You know, maybe it’s time to let Metroid: Dread go. There’ve been so many great open-ended platformers not starring Samus Aran released over the past half-decade that each new release makes it more and more difficult to justify lugging that torch around. Based on my time with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate at this year’s E3, Spanish developer MercurySteam is set to provide yet another reason to put Dread to bed…assuming it addresses a few glaring issues before the game ships this fall.
Unlike the first Lords of Shadow, which went all 3D action-adventurey, the 3DS game falls firmly into the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp of 2D Castlevania goodness. But don’t expect sprites: Mirror of Fate is actually running on a modified version of the original Lords of Shadow engine, enhanced by a sterescopic parallax scrolling effect that renders moonlit castle grounds and rotting dungeons with an appropriate amount of moodiness and mystery. In addition to porting LoS’s striking visuals to the smaller system, MercurySteam has also adapted the previous game’s God of War-like combat to Mirror’s 2D plane, but the results aren’t quite as impressive: attacking feels floaty and imprecise, like a smartphone game being controlled with real buttons. It works well enough for larger targets – an in-air dodge mechanic makes the demo’s two bosses particularly easy to deal with – but encounters with typical enemies (i.e. the omnipresent skeletons and bats) never quite engage like they do in more recent portable entries in the series.
Compared to more recent releases like Shadow Complex, Monster Tale, or Aliens: Infestation, which feel like natural extensions of the games that inspired them, Mirror of Fate can seem awfully clunky, and slow. Luckily, the open-ended exploration that is a staple of the series is as rewarding as ever, though it’s impossible to tell at this point whether progress is tied organically to your character’s accrued abilities, or whether it’s all switches and multicolored keys. In the demo, players guide protagonist Trevor Belmont through the dilapidated ruins of Dracula’s castle, ostensibly on a quest to enact vengeance upon his mother’s murderer, and most of the backtracking required to reach the final section revolves around flipping switches or crossing arbitrary checkpoints to unlock previously unreachable areas. It all seems a bit rudimentary compared to other recent series entries, but then again, it is just a demo.
It’s worth noting that Mirror of Fate is actually Metroidvania in denial! But I’m okay with that. I fully expect once MercurySteam gets over its odd aversion to silly labels, we’ll be looking at another awesome addition to the 3DS’s library.