Castlevania: Mirror of Fate Demo Impressions

If it wasn’t obvious by the fact this game has TWO subtitles (the full name is “CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW: MIRROR OF FATE”), Konami is being very, very careful not to attach Mercury Steam’s Castlevania games to the rest of the franchise canon, and with games like Mirror of Fate, I don’t blame them.

Mirror of Fate wants to be a “Metroidvania” like the now-legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And it fails. Hard.

Castlevania is not unlike Sonic the Hedgehog in that its gameplay is very much a product of the 2D viewpoint in which it used to be typically viewed. When you shift the perspective to 3D, all of the rules change so dramatically that you have to rethink nearly every piece of how the game is constructed. The NES Castlevania’s whip motion is not something that can be directly translated to 3D.

This is why, for so many years, you had bad 3D Castlevania games. Nobody at Konami could figure out how that game was supposed to work in the third dimension. Then came along David Jaffe and his team made God of War, a game that, when you really boil it down, is “Castlevania but for Roman Mythology”. Kratos’ dual chains are really just Castlevania whips, but rather than a forward striking motion, they become sweeping area attacks that hit multiple enemies in a radius around the player - something essential for combat in the third dimension. He cracked the code.

And so Mercury Steam decided to “borrow” from God of War to make Lords of Shadow, which appropriates all of the sweeping area attacks for its whip-based gameplay. And, to a certain extent, it worked! It was a bit clunky and probably overstayed its welcome, but it was the best attempt at a 3D Castlevania Konami had ever put out. Mission kinda-sorta accomplished, I guess. The problem being is that Mercury Steam’s Castlevania has now apparently superseded the “real” Castlevania games, and instead of your typical Koji Igarashi 2D Castlevania romp, we get a pale imitation in the form of Mirror of Fate - a game that perhaps exposes Mercury Steam’s total lack of understanding of what makes a Castlevania game.

Mirror of Fate mistakenly tries to take the 3D gameplay of Lords of Shadow and flatten it down in to a 2D plane. Now you’re playing a God of War game where you cannot dodge side to side, only forward or backward. And despite the move to the 2D plane, Mercury Steam decided to retain the combat system from the 3D game - Trevor has “direct” attacks and “area” attacks, but what this generally means is that you have very little incentive to get up close and personal with enemies because area attacks literally hit just about anything on screen in a single swipe. I’m assuming direct attacks do more damage, but I never cared enough to check because area attacks did the job well enough.

Because of this, often your attacks don’t even phase enemies. this is to stop you from just tearing through everything and force the player to actually bother to dodge or block an enemy’s offense. And you’ll want to - enemies seem to deal almost a quarter of your lifebar if they manage to land a hit on normal difficulty. In 2D Castlevania games, enemies were not something you had epic, protracted battles with, but Mirror of Fate really wants you to stand around and whip giant shielded skeletons for minutes at a time - but there’s no finesse to it, no depth. Mash until it dies, maybe wait for it to lower its guard so you can attack it directly. Ho-hum.

The rest of the demo doesn’t fare much better: platforming is extremely poor, and not explained terribly well. So much of the demo holds your hand, telling you exactly where to go and what buttons to push at any given time that the couple of times where they don’t do that lead to me running around in circles for ten minutes wondering where to go and just sort of mashing random buttons until the right thing happened. Case in point: Once you get through the opening area of the castle, you get inside a cathedral to find your first sub weapon and fight some bats. Clear the bats out and now you have to scale the interior. The problem: there’s a flashing ledge that you clearly need to do something with, but my initial attempts to grab on to it yielded no results.

In Mirror of Fate, the R button is the designated “grab stuff/read stuff” button, but for whatever reason, Trevor Belmont simply refused to grab the ledge. Eventually I found that when I dashed in to it and held the L button, he grabbed - though I would later find out that the L button was completely unnecessary for ledge grabbing; for whatever reason (a bug, perhaps), Trevor just refused to grab the ledge the first five times I touched it.

So now I’ve grabbed the ledge and I’m on an alcove and… now what? There’s a flashing blue rope to my right. Seems pretty obvious to me that this is a grapple point, so much like Super Castlevania 4, I jump off and whip at the glowing point on the rope. Nothing happens. I try again, getting closer. Nothing. Maybe it’s the wrong kind of whip? Direct whips don’t work, area whips don’t work. Jump at it and dash. Nope. No good. Eventually I have to pause the game and look it up that the R button is for grapple points - even though everything else in this demo so far that uses the R button comes up with specific text saying, “PRESS THE R BUTTON RIGHT NOW TO DO A THING”. Not this time, apparently.

