'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate' Review: Simon's (And Trevor's, And Alucard's) Quest

The biggest problem with "Castelvania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate" (besides that cumbersome title) is that its weighed down by the expectations that now come with a "Castlevania" game post-"Symphony of the Night." A mostly straightforward action-adventure game with some light exploration, "Mirror of Fate" compares unfavorably (if we're using exploration as the yard stick) to Konami's 1997 classic.

And that's kind of an unfair comparison, given that "Mirror of Fate" is more like the 8- and 16-bit era "Castlevania" games of the past in intent and execution, a solid action-adventure title that sheds some illumination on the events that occur between 2010's "Lords of Shadow" and its upcoming sequel.

Taking place after the conclusion of "Lords of Shadow" (but before the awesome future-set "Interview With the Vampire"-inspired post-credits finale), "Mirror of Fate" tells the criss-crossing stories of Trevor and Simon Belmont, and Alucard, as they journey into Dracula's castle to battle the vampiric fiend. Dracula, as you know from finishing that game three years ago, is Gabriel Belmont, one-time member of the Brotherhood, whose curse and penchant for harboring murderous monsters has put him at odds with the quasi-religious monster-hunting organization. Each of "Mirror of Fate's" playable characters holds a grudge against the big, bad vampire, and the 11-hour, time-jumping quest is all about each trying to snuff him out.

The crisscrossing storylines allow "Mirror of Fate" to switch things up a little mechanically, offering each of its three leads a distinct pair of abilities and ranged attacks, while also allowing some of the core skills like swinging with the combat cross to carry over across portions of the campaign. This doesn't, however, translate into any of the three characters playing that distinctly from one another, and it's more about the details since each will rely on the same shared list of combos mixed with blocks and evades along with QTE-heavy boss battles.

The evade will feel familiar if you've played "Lords of Shadow," timed just right it will stun an enemy, allowing you to follow up with a series of attacks. Likewise, many of the moves unlocked in the linear skill progression system will seem familiar from that game. It's curious that developer MercurySteam chose to keep some of the same moves in the progression system but made it a straight line instead of filling it with options that the player can buy and upgrade. Chalk that up to the (relative) brevity of "Mirror of Fate" and lack of diversity in the enemies, made up a handful of puppets, fish men, werewolves, gargoyles, and zombies.

The skill set that "Mirror of Fate" offers is more in line with the crowd controlling abilities of "Lords of Shadow," but don't really have that function since jumping over enemies would lead to taking a hit rather than simply using your heavy attacks to swat enemies on both sides. Similarly, "Mirror of Fate" offers some limited juggle action after launching an enemy, but it feels like a half-step towards the real thing in its 3D predecessor.

Exploring Dracula's castle is rewarding, however, thanks to some cleverly-implemented puzzles and platforming elements that make the campaign more than simply an exercise in walking right and hitting A, which is great, because you'll be seeing some of the same locations more than once as the narrative barrels backwards in time. And the return of many of the musical elements from "Lords of Shadow" along with "Mirror of Fate's" overblown cutscenes keep things lively from the voice acting (Robert Carlyle continues to make a terrific video game badass) to the cel-shaded visuals in the story sequences.

At 11 hours, "Mirror of Fate" does overstay its welcome but does leave open why this particular story had to be told given the curiously uncertain fates of its characters. For that reason, the platformer ends up even more vestigial to "Lords of Shadow" than it needs to be.

"Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate" is available now for the Nintendo 3DS.

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