Originally reviewed: 2013
In 2010 Konami finally proved that they could take the Castlevania name into the 3D arena and not have it come out smelling of disappointment and tears. MercuryStream and Kojima Productions did a superb job of modernising the traditionally 2D action franchise and we all got to enjoy a terrific 3D action Castlevania at last. Surprisingly, the next step for Konami was to then pull back that fantastic 3D title, make it 2.5D and bring it to the handheld market in the form of a direct sequel. The results are in equal parts pleasing and uninspiring.
The Creation of a 2.5D Castlevania title is a bit of a double-edged sword. There have been plenty of great 2D ‘vania games recently, especially on the DS, but even the most hardened fans can admit they were starting to lose a bit of steam. Messing with the formula too much, however, would not be a good idea. The good news, then, is that Mirror of Fate is not total rubbish, but the bad news is that it’s not a better direction for the franchise to move towards.
The look of the game is both the selling point and also the game’s biggest flaw. In adopting the look of the console predecessor, traditional 2D ‘vania feels like a distant memory and the game loses a lot of character in its new style. While the graphics and 3D effects aren’t bad by any means, the game looks depressingly bland and appears to have been coated in gaming’s least favourite colour – brown. And remember those 2D Castlevania titles that had really eerie, yet annoyingly catchy music? Well, there’s nothing like that here – it’s all silence with the occasional clichéd fantasy-genre battle music. Too much horn section!
The storytelling is another aspect of Mirror of Fate that comes with equal good and bad points. The cutscenes in which the bulk of the story is delivered actually look really cool, presented with a really smart cel-shaded effect for the characters as they converse in front of some gorgeous hand drawn backgrounds. What’s wrong with that? Well, they look miles better than the rest of the game and do nothing more than ask a burning question of why the hell the whole game wasn’t styled this way. How is the story, you ask? It’s about as predictable in its execution as a tin of Ronseal varnish. You know how Alucard’s dad is Dracula – as is well embedded into the lore of the franchise – yeah? That’s the reveal of the story.
Man, this sounds like I hate this game, right? Well let’s take a second to hold off the harshness for a few sentences. As I said, the game is not bad. The combat is pretty robust and it’s not difficult to chain together decent combos. There’s also a couple of smart puzzles in the game as well, and these proved pleasingly tricky. You also get to play as three characters with different powers which keeps things feeling relatively fresh. The game’s difficulty isn’t too bad either, it’s just that the checkpoints are way too helpful. You’ll get about three during a boss fight for crying out loud! OK, I guess I couldn’t hold off as long as I wanted.
Mostly everything in Mirror of Fate is good. The graphics are good enough, gameplay is good, voice acting is pretty good and the story is not awful (just predictable). It’s just a game that really doesn’t do anything at all to push any boundaries and be great. As you play the game, you can’t feel any effort to revolutionise 2D Castlevania or push the franchise forward as a whole. There’s just nothing new here. Nothing that says “hey, forget everything you knew about 2D Castlevania and check this out!” Considering this is a relatively new approach for a Castlevania game, there’s a shocking abundance of familiarity, and not just familiarity that franchise fans will pick up on.
Somehow, even with the game feeling robust in pretty much every way, there’s still not much excitement beyond going to the red blob on the map. Sure, you’ll be jumping, fighting, and very occasionally using equipment, but it’s all so banal and uninvolved. It’s all just a little too ‘Holy shit I’m a wolf! Now I can… open a door.’ There’s obviously an on-going narrative, but there’s almost never any explanation to do anything – you’re just expected to go to wherever the map says you should.
I enjoyed playing Mirror of Fate, in the way that you can enjoy a game of Sudoku or, dare I besmirch it, a game of Tetris. It was something to do for a bit. A lunch break filler or slightly extended session on the crapper. I never felt like I was playing the game to seek out any great narrative revelation or experience some kind of heart-stopping action or adventure. I was just moving through brown rooms and smacking things with a whip. Sure, the older 2D Castlevania games were pretty repetitive, but they had a striking art style, about a hundred enemy types and various rooms of all shapes and sizes.
Mirror of Fate’s biggest flaw is that it just doesn’t feel like a Castlevania game, despite trying harder to be one than the game on which it is based. The console version of Lords of Shadow didn’t really feel that much like one either, but that was a genuine evolution of the franchise into a 3D action title that was still heavy on quality. Mirror of Fate is a frustrating mix between a decent and enjoyable game and a really half-arsed attempt to cram a 3D game’s mechanics into a 2D game and unfortunately is left being not as good as the original Lords of Shadow, or indeed any other 2D Castlevania before it. If you love the series and you love 2D action titles, then you won’t hate the game at all, it’s just about as revolutionary as a piece of balsa wood.