlike its predecessor, Mirror of Fate manages to pull off a cool trick – it's both 2D and 3D at the same time. You'll walk through worlds as you would have in earlier 2D Castlevania games, but you're able to move about on a walkway using varying weapon attacks and magic while blocking and evading incoming strikes from enemies. In fact, most of the gameplay is borrowed from Lords of Shadow, even if the game doesn't fully go into full 3D action like that one did. It's an astonishing effect, which could result in one of the better third-party games we've seen for the 3DS.
The story keeps it old school, deeply buried in the Belmont family lineage. Trevor Belmont, the latest descendant in the bloodline, is seeking revenge against the man who killed his mother. But then he finds the unshakeable answer to that mystery, when he learns that Gabriel Belmont – who has now become a vicious vampire in the form of Dracula – is responsible. Now, he has risen from his grave, threatening the brotherhood that Trevor is a part of, resulting in an epic battle between father and son.
Like Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate enables you to use combination attacks to defeat enemies. Using the Combat Cross (the same one Gabriel previously used) for straightforward attacks is the most effective means, as a few well-timed strikes can bring down typical foes like bone-tossing skeletons (a Castlevania staple) and werewolves. But he can also execute ranged swinging attacks, which are weaker in terms of damage but can hit multiple enemies at once. Over the course of his journey, Trevor is able to use XP points earned by defeating enemies to unlock new attacks, including aerial strikes that do damage from above and other moves. He can also grab monsters, finishing them off with a well-timed tap of the attack button. (Hit it too soon, however, and they can slip out of your grasp.)
One other ability that Trevor will rely on over the course of his adventure is both light and dark magic, a staple first introduced in the original Lords of Shadow. By utilizing this he can add extra strength to his attacks, refilling his magic by stopping at randomly scattered statues throughout the city. He can also use secondary weapons over the course of the game, including such Castlevania favorites as daggers and boomerangs. (Other weapons should be introduced over the course of the game, but general projectiles are the way to go, especially if you're surrounded.)
What's great about Mirror of Fate is that you aren't just stuck playing the one Belmont throughout the game. Simon, who was first introduced with the original NES Castlevania so long ago, will have his own play style to adapt to wielding his traditional whip and own range of weapons. During a brief segment of the game, you'll also be able to play as Alucard, the main hero of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Though the role hasn't been discussed yet, his rivalry with Dracula is sure to be a topical point somewhere in the game.
Though playing in a 2D/3D field isn't the typical Castlevania fashion – usually it's one or another – MercurySteam has done a good job with the format here, as you have room to run and figure out your next move against opponents. This holds especially true for the larger bosses in the game, who show no hesitation in trying to stop you flat as you keep chipping away at them. One particular bull soldier at the start of the game is good to practice against before even meaner ones show up over the course of your journey.
Let's not forget the mesmerizing 3D visuals as well as the beautiful soundtrack that will accompany you as you travel through darkened lands. From what we've seen so far, they definitely stand up to the Castlevania standard... and we mean the quality stuff, not like Castlevania 64.
While the wait for Lords of Shadow 2 is still a lengthy one, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate should fill the time quite nicely, especially if you've looking for a slightly unique approach to smashing villains down to size. And who can resist the charm of the Belmonts? (Well, besides Dracula, obviously.)
Look for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on Nintendo 3DS this March.