While the Castlevania saga has a spotty track record on consoles, the handheld titles have always been extraordinarily good. In fact, they’re better than good—out of my top 15 Nintendo DS titles, three are Castlevania games: Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia. For whatever reason, Konami was incapable of making a bad Castlevania game on the Nintendo DS or the Game Boy Advance, and both systems benefited greatly from it.
But Mercury Steam’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow—Mirror Of Fate is something different altogether. During a recent Nintendo preview showcase, I dived headfirst into the opening stanza of Mirror of Fate—and I wasn’t sure what to think of it.
All I can say right now is that I’m worried.
Somehow, this 3DS title doesn’t feel like a Castlevania game. And not in the way that you’re seeing something new and exciting—instead, it feels a little awkward and unfamiliar.
Attacking enemies with the Combat Cross lends itself to quick combos with light and heavy attacks, but you can only whittle down most foes—killing them requires a melee attack while they’re stunned. Beating up skeletons, bats, and possessed knights no longer peels off hit points, either, so you can’t really tell how much damage you’re doing. With all the emphasis on chaining elaborate combos together, combat definitely feels more like Lords of Shadow than a standard Castlevania game, but at first touch, it somehow doesn’t resonate.
Visually, the game certainly has some punch, as the 3D environments and character models look bright and colorful. Each time I moved to a different part of the castle, the view swept around several degrees to make the scene transitions a lot more cinematic. In fact, that seems to be the whole theme of the game—a more cinematic, action-y sort of style.
Whether it works or not, I can’t be sure. After stunning enemies, the melee attacks you use to finish them off seem very God of War–like, but not very Castlevania. Even minor enemies seem to soak up a lot more damage than before, so it doesn’t look like Mirror of Fate is going to be the kind of game where you can surgically carve a path through hallways infested with ghouls and other magical monsters.
No, the combat feels slower and more focused on smaller, tougher groups of enemies. However, the way the gameplay appears to be designed, you’ll have to pay a lot more attention to enemies’ combat animations. I beat a haunted suit of dark armor to a pulp for three minutes before I realized that I was missing a prompt to move in and rip out its core. That sequence itself wasn’t interactive, though, as the game noticeably goes into autopilot while Trevor Belmont does his best Kratos impression.
During most of these gameplay sequences, I kept noting things like the sticky controls during platforming and occasional slowdown during crowded combat. Maybe I can chalk up that technical stuff to this version being an early build, but that still doesn’t shake this unease I’m getting every time I think about how the game felt.
Instead of feeling like a proper Castlevania title, what I’ve played so far comes off like a shrunken-down, 2D version of Lords of Shadow. Right now, that doesn’t strike me as a good thing, and I’m suddenly a lot less excited about this game than I was a few weeks ago. If the rest of the experience is like this, I think we might be looking at the first “average” handheld Castlevania experience.