Furthermore, once grappled, the only way to jump out is… not to press the jump button, but to press R again. Now, this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s one of those little aggravating things where you just go “Why would you do it this way?” The solution is functional but not ideal, because my first instinct to jump out of an action is ALWAYS going to be pressing the jump button. Doing it any other way makes the developer look like they are staffed by space aliens who don’t know how earthlings work. And after the sequence of events I just suffered through - mysterious, unclear game mechanic after mysterious unclear game mechanic, that does not seem too far off from the truth.

So I grapple and jump across these chandeliers and get to the other end of the cathedral where the platforms get much smaller and the distance between them gets to be much larger. I’m supposed to use the grapple here, but because of level geometry, a grapple point gets obscured and I end up trying to make a jump using a complicated ledge grab, which actually works - but after I safely make the jump, only then do I notice the glowing blue grapple point. Figuring it’s an item I can pick up, I jump off the platform, collect nothing, and fall straight back to the ground floor again - taking fall damage on top of it all.

Fall damage. In a 2D Castlevania game. I almost shut my 3DS off right there.

Fall damage is typically reserved for games which are trying to be “realistic”. Super Mario Bros. did not have fall damage, but Prince of Persia did, because Prince of Persia was about a real human person going through a dungeon to save a princess. Super Mario 64 had fall damage, but quickly thought better of it for future 3D Mario games. Castlevania, in all of its incarnations, has never been a “realistic” game. Not even Mirror of Fate, which has you fighting giant demonic bats using a whip and electrically-charged Romanian ninja stars. But here it is, and here I am missing half of my health bar because somebody can’t design levels to be clear and understandable. It wasn’t a jump that looked like I needed to be use the grapple to reach it, so why would I even try? And obviously I made it without needing to grapple, to boot! On my first try!

So after some more swinging and ledge grabbing I finally make it up to this gear which opens the path somewhere else - at this point I will admit to not really paying attention all too well to what was going on, as I had passed my frustration threshold a while ago. What I do notice, however, is that a new grapple point has appeared up by the gear. I use it and swing across to a grab-able ledge I used to get up here. Except… wait. Trevor doesn’t grab the ledge. Instead, he plummets straight to the ground - the fall damage so great, that it instantly kills him. Great. Thanks.

It restarts me back up by the gear, and only now do I notice the problem: the ledges I used to ascend up to the gear are no longer flashing. Ostensibly, Trevor has decided he doesn’t need to use those ledges anymore, so you can’t grab them to make your way back down. Just to make sure, I swing out to those ledges again, and Trevor completely ignores them, going from a full health bar down to zero thanks to fall damage. I’m flabbergasted. I have no speech.

Is this game design? What is this? It’s not fun. It’s not even logical. The grapple point even suggests that I’m SUPPOSED to swing out to those ledges, because there’s certainly nothing else to swing to. Using a safer, more clunky method, I climb down and continue in to some sort of catacombs or crypt. It’s rather unremarkable save for moments where I can’t tell the background apart from the foreground and flashing walls to clearly denote “HEY, YOU CAN WALL JUMP HERE, AND ONLY HERE”. I didn’t want freedom anyway.

Which is a re-occurring theme. Eventually I hit some kind of symbol - the game tells me to press the R button while standing over it, in which I am told: “This requires Shadow Magic. Come back once you get it.” A statue later in the demo tells me the exact same thing - but instead, it wants Light Magic. It’s the notion that it has to tell me to come back that’s the problem - Super Metroid never spelled it out in human english, “you need super missiles to open this door, come back later”. That was a mystery you had to deduce on your own. Apparently people were smarter in 1994 than they are now.

The demo is capped off with a boss encounter - and it’s one of those bosses with a health meter that is entirely too long for as simple as it is to bait in to a pattern. As long as you keep your distance, the boss will charge in to a wall and dizzy itself, giving you a significant opening for counter-attack. Repeat ad nauseum.

While you could just say, “it was a bad demo”, there are things in this demo that showcase a developer that seems fairly clueless as to how to make a game like this. The only thing that would save it in my eyes would be the promise of them either delaying the game or issuing a patch - but it would have to be a pretty significant patch, all told.

24 Comments
24 Comments
Posted by zelenogorsk

I had the exact same reaction to the fall damage. Shit is ridiculous.

Edited by ageofquarrel

I didn't even finish the demo, and was really looking forward to playing this game. I lost my mind when I died from fall damage, their better be some kind of upgrade in the full game that gets rid of fall damage.

