Castlevania this is not. It may say so on the box, but don’t be deceived. When you burst open the cartridge coffin you’re inviting an evil into your 3DS that may not belong there. It seems inviting – it throws around the name Belmont, there’s whips, and many ghouls to banish, but as you begin to scratch the surface you’ll see that you’ve been fooled. This is not the Castlevania you’ve prayed to have on a portable system. Instead, you get a 2D portable God of War that is one large bush rush mode. Oh, and it’s directed by Tim Burton.
Mirror of Fate opens with the Trevor Belmont battling ghouls. Then, I’m not sure what happens. After a tutorial on how to swing the whip and utilize heavy and light attacks there’s a cutscene and Trevor is gone. Then there are some soldiers dealing with a baby. They’re worried some evil might consume it so they steal the baby from its mother. It’s a confusing beginning, but if you’re willing to give it a chance the game soon begins to make sense.
You play as Simon Belmont. Yes, the Belmont that started it all. He’s on a quest to avenge his father and mother by entering Dracula’s castle and destroying all the evil that’s inside. While I hardly pay attention to the stories of Castlevania, I found Mirror of Fate’s a bit interesting. Simon Belmont meets a ghost who helps him through the castle where he slowly recovers artifacts that once belonged to his father. After fighting through demons that look like they gestated in Tim Burton’s imagination and passed through the God of War filter, Simon Belmont runs into Dracula who may or may not be his father. Instead of a crescendo the perspective shifts and puts you in the shoes of Alucard who is just waking from a slumber. He wants revenge on Dracula because he didn’t arrange a wake up call. Or so I’m guessing, the game never really says.
It may sound silly and hamfisted- trust me it totally is- but the story somehow engaged me. Maybe I’m a sucker for duel story lines. This is no Treasure Island, but it’s neat to adventure through the game as Alucard and cross paths with Simon Belmont or see Simon in the background of a cutscene going on his marry way.
Strewn throughout the castle are perished soliders with readable scrolls. The scrolls have the soldier’s final thoughts engraved on them which often foreshadows the events ahead. Other times they allude to how silly a scroll that records your thoughts are. Or, how someone’s “plumber friend” would love to explore some pipes. There are a few “fourth wall” incidents that make me wonder how serious the developers want to be taken with this game. My guess is they played through, weren’t happy with the outcome and tried to play it cool by sprinkling jokes throughout the castle.
Simon and Alucard, the two playable characters, are completely opposite on the surface, but their skills and weapons are eerily similar. This stays true for the mysterious third character. They both have the same combos and use a whip. But each character has two different spells to use and two sub weapons. The spells are all story driven and are handed out whenever it’s the convenient to have a new ability to progress. A waterfall of acid? How about a ghost that protects Simon from danger? A barrier that only a werewolf can destroy? How about the spell to morph into a werewolf, Alucard? There’s no grace or planning. Sometimes it feels like the developers made the first draft of a game with plans to go back and edit portions but just never got around to it.
Mirrors of Fate suffers from an identity crisis. It’s a game that’s trying to separate itself from the Castlevanias of old while upholding the combat, style, and legacy that Lords of Shadow is creating. It’s a compartmentalized companion piece that’s trying to bolster the brand. Unfortunately, the things that make Lords of Shadow an attractive game are missing from Mirror of Fate. Enemies aren’t lumbering giants, the environments are bland, and the voice acting is mediocre at best. Still, it pretends to care about tradition. Like a kid being forced to go to Christmas mass; it follows the motions but doesn’t know why those elements are important.
There’s a map on the bottom screen of the 3DS to give the illusion of exploration. But there’s nothing to explore. There may be a few corners of the castle that are a bit out of the way, but you’ll never find yourself stumbling down an off-beaten path or breaking through a wall to reveal a secret route.
There is experience to gather, but you’ll never grind to bulk up. There’s no real opportunity to customize your character – when you level up you earn a new move to try out in combat. Which doesn’t do much to expand the combat beyond God of War quality, which is where much of its inspiration seems to come from. The enemies you fight are cushions that take too many whips to die. When they’re close to death they enter a dazed mode where you can enter a God of War style dismembering animation. Further, the game throws bosses at you out of nowhere with zero explanation of plot reasoning. It turns into a gauntlet with little tying the segments together.
You’ll fight dozens of one kind of an enemy before seeing the next. The problem is exacerbated when the game forces you to backtrack to artificially lengthen the game. While you’ll find an occasional chicken leg and the character’s name is Simon Belmont, don’t go into this game with the intention to play a Castlevania. Instead, think of what a God of War game on the SNES powered by the Super FX chip would be like. Because that’s precisely what this experience comes down to.