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Castlevania: Mirror of Fate doesn't suck (blood)

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate reviews have begun. VG247's Dave Cook discusses why it's another solid entry to the hand-held series.

Mercury Steam is a brave studio. Not only did it succeed in rebooting one of the most championed franchises in videogame history, it did so with style. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow may have stumbled at a few points, but it was considered by many to be a great success. The developer hasn't stopped there.

Each of Konami's 'Metroidvania' titles has received immense critical praise, so there was real pressure on Mercury Steam to deliver something that lived up to that legacy. Mirror of Fate is the end result, and while it falls short of being the best handheld Castlevania to date, it can be considered a solid entry to the series.

I went hands on with Mirror of Fate's first three hours a few weeks ago, and I explained why it felt like a proper Castlevania experience. My opinion hasn't changed much after completing the full game as it still feels faithful to the brand. But my enthusiasm has dipped slightly.

It's a technical marvel, squeezing a lot of juice out of the 3DS to create intricate settings and some of the best 3D effects I've seen on Nintendo's system to date. The 2.5D perspective works wonderfully as hazards fly into your face and the camera switches to third-person for added impact. The visual trickery on show is impressive.

Beneath the gloss you still have all the typical Castlevania staples. There's a neat whip-based battle mechanic full of light and heavy whip combos, parries and dodge rolls. At moments it almost feels like God of War in its execution, thanks to QTEs, executions and a similar take on platforming.

You can also throw projectiles into the mix, including series staples such as the axe, hourglass and exploding bottle. Each character also has two magical abilities, such as Alucard's stronger wolf form, or a pair of offensive and defensive spirits that follow Simon around.

Most interesting is Trevor's light and dark magic, which is similar to Dante's angel and demon forms in DmC: Devil May Cry. It's simple really - if you see a blue enemy, you need to use dark magic to hurt it, and if they're red, you need to use light magic. Its an interesting idea, but it's never fleshed out enough, like most of the game's progressive elements.

The best example comes near the end of the game where one of the characters unlocks new boots that give him the ability to sprint and jump over wide gaps. You only use these to cross two gaps and then the game is finished. Similarly, Trevor's light and dark magic is only mandatory in one puzzle, and during a boss fight. The narrative is part of the problem.

Mirror of Fate's plot is broken down into three chapters, one for each character. While your experience and whip combos carry across all characters, their gear and magic don't, meaning you lose them once the story progresses.

For example, once you've completed Simon's act you can't play as him again, meaning you lose his spirits, axe and bottle weapons. It really feels like each character only just gets going with a full repertoire of abilities when there's little left to do with them. Before you know it, their segment is over.

These abilities can also be used to open blocked pathways, similar to previous 'Metroidvania' games, but you can never explore the entire world at once, as each of the three characters are cordoned off to their own area of the castle. Compared to the almost open-world nature of say, Symphony of the Night, this feels slightly stunted.

Although I genuinely feel that more could have been done in giving these mechanics and the world more depth, the content on offer remains thoroughly enjoyable. The action is superb and the boss fights will really test gamers with their complex attack patterns and punishing blows.

Alucard's section in particular is a real trial, as the difficulty seemed to spike horribly. There's also one particular boss that had me in a pretty foul mood by the 15th time he killed me, but in a world where games like Assassin's Creed 3 coddle you silly, I welcomed the challenge.

Special mention must go to Óscar Araujo's harrowing soundtrack. I usually find it trivial to mention game music unless it really does add to the experience, but as all staunch Castlevania fans know, the series is home to some stunning arrangements. Mirror of Fate is no different.

While I've dropped a few negative points in this article, Castlevania fans shouldn't think twice about picking up Mirror of Fate. If you're one of those 3DS fans waiting for something good to play, then this should be viewed as essential playing. Everyone else can decide for themselves.

It's simply one of the best games on the format, even if it does fall short of other Castlevania games out there. Mercury Steam has proven that it has the chops to make something brilliant out of a console openly ridiculed for its lack of horsepower. The studios' growing proficiency bodes well for Lords of Shadow 2 later this year.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this article, Nintendo issued Dave with a download code for Castlevania: Mirror of Fate. It was so big he was forced to delete Paper Mario: Sticker Star from his SD card. He's currently in mourning.

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