Hands-on with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate for Nintendo 3DS

Prior to the launch of Mario’s Hat, I expressed my excitement regarding Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on PoisonMushroom.Org. In particular, I was excited about the shift from the hero of the original Lords of Shadow game, Gabriel Belmont, to others characters from the franchise’s history– Simon Belmont, in particular.

Sadly, at Nintendo of Canada’s post-E3 event, the demo I got to play was completely devoid of Simon. However, Trevor Belmont was available, with Combat Cross at the ready. And so the more gentlemanly Belmont and I set out together to explore the depths of the haunted castle which lay before us.

I’m not sure whether it was by design or not, but the demo begins with a startling revelation for those who think to look for it: You cannot whip candles, lanterns, or the like in order to get hearts and power-ups. Certainly, I seem to recall that being the case in the game’s console prequel, but going back to the 2D gameplay style as this game does… well, old habits die hard, I suppose.

It wasn’t long before I encountered some skeletons to slay, allowing us to get a better feel for the controls. Combat, as it turns out, feels very much like it does in the original Lords of Shadow, despite the confinement to two dimensions. If I remember correctly, the controls are set up like so: B jumps and double-jumps, Y is your standard whipping attack, X is the “wide-range area” attack, and A activates your special weapon… once you acquire it, that is (more on that in a bit). The R button is also used in certain contextual situations, such as to grapple on to certain points to swing, while L works in conjunction with pressing forward and B to dodge by rolling.

The slaying of skeletons and shielded knights commenced, and while it worked well and controlled smoothly, there was one bit of a grievance both my wife (also in attendance) and I agreed on, and that is enemies taking far too long to kill. It’s possible you’ll earn experience points or more powerful weapons through the course of the game which will make these particular foes easier to kill, but if this is the standard, then it tends to drag on a bit.

Of course, this might also just be us being used to previous Castlevania titles, where whipping a skeleton to death– er, pieces– took maybe two or three shots, tops. With any luck, maybe they’ll take it down a notch in the final version.

I also came upon the first mini-boss, the large, red-armored fiend you see above. I recall him being of a special type, as you were required to press R at a certain indicated moment to have Trevor leap atop him and finish him off by yanking out the glowing green orb. Admittedly, by the way it looked, I had seriously hoped that Trevor would be able to hop inside and truck around in a medieval mech of sorts, Mega Man X-style. That might have made fighting some of the enemies a little more fun, but sadly, it just crumbled to the ground instead.

One other note on the finishing maneuvers: It seems you can do them to regular enemies as well, given the right timing. However, it’s difficult to do, and probably not worth the effort– at least, not without some stated benefit (more power, experience points, whatever) to doing so.

Entering the castle, I reached the point where the map on the bottom screen of the Nintendo 3DS showed more different paths to explore. However, with a destination marked on the map, that is where I ventured, soon to find a mysterious artifact: The boomerang!

Sadly, the boomerang doesn’t quite live up to the legend formed around it by the potency displayed in the original Castlevania titles. Rather than resembling a cross, it looks and acts a little more like one of the throwing glaives used by Blade in his self-titled movies. That in itself is pretty cool, given I’ve always secretly wished for a Blade/Castlevania crossover, or at least a game in that style.

Unfortunately, there is just too much working against this version. You don’t get many shots with it, and as you’re attacked by large vampire bats (seen above), it doesn’t seem to do any significant damage. Charging it for a more powerful attack seemed to take too long as the bats closed in, and when I used it against slower foes later, it still didn’t seem very lethal. And, this might just be my memory being hazy, but I don’t even remember it coming back (or maybe it did, and I didn’t care at that point).

The bottom line is that I stuck to the Combat Cross to whip my way through foes for the most part throughout the rest of the demo.

After the bats were gone, more exploring. This included learning how to swing from fixed points using the whip, a skill first demonstrated by Simon back in Super Castlevania IV. Sadly, it (and the eight-directional whip) failed to stick around in subsequent games of the series, so it’s good to see it back in 2D again. Unfortunately, the process felt a bit rougher than in its initial appearance.

In this game, you have to get in pretty close for the whip to reach the hook, and gaining momentum feels a bit more labored; in Super, you could get a pretty good sense of movement going, enough to feel confident in your leap. Here? Not so much. While I don’t remember missing many, if any, jumps from swinging, I do remember constantly hoping that I wouldn’t whenever I tried.

Further exploration revealed that barrels are the source of weapon-powering hearts in this game, and the fact that enemies seem to respawn when you wander far enough from where you defeated them. This was discovered as I went to find a switch for a gate, and had to race back to get through in time, only to find a skeleton guarding our way. Rather than deal with it, I opted to jump over– a wise move, as I made it through just in time.

Eventually, upon exiting to an exterior portion of the castle, I saw one of those annoying hunchbacks from the original games as a cutscene began. He had some sort of medallion, locket, or other prize in his possession, which he happily chucked into the river upon spotting Trevor. It wasn’t really explained, but I assume that we will want that for some reason in the final game. The treasure lost (for now), Trevor gives chase to his seeming tormenter, and gets locked in as two more bring out the Executioner pictured above.

Initially, he’s chained up and being led around by the hunchbacks, but seems to have grown tired of their presence. So he basically flings them aside (one flying in 3D towards the viewer in a humorous manner), snaps his chains off, and sets his gaze on Trevor, who is now penned in with the giant.

So begins the boss battle, and if you thought previous foes took a long time to dispatch, you haven’t seen anything yet. The boomerang largely ineffective (I think charging it might have stunned him with electricity for a brief moment), I basically whipped, whipped, and whipped some more. A lot of these were aerial strikes while dodging his large blade, though this seemed to slow Trevor down a bit, making dodging a little more difficult. And you can rest assured that he doesn’t have as much trouble taking you down in fewer hits.

In addition to swinging his blade, the Executioner has two other attacks: One where he runs at you headfirst, and the other where he sort of dives at you with a belly-flop. No points are awarded by the judges for grace as he slams face-first into the pavement.

This is also where the game, or at least the demo, chooses to teach you to use the double-jump (which we learned ourselves earlier when trying to learn how to swing) and rolling dodge. Each is a key to dodging one of those attacks, with the double-jump evading the charge, and the roll evading the belly-flop. Unfortunately, figuring out which he is about to do seemed less than clear, save for if you back off in order to prepare (which almost negates the need for rolling). You also do not want to double-jump towards the Executioner as he runs under you; for whatever reason, this seemed to only result in my taking more damage.

Eventually, and after a few deaths on my part, he finally went down and the demo ended.

Despite the negative aspects spoken of above, I didn’t find any of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate to be terribly off-putting, with the enemies’ ability to soak up damage being the worst of it (save for the Executioner, it’s not like they were hard, merely tedious). Though the cool-looking sub-weapon was useless and moving around was at times tricky, it still felt rather engaging, and I look forward to playing more of it when it comes out this Fall.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.