Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate ReviewJoe Shaffer
After reading about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate's premise, I was skeptical of the game. I had a difficult time seeing how any developer could effectively splice the Metroid-style structure of the previous portable Castlevania titles with the whip-slinging combat of Lords of Shadow. After hours of pondering this mad fusion to no avail, I reminded myself that I'm cynical and sometimes shortsighted because of it. After that bit of admittance, I cast aside my pessimism and dreamt up a wonderful setup utilizing both of the aforementioned concepts. I imagined a spanking new castle crammed with multiple branching hallways, strange locales, and hidden nooks and crannies packed with goodies and surprises. From one chamber to the next crept members of Dracula's horrifying menagerie, begging me to put my crazy whip skills to the test. I saw envisioned punishing mermen and decimating skeletons with a flurry of intricate whip cracks,, all while deftly dodging their attacks. At that point I had convinced myself that a successful hybrid was possible, yet I still didn't get my hopes up.
...and it's a damn good thing, too.
Dracula's newly constructed abode is not quite the explorable playhouse of mayhem you would hope for. Rather that sporting a healthy network of convoluted corridors and temporarily inaccessible segments, Mirror of Fate's game world settles on providing you with a few extra rooms to access as you advance. Don't expect to die of ecstasy as you enter one, either, as the only specialty items you'll find are permanent HP and magic boosts and a whole slew of useless scrolls intended to bolster the game's atmosphere or provide you with mostly pointless clues.
However, the lack of secret chambers is not what demeans the game's exploration factor the most. The true killing stroke comes from the game's all around design. Superior "Metroidvania" titles plunge you into their world and say, "Good luck." You don't receive much guidance beyond your wits and your willingness to delve into and interact with your surroundings. Instead of relying on the game to bestow an objective unto you, it's up to you to figure out where to go and what to do next. Mirror of Fate didn't wish to scare off players who were intimidated by this kind of game structure, so instead decided to scare off those who prefer it. Rather than placing you in a fully explorable domain, the game thrusts you into a straightforward affair with your current objective highlighted. The end result is a Metroid clone with a horribly apparent rail that holds your hand through the experience and beats you over the head with your next target, rather than allowing you to rely on your intellect.
Sadly, there's one more kick in the groin I have to cover in regards to world design: the game is divided into three chapters, each with its own underwhelming, explorable areas. Rather than guiding one character through a massive collection of levels, you play as one of three different warriors traversing meager segments of Dracula's castle. Upon reaching a new chapter, the game restricts access to previously traveled locations. You cannot return to avenues you failed to explore, even though many of the levels rehashed. Rather than allowing you the benefit of nabbing anything you missed, the game repackages the old areas as new ones.
With exploration out the window, you have to rely on the game's combat system to pick up the slack. The good news is that combat can be tight and action-packed. The game's mechanics are solid, allowing for lightning quick motions and tricky maneuvers. Believe me, at times you'll need both. Mirror of Fate offers a few wild battles that force you to pick your shots carefully and watch your opponent like a hawk in order to successfully avoid its attack. One of my favorite scuffles involved two armored giants who pincered me. With some cautious weaving and skillful whipping, though, I brought them down without losing much blood.
Unfortunately, Mirror of Fate lacks heavily in enemy diversity. This is especially evident when you browse the bestiary and notice that some enemies have been recolored three or four times. It also doesn't help that you can pretty much deploy the same button mashing strategies to fell just about any beast. Also take into account that the whip has a ridiculous reach on it, giving you the advantage of lashing foes several times before they come anywhere near you. Thanks to these two factors, most battles (even bosses) are overly simple and sometimes fairly mindless.
Someone out there is bound to say that I'm not being fair, and that I should judge Mirror of Fate based on what it emphasizes: platforming and obstacles. I'll admit there are a few obstacles sequences are that a lightly entertaining, although they don't fill the void left by the weakened exploration and tiresome combat. One scene that I dug involved avoiding trapdoors leading to spiked pits and leaping onto climbable walls, followed by a few instances of whip-swinging past electric fields. Unfortunately, the obstacles courses are not terribly challenging and can be passed with a modicum of skill. Generally, if you're going to send me through a grinder of Super Meat Boy-esque dangers, then you should at very least break my face with the challenge. To do otherwise would be a waste of my time. I honestly felt that the real estate these segments occupied could have been devoted to something more meaningful to the game. You know, like branching hallways begging for exploration...
Ultimately, Mirror of Fate is a disappointment. I don't mind that MercurySteam toyed around with various gameplay styles, because daring to try new concepts can sometimes produce fresh and exciting titles. I only hope that they learn from this less than impressive setup and endeavor to deliver a Castlevania with improved structure and challenge factor. Spare me the overabundant obstacle courses. Either give me a fully explorable stronghold or a retro throwback. In other words, play Symphony of the Night or Rondo of Blood and take some notes, then try again.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.