Edited by GunstarRed

I played the demo last week and thought it was pretty cool actually, the platforming was fine, there wasn't a single moment I didn't know where to go or what to do and it explained more than once how to grapple.

It looks nice, the combat is good, but the floaty jump does a feel a little off. Your overreaction to fall damage is crazy though.

Full game update.

hours played - 3.5

Times suffered fall damage - 1 (and I was messing about.)

Problems platforming - 0

Posted by Vance_Helsing

I thought the demo was kind of terrible too.

Combat was fine, not super fun, but not like a chore either. Thought the enemies took too long to defeat & the area attack button breaks the combat somewhat. However, the best part of the demo.

Platforming seemed like a pain & the level design seemed unintuitive, though granted, I haven't played a 2D Castlevania since the DS days.

And I thought the game looked like ass. Total ass. Grungy graphics & sprites, poor framerate even with 3D turned off.

Just wasn't a fan at all, but I have heard that this is a demo from E3 & was the reason why the game was delayed in the first place. Apparently the retail version is a vast improvement. Let's hope so.

Edited by CaptainObvious

Can you call Zobek?

Posted by BeachThunder

Yeah, I really did not enjoy what I played. Even though I would have much preferred a regular DS-style Castlevania game, I was still somewhat optimistically interested in the game beforehand, but the demo completely unsold me on the game =[

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Edited by FFFFFFF

That's an interesting point about the grappling because I was naturally trying to jump out of it too. I agree with almost all of this, except I don't think it's really trying to be a Metroidvania, but somekind of hybrid of a Metroidvania, a Classicvania and God of War game. But doesn't really do a good job at any of it.

1 and 3 on the NES felt smarter and tighter than this. The importance of character movement/positioning and picking your windows seem like key to CV games and this game just doesn't seem to care. Is it possible to even crouch in this game?

Chests that ask your to mash B to open them for no reason. Barrels with items in them take 3 hits to break for no reason.

The atmosphere is going in two different directions with overly sincere 'epic' music and comic relief flea men and unskippable 'sweet no look bat kills.'

Bad, fat poly 3D WoW-like art. Soulless music you forget the second you're beyond it. The game feels like a step back in every way.

Maybe it's all just the demo. Maybe you see new enemies and skill/item unlocks that just make the whole game make sense. But what is presented seems graceless and laborious.

Edited by BlazeHedgehog

@cheh said:

That's an interesting point about the grappling because I was naturally trying to jump out of it too. I agree with almost all of this, except I don't think it's really trying to be a Metroidvania, but somekind of hybrid of a Metroidvania, a Classicvania and God of War game. But doesn't really do a good job at any of it.

1 and 3 on the NES felt smarter and tighter than this. The importance of character movement/positioning and picking your windows seem like key to CV games and this game just doesn't seem to care. Is it possible to even crouch in this game?

Chests that ask your to mash B to open them for no reason. Barrels with items in them take 3 hits to break for no reason.

The atmosphere is going in two different directions with overly sincere 'epic' music and comic relief flea men and unskippable 'sweet no look bat kills.'

Bad, fat poly 3D WoW-like art. Soulless music you forget the second you're beyond it. The game feels like a step back in every way.

Maybe it's all just the demo. Maybe you see new enemies and skill/item unlocks that just make the whole game make sense. But what is presented seems graceless and laborious.

Oh man, yeah. Those stupid barrels! I had completely forgotten about them. Why do they need three hits to break!?

Can you call Zobek?

Unfortunately, Zobek is nowhere to be seen.

I played the demo last week and thought it was pretty cool actually, the platforming was fine, there wasn't a single moment I didn't know where to go or what to do and it explained more than once how to grapple.

It looks nice, the combat is good, but the floaty jump does a feel a little off. Your overreaction to fall damage is crazy though.

Fall damage is the worst, especially when it happens and you don't expect it. There is a legacy of dozens of Castlevania games not having fall damage, and specifically playing off this fact - from Castlevania 1 all the way to the DS games, they specifically put you in to areas with HUGE drops. Here, a 45 foot drop does more damage than a giant demon skeleton.

You can usually "feel" when a game is setting you up to have fall damage, because there's a certain weight to the game's gravity. This feels like it is just trying to be another 2D Castlevania... except not, in all the wrong ways.

Eff that. EFF THAT HARD

Posted by cbarnes86

Nice Demo "review." I played it and was kinda disappointed (but thankful that I didn't have to buy another game). Th e graphics seemed really pixellated (maybe they look better on an XL). Combat was fine, but not 2D fine. It was like they took the combat from Lords of Shadow, made the moves on one plane, and put them in the game and I don't like that very much. As someone who LOVED Lords of Shadow, this one looks like a pass to me...

