Although HD is not a gimmick like 3-D, the fact remains that HD versions of games receive an absurd amount of attention. Yes, you can now play Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate (what a damn title) in HD. You can also drink 2% milk, but who cares if you don’t like milk?
The HD won’t prevent some Castlevania fans from complaining about Mirror of Fate’s rejection of Symphony of the Night leftovers. Mirror of Fate dares to change the 2-D Castlevania formula — that overvalued RPG-Metroid hybrid improved by Magicians & Looters earlier this year. Mirror of Fate also screws with Castlevania lore, resembling a humorless and straightforward Pulp Fiction starring Belmonts and monsters. It’s not Shakespeare; it’s not even Van Damme’s Lionheart.
Fortunately, Mirror of Fate’s gameplay is better than the promises of HD and Castlevania legend. This entry brings combos to 2-D Castlevania while adding a counter system that I rarely use and an evasion system that you will frequently use. The enemies are also not as static as they have been in other Castlevania games, utilizing defense and combo breakers. Traditional items like holy water and axes make appearances but aren’t as relevant. You also summon things like spirits and bats depending on what character you’re using.
You get to play as Simon Belmont and Alucard among other big names, but I find myself increasingly ambivalent about Castlevania protagonists. I don’t care if the guy’s name is Daehelkcunk. (That’s knucklehead spelled backwards, by the way.) What I do like is that the gameplay is different for each character even though the combos remain the same. For example, Alucard is faster than Simon, can use different items, and gains different abilities. In addition, the game becomes more puzzle-based when you play as Alucard.
Mirror of Fate gets rid of some of the RPG nonsense that Symphony of the Night ejaculated onto the franchise. In Mirror of Fate, you simply learn new moves as you gain experience from enemies and scrolls, and you find chests to extend your life and magic bars. Once you get certain items/skills, you can backtrack to areas you initially couldn’t reach to find more scrolls and chests. The backtracking is far more straightforward than that of Symphony of the Night or Metroid, not to mention that Mirror of Fate broadcasts where you need to go with red arrows.
In fact, Mirror of Fate is the most gentle Castlevania I’ve played. You never feel lost as you might in a Metroidmania game, and you never feel utterly hopeless as you would in the ultra-mean Castlevania III. Mirror of Fate even gives you checkpoints in the middle of boss fights, many of which feel like the set-piece battles one might associate with Resident Evil 4. But as in Resident Evil 4, the hand-holding doesn’t feel condescending. That’s because Mirror of Fate manages to challenge you.
For example, Mirror of Fate contains some of my favorite platforming in recent memory, courtesy of the excellent climbing mechanics. The climbing is fun and simple, though the game will not hesitate to kill you if you make a mistake. Not only are there instant-kill traps, but you die if you fall too far. Don’t be surprised if you feel more like a rugged mountain climber in Mirror of Fate than a gritty monster killer.
When you get down to it, there’s not much to dissect in Mirror of Fate. You want a 2-D Castlevania game that’s not trying to be like Symphony of the Night or the classics before it? Mirror of Fate is it. The HD graphics are fine, but the art direction is only above average. The music is rousing and dramatic, but it doesn’t match the brilliance of the NES soundtracks. The game takes place in a dark castle full of nasty creatures, but it doesn’t build atmosphere like Castlevania III or Super Castlevania IV. One might think all of these parts would make for an average game, but Mirror of Fate is too damn playable to be dismissed.