That Mirror Of Fate’s plot is so convoluted is some kind of achievement, given 2010’s Lords Of Shadow was a reboot and not considered Castlevania canon. That game’s protagonist, Gabriel Belmont, is turned into Dracula after saving the world, and while he’ll reprise his good guy role in LOS’s sequel, he’s the antagonist in this 3DS spin-off. When the credits roll, you’ll have played as three more Belmonts, each avenging a death. You have to wonder how many more loved ones have to die before the clan gets the message and swears off gear-gated Gothic castles for good.
In fairness, it’s quite a castle, home to a full-sized theatre, a spooky toyshop and an abandoned mine as well as the usual belfries. And it’s a handsome game, the Belmonts animated with a level of detail that belies their tiny forms. The camera is constantly on the move, pulling out to show a mini-Belmont against a huge castle door, or to give you a wide-angle view during larger puzzles. When your avatar occupies such a small part of the screen, things naturally feel sluggish, but this is a 2D Castlevania – you need a wide view of your surroundings to spot the pathways you’ll be coming back for later. You can also drop markers on the map on the bottom screen, noting down what blocks the way.
The camera zooms in closer for battles, and Mercury Steam’s flair for combat has survived the move to 3DS. There’s depth here, but it takes time to shine through, with a levelling system handing out new moves one by one. When fully upgraded, you have an embarrassment of riches: launchers and juggle combos, dashes and guard breakers, and a block button that becomes a parry when properly timed, plus character-specific projectiles.
It’s an elegant, flexible system, and your moveset is persistent across the game’s three acts, even carrying over into subsequent playthroughs. Sadly, that doesn’t apply to everything you find along the way. You start a new character stripped of the projectiles and powers you found with the previous one. When the adventure is over and you dive back in to mop up the secrets you’ve marked on the map, you can only do so by replaying each act, or the whole game, from the start.
Three times the protagonists gives you three times the number of toys and an engaging, if thoroughly convoluted, story, but it’s not without cost. What Simon, Trevor and Alucard give to the mechanics and narrative they take from its flow: you still feel gated, even when you’ve got all the gear. It’s a deflating discovery, but few games save their disappointments for their endgames. And Mirror Of Fate, like Lords Of Shadow before it, feels like Castlevania, but carves out a likeable identity of its own.