Edited by Enigma777

Soo... poor platforming?

Lords of Shadow absolutely fell apart when it came to platforming, ESPECIALLY IN THE FUCKING DLC! It's like no one playtested that shit. Combine that with a lack of checkpoints and unskippable cutscenes, and I had the single most infuriating time playing a game ever! EVER!

I had really hoped they did a better job with it in Lords of Shadow 2, but now I'm worried...

For those interested, you can read the post where I raged after finally beating that DLC. Ugh.

Posted by Xshinobi

I recently completed the demo and I really enjoyed what I played. As a big fan of what Mercury Steam did with their previous Castlevania game, I'm pretty happy with how the game plays and feels. The demo got me pretty hyped for Lords of Shadow 2.

Edited by DeathTrap

Just played the demo last night and I really didn't have most of the problems described by the OP. I agree that having to hit R to get out of line grapple is kind of stupid and annoying, though. As for the platforming sections - I hadn't realized there was fall damage until I read the post (EDIT: And I'm fairly terrible at platforming games). Game seemed relatively good at making sure I knew where I was heading (which I don't know if I really like in this style of game, but that's for another post). As for not knowing to hit R to grapple - that may not be entirely the game's fault. It seems to pop up the control screen at every load and the first time I came across one of those grapple points, I'm pretty sure it flashed a "Press R" tutorial popup at me.

Now, the game isn't perfect. Based on the demo, I'd probably have to give it a 4/5 or 3/5...but it's hardly trash. Of course, this may be entirely because I was going into the game with no previous knowledge of 2D Castlevania games. The only other Castlevania game I've played (and I didn't get even close to finishing it, got distracted by other games and never picked it up again) was Lords of Shadow - which I thought was not horrible, moderately entertaining (ie, probably about either a 2/5 or 3/5). Definitely played way worse.

Posted by RioStarwind

The demo seemed fine to me. It's not like the original CV portable games but they never said they were trying to emulate how they played at all. The combat is similar to the console versions which works okay in my opinion. The platforming certainly worked a lot better than what they did the first time. But it is kinda hard to tell how well it'll be from a fairly old demo at this point. I'm at least semi optimistic on how this will turn out compared to a meh reaction before hand.

Posted by 49th

The most average, boring game I have played for a while. I thought it looked bad from the very first time it was shown but it's just dull.

I didn't really have problems with any specific part of it - platforming was too floaty but I still got through it, combat was pretty simple. I usually just ended up holding Y which lets you spin the whip around and occasionally having to roll.

This is not the 2D Castlevania game I want to play.

Posted by TheMasterDS

That demo was appalling. I can not believe they thought this game was a good idea. I hope it flops and someone at Konami gets fired for its failure. They should've made a Metroidvania that handled like a Castlevania game not a flattened version of a fucking 3D Game.

Posted by Supergooder

As a fan of Lord of Shadows, I was very much excited to get back into the Castlevania universe. I am looking forward to how the combat upgrades are handled and if there is much depth in any of the character options. The overall demo felt a bit watered down compared to the previous DS releases.

Edited by DeathTrap

@themasterds said:

That demo was appalling. I can not believe they thought this game was a good idea. I hope it flops and someone at Konami gets fired for its failure. They should've made a Metroidvania that handled like a Castlevania game not a flattened version of a fucking 3D Game.

Wow, that's harsh. Wishing for someone to get fired and for a game to flop (which would cause more than just one person to get fired, as it can damage a brand enough to send it into retirement for a time) is way over the top for something like this. The demo is fine - it didn't destroy your 3DS, it just isn't what you were hoping for from a portable Castlevania. I personally enjoyed it and will probably end up buying it...probably because I didn't have any expectations going in - I hadn't played other Castlevanias (portable or otherwise), so I wasn't expecting it to be a recreation with better graphics of a previous Castlevania game.

Edited by KaosAngel

The frame rate is so fucking bad.

Guess I'm picking up Soul Sacrifice for my handheld game for March.

Posted by TheMasterDS

@deathtrap: Well I want the business man who said this was a better bet than a proper Metroidvania to be fired because he's clearly made a mistake. As for being a flop if it's not it's possible they'll make more of these instead of proper Castlevania games.

Posted by DeathTrap

@deathtrap: Well I want the business man who said this was a better bet than a proper Metroidvania to be fired because he's clearly made a mistake. As for being a flop if it's not it's possible they'll make more of these instead of proper Castlevania games.

