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E3 2012: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow—Mirror of Fate resurrects the series’ beloved past but an early demo lacks magic

Castelvania: Lords of Shadow—Mirror of Fate has too many names. There’s absolutely no reason that a game needs to have three different names. Pick one and a subtitle if necessary, but leave the rest out. All that complicated nomenclature is especially unnecessary considering how simple this new entry for the Nintendo 3DS is. Simple doesn’t always mean sweet though, and an E3 2012 demo of the game shows promise but is rough for a game out this fall.

Mercurysteam’s debut handheld is an amalgam of Castlevania’s past. While its characters and castles are rendered with polygons and not hand drawn sprites as in older handheld entries like Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, the game plays on only one plane. You walk from left to right whipping dudes in the face. The level demoed was a small castle big enough to wander through, bigger than the contained linear stages of the 20-year-old NES games but smaller than the large open environments of the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance games.

You play as Trevor Belmont, star of Castlevania III, though the Scottish whip-wielder is apparently a descendant of Gabriel, star of the first Lords of Shadow, who became Dracula at the end of that game. Like Castlevania III, there will be four playable characters. Alucard, another Dracula descendant and the main man in series pinnacle, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, wasn’t playable at E3 but apparently he’ll appear later on as Trevor’s heir. Mirror of Fate’s four characters won’t be available simultaneously, they’re future generations, and one of the game’s features is passing down skills unlocked from one heir to the next..

Those skills are one of the reasons that Castlevania is concerning at this stage. While roaming the castle, jumping from platforms and swinging from chandeliers, feels clean and simple, the combat borrows heavily from Lords of Shadow. Even basic enemies take multiple hits with Trevor’s whip, and Mirror of Fate retains its console big brother’s over-reliance on blocking enemy attacks and then countering when they’re vulnerable. It’s stilted compared to the smooth feel of combat in the free roaming Castlevanias on DS and even compared to the stiff, one-two strikes that made up whip play in the classic entries.

Mirror of Fate is also, sad to say, quite ugly. This isn’t a knock against the Nintendo 3DS hardware, as other action games like Super Mario 3D Land are quite pretty. With the stereoscopic 3D on or off, Mirror of Fate’s drab browns and blacks lack any of the colorful charm of the series.

Castlevania at its best is a feast for the eyes, pop art visions of gothic architecture and mythic beasts. Returning to the Castlevania III means Mercurysteam is looking to the series’ best for inspiration, but it seems to have missed what made that game so fine in the first place. With just a few months left before release, Mercurysteam has little time to change the game. Here’s hoping that it’s a bit brighter and a bit less laborious when it comes out later this year.

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