Again, hoping for someone to get fired is harsh - this would be someone's livelihood. If the game does well, then yes, they'll almost certainly make another Mirror of Fate (which, personally, I'd be alright with - I enjoyed the demo and will almost certainly be buying the full game at some point later this month or next)...but they'll also be more interested in making other Castlevania games in an effort to make more money off the IP. If it flops, then they would be far less likely to be interested in risking money on an IP that has lost them money.

Edited by devillofanger

I'm a little late, but replying to "Castlevania, in all of its incarnations, has never been a “realistic” game.", I want to point out that Castlevania 64 was indeed a 3D game, with platforming and falling damage included, but I agree that it's weird to have falling damage in a 2D Castlevania game.

Also, for when you said "In 2D Castlevania games, enemies were not something you had epic, protracted battles with" and later "one of those bosses with a health meter that is entirely too long for as simple as it is to bait in to a pattern", have you played Aria and Dawn of Sorrow? The boss fights are exactly like that in these 2D Castlevania games: You just have to get down a simple pattern to dodge their attacks while mashing (including ability spamming) away for a long time, until they eventually fall. But I'm going to agree with you on how bad this demo is.

I think I had some of the exact same problems with grappling on the chandeliers that you did. I too thought that the same obscured grapple point was instead an item, but also because it seemed to be in the place of the red dot on the map indicating your objective, which was also previously an item (this current objective was actually the gear that was close by). So I also made the mistake of jumping into it and, to my shock, taking fall damage. But I did figure out that the new grappling point was actually meant for you to lower yourself to the ground. Yup, you can extend your grappling chain to lower yourself by pushing down on the control stick, even if it's a little delayed (I think this was explained somehow, even if it was in the control diagram). So I didn't notice that you couldn't edge climb your way back down, but I still agree on how stupid that is, as well as not being able to use an attack and jump button to grapple instead.

Yes this demo held your hand a lot, and a little too much for your own good for the rare times it didn't. If you died a lot in the same room (I was just experimenting when I noticed this), each time you would come back with slightly more health until you would always start with full (on normally difficulty if it makes a difference). But also keep in mind that there is no save feature or detailed menu/objectives screen in this light demo, so for new players this wasn't completely out of place.

Speaking of a light demo, this was VERY short with absolutely no story involved. I could see these levels (in less they were just parts of levels clumped together, I hate how they might mix stuff up like that in demos and how you might not even be able to tell) not even appearing in the game for how empty and short they were, but the shadow and light magic obstacles we couldn't get by suggest otherwise, in less their only purpose was to make us feel like we are missing out on the full game. At least the monsters with so much hp helped compensate for how short it was. I don't see why they need to put a 30 day limit (so it keeps track of that even if you re-download it, but no save feature for if you quit?) on demos if this is how short and bad they are going to be, even if it's standard policy.

Posted by BlazeHedgehog

@devillofanger: Okay, so Castlevania 64 had fall damage. But Castlevania 64 was also a hot mess of nonsense.

I absolutely loved Aria and Dawn of Sorrow - the two best Castlevania games besides SOTN, if you ask me. But boss encounters are a different story - of course bosses are going to involve lengthy battles with tough enemies. EVERY enemy in Mirror of Fate might as well be a boss battle, given they take anywhere from 10-15 hits each to kill. That's what I meant. And the actual BOSS in Mirror of Fate takes even longer - it goes well beyond that point of "okay, I get it, just die already".

Posted by Hailinel

@devillofanger: Okay, so Castlevania 64 had fall damage. But Castlevania 64 was also a hot mess of nonsense.

I absolutely loved Aria and Dawn of Sorrow - the two best Castlevania games besides SOTN, if you ask me. But boss encounters are a different story - of course bosses are going to involve lengthy battles with tough enemies. EVERY enemy in Mirror of Fate might as well be a boss battle, given they take anywhere from 10-15 hits each to kill. That's what I meant. And the actual BOSS in Mirror of Fate takes even longer - it goes well beyond that point of "okay, I get it, just die already".

Good lord.

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Posted by seanwalsh

I know this is late, I'm always last to get games...

But thank you for this review, I thought this demo was so bad, I've replayed it like 6 times hoping I'd get in to it because I really wanted a castlevania or metroid game..but everything you mentioned is spot on. I'm shocked how bad this really is. It's like having a dream and explaining it to your mom and her trying to make a game for you. Just completely not made by someone who has ever even played a fun game.

Also, I have to say its truly sad to see the people who say they "enjoyed" this or didn't think it was "that bad". That's not just "their opinion"...that's like saying some people might like the taste of dogshit. Leave them alone it's their opinion...no you're wrong. The game/demo is bad. The end.